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Oct 16, 2012

Why Do Authors Make Readers Wait?

One of the rules--proved upon the soiled reputations of authors who have dared break it--is that authors should never respond to reviews. This is good advice, and I've never strayed.

Until now.

In an Amazon review, one person commented:

The only thing I hate about this series is that since they have all already "been written" according to the author, why am I waiting? I think that is nothing but cruelty.


If there are readers out there who indeed imagine that I have the entire series, perfect and polished, lurking on my hard-drive, and that I have been withholding this product from readers for no reason except to toy with my fans, as some sort of cruel fae might ... I feel obligated to demure. The opposite is true. I bring you the books as fast as I can; indeed, given that I rush my editor and typos slip through, perhaps faster than I should.

I am of course to blame for the delay, but this is a fault in my abilities, not in my intentions.

I have a terrible tendency to see a thing as complete once it is complete in my mind. I do have a "finished" draft of the entire story arc...with just a few blank spots...and the end more or less complete.... And so I naively thought it would not take me more than a month or two to trim the sails on each of the twelve volumes and send them sailing into the ocean of readers. And then I foolishly compounded the error by boasting about it, because I thought, well, then I'll have to keep my word or be most embarrassed.

And here I am, most embarrassed.

Here's what happened. As I took the draft of the first book, Initiate, I changed a few things from the draft. Not a lot, just improved it in some ways in response to comments by beta readers, and so on. Then in Book 2, Taboo, I had to change a few more things to keep it consistent with Initiate, and then in Book 3, Sacrifice, even more changes were needed to be consistent with the first three books... And Book 4, Root, had even more changes required, and things were getting more complicated, and then I came to Wing, and so many things needed to be changed, and the whole rest of the series drafts, as I had written them ages ago, were now out of date, that I felt as though everything was falling apart.

I had to go back to the outlining stage. It's counter-intuitive, but fixing a faulty draft is harder than outlining an unwritten book from scratch. If you have a draft, there are many scenes and plot-lines that you struggle to save, even though it might be easier to just toss them away. For instance, I knew for a long time that Umbral would kidnap Dindi, but when exactly did this occur?

When I write, I feel more like a detective than a puppeteer. I don't want to pull strings and yank my characters around. I want to discover what "really" happened. It's particularly tricky in Faearth, since everyone sees the world in different colors. When someone knows something is as important as what they know. The past erupts constantly into the present in Visions, but these Visions are always incomplete, and what import they carry is often changed by who sees them, and what else has happened since.

I admit a particular fondness for Wing. Maybe I lingered over it because I enjoyed writing it so much. But also, I simply couldn't bear it to be less than perfect. I can't tell you how many times I rewrote scenes, changed the order of things, wrestled with timelines, looking for the perfect "reveal."

And then there were the weeks when I despaired of making it right, and I fell into a despond, and wrote nothing day after day, and my unopened laptop followed me around the house like a accusation.

The day came when I opened the laptop again. I started writing again. I kept the scenes I loved most, and tossed out the scenes which had been dragging the book down. I re-wrote from scratch what needed re-writing and I finished a "rich outline" of both Book 5 and Book 6. (About 30,000 words for each book). Then I worked as fast as I could, to make up for all those months, to bring you Wing.

But I also promised myself that I would only release Wing once it was as good as I could make it. Even if I missed another deadline, even it took another year, another ten years. The hardest part after that was to be honest with myself, to admit when I had reached the limit of my ability, and the book was done.

Here is the truth about writers: we teeter between the burning drive to finish this work and the freezing despair that this work falls short. There's a part of me that would still be working on Wing right now, if I could, because it still needs improving in a thousand ways, and yet I know that it's as good as I can make it. That's the terrible thing, that a book can be as good as you (talentless wretch) can make it, but not as good as it should be.

There is one consolation. That is the next book. Ooooh, I am having such fun with Blood! It's 50,000 words complete, but I expect it to be at least twice that wordcount by the end--we shall see. But, oh, what fun. New villains rear up (well, they were always in the background before, but now they are right there, menacing Dindi in person), old friends return (but I won't say who!), Finnadro and Umbral get better acquainted, there's the small matter of saving the world, and we finally find out the answer to the question... is Kavio dead?

And I promise you, I will get Blood to you as soon as I can once it s as good as I can make it.


Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

The good thing is that author loves your work enough to be annoyed that she can't read it all right away. :) I think readers don't oftentimes understand what it takes to write and publish a novel, let alone TWELVE of them! Cover art, editing, marketing, revising, copyediting, etc. Insane. Keep going! I, for one, have been really impressed with what you've done.

Julie said...

I have to admit I really hate waiting as I'm impatient by nature but I would rather wait and have a sequel that is in sync with the previous books than to have a book that does not flow with the others. I agree with Michelle that your works are impressive and to keep all of the books in sync is a feat by itself but wonderfully done! Though I am still trying to wait patiently for Blood :)

Jai Joshi said...

I'm glad you responded to this particular critique from a reader. Yet for them to be anxiously waiting the way they are, it was really a compliment from them. Good for you.

Sometimes waiting is healthy. Rushing something through isn't fair to the story or to the reader because they won't get as high quality as they should.


April said...

I can see both sides. I read book 5 and LOVE, LOVE, LOVED it as much as the others though your editors let several typos slip through. Typos and all I hope the next one comes quick, I'm dying to find out what happens next. You are such an amazing storyteller that I can picture it so clearly. Cheers.

KniteStarz said...

That was actually a comment that stood out to me and I agreed with, if in fact they were already written. I understand what is going on better now, but I have two critiques. First let me say, I LOVE the story. One of the best I've read in a long time. And when I say "story", I mean the whole series. Now, with that said, I've almost quit reading them, a couple of times. The books are FAR too short. It makes me feel like you send small books out to take $5 here, $5 there, etc. I understand you gave some of us the last book free, (thank you!), but they're just so SHORT ! I read one of your books in maybe a day and a half, if it's a busy day and I don't get much reading done. I personally would rather wait, and pay a little more, to get 3 or 4 of those books in one. At least two ! My other huge gripe is the abrupt endings ! Why do that to people? It's just cruel. :'( Other than that, wonderful books and amazing stories. I just hope down the road you start putting out a little bit bigger books. Thank you. ~KS

Tara Maya said...

Thanks KniteStarz.

On length:
Originally, it was going to be 4 novels, but each of those was over 140,000 words. It's hard for a new author to sell a series of books that length. I tried cutting them shorter, but didn't like it. So I decided to split each one up into its own trilogy and expand as necessary. How hard could it be to add a little more? (As it turned out, harder than I thought; I ended up doing major re-writes and taking much longer than I expected.) Eventually, I'll bunch them in threes again. Actually, on Smashwords and iTunes you can already buy the Unfinished Song Omnibus, books 1-3.

Also, the books get longer further into the series. The first book is only 50,000 words. The one I'm working on now (Blood) will probably be 100,000.

On endings:
You'll notice that every third book ends a more "completely" (though still with a cliffhanger) than the two before it. So book 1 and 2 end abruptly, while book 3 has more loose ends tied up. The same will be true of book 6 and book 9. This is a remnant of how I originally wrote the series. It's not something I would advise another author to do if she could help it. :O