An Update on the Book

So yesterday my editor got back to me with his finished copyedit of my manuscript. There is good news and bad news. I’ll start with the bad.

The editor highlighted some weaknesses in the story arc, one of which is quite fundamental and would be a principle reason why any traditional publisher would reject it. To be fair I knew this already, and I didn’t address it because I had a particular story in mind when I started and didn’t want to deviate from it too much. I thought the story arc I had would work on some levels, but the editor’s remarks have brought home the fact that it wouldn’t have mass appeal. The same is true for the other weaknesses, i.e. I knew about them before, but they are more minor. What I probably didn’t appreciate, and it sounds obvious in hindsight, is how little wriggle-room you have with these things. If I ever thought my witty prose could make up for a flawed story-arc and my book would become a bestseller anyway – well, I don’t think that now.

The editor also pointed out some things I didn’t already know. When writing in the first person the narrative can become unbalanced as the reader develops an intimacy with the narrator greater than that with the other characters, who are only viewed through the narrator’s eyes. This is something I’d have to bear in mind next time.

I stepped away from the book for about seven weeks while the editor’s time slot came around, and didn’t so much as glance at it. Digesting the editor’s remarks, and thinking about what I’ve written, something dawned on me: it is less a novel (in terms of structure) than a character study and social commentary which takes the format of a story. In short, it is something partway between a novel and my blog. This wasn’t my intention but, as is abundantly clear, I’m winging it here, trying to work things out as I go. This also explains why I was struggling so much with the blurb, and rejecting the valiant efforts of my readers to write one for me.

The good news is the actual edits aren’t that serious and most relate to style, consistency, use of commas, and repeated words. There isn’t much by way of rewriting entire passages (this wasn’t a developmental edit after all) and the editor even told me that my writing is cleaner than most. The other good news is that the editor seems to be good at what he does and his suggestions sensible. By the time I’m done implementing them it should read pretty well and not have people throwing the book at the wall in disgust at clunky prose and lame clichés.

So here we are. I now have a choice of either setting about making substantial rewrites, or going with it as it is. I’ve decided on the latter. I still want to tell the story as I originally envisaged it, and I don’t want to make major changes in the hope more people will like it. I would much rather incorporate the feedback and tailor my product to reader’s expectations in a second book, which will be far more conventional, than mangle my first one. Back when I started this project I always thought it would be a learning process and that getting the first book done and out the door was the first major milestone in becoming a decent writer. If an author’s third or fourth book is to be his best, he must first write a first and second. When I’ve read the thoughts of writers online, they’ve all said you need to write as much as you can and churn the stuff out, rather than spend years trying to perfect your one masterpiece. This first effort was never going to be a masterpiece, but it is the first rung of a ladder. Frankly, I’d rather spend the time and energy on a second book than on this one, which may only have limited appeal at best. Besides, I’ve kept you all waiting long enough: if I don’t get this out there soon you’ll all think I’m one of these bullshitters who is always going to do something wonderous “next year”.

It does leave me with a dilemma though. I don’t want to spend much time and effort marketing a book whose story-arc isn’t up to scratch and I feel may let people down – particularly if they’ve paid for it. If nothing else, it may damage my reputation as a storyteller before I even have one and I don’t want that. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to publish it somewhere on this site, probably on its own page, at regular intervals as a serial. I haven’t worked out the intervals or installment lengths yet but I will, and it will be free to everyone just by following the link. In parallel, I will publish it on Amazon both as an e-book and in paperback for all those who don’t want to wait for each installment of the serial and those who are still keen on a copy despite all my warnings here. I’m not intending to make money on it so I’ll keep it cheap, and I’ll still send signed copies to anyone I promised one to.

My plan is to drive traffic to each installment of the serial, and get discussions going on the topics therein. The number of returning visitors, and the number of people who subsequently buy the whole thing on Amazon, will give me an idea of how popular it is. The advantage of this approach is I don’t need to fret too much about writing a brilliant blurb: the installments will be the main marketing tool now. If by some miracle it proves very popular and people start talking about it, I can think about marketing the actual book more aggressively using their feedback. At the end, if I think I can shift a few more copies on Amazon, I can pull the serial offline.

So that’s where I am. I need to incorporate the editor’s comments and start thinking again about a blurb and a cover. If work stuff doesn’t get in my way, I’m hoping it will all be done and published in February.

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36 thoughts on “An Update on the Book

  1. “When writing in the first person the narrative can become unbalanced as the reader develops an intimacy with the narrator greater than that with the other characters, who are only viewed through the narrator’s eyes. ”

    Yes, but… Having read all of the Reacher books, plus the stand-alone book about the writing of one of the novels where Lee Child was followed/watched by some professor throughout the writing process (‘Reacher Said Nothing’), it becomes apparent that the nature of the story largely dictates the first or third person approach. Child uses both as he needs to, but is fully aware that the reader discovers things as Reacher does in the first person and in the third information is imparted to the reader which our hero cannot yet know. In other words, it all depends on what the author wants to say and how he says it.

    Neither is implicitly right or wrong, they are just approaches.

    The tough thing to swallow about editors — and I have good stuff* rejected and average stuff accepted by their kind — is that they don’t always get it right. Doris Lessing is among numerous authors who had work rejected when submitted under a pseudonym but the publishers, when the truth came out, fell over themselves to say they really quite liked it after all. Just like all the record companies who knew, just knew, the Beatles weren’t any good. Yeah, right…

    I believe TS Elliot was advised to drop the line ‘This is how the world ends’ from his poem ‘The Hollow Men’ but that is what a lot of people remember about his work.

    I understand your idea of a serial but I still think you need to merely price the completed story right and see what happens. If you are not doing it for the money but the exercise of writing and experience of selling, then it doesn’t matter. A few months ago I was in a bookshop and a woman was selling her memoirs of nursing, self-published, from a table in a corner. It was a Sunday afternoon and she was going to be there for two hours, selling copies at eight quid each. I bought a copy for a relative but frankly, it was poor stuff and filled with typos which in all fairness the woman acknowledged. However, she sold three copies in the first twenty minutes alone so was on course for £140 for little effort but standing and smiling and being willing to chat. Maybe you can find a friendly bookstore and launch from there, although yes, you do have to pay for a stack of printed books first.

    But… you do what you think is right, and damn the torpedoes. Anyway, you have this well-read platform to help a launch.

    *In my opinion the good stuff was rejected, but then I would say that wouldn’t I?

  2. “The editor highlighted some weaknesses in the story arc, one of which is quite fundamental and would be a principle reason why any traditional publisher would reject it.”

    If I was to be honest, the subject of the book hasn’t grabbed me at all, although your posts about its development have been interesting.

    But the above makes me want to read it, probably to see if I can spot the problem.

    Bit odd really.

  3. But the above makes me want to read it, probably to see if I can spot the problem.

    One potential problem with real life stories about messed up people and the relative mundanes who get swept up in their chaos is that there’s rarely a nice neat emotional payoff at the end. The Hero rarely wins the day, the Villain rarely gets suitably punished or even a modicum of self-awareness. Events don’t follow a nice escalating progression to an obvious dramatic climax.

  4. Do the minor editing and go ahead and publish it you wont regret it and you will be miles ahead of where you are now in this score. It’s only after you complete something that you learn most about it.

  5. Go though the process of producing a printed and bound version before serialising it, if only because you will find and correct a load more typos and grammatical errors than you have so far on a screen. It’s just a strange fact.

    Do you have a postal address for Laurie Penny’s signed copy?

  6. I very much enjoyed reading the blog posts that are the basis of your upcoming book. Which I reckon is reason enough to expect that I will enjoy reading the book itself (mark me down as a sale on the e-book version).

    My mind boggles at the sheer volume of women who can’t cope. By cope, I mean:
    • Live independently
    • Work and sustain themselves
    • Be involved in relationships that work and also ones that don’t
    • Experience the death of loved ones
    • Suffer sicknesses, unemployment, rejection and success.
    All of these are part of the human experience, why should being a female excuse anyone from the experience? I suspect it may be rooted in upbringing. My sister and I were raised by an extremely strong woman who was widowed after only ten years of marriage and who raised two very independent, self-sufficient daughters.

    I hate, with a vengeance, that “feminists” think that women deserve special “treatment” and “equality”.

    We effing don’t.

    My business and personal successes (and failures) are mine, they have nothing to do with my gender.

  7. “I thought the story arc I had would work on some levels, but the editor’s remarks have brought home the fact that it wouldn’t have mass appeal.”

    My memory of your thoughts lo these many weeks ago when you spoke of this here was that you were specifically going the way you were going even in the full knowledge that you might not hit a mass appeal point – and I thought you defended your decision quite well. You had reasons for this decision.

    Is it possible that working with an industry person has skewed your viewpoint over to a more “mass appeal is everything” view than you had before?

    I’ve had very good editors look at my work, and many times they have simply done an excellent job of showing me how to write what they would write. Which can be good, so long as I was looking to write what they would have written.

    Of course, if what you’re describing is actually a flaw that you missed before, that’s different. But don’t abandon a central aspect of your product just because your editor likes a different one more.

  8. The tough thing to swallow about editors — and I have good stuff* rejected and average stuff accepted by their kind — is that they don’t always get it right.

    To be fair to this guy, he told me what I already knew, i.e. he’s probably right. He didn’t say “this is crap” it was more “the story arc is missing this and this” in relation to a conventional novel.

  9. Wow. Looking forward to it.

    Yay! At this rate I can quit the oil business replace my mouse mat!

  10. But the above makes me want to read it, probably to see if I can spot the problem.

    This is fascinating! I think I’m going to take this new-found approach to marketing into industry.

    Customer: I don’t like your machine.
    Me: Oh, but it is flawed in a quite fundamental way, dangerously so!
    Customer: Sign me up for two!

  11. One potential problem with real life stories about messed up people and the relative mundanes who get swept up in their chaos is that there’s rarely a nice neat emotional payoff at the end.

    Exactly.

  12. Do the minor editing and go ahead and publish it you wont regret it and you will be miles ahead of where you are now in this score. It’s only after you complete something that you learn most about it.

    Indeed, Bardon. Thanks for the encouragement!

  13. Go though the process of producing a printed and bound version before serialising it, if only because you will find and correct a load more typos and grammatical errors than you have so far on a screen.

    You may not have noticed but I’ve paid for professional editing services (and will also pay for a professional proof-reader), i.e. I didn’t just get my kids to read it and promise them a quid for every error they find!

    Do you have a postal address for Laurie Penny’s signed copy?

    Heh! That’s a good point, I should ask her if she wants to review it. If I said I was a half-Ugandan half-Indian half-Aborgine transgender woman I bet she’d leap at the chance and give it glowing reviews.

  14. I very much enjoyed reading the blog posts that are the basis of your upcoming book. Which I reckon is reason enough to expect that I will enjoy reading the book itself (mark me down as a sale on the e-book version).

    Ooh, thanks!

    I hate, with a vengeance, that “feminists” think that women deserve special “treatment” and “equality”.

    We effing don’t.

    Absolutely.

  15. My memory of your thoughts lo these many weeks ago when you spoke of this here was that you were specifically going the way you were going even in the full knowledge that you might not hit a mass appeal point – and I thought you defended your decision quite well. You had reasons for this decision.

    Yes, that’s right. My editor’s comments merely confirmed that.

    Is it possible that working with an industry person has skewed your viewpoint over to a more “mass appeal is everything” view than you had before?

    I think what it’s done is skew my approach to marketing it. Before I thought I could say “Hey everyone! Come and read my book, it’s a bit unconventional but it’s really good!” and everyone would say “Hey, I don’t mind unconventional” and then they’d read it and say “Yes, it is really good”. I think what’s more likely to happen is people will say “Erm, what do you mean by unconventional? No thanks!” or they’d overlook the small disclaimer and be disappointed by the story-arc and give me a bad review for being a poor storyteller.

    What I really, really want to avoid is misselling, which means I’m going to have to be fair with my potential readership by marketing it as being somewhat unconventional and giving them the option of not paying for it if they’re not sure. This being the case, conventional marketing – “Hey my book is great, please buy it” – won’t work, so I need to come up with something else, i.e. “selling” specific themes or installments in the hope it generates enough interest in the whole thing.

    I guess what I’m trying to do is sell my *potential* as a writer via this book, rather than sell a product which represents the best that I can do (if that makes sense!)

    The good news is that by publishing it on Amazon I can always revert to marketing it in a more conventional way if I see it is generating interest, sales, and good reviews.

  16. Here’s some ideas to improve the book’s saleability:

    1. The woman saves the man from a mugging, so he calls her ‘sassy’ and ‘bodacious’.

    2. The woman has a comedy sidekick who is always coming out with feminist gold.

    3. The hero rubs the woman’s knee when she’s not in the mood, so she gets him arrested and fired from his job.

    4. The man gets a horrible STD from the woman which gives him cockrot and his willy drops off and he dies in a tragic way (alternatively: bluegrass saves his life, but it’s too late for his cock).

    5. The man gets a job as lead banjo plucker with a tribute band to the world’s biggest band (a bluegrass band), and then the real band hires him, and so he becomes a supreme chick magnet.

    6. The woman turns out to be the man’s long-lost sister. This makes them even more sexually attracted to each other, and they defy convention and fuck like minks for two months before guiltily breaking up.

  17. I understand your idea of a serial but I still think you need to merely price the completed story right and see what happens.

    Absolutely: I’ll put it on Amazon regardless so if it does generate interest, so much the better.

    If you are not doing it for the money but the exercise of writing and experience of selling, then it doesn’t matter.

    Yeah, but I want people to read it and I don’t want them to be disappointed. This post is relevant here.

    A few months ago I was in a bookshop and a woman was selling her memoirs of nursing, self-published, from a table in a corner.

    I remember you telling me about her, and I’ve not forgotten it. That experience was part of the reason I chose to stump-up for a professional editor, it seems people forget whole plots before they’ll forget a typo!

    Maybe you can find a friendly bookstore and launch from there, although yes, you do have to pay for a stack of printed books first.

    Oh, I intend to do that. I will try and shift copies like this, regardless.

    Anyway, you have this well-read platform to help a launch.

    Yeah, and that’s what got me thinking the serial might work. Without this blog it would never work, but tacked on in the background I should already have a few hundred readers right there.

  18. Here’s some ideas to improve the book’s saleability:

    Bwahahaha!

    alternatively: bluegrass saves his life, but it’s too late for his cock

    Double bwahahahaha!

  19. “I remember you telling me about her, and I’ve not forgotten it.”

    Oops. sorry, Mr Tim. But in my defence I am getting old and starting to do that awful thing of telling the same story over and over.

    If I tell this story agin, feel free to shoot me. At least it will spare my family from having to endure my increasingly repetitive habits.

  20. You should use a pen name, because there already is a Tim Newman

    I’ll be publishing it under T.B. Newman and woe betide anyone who assumes my gender!

  21. Oops. sorry, Mr Tim. But in my defence I am getting old and starting to do that awful thing of telling the same story over and over.

    Not at all! I didn’t mind you retelling it, I just wanted to let you know it made an impression.

  22. This one is only the start, so yes a good digital track record counts for a lot these days. Like I said before I will buy it and then you will get four online reviews for starters from me the missus and my two lads. More is possible.

    If you want to make the big money which I don’t think is your motivation right now then marketing is everything. And that starts with ascertaining what readers want, then you write to suit their needs not the other way round. You may be too principled for this at the moment.

  23. This one is only the start, so yes a good digital track record counts for a lot these days. Like I said before I will buy it and then you will get four online reviews for starters from me the missus and my two lads. More is possible.

    You’re a champ!

    If you want to make the big money which I don’t think is your motivation right now then marketing is everything. And that starts with ascertaining what readers want, then you write to suit their needs not the other way round. You may be too principled for this at the moment.

    Yeah, this time around it’s mainly to tell a particular story and see what’s involved. Next one might be a story I want to tell, but more accessible to the masses. After that, when I’ve got a good handle on how to write and what’s involved, I might well start churning out mass-market dross for the money.

  24. Tim, you can take comfort from the fact that at least it can’t do any worse than my ebook which is on Amazon.

    And that’s despite me having a sassy and bodacious female lead.* Plus a comic sidekick who dispenses feminist zingers on every page.**

    *This may be a lie.
    **Yep, this too

  25. Here’s some ideas to improve the book’s saleability:

    Add a T-Rex. People like T-Rexes.

    I’ll be publishing it under T.B. Newman

    I was going to suggest “Mitt Oldbaby”, just to make a bit of a game of it for the inevitable leftist harpies who will mock your work without reading it.

    It will be interesting to see how (or whether) you address the Princess Bride Paradox[1] in this. Personally, I think it’s both more honest and a better book if things don’t wrap up in a neat little bow at the end, but your editor is almost certainly right that that isn’t going to appeal to most potential readers. Darren Star and Sex and the City, etc.

    [1] “Who kills Prince Humperdinck? At the end, somebody’s got to do it. Is it Inigo? Who?” “Nobody. Nobody kills him. He lives.” “You mean he wins? Jesus, Grandpa! What did you read me this thing for?”

  26. “This is fascinating! I think I’m going to take this new-found approach to marketing into industry.”

    Err, yeah. I think that my comment may have come out wrong.

    So, in a vague attempt to recover, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

    But you know that anyway.

  27. Err, yeah. I think that my comment may have come out wrong.

    It didn’t: I was being a smartarse.

  28. What is the title of your book? I plan to buy a copy.

    I have a title in mind, but won’t reveal it just yet. But you’ll know for sure well before it comes out. I’m glad you’re interested in it!

  29. It will be interesting to see how (or whether) you address the Princess Bride Paradox[1] in this.

    Heh! Well, you’ll find out soon enough…

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