I’ve had an eye-opening week. In my efforts to spend more of my time as a novelist, I decided I needed to update the cover of one of my self-published books. It’s a cover I did myself; it’s always been weak, but at the time, I just didn’t have the money to spend on a graphic artist.
[I’m not pushing the book here. Really, it’s all about process, not sales.]
So I hired a designer and decided I’d also go to paper as long as I was at it. That means your book has a “spine,” the edge that faces outward on the shelf. The designer has to know how many pages the book is to make the spine the right size to wrap around the pages properly.
So I thought I’d give the text another look. I realized right away that one of the two excerpts of other books that I’d included in the back would have to go. The second excerpt wasn’t for the same type of book, so the marketing would be all wrong.
And then I thought, well, I’ll just do a quick pass over the text, too. I’m moving to the second edition, after all. Might as well make sure everything’s good.
So I started a “quick edit” and—holy cow. So far, I’ve deleted 9% of the book. That’s 8,000 words, and I know by the time I get to the end, I’ll have deleted another 1,000 or so.
I’d struggled with this book when I wrote it. It’s got structural problems. The heroine’s conflict doesn’t show up until one-third of the way through the book. It’s possible that my protagonist is not my romantic heroine. And so on.
And the way that manifests on the page is by blah, blah, blah. Too many scenes that don’t further plot or character.
I stumbled upon some old notes from my critique group, including a fairly long analysis that one person wrote. Lucy is whiney; she needs to take a stand, my person wrote. What are the stakes? The subplots don’t tie together that well.
I got those notes and I made those fixes. I entered a contest, got feedback, made more fixes. I cut and rewrote at the time. I made that book as good as I could make it.
And now, rereading it, I can make it a whole lot better still. I can’t fix everything. The stakes still aren’t high enough, and I can’t fix that now without making the book completely different. But Lucy isn’t whiney anymore. She’s upset, sure. She’s got trouble. And her conflict is sharpened up. She’s a lot more focused about what she needs and wants. The subplots are tighter and tie in better.
In a lot of ways, this book has all the problems that McD taught us to see, avoid, and/or fix. I can tell by the edit I’m doing now that I didn’t waste my time in class. Still, it’s been, like I said, eye-opening, because I’m an editor and, hey, I’m trained to see crappy stuff in print. It’s just that it’s a lot harder to see your own crappy stuff.
So what did I learn from this? My critique group is never wrong. Whenever you think you’re done, wait a month and read it again. The problems in your work will stand out more strongly if you give it a rest.
But the other thing I learned? It’s a process.