I just read an article in Forbes called Don’t Publish That Book. It’s worthwhile reading. The author Suw Charman-Anderson publishes a Twitter conversation she had with authors Steve Mosby and Lou Morgan in which the authors bemoan their early stories, one of which was evidently about a vampire in a velvet cloak.
I enjoyed the article. It encourages writers to write until they’re good enough to be noticed and not to rush to self-publish. Charman-Anderson seems to indicate that if you get multiple rejections, there’s probably a reason for that. She’s probably right and I agree with her. Too many self-published books are published before they are ready. Please, please copy edit. Don’t rely on spell-check. It’s not infallible. And let a manuscript sit for a few weeks after it’s done, re-read it and then decide if you want to publish it. You might be surprised by the answer you give yourself. My self-published book Weeds and Flowers sat on my hard-drive for years before I got the go-ahead from my inner editor.
With that said, I will also add that we all have our stories about vampires in velvet cloaks. C’mon, if you’re a writer who started publishing within the last fifteen years, you have that story. That one story that’s still floating around in the ether somewhere waiting to come back and bite you in the ass. I know where mine is. Do you?
My point is that we live and publish in a different time. A new age for publishing. An age in which our mistakes and growing pains may make it into “print”. Yes, we need to watch ourselves, but we also need to embrace this new age. Imagine if we could read Stephen King’s first stories. I’ve heard Nicholas Sparks say his first novel was a horror novel. Now that would be some interesting reading.
One of my favorite books on my bookshelf is A Whisper in the Dark: Twelve Thrilling Tales by Louisa May Alcott. Of course, I don’t love the tales so much as I love the book. You see, Louisa May Alcott was my inspiration for becoming a writer. I loved all her books, read all of them, but my favorite, of course, was the semi-autobiographical Little Women, in which Jo, the character Alcott based on herself, writes “sensational” tales for the paper. The first time I read Little Women when I was about nine or ten years old, I couldn’t imagine what “sensational” meant. Later I got the idea that they must have something to do with sex, especially since Jo destroys them all in a fit of shame in the book. I read A Whisper in the Dark much later as an adult, and I wondered what on earth Alcott was talking about. They’re corny by today’s standards, and probably pretty dark and risque in the nineteenth century, but not the awful stuff I’d half been expecting.
Only now as I begin (notice I said “begin”) to reach my own maturity as a writer do I understand where she was coming from. But as a writer, I’m grateful not all of Alcott’s early works were lost. It makes some of my own early growing pains easier to bear.
Even now when I look back on Secrets of the Lotus, published almost exactly two years ago, I see things I would do differently. The same for Winter Solstice. If I’m fortunate enough to continue growing and developing as a writer—and I hope that will be a lifelong process—in five years I may reread Where the Heart Lies with tolerant disdain.
It’s a process. So whether an editor or publisher will take the time on your work or you self-publish it, you have to know that if you are one of the lucky ones, you won’t like what you write now in five years.