Sheila Lowe is the author of the Forensic Handwriting and the Beyond the Veil series. You can find out more about her on her website www.sheilalowebooks.com, or by clicking here, see her last post here, and buy her books here.
In 1997 I started writing my first novel, Poison Pen. In 2000 it won 3rd place in a mystery writers competition and I knew I was on my way (ha!). Sara Ann Fried of Mysterious Press was a judge. She wrote about my first twenty pages, “I love the characters. They are slightly over the top in a Jackie Collins way.” That’s not what I was going for, but I was happy to take it, and when she asked for the rest of the manuscript I sent it with alacrity (now there’s a word I’ve never used before).
Three months later, Sara Ann wrote that she was going to pass because she didn’t like the characters. Go figure. Tom Colgan, senior editor at Berkeley was the other judge. He liked the book and submitted it to his editorial review committee. Twice. They said “it’s not strong enough.” I didn’t understand what that meant, but I edited and edited my heart out. That first page saw so many iterations, I wore the letters off my keyboard.
Seven years and countless edits later I got an editor and learned what “not strong enough” meant (leave out most of the adverbs and stop having the protagonist feel guilty all the time). The book was finally published by Obsidian, an imprint of Penguin—it got a starred review in Publishers Weekly—as did the next three books. And then I published a bunch more. You’d think I would be satisfied, but nooooo.
I write better now than I did when Poison Pen was first published, and my pride insists that my books should keep up with what I’ve learned. Two years ago, when I took back my rights and independently published my series, I started by cutting 20,000 words out of Poison Pen—mainly redundancies and f-bombs—but it was always that first page where I spent most of my time and energy. I’d get it “just right.” And then, the next time I looked at it—cringe! So, I rewrote it again. And again. And again. I do believe that each time it got better. A couple of months ago, did it again, going word by word through the entire book.
I did it with all the books, though not nearly to such an extent. I don’t know whether readers will notice, but I do. And, guess what—I’ve just had some comments from a pro about that opening chapter. Apparently, I should have been looking at the bigger picture. Maybe the opening scene should not be the opening scene…
Here we go again.