I love my family. They love me. They account for 90% of my book sales–so far.
And they’ve written some awesome reviews of The Girlfriend Experience. Their praise is so effusive it turns my head. Of course, I think it’s well deserved. Our side conversations convince me they’re sincere. It would be easy to convince myself I’ve written the perfect book.
But I’m not yet convinced. How do I find the flaws to edit for the print edition? How does one interpret a five-star review from his mother?
One has to dig for clues. Generally they take the form of “don’t be concerned about” or “this doesn’t detract from the story” or “it builds slowly but it picks up.” Reviewers who are friends but not blood relatives are more straightforward but still very kind. They’ve picked up on a number of typos and a couple of unforgiveable technical errors–constructive criticism without seeming accusatory. They’ll all be corrected in the print edition.
Until I get my first review from a total stranger, my best bet at finding the structural flaws will be to test my own misgivings against the comments.
I really worked hard at making this a good book. If a plot line was unclear, or the language awkward, or the flow uneven, I reworked it. I must have read and re-read every word ten times and rewritten half of them.
But at some point the book needs to be born. I published it, even though there were parts that I thought were just “good enough.” After all, even Moby Dick has some dry stretches. Right? And The Lost Symbol reads like a journal article at times.
I know where those “good enough” parts are. And the reviewers found them. They communicated them to me in code. They’re telling me what I already knew, but hoped I could get away with.
All told, there’s a lot of work to do before the next edition. I’m looking forward to it–partly because I miss the writing process, suffering mild post-publish depression, and partly because writing the sequel seems like such a daunting task and I still need time to talk myself into it.
Thanks again to all of you who read my book and were kind enough to review it. Your comments are more valuable than you can imagine.
Even the good ones.
I'm proud of what u have achieved as a writer!!! keep it up. so happened to come accross your posts twice and its interesting. Just published my 2nd ebook but the promoting seems to be a bother….in time i suppose….
I moved to Taiwan about 8 years ago. At the time, I had considered China, but had also met a Taiwanese girl who I ended up marrying, so the choice was easy. I've been to Shanghai a couple times and Hong Kong here and there as well. Both amazing cities. Still, I prefer Taiwan overall. Maybe I'm partial. I'd love to get deeper into China in the future (if the visa wasn't so expensive!) and I've been to Nanjing where my parents used to work as university professors. The history is so rich and fascinating there. My parents' reaction after seeing Taipei as apposed to China was the level of affluence here. I think this is due to both capitalism and democracy at work, but that's just my opinion.
I've work with both good editors and bad editors. As an editor myself, I don't think it's my job to rewrite your book in my own words. This is where most editors fail, I think. They had to be able to distinguish between the different types of editing and still respect your 'voice' as a writer. On one level, you have basic proofreading, which is just checking for spelling errors and grammatical errors. That is something you can have your friends help you with, although if not trained, they won't catch everything. They possibly could catch a majority of mistakes though and utilizing their assistance will save you a lot of money. A copy editor checks facts and makes sure your terminology is consistent throughout the book. Be sure when you pick an editor that they know which level of editing you want and the way you expect them to go about it. I had one editor one time who practically rewrote 70% of my book in his own voice. Since I was under contract, I had to go along with it, but I felt uncomfortable with putting my name on a book which I really didn't write. I even teased him about co-authoring the book, but he reacted as if he had no idea what I was talking about! If you pay them, they work for you, of course, and that means you can accept or reject any of the 'suggested' changes they want you to make. So again it comes down to growing in your craft in the sense of knowing when an editor is right or not. I think the best editor I paid actually taught me how to be a better writer and that was priceless.
How is your Chinese? I've lived here a long time but have been pretty lazy about learning the language. Still, I pick up a new word or two every day (week, month…).
Strablet, thanks for the kind words and for sharing your own experience! I'm shopping around for an editor now, but getting my work noticed is still my job one. My next post will be on the topic of 'platforms.' That seems to be the watchword for struggling indie authors.
How's life in Taiwan? I've never been there but I get to China a few times a year. I wonder how different Taiwan and China are?
I've only read a few pages but I found it pretty good so far. Having just finished Child 44 and now I've started reading Agent 6, both by Tom Rob Smith, your book looks like something I might want to buy!
As a writer, I can relate to your blog here. I think when my books are finally finished, I get a sense of having actually memorized the whole thing. I could probably recite it word for word, when I've spent enough time editing it. I guess this reveals something about the genius of writing. I mean, not just having enough mental capacity to recall every word, but to be sure they all fit together in the right way. As far as genius goes, well, I'm still searching for that part in my own writing. 😉
And I have to agree with you also in terms of critics. Your best friends will always tell you that your work is great. That's why they're your friends. But even if they did criticize it, would they really understand enough about the writing process to hit the nail on the head? So I agree with you that a stranger might give a less flowered response, but it still doesn't mean the response is accurate in terms of knowing how to write. I have one rule that I could recommend. Avoid mean people. There are plenty of people out there who don't know how to write and they will rip you a good one, if you know what I mean. So even criticism can be off.
This is what makes good writing so difficult to achieve. We need feedback to improve and yet the feedback itself we have to judge as being reliable or not. In Steve King's book On Writing he says he has one or two people who he knows he can absolutely trust that will read his books before they go to print. And he won't tell anyone who those people are.
In the end, I think it comes down to a mastery of words. "Good language is a prerequisite for social mobility." I heard that somewhere recently. In the same sense, good use of words is a prerequisite for selling books. I work as an English professor at a university in Taiwan and I'm always encouraging my students to move from "Did you eat yet?" to "Have you eaten yet?" The two sentences mean basically the same thing, but the second one shows an advanced understanding of the language. I know that's an oversimplification, but I think it illustrates the point.
Congratulations on your book. I hope you do well.
Not on nook yet. I have an exclusive with Amazon through March after which I can publish on iBooks and Barnes & Noble. But you can get a Kindle reader for your iPad or computer.
Thanks so much for the advice and the links! I have a few followers of the blog who are also trying to promote their books and they'll find these resources useful too.
First, I'm envious of your finding the time to write a novel. The only way I got a book done was to quit my job and work with someone else, so I felt pressure to get it done to keep up with his expectations.
Second, you are correct about rewriting. Every good writing guide will tell you the quality comes in editing and rewriting. I'm too careful of a writer, so I spend way too much time on a first draft. then I spend almost as much time editing, trimming and rewriting.
Did you have an editor outside of Helen? EVERYONE needs an editor. I have cursed editors for stupid mistakes, but more often I have blessed them for improving my prose and keeping me from making a stupid error.
Even getting a major publisher, as I did, means self-promoting your book, unless you are a big-time author or someone (Like Robert Waller) who they think has a shot at being big. Part of what sold Simon and Schuster on "Stacking the Deck" was that Bryan Berg is constantly traveling and making appearances. After the book came out he had several national TV appearances, including Ellen Degeneres and the TODAY show. Even so, it didn't fly off the shelves and we didn't go into a second printing (which is where authors really make money — subsequent printings).
Getting your book out there takes some creativity, like getting your local paper to do a story about it; getting the local book club or library to promote it via a reading or signing; or piggy-backing trips for other purposes with readings at bookstores or libraries in other cities. You may have heard of a book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." It's become a bestseller and been optioned for a movie, but the author, Rebecca Skloot, had to promote it all herself. She basically staged her own book tour by working with science writing teachers to sponsor her speaking to classes, teaching seminars, etc. She couch surfed and piggy-backed readings and signings onto the trips. She wrote a pretty good account of it for the National Association of Science Writers newsletter; I'll see if I can find it.
One source I've followed for tips to garner free publicity and promote books is Joan Stewart, who goes by the name of the Publicity Hound. She has a newsletter that provides some nice tips. The writing is kind of corny and hokey, but the information can be pretty good, even the free tips, which are there to promote her for-pay seminars and webinars.
The other link I sent you (but didn't show up) was to an interview with famed nonfiction author John McPhee about his writing process. It's fascinating and made me feel much better about my procrastination and fussing. I wish I could say my results were as good as his.
So is your book available for the Nook? That's my only e-reading device….