Monday, February 18, 2013

Advice for authors self-publishing on Kindle: starting over

When you’re an independent writer, each word you have to erase can feel like it’s costing you money.  You’ve put time into crafting that sentence or page or fifty pages.  Once something’s written down , it seems crazy to delete it and start again.  On the other hand, though, sometimes you intuitively know when something’s gone wrong with your story.  Not excising the problem will just snowball into more problems and threaten your whole book and possibly your mind.  So what do you do?

I know this feeling well.  I wrote 84,000 words of Isaacs’ book for my Elemental Phases series before I realized it wasn’t working.  The average book length I shoot for is 70,000-100,000 words, so that’s an entire book I scrapped.  Months of work.  I went through a lot of emotions, as I sunk deeper and deeper into the quagmire, not the least of which was panic.  What was I going to do?
I could feel the story not gelling into a cohesive whole.  The plot was too bulky.  I wasn’t sold on the romance.  In order to reach any kind of reasonable finale, the characters would have to start doing something pretty quick, but they weren’t too interested in trying.  As I scrolled through all the neatly typed chapters, I knew none of those 84,000 words were “right.”
If you find yourself in a similar situation, save yourself the trouble of trying to rearrange deckchair.  Here’s how the ending goes:
The logical part of your brain, which still hasn’t forgive you for not being doctor or a bond trader instead of a writer, reminds you that deleting what you’ve written means backtracking.  It means you’ve just wasted time.  It means you’re lost and doomed to failure and why is the world so hard?!?!?  All you want to do is finish this book, so you can finish the next book, so you can pay for groceries.  Your logical side says, “Don’t be an idiot.  It’s not that bad.  Just leave it all be and move on.  Oh and look into some MBA programs, while you’re at it, because you’re never going to get anywhere with this ‘writing’ thing.”
That’s when your artistic side starts reminding you about integrity.  Isn’t it your responsibility to tell the best story you can?  Do you want to put out something you’re not satisfied with?  (I’ll go out on a limb and say no writer is ever 100% satisfied with their work, but you know when it’s “right” and when it’s not.)  Don’t your characters and readers deserve your best work?
Answer:  Yeah…. They do.
So, if you can’t make the book work on a fundamental level, you might have to accept that and start over.  If you’re anything like me, your artistic side is going to win that argument, anyway.  Even your logical side will start grudgingly admitting that it’s probably not a good idea to disappoint fans with a substandard story.
I stopped writing Isaacs’ book, which was supposed to be book four, and regrouped.  I reimagined the series with a different book four, Treasure of the Fire Kingdom.  Different plot, different hero/heroine, and different direction for the arc.  And you know what?  Treasure of the Fire Kingdom, turned into the fastest selling book of the series.  Was it really, really, really hard to make that call?  Yep.  But, I knew that it had to be done.  Isaacs will get a book, but it’ll be the best one I can give him.
Now, I read an anecdote by Linda Howard once, where she talks about burning a manuscript she wasn’t happy with, so she could start with a clean slate.  That’s gutsy.  I’m not sure I could do that.  I do understand why someone might want to, though.  Destroying the book means a complete break with the past version.  If that works for you, I envy your ability to work without a net.  I would start to cry.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for holding onto your “failed” book.  Chances are there’s some good stuff buried in there that you can reuse later.  Love scenes, maybe.  Some funny lines.  A character you want to go back to.  If you just save the book, you can revisit it later and reassess.  Maybe some lightning bolt of inspiration will strike and you’ll be able to cut-and-paste your way to something new.  For instance, the chapter with Mara’s funeral in Queen of the Magnetland was originally in Isaac’s version of book four.  I had to change around the characters and POVs, but the idea was the same.  When I had to write that flashback for Mara, I was glad that I still had the original text as a starting point.
A lot of problems in a book can be fixed, if you give it a little time and work.  I would ALWAYS advise that you think long and hard about alternatives before you walk away from a book.  Sometimes you’re just stuck and, given time, you can work through the problems.  I wrote alternate beginnings to several books, before I inevitably went back to my first one, again.
But sometimes the problems with a story are so big that the only path is a complete do-over.  In those moments, don’t despair or talk yourself into publishing something you’re not proud of.  Believe in yourself and your talent.  Make the call you can feel proud of.
-Cassandra Gannon


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