Maintaining a high gloss

I like mysteries, but my sister LOVES them, so I'm always on the lookout for good ones to recommend or get for her.

In the past several months, I've come across two indie mystery books that I thought were really good. Coincidentally, each was the first book in a two-book series. In both cases, I liked the first book so much that I decided to buy a paper copy of it for my sister, and I went on to read the second book.

And, in both cases, I will not be buying a paper copy of the second book for my sister.

I think the same thing happened with both series. Two talented writers each wrote a mystery novel and spent the next, oh, five or ten years trying without success to have that novel traditionally published. Those years, while frustrating, weren't wasted--the writers, each assuming that their book wasn't quite good enough to get published, spent a lot of time gathering feedback and improving the books. The result was a pair of books that were very fine indeed--but still not published!

Enter self-publishing. Our two mystery novelists self-publish their by now EXTREMELY good books, and readers LOVE them! Reviews are ecstatic, sales are grand, and our two writers realize that their debut novels didn't get published not because they weren't good enough, but because traditional publishing is an industry in crisis.

They each say, A-ha! I am a writer of talent! And of sales! I'd better crank my follow-up novel out in a great big hurry!

So, they each crank out novel number two. Maybe they give it to a beta reader who is really more of a friend or a fan than an editor, and this person tells them that the book is awesome and they are a genuis--or maybe they don't even bother with that.

The result is a very frustrating read, because in both cases, Novel #2 is something that with a little more work could have been just as good as Novel #1. Things are bad in a way that is annoying and fixable: Lengthy and original descriptive phrases are repeated word-for-word in different places in the book; climactic events happen off-stage; sub-plots (and since these are mystery novels, there are a lot of those) are wound up in ways that are opaque and confusing. Both books need a serious edit--not a fluffy, "You're so great! I love your stuff!" kind of thing.

A good edit is always somewhat brutal. The job of an editor is to yank all your failures out and rub them in your face so you can fix them. If you're not feeling like someone could be a little kinder to you, or if you're not feeling like, Holy crap, this is going to be a lot of work, you're not getting a proper edit. There's always that moment of wounded ego and despair.

I totally understand writers not wanting to go through it--hell, I don't always want to go through it--especially after they've seen through the whole traditional-publishing lie that their book is not quite good enough to sell. If you've been in a situation where people have been stomping all over your talent for no other reason than to get you to shut up and go away, it can be hard to acknowledge that there is such a thing as legitimate criticism.

But no matter how talented you are--and these writers are both quite talented--you need to be edited. A real edit, not a love-fest, done by someone who does not care about your feelings and who is not afraid to tell you the stuff that's hard to hear.