Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Sweet Spot

Here's a rule of thumb:  When you're in the middle of revising your first novel, don't try to read other authors' first novels -- however well-recommended they may be.

I spent the whole day yesterday working over the middle third of my novel, believing that I would be on the road today.  My trip was canceled, leaving me with this odd substance on my hands.  Free time?  What's that?

I'm not stupid though -- I know that free time means time to read.  Only, to read what?  I contemplated my "traveling book," which I'd been lugging with me hither and yon for days, reading it in chunks when I could.  I'm 250 pages in and have lsst than 100 pages to go . . . and I've lost interest.  It's a fast-paced paranormal, but it's the author's first in this series, and it's just a teensy bit overblown.  If I could have read it fast, the way I normally read, it would have been fine, but drawn out over days and days?  I've spent enough time with this cast of characters.  I'll skip ahead to the ending and be happy.

If not that, then how about this first-time contemporary novelist?  She's gotten good reviews, and maybe I'll be wowed.  Well, I suffer from ALL the problems writers have with their first stories, which means I've been looking for places to streamline wording and avoid the obvious descriptors in my own WIP.  Guess what mindset I couldn't turn off?  Let's just say that editing while reading is not quite the relaxing "Romance, take me away," experience I was looking for.

Time to go back to the old TBR pile.  I've got a ton of long-established writers in my stash -- they're always reliable, right?  But I've seen a spate of reviews for recent books by much-beloved writers in which the reviewer felt compelled to say "I love you, but I didn't love this book."

Which leads me to conclude that there's a sweet spot for a lot of writers.  The first book may be wonderful for all the reasons we love that writer: imaginative, fresh characters and plot.  The writing may not be as good as it gets in later books, though.  Everyone gets better at a task, through sheer repetition if nothing else.

A career spanning several decades could mean, though, that a writer's best work is behind her.  If we're comparing an okay book against the entire canon of a writer's work and it's not as good, we're disappointed.  When one of your all-time favorite books is by a writer, there's that slow-to-die hope that this time she'll regain that lofty ideal of romantic fiction.

I could stand to read a technically adequate but not perfect book, but I think I'll go for the sweet spot.  And maybe even a little bit outside the romance genre.  Next up for me, then?  Dana Stabenow's second in the Liam Campbell series, So Sure of Death.  Because I'm so sure I won't want to change a word.


  1. I've only read her Kate Shugak books (and am not sure I'll ever forgive her for Jack!)...are the Liam Campbell ones good? Set in Alaska? Is he a PI also?

  2. This post has a lot of feelings in it that are familiar to me!


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