The very first book I ever wrote was called (among other things) The Iron Admiral. I wanted to write a space opera with sex; not erotica, science fiction but with heart. So I did. To start with it wasn’t so very good. No writer’s first efforts are, I don’t think. In my case, the writing was flowery with many words other than ‘said’, much telling and not showing… the usual culprits.
But I went and learnt the craft and I polished and polished and polished. Eventually, I was happy with my work and propositioned literary agents and a few publishers without success. I got desperate and even self-published for Kindle. But then, an agent took an interest. I pulled the book off Amazon and listened to her advice. Rewrite, she said. She pointed out some plot weaknesses and suggested I bring the leading man in earlier. This was all good and I was grateful. But I’d written two books, one following on from the other. I’d been told that in a romance, there has to be a happy ending, nuptials if not confetti. Really, that meant I had to bring the two books together into one. Both of them were 100,00 words. Each.
I chopped and I clicked and I hacked and I snipped. At last, the book was down to 112,000.
But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t send the book back to Ms Agent, telling myself I’d wait until after Christmas. Then I saw an opportunity in a web group I belong to called Savvy Authors. You can join for free and it has some nifty opportunities for any starting writer. For some little while the group advertised the chance to do an editing workshop with a group of six authors, in conjunction with a living, breathing editor. After a lot of navel-gazing and head-scratching, I decided it might help to give my masterpiece a final polish.
After two exercises in the workshop, I was pretty sure I’d made a horrible mistake; after three, I was certain. I’d edited the heart out of my first book. The theme – of betrayal and broken trust – had disappeared in a flurry of jettisoned scenes. I’d cut for length, not for substance. Oh, it still read all right; but this book was supposed to be based on a tag line like ‘anything can be true – from a certain point of view’. (Oh, hey, I like that. *beams*)
The other mistake I’d made was to cut out scenes which the story ‘didn’t need’. One such example was the legend of the love lilies which Saahren has delivered to Allysha. In my edits I took the flowers out altogether, but I put them back in the final version. People loved it because the flowers revealed character and caring, a romantically naive man trying to win his lady in one of the few ways he knows. But let’s face it, the story would have stood without them. It isn’t the only example.
Mind you, many of the changes I’d made were for the better. The story moves faster, with less exposition and more action. But it had lost its heart. So I split back to two books. Both are a little shorter, more like 80,000 than 100,000. But I’m not sure I can call it ‘romance’ any more because the final ‘happy ever after’ isn’t until the end of book 2. I’m not sure I care, though. The most important thing is I’ve learned a valuable lesson; to use a cliché, ‘to thine own self be true’. Write your own story and stick to your guns. I don’t mean ignore advice; Ms Agent’s advice was valuable, but I really don’t think she would have found my MS worthy if I had sent it. I didn’t, so why should she?
By the way, the two books are published. They are The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy and The Iron Admiral: Deception. You’ll find them both here.