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.