The Book From Hell

By Louise

Let me start out with the best news of all: I just signed a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. The first of those two books will be THE FAULT TREE, the story of a blind female auto mechanic who overhears a murder take place. Think “Wait Until Dark,” with a protagonist who knows how to change the oil in your Chevy.    


Now the bad news. I just got the editorial notes from Michael Homler, my new editor at St. Martin’s. I haven’t met him yet, but his voice still holds a passion for this business, and his words waft down like rose petals on my head.


He loves the book. He says things like, “Don’t you dare change a word here. This is one of the best scenes in the book.” He says, “Your writing is too fine to touch.”

He did ask if I’d think about deleting one sentence. I’ve given it some thought. He’s right.

But here’s where he’s wrong.

I haven’t read the manuscript for a couple of months now, so I’m approaching it with fresh eyes.

; Suck

It sucks.

Whatever made me think those words could come out of that character’s mouth? Why didn’t I change that hackneyed phrase before anyone outside my nuclear family ever read this tripe? How is it possible that I’ve strung together 80,000 words of pure shit?


; Sbholdpilepapers_1

And he doesn’t want me to change anything.


Last week Simon Wood wrote about tinkering with a manuscript he thought was already done. He approached that rewrite with the attitude that he’d grown and improved in his writing since it was first “finished.”

I’m approaching this revision with the cowering, cringing mantra: “What could I have been thinking?”


The gang over at First Offenders calls this syndrome: ITOTALLYSUCKITIS.

I totally understand ITOTALLYSUCKITIS.

In typical insecure-author behavior, I emailed my buddy, Jude Greber. “The pacing is glacial. The writing is drivel. I hate it.”

“Oh yeah, I heard that St. Martin’s was looking for a particularly plodding, badly written book for next year. Glad you guys got together,” she replied.


Sarcasm doesn’t become her.

I hear that some authors have inflated egos. That they’re stunned when their work is not recognized with awards and Top Ten rankings. When reviewers call it “a good read” instead of “a great read.”

I’m not one of them.When I read a review of my work, my eyes skim over everything until I get to the word "however." Sometimes it’s "but." The rest of the sentence will be seared onto my retinas forever.

I swoon when an editor says nice things. I renamed my dog after the sweet reader who sent a complimentary email. (I’d rename a child, but I don’t have one.)

And then I question their taste and their judgment.

What is it about author insecurities that we’re more than willing to accept  the criticism, but find it hard to embrace the accolades? Or maybe it’s a personal character flaw, and has nothing to do with writing at all.

In any case, I held my nose as I approached the revision. To paraphrase a C&W song-writing cousin of mine, I’d rather be knee deep in disease and go bald-headed from the burning fever than to have to go back through this manuscript again. But I did.

Hey, wait a minute, there’s a nice turn of phrase on page fourteen. And that minor character from the auto body shop still makes me laugh.

And you know what? Michael’s right about this scene. It doesn’t need any changes at all.


What about you other writer guys? Do you accept a pat on the back as readily as a slap on the face? Or is it the other way around? Any readers want to chime in on the lack o’ confidence question?

61 thoughts on “The Book From Hell

  1. Lesa Holstine

    So, Louise, do I get a pet named after me? And, when do I get to mention your book contract on my blog, and congratulate you? I agree – I’ve read enough books published by St. Martin’s. I don’t think they really want to publish a dull, poorly written book, let alone two.

  2. Jim Winter

    I’m just finishing up a project in time to start pitching in February. On an objective level, I like how it’s turning out, and I can also see where an editor might be able to take it to the next level. Let’s say it’s pitch ready.

    At the same time, I’m thinking, “Who the hell do I think I am? This is crap! Utter crap! I’ve wasted how much time working on this?”

    It’s a contradiction I can live without. I think it’s because the book has lost that new book smell. Yanno?

  3. Louise Ure

    Lesa, forget about the pets. I’m renaming my SISTER Lesa Holstine. And I’d be honored if you’d include the St. Martin’s news on your blog.

    And Jim, “that new book smell” says it all.

  4. Al

    Congrats, Louise! Great news. And, yes, I too look back at what I’ve written and bang my head off the nearest wall in despair. Rather than ITOTALLYSUCKITIS I prefer to think of it as I-Can-Do-Better Syndrome, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Unless you’re like me and keep editing books that are already published. Such futility…

  5. Bryon Quertermous

    First, congrats on the great deal. Second, I completely understand this and have this particular problem with literary magazines. I will try and try to get into certain markets I see as top notch, and then of course if I get a story accepted I’m thrilled, and then that publication immediately loses a little credibility with me for accepting something I wrote that’s so crappy.

  6. David J. Montgomery

    I’ve heard good stuff about Michael Homler, so you’re in fine hands.

    All writers think their work sucks. (Except for the ones who really do suck — they think their stuff is great.)

    It’s all just part of the disease.

  7. louiseure

    Hey, Quertermous, that’s the Groucho Marx disease, isn’t it? “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”

    Al, I found myself doing the same thing at book signings/readings. When I’d read a passage from the book, I’d correct it to the way I wanted it to sound now. Maybe we never finish tinkering.

    And David, your comment means that I’m at least in good company with this attitude.

  8. JT Ellison

    Louise! Fantastic news! And Michael Homler is a great guy.

    Heh, I thought I had the market concerned on insecurity this week. I think it’s more a function of being too close for too long, then stepping away. If anything, this should be a good lesson — stepping away for a few weeks will sharpen your perspective.The thought of you writing tripe is hard to imagine.

  9. Pari Noskin Taichert



    Reading reviews like you do? Yep.

    BTW: I love Judy’s comment.

    Right now, I’m feeling such relief to know that my latest manuscript is at the publisher. When it comes back with its myriad copyedited corrections and “suggestions,” you’ll hear the moans all the way to CA.

    After I get over that, I’ll actually enjoy making SOCORRO better.

    But, I’m writing a draft of the next book — and, boy, does it suck.

  10. Alex Sokoloff

    Fabulous news, Louise!!! Welcome to SM (I just love saying that).

    It can always be better. You’re already better than better. I’m not worried about you or your book at all. But I sympathize, because this book I’m working on now? It really, really sucks.

  11. louiseure

    Hi JT and Pari! It sounds like we ought to change our glog name from Murderati to INSECURITIES-R-US this week.

    And Michael Homler is probably lurking here somewhere today, so keep saying nice things about him.

    Pari, SOCORRO is already great. I know it is. And no, the next one doesn’t really suck. (But I know how you feel.)

  12. patty smiley

    Louise, you wouldn’t be a real writer if you didn’t feel this way. Sometimes I think I keep getting book contracts because my mother is paying off my publisher. If she had any real money I’d worry.

  13. CaraBlack

    You go, girl! Congratulations.

    I saw my editor in NYC last week. “Well, this new manuscript was clean…. I didn’t have to change anything,” she said. Then paused. Right away my heart hit my knees…”Yes?” She shrugged. “It’s gone to the copyeditors…” and then she smiled. “But let me show you the cover.”

    A reprieve? A ghastly foretaste of what’s to come from a nitpicky copyeditor who once accused me of not having the proper bistro glassware in a café?

    Cara scanning the mail everyday for copyedits

  14. louiseure

    So, Alex, what is this next book? (NOT) HARROWING? You couldn’t possibly write a crappy book.

    And Patty, I want to borrow your mother. Whether she’s hand-selling your books in the hospital, or bribing your publisher with homemade cookies, whatever it is, it’s working.

  15. louiseure

    Cara, your editor sounds grand. (And your writing must be more than grand for her to have passed it along so quickly.)

    I love copy editors. Every little, nitpicky hair on their heads.

    You, see, I, am, comma-challenged. I can use all the help I can get.

  16. billie

    Louise! Huge congratulations! What great news. 🙂

    Go with the flow on the other stuff – I agree with whoever said that most good writers worry about their work. It’s a sign that your heart is in it, and also a sign that if there *is* anything wrong you and your editor will fix it.


  17. louiseure

    Okay Elaine and Cornelia. Consider this my formal request for a blurb for THE FAULT TREE. With you guys behind it, how can I lose?

    And yes, damn it. Judy is always right.

    Thanks, Billie. I’m practicing my calming mantra now.

  18. Elaine Flinn

    Oh, but flattery will get you everywhere with me. I ain’t a big name, but I’d be honored to tell the world just how much you suck. 🙂

    And speaking of Judy Greber – she’s my guest tomorrow at On The Bubble – a great gal, terrific writer and all the other lovely things one would say about this gem of a lady.

  19. Naomi

    Congrats, Louise. I love the title and I think that I mentioned earlier that the premise is intriguing. With you and your husband’s love of automobiles, this makes total sense.

    It’s so hard to get the proper distance to figure out whether certain scenes or the whole book, for that matter, work or not. My emotions go all over the map. Sometimes do you go back to something you’ve written, and honestly wondered, who wrote this?

  20. louiseure

    Naomi said: “Sometimes do you go back to something you’ve written, and honestly wondered, who wrote this?”

    If it’s beautifully written, I never look that gift horse in the mouth.

    If it’s dreck, on the other hand …

    Waving a collegial insecure hand to you, Simon!

  21. Deb Kristy

    *gasp* Louise, get out of my head! I simply cannot imagine that my book is going out in pulic the way it is. It is quite clear to me that the editor who bought it was totally out of her head in pain from her recent surgery. Oh, yes, I suck.

    And congratulations on the book deal!

  22. louiseure

    Hang on, Kristy. Is this the same novel they’re calling a “hauntingly beautiful, lyrical debut?” I think you’re in a further advanced state of ITOTALLYSUCKITIS than I am.

  23. Michael Homler

    I am indeed lurking… everyone pay attention to our Minotaur Program! It just keeps getting better and better. And Louise will be a big part of that… In fact, someone on the subway stopped and asked me for Louise’s autograph earlier today… But relax, Louise, I resisted the urge to give them all of your contact info… You are very lucky!;)

  24. louiseure

    Michael, you’re spreading my name around on the subway? Well, it’s better than bathroom walls anyway.

    What’s that old Linda Ronstadt song? “They all said Louise was not half bad. It was written on the walls and window shades…”

    Thanks for stopping by today.

  25. spyscribbler

    Big congratulations, Louise!

    ITOTALLYSUCKITIS is a disease that usually causes progress. Side effects are tears, demoralization, and depression.

    One of the best writers I know hates her work in direct to proportion to how good it is. She’s taught me that no matter how much I hate it, it’s never as bad as it feels. 🙂 (And btw, your friend’s sarcasm is hilarious!)

  26. Tom, T.O.

    You did it again! Incited a posting riot! So many good, smart, perceptive people in agreement as to just how much your work really sucks. What could I possibly add to that? And I like your editor, Michael, already.I’ve been disturbed all day by the news of Barbara Seranella’s death. I knew her slightly, from reading her books and speaking with her briefly at signings, and I thought she was recovering (she said she was some months ago); and so this was unexpected. I liked her as a person and as a writer.So please forgive me, Louise, but I find it a fitting, coincidental tribute/passing-the-torch-for-one-stand-alone book about another female auto mechanic, albeit blind, even if it sucks.All you mystery/thriller writers make such a difference in the lives of your readers: know that you are appreciated, no matter how much you suck.

  27. Karen Olson

    So many congratulations, Louise! And you certainly do not suck, although I understand ITOTALLYSUCKITIS, since that’s all in our heads. I can’t wait to read FAULT TREE and help you get over this dreadful disease!

  28. louiseure

    Karen and Mike, thank you for the congrats. I would think you guys would never suffer from ITOTALLYSUCKITIS. And if you have it, I hope it’s temporary.

    Spyscribbler, I agree. Jude’s humor is deadly funny. She’s both honest and witty. And that’s almost as dangerous a combination as Bush’s arrogant and ignorant.

    But Mr. Tom. I’ve had Barbara S. on my mind all day, too. Did you know she was one of the first people to read the full manuscript of THE FAULT TREE? Her take on it was important; if I couldn’t convince her that Cadence Moran was a mechanic then I was lost. Her comment? “A blind female auto mechanic? Louise, you’ve nailed it.”

  29. Keri

    Wonderful, wonderful news, Louise! My biggest congratulations to you. I can hardly wait to read THE FAULT TREE.

    (What? ITOTALLYSUCKITIS doesn’t go away when you become a published author? Lalalalalalala I can’t hear you . . . )

  30. Rob Gregory Browne

    I was going through a heavy duty case of Itotallysuckitis when I sent my second book into my US and UK editors. I knew they were going to hate it.

    Now, although my US editor hasn’t read it yet, my UK editor told me in all caps that she absolutely LOVES it.

    That was enough to pull me out of the Itotallysuck mode. Now, of course, until I get the word from my US editor, my mode is and will continue to be Ionlyhalfwaysuck.

    We are always our own worst critics, because no matter how hard we try, the book we have in our head never gets on the page. I don’t think it’s possible.

  31. louiseure

    RGB said: “No matter how hard we try, the book we have in our head never gets on the page. I don’t think it’s possible.”

    That line deserves a blog all by itself. What is that lack of synapse between the head and the page? It’s like trying to recount a dream with as much fear or euphoria as you felt dreaming it.

    And Keri, I have it on good authority that ITOTALLYSUCKITIS is a chronic disease. Doesn’t matter how many books you have published.

  32. Sharon Wheeler

    No, really, there’s a cure for ITOTALLYSUCKITIS. Trust me, I’m a journalist!

    Louise, I can’t wait to read the book . . .

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