What to do when you’ve written a good book but not a great book

This is something I’ve kind of known in my gut since I finished the book.  It’s good.  (Yes, as we already know, I do have an ego the size of a house.)  But it’s not great.  And I think it needs to be great.

So, why do I think it’s good?  It holds together.  Plot lines are consistent.  It gets where it needs to go.  Each scene needs to be there to drive the story along.  The characters are believable.  The writing lets the story be told without distracting the reader.  It tells the story it was meant to tell.  I think there are even a few scenes that linger with readers long after they’ve finished the book.  (Interestingly, this would include the sexual predator chapter.  Seems I write creepy men well.  Who knew?) 

If someone found it at the library, I don’t think they’d question it being there.  I’m not sure they’d recommend it to a friend, but they wouldn’t complain about their local tax dollars going to waste on buying crap.

My novel is kind of like my first car, which was a Geo Metro.  It’s not fancy.  No one drives down the road and thinks, “man, I’d love to own that car,” but it does the job.  (My Geo had a three cylinder engine, which made trying to drive over mountains interesting, but if I put it in a low gear and hung out behind the semis I eventually got where I needed to go.)

If I were using a food analogy, it’d be like going to Applebee’s.  (I was going to say Bennigan’s, but they don’t exist anymore, sadly enough.)  It’s not that corner dive that’s going to give you food poisoning.  And it’s not McDonald’s which may fill you up but has no real substance (and better not be on anyone’s best food list).  But it’s also not Morton’s or some five-star Michelin restaurant.  (And every owner of a five-star Michelin restaurant now hates me for putting those two in the same sentence.  Tough.  And good thing they don’t read my blog.)

So, what to do?  I really like the core idea behind my book.  I like the world behind the story.  I worked really hard to make sure that the idea didn’t overwhelm the character’s stories, but the idea that drove the world is still an idea I want out there.

And I really like my three main characters, but two of my characters are the type that would have to have a violent confrontation if they ever met.  Which is why they don’t.  It’s too early for that.  But I think the lack of confrontation between them is a problem for the book.

And one of those two is in a mostly separate story arc.  You can see how his presence affects the others, but he never directly interacts with them.  Which means I think he has to go.  If the book does well I can always circle back to his story and then my faithful readers can have fun seeing all the ways he connects into the original story.  But for now I think he may be a distraction.

(And his entire storyline is meant to show how he managed to get to and settle in a world that doesn’t allow outsiders so that two books from now he’s in place when I need him to be and no one wonders how that was possible.  Which is just a recipe for disaster.  It’s like when authors put in too much of the “why” of everything, except I did it for a whole storyline.  Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t have an interesting story and I’m going to hate losing one of the minor characters from his storyline.  It’s just to say that for this book, he doesn’t fit well.)

And then there’s the issue of magic.  This is an alternate society, alternate world, so it’s speculative fiction no matter what I do.  But I don’t know if the world needs magic to function.  It’s very much in the background for most of the book and I’m wondering if it needs to be there at all.  I almost wrote the first book without magic, because I thought the magic would distract from the core idea.  But I also devised a magic system that could almost be real.  Or, as far as the reader knows, could be technology.

So, I’m thinking about that.  It’ll be a lot of work, but I think I may write it with and without magic and see which one I like more.

I know.  I said I wasn’t going to second guess my book until an agent or editor had actually read it and ripped it to shreds.  And then I’d be happy to do whatever it took to fix it up.  But if I can see now how to make it that much better…why wait and disappoint someone and possibly lose a chance to work with that agent because it just doesn’t do it for them?

A first novel needs to be great.

Of course, rewriting is not the only option.  I can keep querying. (I really have only scratched the surface with queries.  I just know from writing the query itself that I need to tighten it up.)  Or I can trunk this one and focus on the next one, which really is an interesting idea and will be much more compact just because it’s first person POV.

But I really think rewriting it is at least worth a shot.

Well, this blog is meant to document my journey as a writer.  So, that has to include some of the downs as well as the ups, right?  Well, wish me luck!


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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4 Responses to What to do when you’ve written a good book but not a great book

  1. Dave Higgins says:

    A very courageous decision.

    If you survive then let us know how it went.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Will do. I split the story lines yesterday and now I have two 40K novels to work with. And I already realized that the magic element is too deeply embedded in one of the subplots to remove from the book without cutting it back even further. So…I need to think about that some more.

      Good times!

  2. Keri Peardon says:

    You may have done this already, but have you walked away from your book for 6 months? I’ve often seen it recommended that everyone put their book away for 6 months sometime between writing the first full draft and publishing it. Don’t work on it, don’t think about it. Just use your time to work on something else. Then come back to it.

    I did that with my book, and it really helped.

    • mhleewriter says:

      Definitely have. Between the first and second drafts I think there was a five month break (which greatly improved it.) And between the last draft (the 6th) and this one there was four months. It took that long for my mind to analyze what wasn’t sitting well for me.

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