My day job has been especially stressful lately, what with department mergers, new bosses, urgent deadlines, and changing rules and roles and expectations. Maybe because of that, or maybe because I just needed some time away from it, I haven’t returned to work on the second draft of my latest novel.
It’s there, waiting for me, detailed and thoughtful notes from my editor flagged for my reference, my own notes set aside. One day very soon, I’ll be ready to open the file and start on it again. It needs some expanding here, some trimming there; it calls for all the effort the narrative and characters deserve to improve them as best I can.
But not right now.
Instead, over the past few weeks I’ve been rereading my older books on Kindle. I started with book 10 of 12 in the series, for no particular reason except wanting to. As I read, I found a few truly mortifying typos, which have the benefit of being straightforward enough to fix. That wasn’t particularly surprising, though it has taught me to be more cautious and thorough before I upload a final manuscript.
What was surprising is that I found myself reading as a reader, rather than an author.
I didn’t plug through because rereading is a required link in the writing-editing-publishing chain, as had been my previous experience. This wasn’t the same. Instead, I got caught up in the story. I eagerly picked up where I left off to find out what happened next—even as I noted errors to fix or words to adjust.
Instead, I got caught up in the story. I eagerly picked up where I left off to find out what happened next—even as I noted errors to fix or words to adjust.
It wasn’t painful to read my own work, as reading early drafts so often is.
It was a wholly unexpected pleasure.
Once I’d finished, corrected and re-uploaded to KDP, I moved onto book 11, and then earlier books. I’ve continued until I only have three of the eight left to read—the first two and the last. My earlier formatting isn’t consistent with my later, so it’s an opportunity to update it, as well as to seek out every possible blunder from extra spaces to misspellings to rampant over-use of a word or phrase. I don’t make the corrections as I read, but allow myself to finish the book before I begin the editing process all over again.
Maybe there’s something different, some mental adjustment, to reading on my Kindle, instead of printed out on copy paper or in Word. Maybe I just have enough distance from the stories to enjoy them in a more positive way now. Maybe both.
In addition to the pleasure my books have given me, the experience has been something of a revelation. It occurred to me yesterday, as I stumbled across one of the rare phrases that pleases me, that I have reason to feel confident about my work. Reason to believe in my own product. I’ve been proud of myself for completing them, but didn’t consider their intrinsic value beyond what they mean to me personally.
I’ve been proud of myself for completing them, but didn’t consider their intrinsic value beyond what they mean to me personally.
With this new perspective, I have new insight into their value and potential.
Always before, the notion of confidence and value has gotten tangled up with a few hangups. One is my inner perfectionist, who demands constant improvement and persistently highlights my shortcomings; the second is a vague sense that without professional representation I’m destined to trail behind, forever hampered by my amateur status. Without a publisher, an agent, a stamp of acceptance and validation from the industry, I felt that my work will always be less viable and valuable than that of represented authors. An imperfect, unrepresented author could only expect to creep humbly and apologetically into the fringes of self-publishing, distributing her or his work as negligibly as possible to avoid giving offense.
For whatever reasons, and I’m not entirely sure I know what they are, these stumbling blocks seems to have crumbled as I’ve gone through this exercise. My strident inner critic has been muffled considerably. My books certainly aren’t perfect and won’t ever be perfect, because perfection, in creative arts as in anything else, is an impossible goal. I can and will step up my quality control to at least take care of the low-hanging fruit—and outside of the typos I’m finding, I’m filled with a new conviction that these books are entertaining, readable and interesting. The stories hang together, the characters live and breathe. I made them up, and still they keep me engaged and not wanting to put them down.
Perfect doesn’t seem to come into it anymore. They’re complete, marketable stories, just as they are.
Neither does industry validation seem to matter the way it did. Everyone started out as an amateur at some point, and everyone has a unique definition of success. Being signed and published would give me incredible resources and powerful support and constructive guidance, but it wouldn’t change the kind of writer I want to be, or the kind of books I want to write. It would just be a different way of approaching the business side of it.
I recognize that my books, both existing and yet to be written, are worthy of a greater investment to promote them. For now, that investment is almost entirely mine, and they’re worth more of it. Maybe nothing will change in terms of higher sales or increased traffic, but I don’t think that actually matters. It’s how I feel about it that’s shifting—as if I can finally step out of my own way and go all in, whatever that means at any given moment.
Maybe nothing will change in terms of higher sales or increased traffic, but I don’t think that actually matters. It’s how I feel about it that’s shifting—as if I can finally step out of my own way and go all in, whatever that means at any given moment.
Though I wouldn’t have believed such a thing was possible, it’s been an incredibly affirmative experience to go back and read my own stories again. If nothing else, it proves that I’ve created the kind of series I enjoy reading, which was my intention from the start. I know that when I’ve finished all 12, or even before that, I’ll be ready to step back into my newest project with fresh enthusiasm and perspective—and will be excited for opportunities to showcase and expand on my work.
I don’t expect that everyone who reads my books will find the same value in them.
I do believe in them. I believe that they have the potential to entertain many readers for many years to come.
Starting, oddly enough, with me.