Monday, January 4, 2010

That First Book

I'm always amazed when a writer gets their first book published and it immediately gains international literary success. I always wonder where did they practice? How did they learn everything? Did they secretly write for years putting everything in a drawer until they knew they were ready? How did they know that?

My first published book was a bit of an accident. At the time I owned a small newspaper that circulated around where I live. We had been printing it in Gaborone and decided we would buy our own machine and print for ourselves. The problem was we had to shift from tabloid size to A4 to do that and there were other A4 papers in our market. I decided it might be a good idea to serialise a novel to build readership and separate us from the crowd. But where to get a novel? I decided I would write one.

I'd mostly only written news articles and opinion pieces up until then. I didn't really consider myself a writer at all. But I thought I could try my luck. Our deadline was on a Friday, and it usually turned out I'd be staying late on a Thursday trying to write my next 1000 words of the novel for that week's issue.

When the story finished in the newspaper, we had a few people calling saying they missed some instalments and couldn't we give them the whole story. Then I thought maybe I could send it to a publisher who would put all of the parts together for these readers. I sent it off to Macmillan and they decided they wanted to publish it.

That book was The Fatal Payout, the first book in my Detective Kate Gomolemo series, all four of which were serialised in the newspaper I used to own. That was 2005. The second book, Murder for Profit was published by Pentagon Publishers in 2008.

I was disappointed with The Fatal Payout. I felt I could do much better. I wasn't happy it was my first published book. It was written chaotically with a plot that moved at warp speed. But at the same time, I feel I've improved a lot since then, even if just having a better idea of how a book can be written, the process, though I hope my writing has improved also. I feel like I had to write The Fatal Payout and the other books in that series to get to here, and I must write the books I need to, to get me to the writer I will eventually be. I'm a process, not an event.

I recently read an interview with a writer who said that she doesn't understand writers who publish many books that are not the best that they could do. She would rather publish a few books that she knows are her best.

I know the books I write now are better than the books I've written in the past. At the time of writing those books, though, they were my best. I am a writer learning on the job. I don't know how other writers do it, it's a mystery to me. I know, only to a certain extent , how good my writing is; publishing is how I find out how I'm doing. Writing and having it published is my way of improving. I know no other way I could have become a writer. Those are my steps. I'm learning to accept that.


bonita said...

Personally, I'm amazed by the numbers of 'authors' whose work is accomplished by ghost writers. And, I suspect, that often a writer has contracted to deliver a mss by a specified date and the muse was not cooperative. So work quality may suffer.
a bit off topic...did you hand set type? sheet fed or roll?

Sue Guiney said...

excellent and I completely agree. We do the best we can and hope to improve, right? If we don"t get our work out there because it may not be our "best" then we're really just running scared, right?

Lauri said...

Bonita we were using cheaper technology,a machine called a Risograph. Quite tough but could only do spot colour which became obsolete in the market. We had out moment though.

Sue- That's the other side of it- if we wait for perfection we'll never take a step. Not part of the human make-up, at least my human make-up. It's a bit like people who forever work on a query letter. You need to just get on with it.

Elspeth Futcher said...

I haven't had a book published, but I have noticed my games get better with each one. I learned what people want and what they don't. I've learned how many characters to have, how tricky the plot should be, etc.

That said, I'd like to be one of the lucky ones and have my first actual book hit the jackpot. Please and thank you.


Elizabeth Bradley said...

What about those successful authors that steadily decline in quality as their careers progress, what's up with that? I won't be mean and name several that come to mind. It's as if they put all their heart and soul into the first few books and then ran out of anything interesting to say.

I'm with you, practice should lead us down the road to perfection, I know we can never get there, but we can try.

Anonymous said...

It's all part of the process. I think so many things affect how we write over the years that it is impossible to be sure 'we only put out our best work every time' as the writer you were reading about said. I disagree with him or her because their comment smacks of perfectionism which is always dangerous ground. Sometimes our point of view changes quite markedly over the years and I think it would be true to say that what we write today is not what we would have written ten years ago. That doesn't mean, however, that what we wrote ten years ago was not our best work at the time. It's all about learning the craft. If we don't feel capable of improvement, what is the point of writing in the first place?

Lauri said...

Oh Elizabeth I certianly do not want to do that!No that's awful!

Selma I think you make a good point, even besides our writing improving (hopefully) we change and our interests change. This is part of why I could never bear to keep a diary. I didn't want that permanent record of my old thoughts, I almost without fial contradict myself if given enough time, but do not like to be reminded of it.