UPDATE: The day after publishing this post, I flipped what I wrote here, regarding which novel series I was going to work on when. Click here for the post that provides a detailed update.
Every once in a while on a blog, I make a deep, dark confession. You’re supposed to be authentic, right? Here’s my latest:
I’m not happy with my last four novels.
I’m so unhappy with them that I’ve decided they all need to be rewritten. In fact, if I thought it was worth taking the time to do so, I’d rewrite most of the other nine novels I have up for sale. But those two series have been around so long, I think it’s best to leave them alone, call them a beginner’s good try.
The reason I’ve decided to give my last four novels an overhaul is simple: I want to put my best out there, and those novels do not reflect my best.
The “Rock Star Husband” Series
A dream I had early one morning inspired the short story, “Revenge”, and not long after completing the short story I realized that there was a novel desperate to spring from it. The novel that resulted was Tony’s Rose.
While I still love the basic story, I made two huge mistakes when writing it. First, I pushed the vegan agenda. At the time, I had dived into veganism and was so passionate about saving the animals that I decided that hereafter I would use my novels to educate other people about the glories and superiority of the vegan lifestyle.
(Yeah, I know, that’s why you hate vegans. Me, too.)
(And yes, I’m still a vegan.)
I have since learned that when people read novels, they want to be entertained. Any education that happens must come about in a subtle way, woven into the plot in such a way that the reader doesn’t feel like they’re being educated.
How did I learn? Personal experience, number one. I get turned off by novels that are obviously pushing an agenda. A couple of reviews for my novel His Second Chance, number two. One reviewer went so far as to call that novel an advertisement for Whole Foods Market – though in my own defense, I never mention the name of that store, or have many scenes in which characters are doing their grocery shopping.
The second mistake I made was characterization. The very first review on the novel was a book-killing two-star review. At first, I became angry and dismayed at the reviewer’s words. The gist was that Rose was too hard-nosed, and that Tony was too soft.
After a year, I began to think more objectively about the review and realized that when women read romance novels, they expect the main characters to have certain qualities. Thus, if I want to sell the romance novels that I write, the characters need to maintain at least some portion of the expected stereotypes.
Why rewrite the second novel? Again, it comes down to reader expectations. In its current form, Duncan’s Treasure does not portray Duncan as much of a hero. Truth be told, I haven’t ever been completely happy with the way I wrote the climax of the novel. So it needs a bit of tweaking.
The two books I wrote in the “Rock Star Husband” series will remain published in the Kindle store for another month because until yesterday, “Revenge” promoted Tony’s Rose. So right now, a bunch of people have a copy of the short story with that promotion, and some of them will want to read Tony’s Rose. Even though the novel is not my best, I don’t think it would professional to make it suddenly unavailable.
However, sometime in mid-February I’m going to unpublish both the “Rock Star Husband” novels. I’ll rewrite them when I’m finished with the current series I’m on.
“Pine Mountain Estates” series
A few days ago, I began to write the third book in my latest novel series, “Pine Mountain Estates.” I began to write one prologue. Deleted it. Wrote part of another. Deleted it.
Finally, I wrote a prologue I was happy with, then began the first chapter. It went okay, but it wasn’t easy to write. I knew where I wanted to go, but wasn’t sure how. When I finally finished it, I felt sort of satisfied, but not completely.
It was good enough, but not my best.
But I wanted to get the consarned thing off the ground, so I continued on with the second chapter. Wrote, deleted. Wrote, deleted.
Finally, I sat back and took an objective look at it. It was turning into a manual on diagnosing autism.
I got frustrated, and decided to take a day off.
In the meantime, I discovered a podcast for writers. One of the episodes featured Rachel Aaron, an author of young adult fantasy, who talked about her own early struggles with writing, and how she overcame them. I came away from that podcast knowing three things.
First, I need to start more thoroughly planning a story before I start writing it. I had tried doing Libby Hawking’s kind of outline as she describes in her book Take Off Your Pants!, but it felt too confining and rigid. Rachel, on the other hand, talked about a much more open way to plan a book that made a lot more sense to me.
The second thing I gleaned from the podcast episode is that if I’m serious about selling as many novels as I can, I need to craft a series so that each novel leads into the next one. I’m not talking about writing trilogies – personally, I need a novel to have closure at its end – but about giving each novel in a series a common thread that is so interesting that my readers will feel compelled to read the next book in the series, then the next.
Along the same lines, I need to create characters that the readers will fall in love with to the extent that they will want to journey with them into the subsequent novels.
My third major take-away from that podcast episode was that if I’m not having fun writing, something’s wrong.
I started this section talking about my struggles with the third novel. The fact is, while the basic plot line of the first novel intrigued me, the story ended up being a chore to write. The second one was sometimes fun and exciting, sometimes not.
And here’s the real clincher: the first novel in this series was actually originally supposed to be the third book in the “Rock Star Husbands” series. Of course, that means I changed the characters and plot line considerably. I turned the book into a nice, quiet women’s fiction book, instead of a dramatic romance.
Which brings me to another effect listening to this podcast episode had on me: it stirred in me a desire I’d shut down several years ago. I want to write the kind of story that would be deemed worthy as a bestseller, a longer novel with a beefier, more engaging plot than is found in most of my first nine novels.
I realized that if I write that kind of story, the kind of story readers don’t want to put down, I will sell more without having to write more.
Why did I give up on that idea? Impatience. I was having trouble fleshing out the plot of the third book in “Rock Star Husbands”. Meaning, I couldn’t figure it out in a week. And I didn’t want to get out a piece of paper and brainstorm.
So I began lying to myself. I began telling myself I’m no good at writing dramatic romance novels. Or, rather, that the books in the “Texas Hearts” series had used up all my potential in that area.
What I realized
The truth is, however, after finishing the “Texas Hearts” series, I went through four years of stress and depression. I may write more about that in a future post. My point here is that I realized I still have plenty of potential, plenty of story ideas.
I also realized that I must be patient with myself. I must allow as much time to plan out a story as I need, and not give up because I can’t do it in a week.
So for the moment, I’m setting aside the “Pine Mountain Estates” series. I won’t have to rewrite the entire first two books, but they will look quite different when I get done with them. There will be more intrigue, more drama, and a bad guy or three thrown into the mix. Because while I enjoy reading straight women’s fiction, it’s a chore for me to write it.
It’s not fun.
The long and the short of it…
From now on, I’m going to write the kind of novel I love to read. Clean and faith-building, yet gripping. Void of graphic violence, but filled with realistic drama experienced by engaging characters.
And I’m not going to be in a hurry. Not going to stress. I’m going either to enjoy the process, or to ditch it.