Perfecting Imperfection

I recently removed my first novel, The Stream: Discovery, from sale. My reasons were myriad, but came down to one thing: I was not happy with its launch. I was also very unhappy with Smashwords, but that’s another story.

Yes, I did receive some reviews – at least 4 officially, and a few off-the-record ones. None of them was negative. In fact, they were all quite positive. Not having had access to beta readers (whom would actually read the beta) I treated the eBook release as beta. Here’s what I learned:

It wasn’t perfect.

Now, those who know me well know I’m not a perfectionist. In fact, I believe perfectionism to be the height of inefficiency. What I do believe in, however, is being honest about what constitutes an acceptable level of imperfection. In finding that perfect level of imperfectness, one can optimize between available resources and desired quality.

In theory.

So in reading the praise for my book, I filtered through that stuff to hear people’s responses to my own issues. Yes, I waved off the pearls in search of the turds. (I realize that sounds like negative thinking, but a little negativity goes a long way in trying to weed out the muck.) One reviewer said, “It starts a bit slow for a YA novel, but …” and went on to remind readers that so did the first Harry Potter book. So did “Eragon” and others, for that matter. You can’t build a complex world in two chapters.

In my mind that means two things: 1) the details are needed so you understand the entire story, and 2) no one cares, Bill. We are an ADHD world. Write a damned ADHD book, or get another “thing.”

Imperfection #1

Readers think this is YA Fantasy Fiction. I have never considered it to be a YA novel. However, my main characters (MCs) are 12 in the first book. They are in their 20s by the end of the 3rd, but no matter. If your MCs are 12, your readers should be 12. It’s YA. Well, no, not really.

It is a story of good and evil. It is about discovering oneself by focusing on how your gifts can help others. It is about being forgotten, bullied, ignored, oppressed, and how to persevere. It is about slaying your own personal demons, even if they manifest themselves as fur-covered dragons (Book 1); ninja zombies (Book 2); or hyena-headed, Virginia-invading, Leukrokotai (Book 3). More than anything, it’s about understanding that who you can be is worth more than who you have been or how you see yourself right now.

But since it’s now considered to be YA, I need to get to the action sooner, and make it simpler. (Hock, spit!)  Still I would like to point out, IT’S NOT A BLOODY KID’S BOOK!!! Was Harry Potter? Seriously?

There, I feel better now. 🙂

Imperfection #2

Everyone whom has given me feedback has seemed to have loved the book once it enters the world of dreams. So I need to figure out how to let the readers know what’s coming, and keep them … there … until shortly before the mid-point. Then the story starts to kick ass, and either I have you, or I don’t. There are things I want to put in – fun stuff – that I didn’t have room for. So, in order to “simplify” (hock, spit!) I’ll add the action scenes I have in my head. I will have to sacrifice some of the relationships, however, to make room. Funner and dumber, the American way. 🙂

Which brings me to …

Imperfection #3

I don’t fit easily into boxes. Even big boxes. I have ADHD. I can concentrate all my attention with a laser focus – for weeks. Unless there’s noise. Or a squirrel.

My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ (Rational Scientist). And ENFJ (Giving Mentor). It’s a tie. Which one you get depends on what color shirt you’re wearing. (Just kidding.) Those two types aren’t really friends with each other. I am a writer, but I don’t think in words. I write books in pictures and see them acted out in my head. I am a photographer, but when I take photos, I don’t see subjects, I see short stories. Sometimes, I write poems, and put them into books as text. People rarely notice. Other times, I write essays, and publish them as poems. People never notice.

I have no idea how to write an Urban Fantasy or SciFi that isn’t also about relationships, or a book about dreams that doesn’t include fantasies, and fears, and memories. I don’t know how to make it all YA, without taking out all the grown-ups’ dreams, or make it adult, without killing my MCs. Moreover, since my brain never fits in the boxes others’ fit into, I have no idea there was a box I stepped out of in the first place. How do you make a thing just one thing, when you didn’t know there were two things to begin with? Why do we keep allowing ourselves to become narrower, instead of broader?

Weren’t these things invented by Big Pub, who’s failed miserably? If I make my thing their thing, won’t that make me full of #fail too?

So now I sit here wondering. Does the fact that I can write a story that makes one laugh, then cry, then laugh make me a writer? Or, am I only a writer if I can get 80% of people who start to finish what I write? I am beginning to think it is the latter. Which means my primary talent is not in writing, but in being imperfect.

In my estimation, only 20% of the people whom bought my book finished it. All of the people who finished it seemed to like it a lot (some used the “L” word.) Is it a failure, or a success? You know my vote.

Imperfection #4

I fall. I fail. I get angry, and bruised. I wallow in self-pity, and anguish in the hopelessness of it all. Then I forget, because I have ADHD, and my brain doesn’t like to remember, so I get back up, and try again. And again. And again.  It’s fucking pathetic, really.

And again.

And that is the greatest imperfection of them all. I don’t seem to know how to stay down, once they knock me out. So play me some tub thumping music, bitches, ‘cause I’m about to get back up, once more.

Both of the first books will be published at once (in paper this time). And if people take the time to read them – if adults are willing to experience adulthood simultaneously as it blooms and as it ends – then they will never dream the same way again.

Why am I doing this? Because I want you to read the third book, Emprise. I can publish it without the first two, without changing a word. I wrote it that way. But I want you to love Charlie and Robin and Jannet first. (Loving God will help too, but isn’t mandatory to start the book.) This book is the best thing I have done, and I need it to be … perfect.

Imperfection #5

I’m just arrogant enough to still have a little hope. I’m stupid enough to believe that people are of tired of things being dumbed-down, and books being poorly written. I’m stubborn enough not to change what I need you to hear, but wise enough to change it to how you are willing to hear it.

And, if I can keep just a few of my imperfections, perhaps, just maybe I can one day see perfection from where I’m standing. It’ll be a glorious sight, but I won’t walk there. I’d rather watch the view from my imperfect little space.

Stop by. I’ll be the guy in the jeans and the blue bandana, carrying the Nikons. If you see me there, holla.

5 Comments

  1. I sympathize, Bill. I know what it’s like to have people fixate on a few details and define the work based on those details, regardless of the greater substance of the story. I struggled for years with how to make adults take my work seriously. The “young character = cute children’s story” belief was often applied to Remedy, even though the 12-year-old is of a species that only lives 20 years.

    I think you’re absolutely looking at those reviews in the right way. Positive or not, if they’re not the response you’re looking for, then more power to you in making changes. If you want to make The Stream: Discovery into a more clearly adult-oriented work, I’d suggest setting up more mature content in the opening of the story. Not the gratuitous sex-and-violence sort of “mature” content, but the awareness of life that a child wouldn’t have and probably wouldn’t understand. That seemed to help Remedy (the original opening didn’t have Peregrine attending a funeral, musing on the nature of mortality and the choices we make).

    Best of luck in figuring this out. Best of luck in breaking out of the marketing pigeonholes. If you’d like to discuss it further or have a novel concrit session or anything, let me know — I’d be happy to spend the time.

  2. Heidi, thanks so much for your thoughtful post, and the kind words. I may take you up on your offer. I do want to figure this out.

  3. I understand about a slow start I took a workshop and went home in tears (back then I was still planning on going traditional pub ) because I realized that my book started in ch 5! At least that’s where my pivotal plot point happened, and the agent said it needed to be in the first 30 pages. So I printed my stuff out got a ton of sticky notes and literally cut my book up and pasted it back together. It was insane, but I do like it better now.
    Do you have a critique group? If not it might be something to try out. I love mine- sometimes I get a lot of contrary advice- so I know if they all agree on something it needs to change. Some of them I listen to more then others. Getting other opinions even if you don;t take their advice helps you focus on your book in a different way.
    As for the box I say ignore it. It’s false that a YA book can’t be deep, or scary, or spiritual, or sexy- and an adult book can have a young MC but you might want to label it some how if you think it’s too much for children to handle.

    Good luck with your revisions, and it’s not about perfect or fitting into boxes but telling your story in a way that is clear and sparks other people’s imaginations, and that I know you can do just from reading your blog.

  4. Alica, thanks for the comment and encouragement. I will think about what you say. I don’t really have a critique group. I joined one once, and it didn’t work out. So much depends on finding people you fit with (not necessarily agree with).

    1. It’s true you need to find people who will help you grow as a writer and help you towards your goal. Groups that just tell you you’re amazing, or ones that try and shape you’re work to fix the industry standards won’t work.
      My group- we all want to publish a great book, and we help each other towards that goal.
      I tried an online group but I didn’t like it I think face to face works much better.

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