Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Because I can do better, that's why

I've never shared this story except with my family and a couple of my writer pals, but I did something rather unusual after turning in my last contracted manuscript to my Harlequin "Love Inspired" editor: I admitted that I didn't believe what I had given her was my very best work.

I'd been laboring under a tight deadline, and I'd run out of time. So the day before it was due, I overnighted my manuscript to New York City. It wasn't perfect, but I figured that was okay because my editor was bound to ask for one or two small revisions. When I addressed those, I'd have an opportunity to tighten up the story. And then by the time I mailed in the revised manuscript, I'd have produced a novel I was as proud of as I was of my first three books.

Things didn't go according to my plan. My editor called to say that she "loved" the book and that she was sending off the paperwork so somebody would cut me a check for the "on manuscript acceptance" portion of my advance.

What followed was the most humbling experience of my career. I admitted to my editor that I wasn't satisfied with the manuscript I'd sent her. Then I asked if I could have it back for two weeks.

Not necessary, she said. I love the book you've written.

But I can do better, I insisted. Please let me have it back.

She was plainly shocked. She was very familiar with authors requesting deadline extensions, but I gathered it was the first time an author had asked for a manuscript back after she had accepted the final submission. She tried to talk me down from what she no doubt believed to be an odd case of nerves for a previously-published author, but in the end she gave me two more weeks. I worked twelve- and sixteen-hour days, but when I sent that puppy back to New York, I was happy with it.

That book, At His Command, was published in the autumn of 2008. While it's my least favorite of all my books (because it was Book Three of a six-author "continuity series", and I had to weave in subplots and minor characters that appeared in the other books), I'm still very proud of it.

Those of us who aren't kids anymore can remember the TV commercials Orson Welles did for Paul Masson wines some thirty years ago: "We will sell no wine before its time." Well, I promised you all a brand new novel this month, and the month is almost over. Until this morning, I still thought I could pull this off: I'd simply run through the manuscript one more time to check for typos, and then I'd spend the next couple of days formatting and uploading it to Amazon's Kindle Store and Barnes and Noble's Nook catalogue and so on. But I've been uneasy about this planned release for the past week or so, and my conscience is now demanding that I give the book some more time.

Look, I know I don't belong on stage with the world's best romance writers. But I like to think I'm a decent writer who has occasional flashes of brilliance, and more than a thousand of you (yes, really!) have written or e-mailed to tell me that you have enjoyed my novels. So please take me at my word when I say this new book is simply not finished yet. "Good enough" is not good enough for me, and I don't think it's good enough for you, either. So if it takes two more weeks or even a whole month of polishing to make sure this novel is the best I'm capable of offering you, then I am going to take that time.

Your understanding and patience will be very much appreciated. If you want to follow my progress, be sure to watch this blog and my Facebook page.


Anonymous said...

Brenda, I am proud of you for taking a stand for what you believe in. I may be your cousin, but there is a lesson to be learned here for all. To do the very best work you can do and to stand up for something you really believe in. In this case you really believed your novel could be better even though they had already accepted the manuscript. You stood up for yourself and as such produced something that you were more satisfied in. God calls us to do our best at what ever job He has called us to and that is exactly what you did. I am proud of you!

Zikki said...

I can totally understand why you did what you did. Although I've never submitted a mms, when I write, I do it to please my own inner voice and vision, and to my satisfaction. I'm not saying that editorial revisions aren't necessary, just that if my own inner critic isn't pleased it gets re-written until I am happy with it. Three cheers for you sticking to your guns, and who knows, maybe the editor learned something along the way too lol. Have a wonderful day! Joy (aka Zikki)

Susan Kaye said...

Publishing under your own name, with no logo to hide behind, makes you very aware that doing better is a worthy goal. My publisher has made mistakes with my work in the past and I could pass the comments on to them. Now, when I hit "publish" I'm the only one standing there.

Good for you for going with your instincts.

Brenda Coulter said...

Laurie, Joy, and Susan, thanks for the encouragement.