Are Our Books Ever Good Enough?

I just finished the edits to my September book LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE. One thing I advise other writers is that before sending a book in to your publisher, if there is anything about it that bothers you, fix it first. Ninety-nine per cent of the time it’s that very part of the book that bothers you that will come back to you with editor comments and/or requests for changes. It’s usually nothing major, but you still want to kick yourself in the butt for not addressing your concern before letting your editor read the book. Well, I didn’t follow my own rule, and a couple of places in the book that nudged at me as not quite right are exactly the places where my editor made comments and requests for a few changes.

The main reason I say you should address these things first is because if you get the book back with requests for changes, it’s hard on the writer’s ego. We writers are very delicate when it comes to our feelings getting hurt, because having your book criticized is like someone telling you your baby is ugly. “She’s so bald!” “Maybe you should have that little mole removed.” “Will his eyes always look crossed like that?” “She’s certainly a fat baby.” By not addressing the problems with your book beforehand, you’re asking for hurt feelings and worry and loss of sleep.

Don’t get me wrong. My editor loved the story and said it was very strong. That word “strong” is very important. “A page-turner” is also music to a writer’s ears. In this case, my editor thought the writing was terrific; but as sometimes happens with my writing, my biggest problem was being almost too realistic. I’ve been called “gritty,” and in this case I guess I was a bit too gritty. I had to tone down a few scenes. We are, after all, talking about Jake Harkner, and Jake Harkner can be quite ruthless when it comes to defending those he loves. He tends to “shoot first” and ask questions later, only sometimes it’s worse than shooting someone.

Also, the ending of my story bothered me because my heroine, Jake’s wife Miranda, came off just a little too weak. This woman has been brave and strong through this entire series and has faced so many life challenges by living with a wanted man who then became a U.S. Marshal in a lawless Oklahoma – a very dangerous job. She even rode with Jake once on the Outlaw Trail when they hunted for their wayward son who was in a lot of trouble. Jake Harkner is definitely not an easy man to live with, so after all she’s been through, I couldn’t turn around and make Miranda look suddenly too weak. When my editor commented on that very issue, I completely changed the outcome of the scene involving all of this. As expected, my editor LOVED the change – so what does that tell me? It tells me I should have written the heroine stronger in the first place. I wouldn’t have had to do all that re-writing.

One piece of advice I can give is that you can always call and talk to your editor if you’re really indecisive about something. Sometimes she can help you work it out. I didn’t call mine in this case because I was so “into” this ending event (and so mad at the “bad guys”) that all I could think of was to let Jake “do his thing” in handling these guys. When Jake is mad, I’m mad, and even I act before I think! I thought I handled everything just fine. But once I sent in the book and calmed down, that’s when I started thinking maybe I should change a few things.

It all boils down to most writers never being sure their book is good enough. LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE is my 61st book after 35 years of writing, and I still worry about each and every new book. Do I still have what it takes? Was I too repetitive? Did I work out all the events in a way that makes sense? Were my characters strong enough? Too weak? Too ruthless? Too needy? Were they likeable? Will readers understand and empathize with them? Was there too much sex? Not enough? Any gratuitous sex? (I hate gratuitous sex)! Did I describe the characters in a way that readers can “see” them? Was I too dramatic? Not dramatic enough? Did I stick to the time period as far as clothing and weapons and utensils? Did I repeat myself too much? (That’s my biggest weakness, but my editor is great at catching that.) Did I keep everyone’s hair color and eye color the same? Did I accidentally change someone’s name or inadvertently give two characters the same name?

There is a long list of things that need to be checked over before sending in a book. Overall I have to feel really good about it, and I feel really good about LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE. My readers are all in love with Jake and Miranda and their beautiful devotion to each other. They are caught up in the entire Harkner family, and this book continues their exciting story as they settle onto a ranch in Colorado. But Jake’s past refuses to leave him alone, and there are a couple of vengeful men from DO NOT FORSAKE ME who are not through with Jake yet.

Overall I was happy with this book when I sent it in, but we writers are our own worst critics, so once it was on its way to my editor I started thinking all the worst things, especially when it took my editor longer than usual to get back to me. That was due to her own schedule and because I write very big books – a good 600 pages – so the editing takes time. But the longer it takes, the more various scenarios start haunting me – She hates it! She thinks the writing sucks! She thinks it’s too much like the second book! She thinks the characters haven’t grown enough! She’s trying to figure out how to tell me the book is awful and I have to re-write the whole thing!

Well, when I got it back, it took me only few days to address every one of her comments. Editing is not an easy job. There is a lot of cutting and pasting and crossing out and replacing and even completely re-writing some scenes and sometimes deleting whole chapters. But I got it done, and as usual, my very thorough and talented editor was right in every single comment and suggestion. She has a way of helping make my books as strong as they can be and as well-written as my readers expect. I am one of those “seat-of-the-pants” writers. I use no outline – no synopsis. I just sit down and start the story and away we go. I write very fast and when I’m done I have to go back and make sure I didn’t leave anything out or commit some of the mistakes I mention above. Even at that, when you first finish a book you can’t see the forest for the trees, so it takes a good editor to “see” all the places that could stand improvement or maybe just clarification or “tweaking.” I am very grateful that I have one of the best editors at Sourcebooks. Her name is Mary Altman, and she loves my writing, which is a huge plus when working with an editor.

I can’t wait till my readers get to delve into LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE in September! I already have a fourth book planned about the Harkner clan!


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