Monday, May 30, 2011

Practice = Improvement

Today I received a review for one of my stories. It was a fair review, although the reader didn't like my work, because the reviewer noted something that is (without a doubt) true.

My writing wasn't polished.

When I started writing (yes, I've said this before) it was entirely for me. I didn't want a publishing contract. I didn't want anyone else to read what I wrote. I had four young children, and I needed an escape from life. Writing gave me that. When I wrote my first book, I had no idea what I was doing. But it didn't matter. The book was my way to escape, to create my own heroine, hero, and characters. I loved the hell out of writing. I could do whatever I wanted to, in whatever fashion I pleased. To this day, I have nothing but fond memories of Crimson Moon and of the journey I took when creating it, because it inspired me to keep writing, to create more stories, and to learn as I went.

I talk to a lot of aspiring authors and the one thing I can tell you is that in most circumstances, your first book should never be published. That isn't to say Crimson Moon is a turd of a story, but rather, it is what it is -- the only thing I'd ever written. I didn't know about pacing, about unnecessary details, about improper word choice. I only knew that I wrote things as I saw them in my head. After all, those little details didn't matter. The book was for me. So when my mother-in-law read the book (books at that point) and pushed me to seek publication, I hesitated. Then, when she pointed out I had nothing to lose, I figured why not.

In retrospect, I should have kept a few things for myself versus trying my hand at being an author. I've learned a hell of a lot in three years, and you'll see those changes in my writing style in Crimson Sunrise. It's the same characters, but the voice is different. It's what happens when you practice, learn, and (hopefully) improve. The same can be said of The Renfield Syndrome. The first thing my crit partners and beta readers told me was it was a better story because the writing was stronger.

That is a good thing.

However, all good comes with bad, and the bad is that I had to learn. All authors do. I spoke with Madelyn Ford today about the craft and the way we evolve as we go. For example -- grammar. I know many people harp on this (and it is important) but for most of us, even those who have college degrees, we took literature classes, not those which focused on the grammatical aspects of writing. Truth be told, I didn't learn about the various rules of grammar, the house styles at publishers, or how important it is to have a book without unneeded dialogue tags, simultaneous actions, etc, until I was published.  I'll be the first to tell ya that I had no idea that blonde was for a woman and blond was for a man. I'd always assumed it was simply "blond." I also didn't know about passive voice, show versus tell, and other important things a solid editor will teach you. Believe me when I say there is a LOT to learn. You just need the proper guidance.

So why am I writing this blog? I suppose it's a way to tell those who want to be published that it's okay not to publish your first book. I've heard it said numerous times that an author is still trying to get their first book published because they love it and they know it's good. The thing is, your book probably is good and something people will enjoy. However, just as some might love it, others may not for the reasons listed above. Remember that it's okay to move to another project and try again. If and when you receive a contract, you'll learn, and you'll become a better author for it.

All of my editors are different. Some are strict about keeping character sheets with references of names and places. Others adhere to guidelines about dialogue tags, present participle phrases, and passive voice. Each one has their own way of doing things, but I'm grateful to each one, because the information they've shared is invaluable. It makes it easier for me to convey what I want to without being wordy, too informative, or slowing the progress of the book. It also means it's changed my voice, the way I create things, and the way I approach my books. In my opinion, my editors continue making me a better, stronger author. That is why I place so much importance on them, and why I trust them with my work when I sign a contract. Yes, they make mistakes. We all do. However, chances are they'll teach you something you didn't know and allow you to reference it in the next manuscript you pen.

I can tell you that I'm one of those authors who love to read, therefore I always root for new authors. In fact, a majority of my reading list is complied of new authors at the presses I'm with, or those I meet networking. Most probably won't tell you when they get a lukewarm review and point out that the reviewer is probably right, but I will. Why? Because none of us start out perfect. Hell, I don't want to be. Perfection means there is no room to improve, and I always want to be better.

I hope you are all enjoying your holiday weekend. Things are a bit chaotic here, with summer coming and Lori Foster's this week. I can't wait to visit those who are coming to the Reader and Author Gathering. Chatting with all of you is the icing on the cake for someone like me. As much as I love writing and my characters, they can't beat actual people. So I hope I see you there.