Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Facing the Fact That Your "Baby" Is Ugly - What To Do If Your Book Really Isn't Very Good

The first book I ever wrote was called KALYPSO.  It was loosely based on parts of the Odyssey.  It had elements of Greek mythology.  It involved mermaids and Atlantis and hidden treasures.  It was awful.  It was too wordy and detailed.  It went on, and on, and on.  It embarrasses me to even look at it, but I’m glad I wrote it.  It taught me how to free write, how to move forward, and how to actually finish a story.

The next book I wrote, AMAZONS, was much better - so good in fact that when I submitted it to several agents, ten asked me to see a full manuscript.  That is a pretty big deal.  Agents don’t ask to see a full unless there is something in the writing or in the story that makes them think it has potential.  I was over the moon, but I didn’t sign with anyone for AMAZONS.
After AMAZONS, I wrote SO PRETTY, and almost immediately signed with my agent, Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency.  I was sort of relieved at this point that I hadn’t found an agent with AMAZONS because Marlene was so perfect for me.  I put AMAZONS away, and focused on other things.

A few months ago, I attended the Pennwriters annual conference in Pittsburgh, PA.  I decided to submit AMAZONS and another book I had just finished working on, TIGER LILY, for a Novel Beginnings contest.  TIGER LILY won third place, and AMAZONS actually made it past the first round.  I was sort of surprised. 
I knew in my heart of hearts that there was something wrong with AMAZONS.  It was clunky.  It didn’t flow.  It was so much better than my first book, but not nearly as good as my fourth.  The good news was I had improved as a writer.  The bad news was I still didn’t know how to fix AMAZONS.

Looking at your book honestly is sort of like looking at your child honestly.  I’ve never heard anyone say they have a really ugly or stupid baby.  As parents, our children are all beautiful and perfect, but as writers, we sometimes need to realize it when we have given birth to something bad.  We need to face it and fix it, as much as it hurts to admit it.
AMAZONS wasn’t exactly ugly, but it wasn’t perfect either.  The good news is others were able to see what I couldn’t.  Part of the contest at Pennwriters is feedback given by the judges.  Those judges saw what I, as a proud parent, could not.  They saw the flaws in the beginning of my book, and they offered suggestions about how to fix them.

I just rewrote AMAZONS.  I changed the title to THE AMAZON (huge difference, I know).  I added chapters and polished up the dialogue.  I worked on the ending, and even added an unexpected plot twist.  Time, distance, and experience helped me with most of it, but the advice of the judges from Pennwriters was invaluable. 
My advice to other writers is this – don’t do what I did.  I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t seek out help.  I’ve never been in a critique group (mostly because my life is a non-stop roller coaster ride of soccer practices, play dates, and after school activities at the moment), but I can see the value of joining one.  If you don’t have time, or if you can’t find a group you trust and feel comfortable working with, seek out a writer friend who would be willing to help. 

Don’t feel embarrassed by your writing failures of the past; the fact that you can see that your first attempt at a book was awful means that you have learned something and you are a better writer now.  Instead of dwelling on it, find a way to make it better.
Who knows?  There may even be hope for KALYPSO.



  1. I'm always here if you'd like a critique!

    1. Thank you, Katie! I know I can always count on you:)

  2. Best site around for help: You can find betas and crits and friends and fun and all manner of assistance there. Tell 'em I sent you. :)