Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Authors Gone Astray



This week's Ganesh fix


Susie's latest polished rock

The only credit I could find for the absolutely incredible photo below (found on Facebook) is "@rsvn." Its title:  Melting Moon



Grace note:  although the following essay is aimed at authors, readers may also find it interesting - a suggestion of why some series, as well as single titles, by the same author are better than others.


Regular readers of Mosaic Moments are aware that, although I never name names, I often rant about newbie authors who should have waited a bit longer before hitting the Upload button on their precious "first effort." Today, however—inspired by a Perfectly Awful series by an established author—I'm going to turn my attention to how easy it is to go wrong even when you've already proved you have a true gift for writing.

Yes, of course I know that no author can hit a high note every time, myself most definitely included. But how is it that some authors can write an absolutely brilliant series then follow-up with a series that, at best, can be termed mediocre?  In the example that set me off on this rant, while taking it easy after a medical procedure, I spent the past ten days reading some "oldies" off my Kindle. While browsing, I encountered a name I knew well, an author whose first series I had enjoyed immensely, but Book One in this new series didn't ring a bell, even though I had obviously read it. And, stupid me, even though I found the second time around barely worth the effort, I ordered the two succeeding books, thinking surely they would be more scintillating. But, OMG, by Book 3 I was wondering how I could be so masochistic as to keep plowing my way through this sorry excuse for a book.

So what happened?  Two possibilities: this series was from the author's early days and was now being published because his/her name had become known. Or the author had not been able to overcome a severe case of Writer's Block but went ahead and published anyway. Whatever the cause, I decided to flip through my Kindle again, this time looking for other favorite authors whose output was decidedly uneven. To my surprise, the list was longer than I expected.

One I mentioned not long ago—a world-famous author who obscured his/her latest mystery in so many side trips to nowhere that if I'd been reading paper instead of my precious Kindle, I'd likely have tossed the book against the wall. No self-respecting editor should have allowed the story to wallow in half again as many words as it needed, but when an author is really, really famous . . . I guess anything goes.

A favorite historical author is guilty of a similar overuse of words, though not to such an egregious extent, frequently descending into an avalanche of introspection toward the end of a book, just when most readers expect the story to be speeding toward Happily Ever After. Yes, a Romance needs a Black Moment, but the term is "moment," not page after page after page until the reader feels beaten over the head with the hero's or heroine's torment.

Another favorite author freely admits he/she suffered from Burn-out after a spectacular First Series, followed by a second series that, admittedly, could never rival the first. But since this author's "not quite as good" is better than 90 percent of other authors, I still read every last book.

Further Kindle search revealed three more favorite authors—two mystery writers and one fantasy—who should be added to my "rocky series" list. But again, all three are so expert that I read every word of every series. There are simply some of their many series that I don't read twice. 

Looking into the past, I won't hesitate to name one of the great names of Fiction:  Dorothy Dunnett. I recall, a couple of chapters into one of her later mysteries, wondering why I wasn't finding this book as clever or amusing as her earlier mysteries. And then it dawned on me. Someone had persuaded her to write in Third Person instead of First. (This was the era when, for some odd reason, First Person seemed to be out of fashion.) I read the books, because I loved Dunnett, no matter what, and because I loved the characters, but it just wasn't the same. Third Person simply did not suit the Johnson Johnson series. (I believe these books were later reissued in First Person, but only after Dunnett's death.) [FYI, just to be really different, the First Person Point of View in each of Dunnett's mysteries was always someone other than the hero of the series.]

And then there are two "mainstream," absolutely brilliant series that went far astray from their initial promise. No, they were never meant to be lighthearted or romantic, but they were marvelously detailed and complex. I was truly impressed, until they nose-dived into a darkness that completely turned me off. I find no entertainment (or enlightenment) in reading books that leave me totally depressed. To top off my disgust, the heroine in one series was so oblivious to the romance right under her nose that I just wanted to pick her up and shake her!

But you wail:  "We can't be brilliant every time around" or "Everyone gets Writer's Block. We're told to write our way through it."

As for being brilliant 24/7, I can only agree, but it's important never to rest on our laurels, thinking "anything goes." As for Writer's Block, believe me, there's a big difference between "writing your way through it" and "publishing something that should be lost forever  in the depths of your hard drive." (And yes, big publishing companies seem to be almost as guilty of this as indie authors.) So what do you do?

It's true you need to keep going, write whatever you can manage. But you need to go back and work on that painful effort until it begins to shine. Then work on the shine until it sparkles. Please, I beg you, do not think just because your first series, or your first book, was a success that your readers will settle for mediocre. It just ain't so. Yes, we'll buy Book One of that second series, but will we buy Book Two? And yes, as an author myself, I'm inclined to give favorites the benefit of the doubt, but your sales figures will likely tell you, most readers aren't. 

Excuses for falling down on the job? There's a whole slew of them, of course. Classic burn-out (just plain exhaustion from pushing yourself too hard), poor health, the stress of family members' problems, death, divorce, as well as that capricious devil, Writer's Block, that can crop up anywhere, any time.  Goodness knows, I've encountered more than a few of these. Actually, I should add "moving" to the list above. The book I wrote right after moving from Venice, Florida, to Orlando is still "waiting." I doubt it will ever see the light of day, and I really liked that idea too (the beginning of a whole new series. Sigh). Ah well, at least I had sense enough to keep it hidden.

I guess it could be said that it's a miracle any good books get written at all. But happily, they do. Just take the time for that extra amount of "spit and polish" to be sure your book is one of them! And if it ain't fit to see the light of day . . .

1.  Ask someone else to read it (someone willing to tell you the truth!). It may be better than you think.

2. If not, be strong enough to resist publishing something that is a waste of your readers' time.

3.  Or the book may not be up to par but is worth salvaging. In that case, take the time to revise from the top, adding all the rich tapestry of words, the detailed panorama of characters, the intricacies of plot that you failed to include the first time around.


Few authors can manage a great series, or even a great book, each and every time. But we should make an effort to be honest with ourselves and not foist a true dud onto our readers. In most cases judicious editing can to fix our lesser efforts. If not, resist the temptation to publish. (If you're New York-published, I admit this is not your option.) A really bad book, like the one that sparked today's rant, spoils your reputation forever. It simply isn't worth whatever it might bring in. 

Granted, we're all egotistical enough to perhaps not recognize our latest effort isn't worthy. But I urge you to try. To consider that poor sad book as the toll it took to get past whatever obstacle distracted you while you were writing it. Accept that book as the price you paid to get back on top of your game. Your dues, if you will, to the demanding club of authors who turn out good book after good book. 

Can the doldrums happen more than once? Hopefully not, but it's possible. But like the current Pandemic, this too shall pass. That idea will come. Fabulous characters will suddenly pop into your head. A colorful setting. Dastardly villains, etc., etc. Hang in there! But please, I beg of you, spare yourself the horror of allowing a "lemon" to see the light of day.

~ * ~

  Debuting later this week:



For a link to Blair's Facebook Author Page, click here. 

For Blair's website, click here. 


Thanks for stopping by,

Grace (Blair Bancroft) 

1 comment:

  1. "I find no entertainment (or enlightenment) in reading books that leave me totally depressed." I heartily agree. I see no value in adding to the world's plentiful store of depressing things. Granted, painful truths must be told, but if you can't offer some hope as well, please don't bring the rest of the world down with you.

    This is an attitude I try (not always successfully) to bring to my blog: to speak the truth but never without hope.