I’ve written a lot of bad things in my time, but the first book I ever wrote was definitely the worst. The biggest problem was my approach. I’d just gotten a short story published in a magazine, and with that boost of confidence, I decided to try my hand at a full-length book.
Since I didn’t really understand the mechanics of writing a mystery novel, I did take the time to read two or three books on how to successfully write and market a mystery, but then I got cocky. The how-to books made it sound so easy! If I followed the magic formula, I’d have a best-seller in no time! Never mind this pesky 9 to 5 job. I was going to buy a cabin by the lake and while away my hours in front of a big picture window as I typed out my next masterpiece.
I got to work, and in a matter of weeks, I finished a complete, if remarkably short, book and got ready to send letters to publishers, telling them of my accomplishment. Since I had no idea where these publishers were hiding, I asked my writing friend, who told me about Writer’s Market. I dashed to the bookstore for a copy, got out my highlighter pen, and pored over the pages. After slaving over a query letter for at least an afternoon, I started submitting my work.
At no point do I remember ever editing my book. After all, it had sounded pretty darn good when I’d written it, so why would I need to edit the thing? If I missed the occasional comma, surely the copy editor would catch it.
Ah, the delusions of a newbie.
When I received my self-addressed stamped envelope back within days, I was thrilled. Clearly they loved my work and wanted to sign me on before someone else discovered my enormous talent and snatched me up. Then I opened the letter and found a perfectly polite form letter telling me my material just wasn’t right for them.
Well, fine. Their loss. The next publisher would not be so foolish. After several more rejections, I started to question whether my book was quite as good as I believed it to be. Eventually, I had to admit that it wasn’t.
After I’d moved on to try my hand at another book, I took the time to reread the first one. I was mortified to discover how ridiculous it was. Flat characters, weak plot, stilted dialogue: this book had them all.
It would be several drafts and many query letters later before I would land an agent and then a publisher. While I could pretend that first book never even existed, I like to think of it as a learning moment, a reminder that writing a book isn’t all fun. It involves a lot of hard work and the ability to admit when something needs to be rewritten or even scrapped altogether and started anew. The worst thing I ever wrote provided one of my best lessons.