Just When I Thought I Was Done…

Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity… edit one more time!           –C.K. Webb

 

English: Manuscript fragment from Chapter 14 o...

Editing (manuscript fragment from chapter 14 of Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man/photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

You guessed it. In the midst of querying, when I’m supposed to be done editing, I’m still editing. As a friend once told me (and I’ve heard it echoed by numerous other writers), you will always find something you want to fix with your manuscript.

I thought I was done; truly, I did. After all, I put my novel through a lot. Before I let anyone lay eyes on it, I edited out the embarrassing first draft kind of garbage that no one needs to see. Then I distributed it to beta readers. The feedback was incredible, allowing me to make more much-needed changes.

Amidst these changes, I signed up for a workshop with a team of literary agents, in which I had the opportunity to really work on the first 10 pages. After all, the first 10 pages may be all anyone ever sees if they don’t compel people to keep reading.

So I got my criticism, swallowed it even though it tasted bad, and I changed my book some more. One comment was that my manuscript was much too long, so I cut over 30,000 words. With a new ending and lots of proofreading under my belt, I figured I should quit procrastinating and start querying.

Nowadays, the majority of literary agents ask for a sample of the manuscript. The most common request I’ve seen is for the first 10 pages, although the odd agent wants 20 or the first three chapters. (Some even ask for the entire manuscript, bless their hearts.) The theme seems to be that they want to see a significant enough chunk to get a good feel for how the rest of the book will (or won’t) flow.

I was a little stumped when I found an agent who only asked for the first chapter. After I cut and pasted that one lonely chapter into my e-mail query, I realized that it wasn’t an adequate representation of my story. Without the next few pages to go with it, the pacing was too slow, and it ended in a bad place. I had edited it down from a much longer first chapter. Also, when I was concentrating on 10 pages, I didn’t pay much attention to how the first chapter ended because the first 10 pages went well into chapter two. I should have made sure that chapter one had an enticing ending. You know what the last word of that chapter was? “Okay.” Which is not okay, unless you’re John Green.

Thus began revision number four.

A couple years ago, while querying a different novel, I decided that I would make absolutely no changes (unless I found a typo) on my manuscript during the querying phase. I sent out 10 at a time, and it wasn’t until after each round of rejections that I looked over my query letter and manuscript for ways to improve.

This time, I’m making corrections as I go. Never have I made so many changes from one query to the next. If an agent happens to like the version of my book with an anticlimactic ending to the first chapter, I have that version saved. But I’m not going with the status quo anymore. I will not sit around and say, “Oh, it can wait.” It could be that the agent who’s right for me is the next one I query, and if that’s the case, I don’t want to send a chunk of my book that I know I can improve.

Painful? Yes. And I love editing. But it’s hard to think, I’ve done all I can do, only to look back and see that you didn’t.

This likely means more drastic cuts for my book. I’ve already come to the realization that I may have to trim it by another 10,000 words-plus in order for anyone to even give it a serious look. Do I think the word count alone should be the deciding factor over whether my manuscript it rejected or accepted? Absolutely not. (And I’ve climbed on that soapbox before.) But I also think that it would be a mistake to grow complacent.

So it’s time to continue cutting, revising, and searching. The right agent is out there, I know it. It will just take a more vigilant search than last time, and I have to be willing to do my part to earn a contract.

It’s Query Time

Sometime between 2004 (when I first started querying literary agents) and now, there have been drastic changes in the publishing industry. When I first started, e-queries were a no-no. In fact, they were hardly mentioned on agents’ websites (if they had websites). I snail mailed every query with an SASE, which I wasn’t guaranteed to see for months, if at all (which always drove me nuts – I paid for the stamp, so please send it back). Very few agents accepted simultaneous submissions, and every query how-to that I read stressed the author bio part. Like the more creditability you have, the better your chance of landing an agent. So if you’re unpublished, good luck.

For a while, I didn’t change anything about the way I queried. I took time off to have a baby. Then I wasted almost two years with a scam artist for an agent (read about that here). After that, I didn’t much care for agents for a while and quit looking.

Then I immersed myself in the world of e-publishing – writing articles online for people I’ll never meet in person, publishing e-books that will never be printed. I felt up to braving the sea of rejections again and began researching query letters, figuring that I had to do something different than before.

Lo and behold, many of the “standards” of query submission from ten-plus years ago are now the exception rather than the rule. Most agents prefer e-mail submissions, and only a handful ask for exclusive submissions. In fact, more than one agent I’ve read about has said exclusive submissions are ridiculous because you could easily spend years and never get anywhere. Well, I’ve been there and done that.

With all this talk about querying, you can guess what I’ve been up to lately. Yep, I finished editing my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel (again), and I began looking into agents this week. Querying is one of the most challenging aspects of the writing process. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about the agents and imagining how great it would be to work with this or that one. Except that imagining is as far as it’s ever gone. (The scammer that I had met exactly zero of my expectations, but I was so enthralled with the idea that I HAVE AN AGENT that I kind of pushed all that aside.)

As I’ve heard various agents say numerous times, it’s not the query that wins the contract but the book. The problem is, of course, that if you bomb on the query, your book may never even get a cursory glance. So I’ve always felt that pressure to write the perfect query letter. I’ve done my best to make them personal. But not only did I have exactly zero positive responses last time I queried (no surprise), I didn’t even get responses from the majority of them. One was an agent with whom I’d worked before. I queried her twice. Nada.

So this time, after stressing more than I should have about what to write and how to write it (and coming up with a great hook but forgetting to write it down), I went online to brush up on Query Writing 101. There are more good resources out there than I can count. Many of them agree on the basics (like the order of the paragraphs doesn’t matter, but when you do talk about your story, it better have a great hook), and they usually give examples of both good and bad queries. The bad ones are great (read one here). Not only will you laugh at the sheer stupidity of some writers, but the number of real, terrible queries gives me hope that one of these days, I may stand out from the masses.

The problem is that it doesn’t matter how many good queries you read, you can’t just switch out the words that apply to your book and call it good. Every writer and every story is different. I remember feeling hopeful when I read Stephen King’s On Writing because he uses a great query example, but I could never make that format work for me.

The absolute best resource I have found for writing queries is in literary agent Mary Kole’s book Writing Irresistible Kidlit. As the title suggests, it’s mostly about the writing process for middle grade and young adult writers. But as an agent herself, Kole does her readers a favor and devotes an entire chapter to query do’s and don’t’s. She also gives an example of a real query letter that worked, with lots of commentary about why.

The part that helped me the most is the section in which she boils down how to write the novel summary by answering five questions. I’ve done this exercise with two novels now, and not only does it show where your story has holes (if you can’t answer the questions easily), but it also gives you an easy way to summarize and not go on for pages and pages. Even if you don’t write kidlit, I would recommend this book just for the query chapter.

So I wrote a basic query for my novel that I will customize according to the agents I choose. I cannot stress enough that reading submission guidelines is an absolute must. Not only do you want to make sure you send exactly what the agent wants, but sometimes one agency may want you to include something in your query that you haven’t used before. This happened on my latest query. The agency wants to know why I’m the best writer for this book. It gave me the opportunity (although a very brief one) to explain how my story came to me.

It also seems that literary agents are less concerned with your credentials (for instance, some say that you should minimize publications that aren’t related to what you’re querying). Of course, if you’ve won an award, that’s always good information to have on your side. What they would rather hear is that you have a good grasp of your market. Although they don’t come out and say it, I believe this is because writers are expected to do more marketing than ever before. And if you don’t know your audience and what they like to read, you have little chance of selling your novel.

At the same time, it’s an absolute no-no to write a wizard book and then send a query saying you’re the J.K. Rowling of the next generation. I scanned my bookshelves and was surprised to find a number of non-Harry Potter books that had elements similar to my own story. My husband even made a great suggestion about a book with a character who shares some of my protagonist’s strengths. More than ever, the idea that you need to read voraciously in order to write is very important.

So that’s what I’m going to do: read, write, edit… and query. Wish me luck!

Maybe I Am Meant for This Line of Work

My Books!

My Books!

This week I had two wonderful opportunities to talk to kids about my books and being an author. In all my dreams of making it big and whatnot (ha), I have never really thought much about interacting with my audiences. If I ever think about it at all, it’s usually about book signings and how miserable they are if no one shows up to buy the books.

Despite not having a household name or a bestseller under my belt, I was chosen to speak at two schools. One was a preschool, the other a junior high school – quite a difference. It just so happens that I write for both age groups.

Pre-school, I figured, would be easy. I’m most comfortable with this age because 1. they’re a lot smaller than me; 2. they’re still huggable; and 3. I teach that age all the time. I knew pretty much what to expect when walking in. They might be unruly, and I may not be able to understand everything they say, but at the end of the day, they think people who write books are cool. Plus, I did this event with my co-author and friend Karen Saltmarsh, and we ad-libbed a very over-the-top version of the moment we decided to write a book together. Even the adults loved it.

Karen and I wrote a non-fiction book for ages K through 12. It’s not a sit-down-and-read-it-during-circle-time kind of book; it’s all about encouraging the creative writing spark to thrive and spread. And even though I wasn’t sure if the older preschoolers would get it, the four- and five-year-olds we visited wanted to write their own books right then and there. Then I read my book to them, and they were the perfect audience. Even the little three-year-olds listened and interacted with me. I left feeling energized and wondering why I don’t do more of this kind of thing.

OPJH literacy week cardAs for the junior high, it was their literacy week. They had a book fair and everything, and I was the guest author. Kids who were interested in talking to me spent their lunch period in the library, listening to this nothing author talk about books and the writing/publishing process. I’d had it on my calendar for a couple months, and every time I thought about it, I reminded myself that there was no reason to worry yet. Just save that for the night before, and go about life as normal.

Of course, I was still nervous. Not incapacitated or sick to my stomach, but it was the kind of thing I couldn’t dwell on much because then it would make me sick. Despite writing for this age, I don’t spend all that much time with 12- to 14-year-olds. To be honest, when I was that age, I didn’t want to be that age. I interact with them from afar, usually from the pages of adolescent fiction.

I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised when the kids were very receptive to what I had to say. They loved it when I talked to them about how they can publish books on-demand (and without waiting for a major publishing house to discover them). And when we talked about the books (and books-made-movies) that we like to read, I had a wonderful moment of wow-we-actually-get-each-other. They were even polite enough to listen to me read my children’s book, although the reactions (as expected) were much different than what I get from little kids.

There weren’t many silences at all – and when there were, it was because the kids were nervous about talking to me. Afterward, when we had some one-on-one time, several kids hung around long enough that they were late to their next class; we could’ve talked all day. In fact, I wished that they didn’t have to go so soon.

Two completely different groups of kids, two completely different situations, two great experiences. I still don’t know if my books will ever attract the interest of a so-called “real” publisher or any of those lists that seem to matter so much. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t care. But still, what I found was respect and joy – and gratitude for myself that I haven’t given up, that I keep writing when publishing and promotion are so difficult. I’m doing what I love, and it turns out that part of what this introverted author loves is spending time with her audiences.

Check out my children’s book Hero here.

Happy 2015 Book List!

Score! Christmas Books

Score! Christmas Books

The past two years, I’ve created lists of books that I hoped to read in the upcoming year, and here I am, doing it again. 2014’s list was much more ambitious than 2013’s (23 books versus 14), and I am proud to say that I finished 17 of them. And I even got way sidetracked for a while. (Some of the books that sidetracked me I won’t ever read again, but at least they gave me blog fodder.)

I enjoy making this list just after Christmas because this is the time of year when people get generous and give me books, gift cards to bookstores, or both. This year being no exception, I am prepared to meet 2015 with lots of new fiction.

New Books!

New Books!

First of all, I am going to vow right now that 2015 will be the year that I finish Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. It’s been on my list two years now, and I just can’t leave those books hanging any longer. The first three are slow-paced, but my husband assures me that the last one really picks up, so I’m just going to knuckle down and read them.

A wonderful thing that’s happened in the past few months is that my first grader has gotten into chapter books. It wasn’t until he was almost six that we realized that he has several learning disabilities, and he’s a poor audio learner, so reading books without pictures went right over his head. But since we’ve been helping him with his working memory and dyslexia, I’ve noticed a huge improvement in his reading ability and comprehension. This summer, I plan to start reading Harry Potter to Peter, and I hope he gets as much joy out of that series as I do.

If you’re interested in reading my previous years’ fiction lists, here are 2013 and 2014, and here are the books that I actually finished in 2014:

The Rim of the Prairie by Bess Streeter Aldrich

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Death Cure by James Dashner

The Kill Order by James Dashner

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Looking for Alaska by John Green

11/22/63 by Stephen King

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus, Book 1) by Rick Riordan

The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus, Book 2) by Rick Riordan

The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, Book Three)
by Rick Riordan

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling

Mark My Words: Mark Twain on Writing by Mark Twain

And here are the books I plan to read this year:

And Another Thing… Douglas Adams`s Hitchhiker`s Guide to the Galaxy Part Six of Three by Eoin Colfer

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle

Paper Towns by John Green

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Lisey’s Story by Stephen King

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

Messenger by Lois Lowry

Son by Lois Lowry

Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1)by Christopher Paolini

Eldest (Inheritance Cycle, Book 2) by Christoopher Paolini

Brisingr (Inheritance Cycle, Book 3) by Christopher Paolini

Inheritance (Inheritance Cycle, Book 4) by Christoopher Paolini

The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus, Book 4) by Rick Riordan

The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus, Book 5) by Rick Riordan

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Four: A Divergent Collection by Veronica Roth

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I know it’s a long list, but I have lots of hope to finish a good number of these. Some are brand new, some beloved repeats. And I hope to be interrupted by books as yet undiscovered. (I’m always up for suggestions!)

Happy reading in 2015!

Why Do Authors Write Such Depressing Books for Adolescents?

It’s Thanksgiving, and I am actually ahead on my blog for the week – and that’s something to be very thankful for.

Thanks to Scarlett Van Dijk for hosting my post on her blog this week. I had a lot of fun writing it. It’s my answer (or at least a part of the answer) to the question of why authors seem to write so much depressing material for adolescents. Check it out here, and then spend some more time with Scarlett’s blog; I think you’ll enjoy it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sarah

 

Sometimes You Have to Freeze Your Characters in Carbonite (Don’t Worry, It’s Temporary)

What a difference one week makes! If you read last week’s blog, I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo and nervous about starting. Not because of the whole 50,000 words in a month thing. I did it last year, so how hard could it be to do it again?

What I was worried about was finishing last year’s NaNo novel in time to move on to the sequel, which is this year’s NaNo novel. I was still deep in my last edit, and although I didn’t have many pages to go, I was at the crucial point where I needed to make the most drastic changes.

During the editing process, I cut almost 50,000 words (ironic – don’t you think? – since that’s the number I need to type this month). Cutting I can do all day. But the closer I got to the end, the more it became like slogging through verbal quicksand. It was the part of the editing process that I dreaded most. I had quite a bit of hard work ahead of me. On the one hand, I still needed to cut 3000 words, and on the other, I needed to add to the ending to improve it.

Then something wonderful happened, something that I hope happens many times this month (although it hasn’t yet): I had a brainwave. Whenever I read a novel with a plot twist or a really clever scene, I wonder if it was always a part of the plan or if it developed over time or maybe if it popped up out of nowhere, just in time to save the story. And while I’m not saying that I came up with something brilliant like the vanishing cabinet in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, this brainwave explained some of the points that I was afraid would never gel. This included making quite a few cuts and changing the ending even more than planned, and I just couldn’t stay up long enough to finish. Editing when you’re half asleep isn’t always in the best interest of the story, but on the plus side, I got to sleep on the brainwave.

November first, the first day of National Novel Writing Month, wasn’t much better. I had my weekly editing work for Fiction Fix and my son’s t-ball game. When the afternoon rolled around and I finally got a chance to edit, I would fix a scene, move on, add some more, realize that this affected an earlier scene, go back, rewrite again… and stare at the computer screen a lot as I tried to figure it all out.

I finally got it, finally realized exactly how it needed to end, and it dovetailed perfectly with the opening of the second book.

Half of my goals from last week were in the bag: I’d finished editing and gotten my word count under 100,000.

And as soon as I finished, I was supposed open up a brand new document and leave my editing hat at the proverbial door. Forget cutting! Now is the time for extraneous adverbs and adjectives. For people to ask sweetly and say quietly and walk quickly and wear elaborate gowns with one hundred buttons down the back, belled sleeves, and sweetheart necklines. Sometimes you have to break all your rules in order to get the job done – and tell your inner editor to shut up while you do it.

Typing that first page was painful. All I could think was, This isn’t a good opening line! No one will ever read beyond this.

And that’s how it’s been all week. My inspiration has just kind of fizzled. I’ve kept up with my word count, but the only reason I’ve been able to do so was because I typed over 4000 words that first day. I’ve seen a lot of things that need the axe. Even as I type, I think, This’ll get cut in the next draft.

But not in this one. Right now, I must plow on. It may be a tough slog the whole month. At least I’ve figured out why, not that it really helps. You see, I’m in the second book slump. This happens in trilogies. Okay, instant fix: don’t write a trilogy. It’s not that simple, though. My story needs to be told that way. And I’m not saying that all middle books should be thrown away, but often it’s necessary for the plot to slow or tough things to happen in order for better things to happen later in the trilogy. And so I think that the writing process naturally reflects some of the difficulties within the story. (And besides, it can happen in series with more than three books. Think about New Moon from the The Twilight Saga or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: necessary but often painful to read.)

The best example I can think of actually comes from the movie Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back. First of all, what happened to Mark Hamill? Yeah, he’s still a stud, running around the swamps of Dagobah with Yoda on his back and all, but he’s not nearly as cute as in the first movie. Plus he loses an arm (Luke Skywalker, I mean, not Mark Hamill). And then Han Solo turns into a carbonite-cicle. It’s depressing stuff. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you still love it, but yikes. Thank goodness for Return of the Jedi, right?

And that’s what I have to keep in mind. There will be ups for every down. And the great light at the end of the tunnel is my book three, but I can’t get too distracted by that right now because, God-willing, I won’t start on it until NaNoWriMo 2015. What I need is to get through this book – not just get through but give it the attention it deserves, see it on its own terms rather than compared with its companions.

There is a time for choosing my words with great care, for analyzing and fine-tuning, but November is not one of those times. Editor, hop in the backseat. Writer, say whatever you want because you can always cut it out and make it pretty later. After all, the great thing about first drafts is that you can make all the mistakes you want and fix them before anyone finds out. My inner editor needs to take a forced month-long vacation, so I can get some work done.

When Books Disappoint

English: Open book icon

English: Open book icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was so proud of myself earlier this year: I’d created my 2014 book list, and I stuck to it. I read nine of the 23 books on that list in the first quarter of the year. That’s pretty good, right? I could even afford to get a little sidetracked. Which I did as soon as my birthday hit in April. Yes, I kept plugging away at my book list, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to treat myself to some new fiction.

I love books, but I also love my goals – to a fault. I’ll drive myself (and my family) crazy with them. At war with myself over the new books that I want to read and the books that I already own that I should read, usually the new fiction wins. I mean, it has the whole excitement factor with it. And in April, I discovered two new-to-me authors, both young adult. I can blame a movie trailer for one, and the other came recommended by several people. If you read this post in April, you may even know which books I’m talking about.

Being the dutiful goal-reacher that I am, I continued reading whatever it was I was in the middle of at the time, and I let my husband go ahead and read the new books. We were particularly excited about the newly-purchased series, whose first book-to-movie adaptation was due to be released in theatres over the summer.

As soon as Thomas finished the first book and moved on to the second, I had to know: “Was it as good as we thought?”

Poor dude. He didn’t want to burst my bubble. His answer was, “Well, it’s not The Hunger Games or Divergent.”

But of course, what is? I set my standards pretty high, but at the end of the day, I don’t want to read books that are just like the ones that I already like. I want variety, originality. But I also want excellence.

So I eventually got around to the series and plunged right in. It wasn’t a challenging read, but that’s okay. It was more action-oriented, which I already expected, after seeing the movie trailer. It also raised a lot of questions, which I love. But…

I was getting toward the end of the book, pretty much after the big plot reveal. Of course, the plot was still moving forward because there are sequels, but things were winding down. Then something gruesome happened, something that was written purely for its shock value. This one scene was written 1) to freak out the characters and 2) to appeal to the adolescent male readership. Marketing is important; I get it. There was still hope for the overall story. On to Book 2.

The weirdness continued. Gruesome and sometimes unexplainable (or explained on a very rickety foundation) things happened. The characters were baffled, so we were in the same boat. The story ended. The loose ends that got tied up didn’t make much sense. But there was still hope for Book 3.

Can you guess what happened? I was very dissatisfied with the ending of Book 3. And since it’s adolescent lit, I’ll put it in adolescent terms: it sucked.

Now, Sarah, you may be thinking, aren’t you being a little hypocritical? Aren’t you okay with not-happy endings?

Oh, there’s a big difference. If the not-happy ending is justified, if it’s realistic, if it fits with the character of the story, I’ll buy it. I may be very broken up about it, but I’ll bow to the author’s decision. But you know what? I still had an inkling of hope. Because there was a fourth book. Although it’s a prequel and wouldn’t change the crappy ending, I was hoping for some kind of explanation or justification. And the prequel gave an answer – sort of. It was still a very unbelievable premise for why things happened the way they did throughout the series, but I guess for 13-year-old boys, they’d buy it. I mean, people die and get shot up, so it’s all cool, right? I mean, as long as the hero gets the girl (doesn’t matter which girl), we can all go home happy.

I grasped for anything that could save these books in my very discriminating eyes, but a scene in that final book kind of killed the whole series for me. I won’t spoil what actually happened, but I’ll give you a for-instance:

Say we have a novel with zombies. They’re so in right now, so why not? So let’s have our protagonists being chased down a residential street by zombies. The only way they will survive is if they can get inside one of these deserted houses and lock the door. So what do they do? They outrun the zombies and make it into a house, and the zombies are so far behind that they feel pretty good about their hiding place.

Except.

Except the last idiot in through the door neglects to lock it. Not only that – she doesn’t even shut it! So when the zombies catch up, brainless as they are, they’re eventually going to try the wide-open door, right? But that’s okay because it makes for great tension, and when the girl realizes her idiotic mistake and has to kill a zombie in the process of slamming and locking the door, it will bring up all kinds of questions about life and death that she can now explore, and – BOOM! – we have an opportunity for character development.

Wait – you’re not cool with that? It ticks you off that she left the door open because no person in the world would possibly do that? Well, in this book that I read, although there aren’t zombies, something very similar happened, and it ticked me off that an editor would ever let something that flagrantly unrealistic pass. It was a device, and neither a subtle nor a good one, at that.

But, Sarah, these are kids’ books. Don’t be so hard on the author.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Yes, kids’ books are written differently because the audience is different, but a terrible device is a terrible device, no matter the target age. And since the advent of Harry Potter, it’s not only become acceptable but expected that parents will read this fiction, too. Not because they’re screening it for their kids (although they do that, too) but for their own enjoyment. And it’s not just the parents. People of all ages, with and without kids, read YA lit now. And they’ve come to expect excellence, just like I do, because audiences of all ages deserve as much, right? So what if 13-year-old boys don’t appreciate all the nuances yet? Give them excellence, and they’ll appreciate it, even if they can’t articulate why. It’s like a taste test. You may not realize how awful that cardboard-tasting cake is until you taste the real thing, but once you’ve had that taste, don’t ever try to pass cardboard for the good stuff again.

I’m glad that people write lit that will excite young boys. What a difficult demographic to please! But after finishing that last book and reading some of the reviews, I saw that I wasn’t the only reader who was underwhelmed. Several expressed the hopes that a fifth book might be published, in order to right all the wrongs of the previous four. Others were outright disgusted in what they’d originally thought was the greatest series they’d ever read. And what’s sad is that it could have been a “greatest series.” I know the author has the talent. There would have been lots of changes, sure, lots of work, but he could have pulled it off.

Oh well, you win some, you lose some, right? It’s not like this is the first time I’ve ever been disappointed. And as my mom tells me whenever I come across something I don’t like, I can at least take notes and know what not to do, myself. So it wasn’t an entirely wasted experience. The author made me care for most of the characters, and the story had some cool elements. It just… wasn’t executed all that well. And I suppose that’s the most annoying part. When something has potential, when it’s grasping but doesn’t quite reach, I’m so much more disappointed than I would be if I had no hope for the book to begin with.

It kind of gives me hope that if those novels can be so successful, maybe someone will look at mine.

Or maybe the author just had a favorite uncle in the publishing industry. Gosh, I’m cynical tonight.

On the bright side, the other novelist I discovered at the time was John Green. And boy, does he ever deliver. So my birthday books weren’t a total bust, after all.