Friday, February 09, 2018

What I Learned About My First Book

I'm about to complete a tedious project. I thought it would take a few days. With interruptions to do other necessary tasks, it has taken two months. But what I've learned has been both eye-opening and rewarding.

I mentioned at the end of last year that a new publisher was about to re-issue my Lizzie Stuart series in both e-books and print. I was really excited when I saw the new cover and then the first book in the series, Death's Favorite Child, was available on Amazon.  And then we hit a glitch. I looked at the excerpt on Amazon and discovered typos that had occurred in the process. I contacted my new publisher. He asked me to send him the list of typos so that he could contact the company that had handled the conversion process. When he saw how many errors were in the excerpt, he decided the book needed to be redone.

Good news, the publisher really cared about the quality of what we were offering readers. I offered to proofread. That was when the publisher explained that the process worked best if we could use a Word manuscript. Even better news when I found the original manuscript -- and even though the book had been done in Word circa 2000, I was able to upgrade.

Minor bad news when I discovered that the upgrade had converted all the opening quotation marks to "A" and that apostrophes had also changed to another symbol. The apostrophes could be fixed with a change and replace. The quotation marks had to be done by hand. Still not a problem.

But then I hit the major "ouch". I discovered that the manuscript was missing the last chapter. That was when I realized that the only version I could find on a CD was the last draft. This was the version that I had sent out to my beta reader who had been with me in Cornwall, England when I was doing the research for the book. Our meet-up vacation as she and her son were en route to her academic fellowship had inspired the book that I had written as a "writing exercise." She had read the manuscript and liked it--except for the last chapter. She had been unhappy that nothing had happened at the end between Lizzie Stuart, my criminal justice professor, who was vacationing with her friend, Tess Alvarez, a travel writer, and John Quinn, the Philadelphia police detective. I had added a final chapter to deal with that and to set myself up for the next book.

And there was going to be a next book because opportunity had come in the form of a tip from a friend about a new imprint, and I had sold a book that I had written when all I'd intended to do was try my hand at moving my characters from another book to a new setting. Fast, forward to 2017, and my discovery that this was not only the unedited manuscript on the CD, but my next to last version.

That's where the tedious came in. I have been reading and correcting the Word manuscript with the published book in hand. The amazing part is that aside from revisions I seem to have made in the final version to add to the book, the three rounds of editing the book went through were about my writing quirks. My excellent editor had made my writing better, but not tampered with the plot.

Reading every word of my first published book left me feeling pretty good. Death's Favorite Child was the fourth book I had written--counting the two romantic suspense novels I had written years earlier and my first mystery that was intended to be the first in the Lizzie Stuart series (and eventually became the much revised second book set back home in Gallagher, Virginia). I could see the rewards of having spent four years when I thought I was only spinning my wheels as I wrote and revised what I thought would be my first book in the series. I had known Lizzie by the time we got to Cornwall. I could hear her voice in my head.

And -- having no expectation at all that the Cornwall book would ever be published -- I had given myself the liberty to write exactly the kind of book I would like to read. I had written a book that was my take on an Agatha Christie mystery with an African American female sleuth and a diverse cast of characters -- from a Philadelphia homicide detective who was dealing with a "bad year" to an famous artist, who was a lesbian who challenged stereotypes to a Southern-born teenager who walked in and set a pivotal twist in motion.

What did I learn?  That there were some things I got right in that first book. I also rediscovered a minor character who is now going to make a return as the catalyst for a short story that I promised to write for an anthology. Sometimes even a tedious task can yield unexpected rewards.


Unknown said...

Frankie, I live in your area (sort of) and all your books are available at my local library. Am I off today (weather permitting) to check them out? You bet.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Hi Anna,

Just saw your message. Thank you, I hope you'll enjoy Lizzie and Hannah. If you're close enough, you might be interested in the event our local chapter of Sisters in Crime has coming up at the Bethlehem Public Library on March 24th. The announcement will be out soon.