Today, I’m talking about books, specifically, my third novel, A Collateral Attraction, and the importance of making sure you’ve got your best work out there, and if your gut feeling tells you it’s not your best, then listen.
I wrote A Collateral Attraction last year for Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write competition as a way to get my head out of the Loving Riley first draft that I wrote in three months and clocking at 101K words. I just needed to get away from New York, celebrity, and dark drama, so I thought, maybe a new story would help do that. Plus, it would take me back to one of my favorite places: Nevada City, California, which is in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and NOT in the state of Nevada.
It was quite popular and was even picked as one of the top 5 romances to read in August 2015 by RT Book Reviews. They described it as a mistaken identity romance that straddled romance and chick lit. Honestly, before I read that description, I had NO idea my story had chick lit elements. It was just part of the heroine to be the way she was–insecure, angst-ridden, guilt-ridden, and just a tad judgmental. But somehow, the blurb stuck and I thought it was actually cool.
Popular or not, the book didn’t make the top 50 selection. Not even when they expanded the selection to 5 additional slots. Nope, not even then. If I told you it didn’t matter to me, I’d be flat out lying. It devastated me. I had bought the hype about my book. I had bought it all, hook, line, and sinker. And even when I ended up publishing the novel in December, the devastation followed me. I bought a blog blitz but was never quite proud of it. There was always that thought, it’s not even good enough to make the Top 50 of a simple contest, so how can it be good enough in the real world? It was honestly a death sentence for a little book that could.
Then came the reviews–or the glaring lack of them. And I mean, glaring. No one wanted to review it. If they did, they were solicited–every single one of them. And even with all that solicitation, there’s only ten as of the last count. It told me so much. No one was buying the book, and even when I gave it away–and I gave over 500 of this book away, no one cared about it. A handful did–I can count them on one hand–and I appreciate them so much, from the bottom of my heart. But to watch my book go from being a blip on the screen to nothing of worth was painful. Yes, I took it personally. Those authors who don’t take such things personally are much braver than I am. I wish I were, but I’m not.
So I made a decision. Unlike the advice of “Let It Go,” and move on and focus on other things, I needed to see what was wrong with the book. If something was not quite “right” with it, then what the hell was wrong with it? I heeded the advice of Russel Blake that I read on Kboards from 2013:
Your obligation is to the reader. If you believe that something you published isn’t the best you could write it, even if written right now, then, in my opinion, you should rewrite it until it’s up to par. Forget all the author-centric reasoning about why for artistic reasons it might not be best. That sort of stuff always strikes me as a wee bit self-absorbed and rationalizing.
If a new reader picks up your old book, cracks it open, and starts reading, you’re only as good as what that new-to-you reader gets.
Make it your best. Every time. Anything less is, well, less, and could lose you a reader that might have loved your later, better work. Readers are won and lost one at a time, and they’re very easy to lose and extremely difficult to gain. I have zero compunction about improving my offerings whenever possible.- Russel Blake
I hired a chick lit blogger to see if she could get chick lit readers to review it. After all, a well-known review site said it straddled “romance and chick lit,” right? Well, it failed the chick lit test. The blogger told me that the cover alone turned off her readers and reviewers. It said romance and even steamy romance at that (although all you have to do is go on FB and there are steamy and then are S-T-E-A-M-Y that I cannot believe how much happier I am whenever I see a man on the cover with clothes ON).
Some chick lit readers I found on my own came back with, “the blurb says it has chick lit, but it’s just not there, at least not enough to qualify it as chick lit, or straddling it.” Romance readers just said, “meh. Too much chick lit for my taste.”
I couldn’t win. The book sucked.
So two months ago, I set everything aside–new stories and the much-needed rewrite of Loving Riley–and dove headfirst into revisions for A Collateral Attraction. I whittled down every bit of chick lit out of it within an inch of its life to the point that I told myself, I effing hated chick lit. If no one was interested to hear Billie’s thoughts about self-worth, her rivalry with her sister, and her survivor guilt and considered those things chick lit, guess it was time for that stuff to go. All 17K words of it.
Then faced with a much leaner narrative at 72K words, I had to address the cover. To be honest, I HATED IT. I loved the design, yes, but I hated the final couple pose. It looked good at first because the hero and heroine are looking at each other and all that, but my original cover was the one I had fallen head over heels over. It was what got me writing the damn thing–the heroine’s eyes looking straight at you, the reader, and that perfect hero profile. Why I gave in to agree on the final cover is all my fault. But since December 15, 2015, I have hated that cover and never even wanted to carry the book around with me. Most authors are proud to carry their books around, but not me. I just hated this thing. It looked like a photo that ended up on the cutting room floor. The characters had no connection to me, the reader–nothing at all. I just absolutely hated it. It wasn’t Heath with his perfect profile like the original cover and Billie’s amazing eyes that looked straight at you.
So I figured, if I made all that effort to remove 17K words out of the novel and then have it proofread, then I might as well go all the way. And I am grateful that even though I had designed a whole new cover, I didn’t have to go that route. I could use the old version with the new pose. Two weeks ago, I hit Publish on the ebook version, and now, I’m now holding the Proof copy of the paperback that I am in love with.
Now, if it still sucks, then that’s something I cannot do anything about anymore (it will just boil down to my writing, my character arc, plot, etc.). I’m done with the revisions, and I’m done with the book. It’s the book that I always wanted to publish, at least cover-wise. It may not touch readers the way my previous book, Loving Ashe, did, but this is the version that’s going to stay, and the one that I will be proud to promote from here on.
Which leads me to the last thing I need to change: the quote from RT Book Reviews. It’s still in my book description online, and it’s going to go. Probably tomorrow, when the changes will be finalized. Even if it comes from a well-known review site, if it only serves to confuse readers, wouldn’t it make sense to chuck it?
So anyway, I’m going to read this proof copy from beginning to end tonight and then approve its Createspace listing tomorrow. And then the book will go live. And then I’ll market it, promote it, and most of all, be proud of it. I love it.
And to answer someone’s question about the fate of the original covers? I’m destroying them, every single one of them.