What To Do If Your Book Sucks

 

mryucksalmon

We’ve all been there as writers. You write a bunch of chapters or maybe even the whole damn book, only to be struck by the sudden realization that you think the entire thing sucks. You get that awful, sinking feeling that the story is terrible and predictable and the characters are one-dimensional and boring.

Now what?

You may just need a little distance from the work. Your story may actually be pretty good but you just can’t see it anymore. Step away from it for a bit. Take a breather, and then go back and reread it to see what you really think of it as a whole. You’ll never be able to be totally objective, but it helps to get a little perspective when you walk away for a while.

So, say you’ve already done that. You still think it sucks. Or worse, your beta readers tell you it sucks. Now, you’ve got a problem. Just like your mom told you about your dinner choices – take it or leave it — you’ve got two choices for your book. Fix it or trash it.

Both options are difficult. If you trash it, you’ve wasted all that time with nothing to show for it but lessons learned. There is something to be said for a lesson learned, but trashing a full-length novel is a painful way to learn it. After all that work, you’re not going to have a book to self-publish or to market to agents or publishers. If you choose to fix it, you’ve got a long road ahead of you. You may need to start completely over from scratch. In a sense, you’re trashing it to fix it, which is kind of the worst of both worlds.

Kind of a bummer, huh?

Hang on. I’m going somewhere with this.

Though it sucks to trash your work or to start over, it really is much, much preferable to publishing or marketing something that’s just no good. You won’t feel good about it and it won’t be successful, thus you’ve wasted even more time. The question you have to ask yourself is – am I still interested in this story? Do I even want it to work anymore, or am I just so damn sick to death of it that I’m ready to move on? It can definitely be a relief to decide to let go of a story that’s just not working, thus allowing yourself to move on to a fresh story and new characters that you can get excited about. However, if you find that you still want to make the story work, you must resolve to do whatever it takes to get the story right. If that means trashing the book and doing a page-one rewrite, then that’s what you’ve got to do.

Believe me. I know. I’ve been there.

(forgive me, regular readers. I know you’ve heard this story before. Probably more than once…)

I got the worst reviews of my life on my absolute favorite story. QUEEN HENRY started life as a screenplay. A bad, bad screenplay. It started with a fun, unique idea. Homophobic guy becomes gay and learns an important lesson. That is the story I really wanted to tell, but I executed the tale badly on the first try. Then the second, then the third. I loved the story and the characters so much, but it just wasn’t working. People hated it. HATED IT. People called it boring, said it had no stakes and contained “ham-fisted stereotypes”. One guy said it was “okay I guess for a first screenplay.”
It was my ninth….

I think the lowest point came when I had the stomach flu, was completely nauseated, and opened my inbox to another bad review. I never ever wanted to give up on writing, but I specifically remember thinking If I wasn’t a writer, I wouldn’t be in this pain right now.

Even in my darkest moment, I recognized that moment for what it was. A crossroads. A turning point in my so-called writing career. I really had three choices that day. Give up writing altogether (no chance. I never even considered that option. Never.), market the screenplay the way it was, or trash the whole damn thing and start over. I knew then what I was going to do. I literally put the whole damn script in the recycle bin, sat at my computer and typed “FADE IN.”

I was gonna fix that goddamn story if it was the last thing I did.

I wrote and rewrote and rewrote. I paid a very nice script analyst who charged a very reasonable rate to help me (I found out later that he used to be the head script reader at Miramax. He charged only $60 for notes. The man was a saint..). He supported me through draft and after draft after draft. He kept saying things like “it’s getting there” and “you’ve almost got it”. I finally got the story to a point where I thought it was really, really good.

I submitted QUEEN HENRY to a screenplay contest, which was terrifying. It was one of those contests that provided feedback. For better or worse, they were going to tell me what they thought of it. The pain from all those bad reviews fresh in my mind, it was horrible to have to wait for their critique. I kept getting messages from them saying that they got more entries than they expected, thus the delay in providing feedback. The wait was excruciating When, I FINALLY heard back from them, I got word that QUEEN HENRY was a Finalist.

It was a small contest to be sure, but I was a Finalist nonetheless. I’ll never forget how exhilarated that made me feel. I just couldn’t believe it.

Years later when I decided to try novel writing, I knew QUEEN HENRY had to be a book! It wasn’t difficult to write the novel version, since I’d worked so hard to perfect the screenplay. It’s amazing to me to think of all the changes that took place in the story during all those rewrites. The core story remained the same – Straight homophobe turns gay and learns a lesson – but just about EVERYTHING else was radically altered. At first, Henry was an ordinary guy who was engaged to a woman and had become gay through supernatural means and simply learns how it feels to be treated badly when he was gay. BLEH. AWFUL. In the final version, Henry is a womanizing, major league baseball player who becomes gay due to an experimental asthma drug and falls desperately in love with a wonderful man named Thomas. MUCH BETTER.

As of this writing, the book has been out for two months. Though bad reviews are absolutely inevitable, I haven’t gotten one yet. (YET.) To date, I have 14 good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. A blogger from Baltimore OUTLoud reviewed QUEEN HENRY. The review was featured on the front page of the newspaper, and included the following statements:

“Glorious, deliciously-written work of fiction…

Fausnet’s writing is extraordinary in this fluid, fast-paced tale…

Queen Henry is a truly well-written novel with potent drama and campy humor laced throughout. Though it contains messages to LGBT folks and others, it is also a gorgeous love story and one that should not be missed. Fausnet swung and hit a home run.”

– Steve Charing, Baltimore OUTloud

In addition, I was recently invited by a local chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to do a book reading. The idea of sharing my words, my story, out loud thrills me behind measure.

The great reviews I’m getting now are so powerful and mean so much more because of what I went through on the earlier drafts. I can hardly believe how something that was once so terrible ended up turning out so good. I can’t tell you what it means to me to finally have people know and love Henry Vaughn, Jr. the way I have loved him from the beginning.

If I can do it, I know you can, too.

Does your book suck? Do you still love it? Then FIX it, and DON”T STOP UNTIL YOU GET IT RIGHT.

To this day, people tell me QUEEN HENRY would make a great movie…

 

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PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED!

Wannabe Pride welcomes Guest Blogger Sara Bain!

Sara published her debut novel, The Sleeping Warrior, in 2013 under her imprint Ivy Moon Press. She is a freelance journalist, photographer, graphic artist and author living in South West Scotland.

“I demand that my books be judged with utmost severity, by knowledgeable people who know the rules of grammar and of logic, and who will seek beneath the footsteps of my commas the lice of my thought in the head of my style.”

Louis Aragon

There was once a time when the book review was called a “literary criticism” and involved lengthy scholarly theories that focused on analysis, description and interpretation of literary works, expounded in a critical essay. Sometimes constructive, often destructive, and occasionally even deconstructive, authors and publishers would hold their breaths while they waited for that important evaluation that would make or break a lifetime’s hard slog.

Daphne du Maurier’s critics hated her: they called her a second rank “romantic novelist.” Adolph Huxley’s Brave New World and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies were immediate commercial disasters after they received a harsh press from their critics.

Moreover, there were, and still are, a few mischievous columnists who would use a book review as an opportunity to showcase their own writing aptitude or expertise on literary theories to the detriment of the author’s finest efforts. Also, with any form of arts critique there is always a danger of over-analysis by attempting to get into the writer’s mind.

Whether we authors like it or not, criticism is unavoidable. Sometimes a novelist will use a plot device or sentence structure because he or she ‘just did’. There is not always a reason for placing every individual word in a certain series or introducing a particular character half way through the storyline. It just happens that way and, if the reader doesn’t like it, you just have to take the blow of their disappointment on the chin.

As DH Lawrence said, “the touchstone [of literary criticism] is emotion, not reason” and, thanks to the internet, the judgment of the literary critic holds little sway against the might of public opinion.

Emerging from the World Wide Web is a new breed of literary critic whose opinion counts for everything: the book reviewer. Today’s reviewers tend to be book lovers who wish to spread their enthusiasm through dialogue on social media sites. They give up their time to read your work and make the effort to tell others about their experience. Their opinions are as varied as the stories they read and they stand as representatives of the diversity of individual taste.

Sometimes waiting for a book to come back from the reviewer feels like standing in the gladiatorial arena, with one eye locked on the teeth of the lion and the other on the thumbs of the crowd. Will my efforts get that row of shining stars or will it be struck with one?

No author wants a bad rating but, at the same time, must realise that you can’t please everyone. The one star rating is inevitable. Some reviewers will complain about the story; some can’t invest any emotion in the characters; some don’t like the colour of the cover; and some are cross because the book didn’t arrive on time.

Taking a look on Amazon at the reviewers’ comments on a selection of the top-selling books of all time was a stark reminder that individual readers will applaud or jeer you for what they get out of your book, which is not necessarily what you, as the author, intended them to experience. Here’s a small sample of what some reviewers said about the world’s most successful books:

  • Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities (top-selling book of all time): “last 100 [pages] could have been taken out and, substituted for something a little less dull” – 2 stars
  • Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five: “OK, I read it, but I literally have no idea  what this is about” – 1 star
  • Virginia Wolf, To the Lighthouse: “Slow and monotonous” – 1 star
  • Robin Jenkins, The Cone Gatherers: “Awful, depressing and cruel” – 1 star
  • J D Salinger, Catcher in the Rye: “very annoying and extremely boring” – 1 star
  • Laurie Lee, Cider with Rosie: “What a load of rubbish!” – 1 star
  • Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None: “one of the most boring and, at times frankly irritating, murder mysteries I’ve ever read.” – 1 star
  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick: “too nautical for me” – (that one made me laugh) 1 star
  • Jack Reacher, Personal (Waterstones’ top seller 2014): “Unbelievably bad” – 1 Star
  • Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code: “foetid mess of a book spewed by accident from the substandard brain” – 1 star
  • Jeffrey Archer, Be Careful What You Wish For: “Boring and repetitive. Requires no brain!” – 1 star.
  • E L James, 50 Shades of Grey: 2,145 – 1 star.

Up until today, when I made the above list for this blog post, I was always afraid of that dreaded one star which would negate my efforts to publicise my precious work as an “excellent” read. My five-star majority ratings gave me a sense of pride and self-worth as I felt it somehow validated me as an author of good fiction.

I now understand there is a certain amount of freedom of expression for the self-published author. With the coming of the online book reviewer, who is more interested in a good story than a missing semi-colon, the once mighty literary critics are no longer the watchdog of readers’ tastes. I would advise any author, therefore, to write what you would like to read. Some readers will hate it, others will love it, and a few will completely miss the point. The number of stars don’t necessarily increase sales but the opinion of the reviewer is important. Even if those views don’t agree with yours or whether you feel they have got it wrong – everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and you’ll never get it completely right.

– Sara Bain

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Interview with Kickstarter Author Chris Votey

This week, Wannabe Pride welcomes writer Chris Votey who has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance his writing. Read on to find out about him and his project. I hope you will contribute the campaign to help a fellow hardworking writer!

Kickstarter Project

How long have you been a writer? What made you (crazy enough to) want to write?
I’ve been writing since about the age of 9. I was a big fan of Star Trek and loved every moment of it, and my first story was a Star Trek story. Over the years, I kept revising it, as I understood the principles of storytelling more and more. I never did finish that story.

What made me pursue it as a career? Well, in 2000, I tried writing a story that I hope one day to write again. I got about 70 pages into it when my roommates stole my stuff and pawned it. Luckily I had an early copy of the story, but I lost the will to write. Jump to 2012, I tried to get into self-publishing and got one book released before I suffered a brain injury. Seventeen months later was NaNoWriMo 2013, and, on a whim, I decided to do it. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a contest of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I did it in 14. I decided, even with my disability, I would do everything I could to be an accomplished writer.

What genre of book do you like to write? Any genres you haven’t explored but would like to? Alien erotica, perhaps?
Science Fiction will be and always shall be my first love. My two novels are both sci-fi. However, I want to write every genre I can. Not a big fan of Fantasy or Paranormal, but currently writing one now. Have a few horror novels I want to write. I would do erotica if there wasn’t such a stigma against authors who do erotica. I guess that’s why they invented Pen Names. I’m not a one genre sort of guy, I need to keep my options open.

Describe your writing process. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you wear pants while writing?
For NaNoWriMo 2013, I wrote the novel Karma’s Repentance. It was about a female Bounty Hunter of the future. I had a good design of the characters, and about the first 5 chapters somewhat plotted out. I had no idea of how the story would end, or what happened beyond that. In fact, my first 5 chapters turned into 7 chapters.

My writing process in general is that I get an idea and do the necessary research for it. I then try to think of as many major details I can. Then I design the characters. First I get a general sense of who they are, I then do a tarot spread of them (creating complex secondary characters part one and part two) .I then use 45 Master Characters and assign them a God and role in the book. I then flesh out their background story and write up a report on the major and secondary characters. Lastly, I write a little about their relationships between each other and the main character.

I feel the way I write, I build a build a sandbox, fill it with sand. Get my action figures out (and Barbies. They’re for research purposes… yeah, research purposes). Then I throw obstacles in their way and they tell me how they handle the situation (you’d be amazed how manly Barbie sounds).

When I need a break from writing, I often times act out scenes in my stories to see what they say and what they do. Probably seems like I’m talking to myself. I promise you I’m not.

I’m sure no one wants to hear that I sometimes write in the nude. I don’t think that is appropriate for this interview. Or that when I do wear clothes, I am in boxers and a t-shirt. No one needs that mental image, unless someone finds me sexy, then you’re welcome for that mental image.

What’s your favorite kind of ice cream?
I like a variety of flavors, from cookie dough, to chocolate, to any crazy flavors of Ben and Jerry’s.

If I had to choose just one, I would choose French Vanilla. Some of my friends find that ironic, given how eccentric and weird I am. I simply tell them that Vanilla was once an exotic spice. I guess you can say I’m an exotic spice.

What motivates you to write? Music? Coffee? Tea? Bourbon? Cigarettes?
There was a scene in Karma’s Repentance that involved storming an asteroid base and I got inspired from Robot Chicken’s clip of the rescue, and use that music as inspiration.

Due to my disability, I find it difficult to listen to music while I write. Sometimes I can, somethings I can’t. When I can, I listen to soundtrack music from video games and movies. I tend not to listen to anything with words. I also listen to 2 Steps From Hell.

I don’t drink coffee as it gives me a migraine. I do enjoy black tea, though too much makes me jittery. I occasionally do a Monster Energy Drink to help super charge my mind when my disability becomes too much for me and I have a deadline to keep.

Don’t drink alcohol too often, mostly can’t afford to. When I celebrate though, I will have myself a cigar.

Tell us about your Kickstarter project.

In June of 2012, I suffered a concussion and later got diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome. It is a condition that affects how my brain works. I have memory loss, issues with focus and concentration, light and noise sensitivity, and difficulties in public and new environments. I have been denied for Workers Comp, Long-Term Disability, and Social Security Disability.

Writing is a lifelong passion of mine and I want to make a career out of it. I firmly believe that I can use it to try to get the help I need, and to one day have a somewhat normal life once more. I am doing Kickstarter as a way to pay for five books to be published to help me do that. I am asking for $3000 to get 4 – 5 books published, so I can live my dream of being a full time author and my dream of being healthy again.

Anything else you’d like Wannabe Pride readers to know about you? Any secrets you want to tell us before we find them out on a Google search anyway?
Despite my disability, I am a fun-loving guy. I love helping other writers and created my own coalition of writers for the purpose of being able to help each other out. I am big on education and my blog is dedicated to that. I also have a Worldbuilding series. Right now I am doing Map Making for people who can’t draw.

Chris Votey @authorvotey www.chrisvotey.com chris@chrisvotey.com