Saturday, May 21, 2011

Three Things

My apologies if I'm late to the "Well Duh" party, but here are three things I figured out recently.

I entered two contests at the beginning of the year.  I finaled in one and not in the other.  In total, six judges read the same 35 pages (or so) of Blackjack & Moonlight, plus synopsis.  Three judges loved it, two judges rated it "okay" or even "just meh," and one judge hated it.  (The scores, adjusted for a total of 100 points, were: 100, 95, 94, 91, 89, 58.)

Here's what I learned:  There is no objective truth in any of those scores.  No one's right, and no one's wrong.  That's what it means to have your work read by others.  Some may like it and some may not.

Which isn't to say there weren't some very articulate and credible concerns expressed by all the judges, and some things I feel comfortable opting to ignore.  That's my job in the process -- figure out which comments help me to improve my writing, and which do not.

What helped me to see this were comments by the two "meh" judges (so characterized because both of them answered the question, "Based on this excerpt would you want to read the rest of the book?" by saying no -- I take that to be the equivalent of "it was okay but it didn't grab me" or "meh").  They both had substantive comments about my writing in general and Blackjack & Moonlight specifically.  I could make the changes they recommend.  But if I did, it wouldn't be my book, my writing, my style, my emphasis -- it wouldn't be my work anymore.  Their comments were valid, they just weren't helpful.

There's "polishing" and then there's "homogenizing," meaning making all romance writing more consistent.  There's a spectrum here, as with a lot of things -- the truly different novel may not be publishable: see Theresa Stevens' recent post at RomanceU on this topic -- but does every novel have to be pushed through a sieve so that the resulting paste is completely uniform?  Of course not.

Is Blackjack & Moonlight perfect?  No.  Is it as good as it can or should be?  Of course not.  Is it meh?  Of course it is -- for some readers.  I personally love it.  And yes, I can see how someone can completely miss the point and think it horrible (I wrote about that here).

First thing I learned?  Everyone's opinion is an opinion.

Next up: Edits.

This is so flipping obvious that you really will scratch your head at my stupidity, but I'd just never connected the dots before.

When you're reading a book, you can't tell which sentences or paragraphs were added last.

Yup, that's it -- that's my big revelation.

Here's how I got there.  I belong to a writers' critique group with no other romance writers.  On Thursday night, I read another section of Blackjack & Moonlight, and then another writer read a section of her as-yet-untitled novel.  She's a wonderful writer, and some of her descriptions of her protagonist make the reader feel right there in the same room.

My work doesn't have enough of those touches yet, the bits that help the reader know what everything looks, sounds, feels like.  I plan on adding those in the final polish.

Still, I was just about to beat myself up for not being as good as this other writer when it hit me.  I know she needs to add more layers as she goes through rewrites, and some of the layers she needs are things I put in first.  Who cares in what order stuff goes in?  Not the reader...because the reader can't tell the order in which sentences were added to the final manuscript.

So I'm not beating myself up, and I don't feel like a failure.  (Today, at least, I don't.  That feeling makes semi-regular house calls, but that's a topic for another post.)

Final Duh! moment:  I have four plots with inter-related characters, so it's a series of sorts.  Turns out, Blackjack McIntyre is more or less the hub: one of his nieces falls in love in Book 1, a former colleague needs Jack's help in Book 2, Jack & Elise find their happiness in Book 3, and the other niece has her romance in Book 4.

I have a lot of ambivalence about the process of seeking commercial publication.  While I want to follow the guidelines we all know on how to pitch, how to query, what an agent does, what editors want, etc., I'm not convinced that commercial publishing will immediately warm to a series of single-title contemporary romances set in a fictional legal community in Philadelphia.  Maybe publishers will characterize them as "the Chicago Stars" only with "L.A. Law" characters instead of football players...or maybe they'll see my stories as just too different.

Here's the revelation:  All I can do is keep improving as a writer, pay attention to feedback, work on adding depth while keeping the stories unique to me, and then put them out there, best foot forward.  After four books, I'll have learned how to write what I want to write.

And if they haven't found a place in the rather iffy world of single-title contemporary romances, I'll self-publish.

(I know: not much of a rousing finish.  I did warn you.)

This is a huge weight off my shoulders.  I no longer have to assume that it will be my fault if I don't find an agent or a publisher.  After four books, I'll be a good enough writer.  What the market will have told me by rejecting all four is that commercial publishing doesn't think there's a big enough niche for my amorous attorneys.

Okay.  Then I can self-publish and find the smaller niche on my own.  By then, self-publishing will be even more ordinary and easy than it is now.  Other newcomer authors will have demonstrated how best to do one's own marketing and promotion.  And some method for reviewing self-published authors will have emerged.

I won't be alone, but I can still stand out.


  1. You could always self-pub in eBooks, like everyone's favorite new millionairess Amanda Hocking. :)

  2. I've had experiences similar to yours in contests. In one such contest, my mss. ended up 1 & 2. The professional editor, don't recall where she was from, didn't like either one.

    I've toyed with self-pubbing, but, being persevering, stubborn, what you will, want to make the supposed pros agree with the tyros.

  3. Ah, but your work has a least one of those super evocative touches. The Red Power Tie under the judicial robes is an image that speaks volumes about Jack. Verra nice.


  4. Thanks, Diana -- That's very nice of you to remember and comment on. I'm probably not alone in this, but I do find it hard to see what's working in my writing when I'm staring really hard at all the deficiencies.


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