Anatomy of a Superficial Novel

Anatomy of a Superficial Novel

By Allison Brennan

Some writers sell their first completed manuscript. I wasn't one of them. I sold my fifth.

When I speak to non-writing groups (and, unfortunately, some writing groups) and share that fact, they're surprised. Why did it take me so many books? Why didn't I self-publish if NY didn't see my genius? Why didn't I rewrite my first book to make it better? My husband told me once that he would have rewritten and edited and tweaked his first book until it sold or he was dead.

If I had done that with HOT LATTE, I'd be dead before I found a publisher.

I told this story over drinks at the PASIC conference to Toni and Roxanne St. Claire–the talented writer of the Bulletcatchers romantic suspense series. Rocki stared at me, mouth open, and said, "YOU–YOU Allison Brennan–actually wrote a book called HOT LATTE?!?!"

I had a good reason. Every morning my heroine walked to the local coffeehouse and ordered a hot latte. Duh. 

HOT LATTE was a romantic suspense. It had all the elements of a romantic suspense novel–and then some. I wrote it in three months, edited it, proofread it, and thought it would certainly land me an agent and sell. Because, after all, FINISHING a book was certainly the hardest part of writing! (Stop laughing. Now. I mean it, Toni.)

I sent out over fifty queries to agents I'd "pre-qualified"–I didn't know anything about writers groups or critique groups. I was ignorant of most things, except I did know that I shouldn't pay to get my book read or published. I actually found the Preditors & Editors site before I heard of RWA! So my pre-qualifications were kind of limited–they couldn't charge fees, they couldn't be "not recommended" by P&E, and they needed to be looking for romantic suspense. (After this first set of queries, I greatly improved my querying system! But this was my first book.)

After I sent the queries, confident that I would get an offer, I started on my next book. I had a lot of rejections, but that was ok–already, I knew my new book was a better story. I wanted to have it done before I had that contract in hand, so I'd have another book all ready for my new publisher.

Oh, the joys of ignorance.

I ended up with one request for a full manuscript. I was elated. Certainly she loved my voice, and all it takes is one person (well, two if you count the editor who will buy it . . . )

I sent that puppy off, with a nice cover page, an SASE (though I suspected she'd call if she was offering representation, so we could chat), and hope. I mentioned in a new cover letter that she'd requested the manuscript, and I was almost done with my second novel–PROTECTING HART–(Dammit, Toni, if you don't stop laughing at me . . . ) and would she like to see that too?

A few weeks later, I received my SASE. The agent had enclosed my cover letter (attached to writers classes that she and her agenting partner offered–be wary, scams come in many shapes and sizes!) with one word double-underlined:


Fortunately, I have a pretty thick skin. While the scant criticism stung, I had already finished my second novel and had started querying that one. (And no, I never sent another query to that agent again. But recently, said agent asked if I could do her a favor by speaking at a small, regional writers conference because she was a great admirer of my work. Saying no felt really good. Is that petty?)

I have since analyzed my first completed manuscript and "superficial" is the last thing I'd call it. Convoluted, messy, poorly written–yes. But there was a plot–a whole lotta plot–that changed the boundaries of "six degrees of separation" theory to, I don't know, two degrees of separation . . .

If I were writing my logline for HOT LATTE today, I'd have something like this:

Seattle detective investigating a string of serial rapes that take a sudden deadly turn, he realizes that his new, sexy neighbor alarmingly fits the profile–and the web of attacks is getting closer to home.

Okay, that's rough, but it doesn't sound TOO bad, right?

Except that the book had so much . . . more. In fact, it had EVERYTHING.

Romantic Suspense–120,000 words
By Allison Brennan

Leah Cavanaugh is a virgin. (Dammit, I know that hysterical laugh is coming from Alex this time . . . )

Leah works from home, the top floor of a Victorian flat, for a Seattle-based computer company similar to Microsoft. Her primary job is computer security–monitoring the network, testing new security protocols, etc. (I know nothing about this, I made it all up–didn't even know enough to know I knew nothing.) She hears a noise in the vacant second floor apartment. Because even then I couldn't stand too-stupid-to-live females, I didn't have her investigate. She called the police. (Yeah!) Except then she remembered her first floor elderly neighbors, the owners of the building, and she feared they would be hurt or injured by the evil intruder. So grabbing a baseball bat, she ventures downstairs, not wanting to confront anyone, but to get to her neighbors so she could be with them until the police arrived. (Don't ask me why she didn't call.) The intruder is in the stairwell and she hits him; he attacks. Just to defend himself, mind you, because he is after all a cop and the new tenant.

Ta-da. A classic romantic suspense set-up.

The opening chapter wasn't bad, which is probably why I got that request for a full and finaled in a contest.

It gets worse. A whole lot worse.

  • Det. Mark Travis, sex crimes, moved to the apartment because he was being stalked by his psychotic ex-girlfriend. He got a restraining order against her when she went all Fatal Attraction on him, and he's embarrassed by it.
  • Leah is a virgin. Mark is a womanizer.
  • Leah was engaged to a charming VP in her company, who she learned was having an affair. She broke off the engagement.
  • Leah's best friend is the kind VP colleague of her cheating ex.
  • The kind friend discovers someone is stealing secrets from the company, and Leah is tasked with figuring out who it is.
  • Meanwhile, Mark and his partner Dave are investigating a string of rapes. Now one of the victims is dead.
  • Leah goes to a coffeehouse every morning (remember: HOT LATTE. As if anyone could forget . . . ) The guy behind the counter is infatuated with her.
  • We learn soon that he's stalking her.
  • Mark and Leah start talking. They're attracted. They kiss. (This takes about 100 pages, there's a lot of other stuff going on! Corporate espionage, stalking, police work . . . ) 
  • Mark's ex-girlfriend tracks him down and sees him kiss Leah. She plans revenge.
  • Leah's ex-boyfriend turns out to be the one stealing secrets. She turns him in. He disappears.
  • Someone trashes Leah's apartment. (It's Mark's ex-girlfriend, but they don't know that.) 
  • Leah's stalker sees a confrontation between Mark and his ex. 
  • Leah moves into the rectory with her brother, an ex-Marine turned priest. (No one laugh–in SUDDEN DEATH I used this too, only he was ex-special operations turned priest. And it worked this time . . . ) 
  • Mark continues his investigation and begins to suspect that Leah is in danger because of the physical victimology and because the pattern of attacks is getting closer to her apartment, spiraling in. 
  • Her ex tracks her down with his two partners in crime. He's furious she foiled his plans and wants her to break into the payroll system and transfer payroll to his Swiss bank account before it's direct deposited into employee accounts. She refuses. He shoots her brother. Peter is dying and she's forced to help. 
  • Mark and his partner come in and rescue them, arrest the bad guys. 
  • Mark and Leah have sex. 
  • He tells her his theory. She doesn't believe him. He suspects her "kind" friend in the company. She's furious.
  • The stalker breaks into Mark's apartment and steals a knife. He kills Mark's ex-girlfriend and frames him.
  • Mark's arrested and put in jail. 
  • The stalker kidnaps Leah. Takes her to his house. She tries to escape, but fails. He returns, re-captures her, and takes her to a cabin in the Cascades because he learned the police had found his identity.
  • Mark's partner helps prove he couldn't have killed the ex. They learn Leah is missing. 
  • Because of the investigation that's been going on, Mark figures out the killer had to be the guy at the coffeehouse. They go to his house–no one is there. 
  • Except the killer's mother, who's long-dead in her bedroom. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Don't say it.) 
  • They have evidence Leah was there; through property records track down the cabin.
  • Surround it. 
  • The killer wants to get married. He sets up a fake wedding and makes Leah wear a wedding dress. 
  • Bedlam ensues. Mark rescues Leah, but I think Leah ends up killing the stalker–I don't remember. It's been seven years . . .   

Is it any surprise the book was 120K words? It had virtually every element that romantic suspense has–all in one book! No wonder I thought I was brilliant. ROFLOL.

And I didn't even tell you about the crime scenes. Suffice it to say . . . I had some timely memories from previous victims to help Mark figure out Leah was in jeopardy.

Murder, rape, stalking, corporate espionage, virgins, jilted lovers, sex–HOT LATTE had it all. And then some.

I've used many of these elements in future books: Seattle setting/sex crimes detective (THE KILL); stalker/rapist (SPEAK NO EVIL); psychotic ex-girlfriend (KILLING FEAR); ex-soldier priest (SUDDEN DEATH). They work much better solo . . .

I've never regretted writing this book, even though it never sold (and it never SHOULD sell.) I learned so much about story, about pacing, characters, and suspense. Writing HOT LATTE helped me develop my voice. There are some things in that book that are still true for me today:

  • I always develop a villains POV.
  • I usually have at least one law enforcement/investigator as a protagonist. 
  • I have a hero and heroine, they get to have sex, and they survive by the end of the book. (Really, the very basic frame of all romantic thrillers.) 
  • I love writing romantic suspense. 

I'm finishing my twelfth romantic thriller now. After, I'll be doing something a little different, but sometimes authors need to flex their writing muscle after writing similar books, or we get burned out. I don't want to be burned out, I want to love what I write, so this diversion into supernatural evil rather than human evil will be a welcome change.

I've been thinking a lot about debut novels. My debut was THE PREY (my fifth completed manuscript.) Because I enjoy being mentally tortured, I read my reviews. Most people think that my books have gotten better, with minor exceptions. (My mom is always honest with her opinion!) Some people love THE PREY and my first trilogy, and pretty much think everything I've written since is crap. But one review for THE PREY recently said something very interesting:

I have to be honest; If this had been the first Brennan novel I've read, I probably would have enjoyed it more. But because I've read her more recent work, I found this one lacking.

I don't regret writing and publishing THE PREY. I love the story. But I happen to agree with this reviewer. If I wrote that story today, there are some things I would have done different. Not major story points, but there are some scenes that didn't need to be in the book, and others I should have written. I would have limited the introspection more (during revisions, my editor asked for introspection in a variety of places. In hindsight, she didn't want them in EVERY space–she just wanted more depth. I went overboard.) And I would have made my heroine more sympathetic. She was too cold, I think. (But she had good reason!)

I'm proud of the book because it was my first publishable book. Not the first book I wrote, but the first book that was good enough to see print. But like HOT LATTE and PROTECTING HART where I learned about story elements and structure and pacing, I have learned a lot since writing my first trilogy. And I think most authors will agree that, with some exceptions, they've improved.

It's only when we get bored with our stories do they lose the spark that make our books appeal to their rightful audience.

What do you think? Have your favorite authors gotten better? Stayed about the same? Disintegrated into a pile of mush? Do others feel the same, or was it just you?

As an author, do you feel you've improved? Did you sell your first book? Tenth? If you didn't sell your first book, knowing what you know today about your voice and writing, be honest: is that book publishable? Could it be salvaged? Or is it a valuable lesson learned that helped you become the author you are today?

I didn't have my trailer up and ready for my last post, but this time I did something a little different: I advertised the entire trilogy in one trailer. (Yes, I know, book trailers don't sell books–but I still love doing them, so I tell myself it's because I want to give something back to my readers. But I do it for me first, just like I write.)

23 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Superficial Novel

  1. billie

    Allison, I’ve said before that the first book I wrote (I refer to it as The Monstrosity) was basically the sourcebook for the next three novels in my head.

    It was almost like it all came out at once, and I just had to let it come and then start pulling out what I needed.

  2. toni mcgee causey

    I cannot help the laughter. There is nothing like hearing this story live. Rocki and Kim and I were all doubled over, laughing ’til we hurt as Allison would say, “and OH YEA,” and then add another book’s worth of plot–but it was how she told it that had us dying laughing. By the end of that conversation, we were plotting how to get to Allison’s house and find that sucker.

    Even though I sold on my first book, I’d had scripts that went through the producer grinding mill for a few years, so I’d done enough completed projects to make the book feel like an extension of those, not a wholly new virginal thing. I look back at that first script that also sort of had everything in it like Allison’s story (except mine was about a singer and the person trying to kill her, because really, there’s never been a story like that)(cough)… and I’m so grateful to have improved. Book three is far far far better than book 2 was. Book 2 was an improvement over book 1 in a lot of ways, but I’m grateful I got the opportunity to go back and finesse it for the mass market release. (We had major major galley errors and very little time to catch everything. I got to go back and fix all of that, for which I was overjoyed.)

    I do want to see an author improve–mostly because they’ve raised the bar with what I expect from them if I like them enough to go back to pick up their second book. Selling me on the second one was a good job… but now they need to give me a reason to want to go pick up the third.

  3. Dana

    I haven’t sold a novel yet, but I’ve been on a bit of a roll with shorts lately, so I’d have to say I’m getting better. At least the responses are.

    As for my favorite authors, some are getting better, some stay about the same, some have slid. That’s among the reasons I admire Ed McBain’s work so much. I read his last six or eight books in pretty much the order in which they came out, and he was still getting better, even though he was in his 70s and had been an acknowledged master for a long time.

    As for the agent and her invitation to speak, I wold have accepted. I then would have spoken about what to look out for when querying agents, citing, in detail, everything she’d done. Without using her name, of course. I would also have insisted that she remain present while I spoke, just so I could watch.

  4. pari

    Allison,You commented about Alex and I being bookends . . . well, I think you’ll feel totally confirmed tomorrow.

    It took me two books to get published and I’ve never regretted the first ones because of what I learned. They, too, had everything.

    As a matter of fact, when Sara Ann Freed read the second one, she called me and said, “Well . . . now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, I think you’re ready to write your book.” Heh heh heh. It was so true.

    I’ve read several authors in long series who have made them more and more compelling — and others who seemed to be resting far too much on their laurels. You can guess which ones I actually buy.

  5. Sandra Sookoo

    You’re absolutely right! I have a few favorite authors and eventually, they do write the same book over and over. It’s boring, and I have to say, I bought the last books because of the author name but never read them. Yikes lol

    I’ve not sold a book to NY yet but I have had moderate success with e-pubs. Because I didn’t want to get bored with my own work, I switched to writing romantic suspense/mysteries. You know what? I really like that genre! I’m plotting out my second mystery as we speak–type 🙂

    Writing rocks. 🙂

  6. Allison Brennan

    Billie, I think you did it right–sometimes the hardest part of writing is to just WRITE–before I sold, I didn’t have that problem. I wrote a lot of crap. But with my debut novel, I went back and edited, revised, and smoothed it out. I had a great critique group. But if I hadn’t dumped it out on the page, I wouldn’t have finished. I have a harder time now just letting go and WRITING instead of write-edit-write-edit-write-edit. I think, “Dammit, Allison, you’re on your TWELFTH! book, you need to be better than this.” (16 if you count the four books I didn’t sell!) But all books are hard.

    The laughter might have had something to do with the wine, Toni . . . 🙂

    LOL Dana, I don’t think she would have noticed . . . It WAS back in 2002 . . . but even if I wasn’t frantically on a deadline during the event, I wouldn’t have gone because I don’t want to support agents like that and by attending, I would have indirectly been supporting her. I guess I’m petty that way . . . but I’m genuinely not confrontational.

    Pari, I can’t wait to read your post! For me, I’m always amazed that Nora Roberts JD Robb series is getting better. I love those books, read them in one or two sittings, and think that they’re among the best long-running series out there. My mom can’t get enough of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, and has turned on one of my friends and her best friend’s husband to the series. Because my mom’s retired and on a fixed income, if she’s buying in hardcover, you know the books are worth it! 🙂

    Of course, Rob, you’re a guy 😉

    Hi Sandra! I think one problem authors have is that we are constantly thinking about our audience. Before you’re sold, you write what you want to write (which is why I always tell aspiring authors to never follow a trend, unless your heart is in the genre. If you sell, you’ll be writing in that genre for a long, long time . . . ) But after you sell, especially if you’ve built an audience and hit bestseller lists and there are (gasp!) expectations, you struggle to meet those expectations while also writing things that are new and different. It’s a constant challenge and struggle. Good luck with your mystery!

  7. Marilyn Brant

    Allison,I love, love, love this story! And you’re right–it’s amazing what we can learn about ourselves as writers if we analyze our earliest projects.

    My first book to sell was my 5th manuscript, too. Sometimes I reread parts of my first completed manuscript (which I rewrote 3 times, btw–every version a little less dreadful, but NONE of them even close to publishable) just to remind myself of the endless elements novelists need to juggle.

    But it’s funny, all of the contemporary women’s fiction themes I still love to write about were evident in that first book and, on the sentence level, it’s not a completely unreadable project… Everywhere I look, though, there are scene and arc problems that make me alternate between hysterical laughter and cringing. (And, oh, did I mention that one of the heroes–there were two–was a MOVIE STAR?! Yeah. 🙂

    My debut doesn’t come out until the fall, and I’m writing the second one now…I’d like to think it’ll be better than the first, but of course there’s a persistent fear that it might not. I suspect reviewers won’t spare me their opinions later…

    I think your early attempts in your genre served you very well–even if Hot Latte won’t be hitting the shelves anytime soon :). I’m in awe of your ability to write believable romantic suspense. I tried it for half a book once and the result was even MORE dreadful than my first manuscript, which–trust me–is saying something!

    Thanks so much for the entertaining post!!

  8. Allison Brennan

    Thanks Marilyn! And congrats on your debut novel . . . I love debuts. Even if they’re not “perfect” there’s a passion in them that’s often missing in subsequent books. (The fear factor!)

  9. Terry Odell

    Well, at least you knew you were writing a romantic suspense. I’d never read a romance when I started writing my first manuscript. I thought I was writing a mystery.

    It didn’t fit the NY profile, and probably wasn’t strong enough if it had, but I did sell it to a major e-publisher (after countless rewrites) and it even garnered a few nice awards.

    My second release, which was the third book I wrote, and the one totally unrelated to anything else, has fared the best.

    I haven’t had any multiple book deals, so all my books have been different, although I did write three related books. The first one sold, but since the publisher doesn’t buy more than one at a time, if I want to find another home for books 2 and 3, I’ve had to keep them out of the ‘connected book’ arena.

    I keep learning — but I think that comes with the territory.

  10. Alan Orloff

    I guess “5” is the lucky number. I, too, sold the fifth manuscript I wrote (it will be out next April).

    Recently, I decided to go back and “polish up” ms number two. Well, as you might imagine, while the characters and storyline weren’t bad, the prose was. Horribly bad. Very, very horribly bad (that’s an example!). So I opened up two side-by-side windows on my computer and rewrote every single sentence.

    I won’t even talk about my first manuscript. It remains under my bed, no threat to society.

  11. Louise Ure

    Allison, I kind of like all the plot points in HOT LATTE. Just think, a reader could have gotten a whole year’s worth of reading in, with just the price of one book!

    I did sell my first ever manuscript, and yes there are things I would have written differently. (Starting of course, with an opening scene different than having my protagonist wake up in bed. And I’ll never again describe a character by having them look at themselves in a mirror.)

    But I loved the comment from an Arizona newspaper reviewer who said in our pre-review phone conversation last month, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but your writing gets better and better with each book.” Yeah!

  12. Lori Armstrong

    Raising hand – Blood Ties was the fifth book I finished and the first one I sold in 2004.

    And NO WAY will I ever go back and try to “fix” those early manuscripts. I’ve finished 18 other projects since then (5 other full-length mysteries, 8 full length erotic romances and 5 erotic romance novellas) so I hope to God I’m improving.

    I’d love to have heard the story firsthand 🙂

  13. J.D. Rhoades

    Never did sell my first book. It was quite a bit different from anything I’ve written since. It was more in the humorous mystery mode), and I still like big chunks of parts of it, but it was pretty derivative. And too short.

    Am I getting better? Jeez, I sure hope so.

    Are my favorite writers getting better? Most of them. But you know, the more books someone does, the more likely it is that they’re going to write one that makes you go “eh,” or even one that makes you go “Who are you and what the hell have you done with [insert favorite writer’s name here]?”

    Case in point: Stephen King. King’s written some of my all-time favorite books, books that have blown me away. He’s also written DREAMCATCHER. ‘Nuff said.

  14. Allison Brennan

    Terry, exactly! Learning comes with the territory. I think one of my frustrations with *some* aspiring writers is that they think their writing is perfect and refuse constructive criticism. I thought HOT LATTE was perfect when I finished it; it wasn’t until after I started the next book did I see the flaws.

    Very, very horribly bad . . . sounds like something from my first (few) books, LOL.

    Exactly, Louise! I was writing the romantic thriller to end all romantic thrillers! LOL . . . BTW, in my debut novel I had my heroine waking up in bed, too. 🙂

    Hey Lori, I sold my first book (fifth manuscript) also in 2004! I have 11 books, 2 short stories, and 1 novella since . . . that’s 14 projects. Damn, and I thought I was fast. I have to catch up with you! Wish you could have been there . . . next time!

    Dusty, I think you’re right–every once in awhile there’s a dud. We just hope that our readers will forgive us. I don’t read Sue Grafton (like I need to start another series!) but my mom loves her. She really didn’t like S and only bought T because she has every book in the series . . . she said T was probably the best of all the books. I also love Stephen King, have read probably 80% of his work, and the wallbanger for me was INSOMNIA. Just insert “Cure for” in front of the title. TOMMYKNOCKERS started good but . . . well, fizzled is an understatement. I never tried DREAMCATCHER but my best friend really liked that one. But King’s written two of my all-time favorite books, many of my other favorites, and his short stories/novellas rock.

  15. Pammy D


    Great post! However I blew coffee out my nose when I read the agent’s one word critique of your ms. “SUPERFICIAL”. Oh my God, how awful, but how funny! I’m currently agent hunting. I got back one reply which included the critique, “TEDIOUS.” Does tedious trump superficial or vice versa? Thanks for the encouragement!

  16. Jill James

    Allison, knowing how good your stories are now, I love this story. There is hope for the rest of us.

    I have a first finished story that will never see the light of day. Headhopping doesn’t begin to describe that poor book. I think the whole thing is in author POV. LOL

  17. Allison Brennan

    Yeah Pammy! I think we could blend our rejections and get “TEDIOUSLY SUPERFICIAL.” I could go through hundreds of rejections from friends . . . a good friend of mine, and former crit partner who is now published with Pocket, had a contest judge who’d written, “It’s obvious English is your second language . . . ” (And no, it’s not.)

    But the most important thing is keep querying and keep writing, because honestly, HOT LATTE wasn’t publishable. Neither was my second book. My third–I didn’t even query it. The only reason I finished it was because I had 70,000 words and I thought if I didn’t finish it, I’d never finish anything else again. My fourth book–that one I want to revisit some day. But like Alan above, I would probably need to completely rewrite it, sentence by sentence. And it’s out of genre–a futuristic borderline science fiction romantic suspense with lots of travel to and from the moon and Mars. 🙂

    Hi Jill! There’s hope for everyone 🙂 . . . and headhopping? I remember a contest judge who, without being a condescending bitch, explained what head hopping was on my manuscript. Then I got it! Woo hoo! Now I do it only on purpose 🙂

  18. Gayle Carline

    Allison, I feel your pain. My first book was not only godawful, I thought it was the only book I had in me. I was aiming for a literary tome – by the time I finished it needed to be in a tomb. It didn’t help that I: 1) thought all you did was write the end and start shopping it; and 2) teamed up with one other person to form a writing “group”. NOTE TO ANYONE LISTENING – TWO PEOPLE DOES NOT MAKE A GROUP. She liked romances. Guess what I ended up writing?

    Thing is, I don’t read romance, and didn’t want to write one. Eventually, I grieved my 90,000-word POS and wrote what I like, which is a mystery, due out from Echelon Press in late summer/early fall this year. I’m truly in love with this book, and not because it’s my debut. It’s just fun.

    BTW, I’m going to have ARCs soon, if anyone’s interested in reading about a housecleaner-turned-PI who finds a severed hand in a guy’s freezer (as they say, mayhem ensues). It’s a quick read. I know, because I wrote it fast (LOL).

    Gayle Carline

  19. Stacey Cochran

    Most of y’all know that I’m currently on my eleventh novel, that I’ve received over 2,000 rejections, and that I’ve pretty much been doing this full-time for 15 years.

    I guess if I had anything to add… it would be to ask, if you had never sold a novel, do you think you’d keep writing your entire life? 10, 15, 20 novels… how many could you write if no one ever published your work?

  20. kit

    Hi Allison,I’ve been an avid reader for so long, my friends believe I came down the birth canal with a book in my hands.It’s just been the past couple of years that I have sat my butt in the chair and tried to write myself, it started with the thought of “I could write this…”On the very hard days, it’s posts like this that keep me going….The point is…we, as readers, just get to see the finished product…it isn’t until you tell about the *growing pains* that the full story comes through.Funny thing, is even before you started blogging on here…I had randomly bought your books and enjoyed your stories…I’m glad you weren’t put off by “superficial”.

  21. Allison Brennan

    Gayle, you’re right–you need a good critique group–people who will not change your voice, who read multi-genre, and are constructive in their criticism. But like with all editing, writers need to take a step back from their own work and learn to discern advice. Meaning, listen to everything, but use only that which works for your voice and the story you’re trying to tell.

    Hi Kit: Thanks! And growing pains is it. I often lament writers who let the fear get to them that they can’t submit, can’t finish, can’t edit — or can’t let go of that one book. “Superficial” was hard to hear, but at the same time, I’ve always been someone who hates being told I CAN’T do something.

    Stacey–you probably don’t want to hear this, but I know someone who sold their 19th completed manuscript in a three book deal to a major house. She was near tears when she told her story. The question you ask is one I ask when I give one of my workshops: “If you knew today that you would never be published, would you continue writing?” If the answer is an unqualified yes, then you are halfway to publication already. Most people give up. You haven’t. You’re not a quitter. I’m sure you’ve read Stephen King’s book ON WRITING. He stuck his rejections on a big nail in the wall–and had to get a bigger nail (or more nails, I forget the story.) I know that if I hadn’t sold, I would be intensely frustrated and that would probably show in my writing. But I also know that I would have continued writing. And obviously you made that same decision.


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