The thing about writing stories and publishing is that they’re both very much like that old Lay’s potato chip slogan: You can’t eat just one. (No, please don’t eat books–no matter how much you love them.)
So many people I’ve met who say they want to write, or want to be a writer, claim that their life will be perfect if they publish JUST ONE STORY. I find it rather charming when I hear that, because most of the writers I know said exactly the same thing when they started. They imagine that publishing is their most worthwhile goal. Sure, its a fine goal, and one worth achieving–particularly if someone is going to pay you for your work. But something happens a nanosecond after you get make that first sale. You want to do it again, and you want to do it better. You’re suddenly in search of the perfect story–your perfect story. But think about it from the standpoint of being a reader. Would any reader say, “When I find the perfect book, I’ll read it and never need to read another?” No. That would be crazy. Because we’re always searching for more, striving for more, and there’s always more out there. There’s no such thing as the one perfect book. I don’t care how wonderful I think the novels JANE EYRE or WE WERE THE MULVANEYS or THE STAND are, not a single one is perfect. Ask their editors. Or their authors. Especially their authors. A writer may have finished a book and sent it off to the publisher, but I’m willing to bet that there’s something in each of a writer’s books that he or she would like to change.
I may have already told you that I messed around with my debut novel, ISABELLA MOON, when I put it up as an ebook a couple of years ago. I was fairly satisfied with the ending of the book the way I first wrote it. Actually, I was more than satisfied. I was pretty proud of myself, imagining that its ending was rather clever and–above all–that it had that elusive air of literariness about it. That’s what I intended, anyway. It worked in some ways, but readers and reviewers were split down the middle in their opinions of how successful the ending was. (You can read more about my experience with reviews here.) I listened. I heard the frustration. And I’m just egotistical enough and, ahem, flexible enough to think that it’s an okay thing to change my mind. I’m not saying that the changes were extensive, but a couple of them were definitive. That’s what I was shooting for. While I can’t say the changes made a difference in how many people bought the book, or the reviews, I feel better about it. I feel like I did the honorable thing. A few of my friends thought it was a mistake, or just a waste of time, but I figured why not.
I haven’t made similar changes to my other backlist books–CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS and DEVIL’S OVEN–though there are a few things I might have done differently. There was just something about ISABELLA MOON being my first novel that made me want to make it better.
Speaking of unintended consequences, I had to share the above photo with you. I took it while listening to the audio version of BLISS HOUSE in my Sweet Husband’s car. How clever the programmers were to put the first few words of each section on the display–too funny! The rest of that paragraph reads: “The night smelled like the woods, and she could hear peepers and a single distant bullfrog. It was so reminiscent of night on her grandparents’ farm in West Virginia that she felt sad and nostalgic and happy all at once.”
Event update: If you’re anywhere near St. Louis on August 9th, I’ll be signing BLISS HOUSE and generally hanging out at a wonderful independent bookstore, The Book House, from 1-3 pm. Their address is 7352 Manchester Road, Maplewood, MO 63143. (There was a mix-up, and their calendar may say 7 pm–but I’ll definitely be there from 1-3.
Also, are you on Pinterest? I just started a board for ISABELLA MOON. There was no such thing as Pinterest when I wrote it several years ago. If you’re on and have read the book, please send me some pins that remind you of it and I’ll put them up.
Be well, and watch out for those unintended consequences. : )