Posted by : Sherri Cornelius Monday, November 9, 2009

So I read this book over the weekend. I won't name it, not because I'm going to crap on it here but because I'm increasingly aware of how far these words reach. The book is not the point, my reaction is, but if you're dying to know the title, email me or something.

I'll set the stage. It's a debut novel, pretty standard Urban Fantasy, as in chick lit with vampires, featuring a kickass, hot & sexy lady protag with a lot of sass and a lot of evil to overcome. Overall I enjoyed the read, though it did take a little while for the author to settle into her voice. The writing definitely improved over the course of the book. There's a lot of promise in that voice, and I'd like to see where she takes the story in the second installment.

Actually, the way the author's voice strengthened reminded me of the first novel I wrote, now that I'm far enough in the future to look at it objectively. (btw, I have no idea whether the book which inspired this post is the author's first book ever, only that it was her debut.) In a first novel, you start at the beginning (of course) when you have no idea how to write a novel. The phrasing is clunky, the pacing uncertain, and a lot of the choices you make are based on books you've read in your genre. Then, as you go along, you start to figure it out. It gets easier, but you find yourself stuck with some bad choices you made before you knew what you were doing, so you end up with awkward character motivation, retroactively added to get the character from one plot point to the next. Plus, no matter how many times you edit the first few chapters, that clunkiness stays. You end up with that kind of book, where the ending is telegraphed by page 30 and the characters are way too familiar.

If you're lucky (or unlucky, if publishing a not-quite-there book is a bad thing) your genre is hothothot when you start querying. Maybe your mythology is a bit different from other books in your genre, or maybe the central idea is unique, even if the people and places are not, or vice-versa. Whatever, it's your lucky (or unlucky) day because publishers are actively looking for the kind of book you chose to write. I have to say, it seems like good luck rather than bad anytime somebody wants to publish your work, even if it's a little early in your craft. A writer with real talent will blossom, I imagine, and others will fizzle.

But I always wonder how those authors feel about their situation. Do they see the weaknesses in their own work? And does it really matter, if the readers are happy?

{ 5 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. Hmm! Good questions. I hope that I will one day be lucky (or unlucky) enough to find out. I would imagine, though, that its a good thing, for nothing ies ever perfect. And if we waited until everything was JUST SO before doing anything with it, then nothing would get done, and we never grow and improve and develop our voices and styles.

  2. I guess this is part of the reason so many "industry people" say NOT to publish your first book. Write a second, maybe a third, before submitting. The second time around, the writer supposedly knows better and makes stronger opening steps.

    Still, the author has to make the decision not to cling to their first work and move on to something else, and I bet that's easier said than done.

    I know I don't want to give up on my first one. But I wonder if a complete re-write would help smooth those things you mentioned out?

    Hm. Thought-provoking. I'll have to stew on it. :)

  3. Within a single book? Now that's interesting. I've seen improvements from book to book, but I guess I never thought about within a single book.

    If the readers are happy, well then I guess that's enough said. But sometimes I feel like writers get a pass because they had a successful book, and they start writing like they don't have to try anymore. That frustrates me.

  4. I think for some authors, getting published is all that matters. There are a few authors I read who have good storylines, but I spend a lot of time correcting verb useage and grammar. Then I wonder if it matters if you have a good story to tell. Then I read a well written book with a good storyline and I get intimidated because THAT is what I want to write.

    I tell myself to stop worrying and 'just do it', but those first few chapters are too clunky for me to continue.

  5. Yeah, I won't encourage you to "just do it" because that hasn't worked for me. The atmosphere of the Internet writer's community is that if you're not churning out pages constantly then you're being naughty in some way. But sometimes you just have to let your batteries recharge.

    On publishing a so-so novel, I keep thinking, "If I could just get my foot in the door..." which is how a lot of authors seem to think. Only problem with that logic is that if the book doesn't do well, your foot might go right back out the door.


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