Saturday, November 15, 2008

Delayed Gratification

By: Marie Force

Yesterday I had lunch with a new-ish friend who read and loved Line of Scrimmage. The last time we dined together she asked if she could read another of my books. I said sure and sent her my latest, a romantic suspense. Today, she asked if we could talk about the book. She had so many questions about the process and the origins of the story. (She also mentioned that my brain must be a busy place. Personally, I prefer the word chaotic.) Did I want to talk about the book? You betcha!

As writers, we wait FOREVER (or so it seems) for our work to see the light of day. It can take years from when we finish a novel until the day we hold it in our hot little hands as a real, live book. "Same Time Sunday" will be out in the Spring of 2009—only 10 years after I had the idea and three years after I finally wrote it. In many other creative fields, the gratification comes a little sooner. Write a song? Here, let me sing it for you. Complete a painting? Put it up on a wall for all to admire. Finish a book? It's kind of hard to shove 400 pages at your visitors and say, LOOK! I wrote a BOOK! So we wait months, sometimes years, to learn whether the story that touched our hearts will touch others as well. That takes perseverance.

I've been very lucky to have a corps of dedicated, enthusiastic readers who have read every word I've written and who kept me going during the long road to publication. Some writers shudder at the idea of showing their work to readers prior to publication. I'm not one of them. I've been asked if I worry that no one will buy the book when it comes out in print. Every one of my readers bought copies of Line of Scrimmage for themselves and everyone they know. I signed scads of copies for each of them. Most of them re-read it as a book and found the experience—as I did myself—to be entirely different. Their reactions, their comments, their passionate response to my stories and my characters have provided me with my own focus group over the years. Without them, I probably would've given up long before my seventh novel became my debut book. I think it takes a lot more courage to show our work to people we know than to put it out there for the masses. Our writing is a window to our soul, one most keep closed to others their entire lives. We choose to expose ourselves and our innermost thoughts and imagination to the world. This takes courage, and it takes perseverance.

I'm closing in on the end of my twelfth novel. And like a proud mom, I believe in and have high hopes for every one of my dozen "children." Each of them has taught me something new or forced me to go places I'd never been before. I've delved into alcoholism, chronic illness, murder, ethical dilemmas and family dynamics. I've ventured into romantic suspense and learned that while I love the outcome, the process is draining. After I finished the first one, a book I called "The Wreck," I was a wreck! I didn't write a word for three months while I recovered. I've written two series, which taught me a whole other form of storytelling. The first series began with the book of my heart, "Treading Water." This is the one that if and when it is one day published, I will be able to say NOW, now I have achieved the goal of my lifetime (other than raising two healthy, productive human children, of course). Every mother has a special affinity for her firstborn. It is no different for writers. While many may come after it, none are ever again quite the same. As I hope for the opportunity to share more of my stories and characters with readers, these experiences, along with the friends I've met along the way, sustain me.

What sustains you during the long wait from finished novel to printed book? Do you allow non-writers to read your work? If so, why? If not, why not? To the readers out there, do you like reading a book in manuscript format?


  1. Hi Marie!
    An interesting thing happened when I found a publisher: I stopped printing up manuscripts for my friends to read. Some have complained, and when they do, I can print one up in a jiffy, or loan them my trusty Kingston thumbdrive, but the reason I don't let them read anymore is that when they read the original version of Slave, there were things in it that I had to change before Deb would accept it. One was, as she put it, a deal-breaker. Well, now, that scene was one that my readers really liked, and they missed it in the final version. No one read Warrior until it was in book form, and while it's cool to see my buddies sitting around reading it, I'll have to say the thrill of watching them turn manuscript pages is missing just a bit. A published book has already gone through the editing filter, so you know SOMEONE thought it was good, but I do miss the feedback from those who are the first ones to read it!
    Whew, that was a long-winded response, wasn't it?

  2. Hey Cheryl,
    I can definitely see what you're saying but I still need that early feedback on the story to know if it all makes sense to John Q. Reader. Thanks for the input.

  3. In my own experience, my circle of friends who read my early drafts tend to be rather too friendly to be really helpful about the deal-breakers, as you call them. It is nice to have somebody to run things by, but it takes a critical eye to really get things done. As to the waiting? As Tom Petty said, it's the "hardest part." I fill the time by writing more stories - can't think of anything else to do!

  4. Christina said: As to the waiting? As Tom Petty said, it's the "hardest part." I fill the time by writing more stories - can't think of anything else to do!

    That's exactly how I ended up with 12 books, Christina! I just kept writing. And writing. And then there was more writing! It's a sickness. :-)

  5. I'm willing to let people read my WIPs but few of my friends are romance readers.(Still, they're wonderful people.)

    Those who do like the genre have been invaluable, and I think have enjoyed being "insiders." Certainly it didn't stop them from buying the published version. On the contrary, they were eager to tell people they had already read it and it was good enough to buy.

  6. Hey MM,
    I think I've converted a few of my friends into romance readers by feeding them a regular supply. I agree that having people who have already read and loved the book out there hawking it can only help!

  7. Well, as we all know, I began my process by chapters on the web for all to read, so until recently I knew no other way! Having that constant positive feedback (for the most part) kept me going. However, now I am writing material that has been seen by only a couple friends. I am discovering that I really like the freedom in creating this way without immediately thinking of what will please my readers. Naturally an author must think of what someone will want to read, but writing without the looking-over-the-shoulder feel is liberating. But then it is also strange to think that the general public and all my faithful fans will not see these novels for a year or more, if ever! Yikes!! That is a scary thought and does take perseverance, and a tremendous amount of faith. I suppose all that can really sustain us during the long waits is hope. Thanks Marie for a great article!

  8. Hi Sharon,
    I hear you on being influenced. I NEVER allow anyone to influence what I write. I'm extremely protective that way, which is why I don't have critique partners. I don't want other people's opinions working their way into my story. In fact, I've stopped giving MSs to people who said things about the hot sex scenes because I don't want their comments in my head when I have my characters in the ahem bedroom. :-) Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  9. As a reader I have never had the opportunity to read a book in manuscript form but I loved Line Of Scrimmage and am really looking forward to your next book Marie.
    Maybe one day I will get the chance to read a book before it is published and I would still buy it after it was published of course

    Have Fun

  10. Helen,
    It's good to know you'd still buy a book after reading it in MS format. I would, too! Thanks so much for the kind words about LOS. I'm so glad you liked it!!