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My Writer's Journal

When a new book comes out

For the past few months I've been writing about the story behind each book, recalling something about the inspiration and my writing process. So far I've reached back to books I wrote more than 25 years ago. Now I'm taking a break from that to consider the end result: what happens when the book is finished and goes out into the world.

The actual time for research, writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting a book takes about a year; add in time for the editorial work and production (fact-checking, copyediting, proofreading, jacket design, printing), and a couple of years roll by from the birth of the idea to the arrival of the book on the shelves.

Then another process begins, and it can be both exhilarating and painful. I wonder how the book will fare, now that it's out there. Will reviewers love it or hate it or simply ignore it? Once upon a time, before amazon.com and goodreads, only "professionals" reviewed books--librarians, for instance (School Library Journal), and services that advise booksellers (Kirkus). Years ago I wrote a monthly column about children's books for the now defunct McCall's Magazine. What I learned is that reviewing a book is a totally subjective enterprise, and I'm not very good at it.

I've written more than 50 books--closer to 60 now--and almost every book has been both praised and trashed. Another thing I've learned is that great reviews, although great for the ego, don't always translate into great sales--and vice versa. Amazingly, my very first book, MISS PATCH'S LEARN-TO-SEW BOOK, published in 1969, is being reissued next fall--after 45 years! And one of the books I wrote for the Royal Diary series, ANASTASIA: THE LAST GRAND DUCHESS, published a dozen years ago, has just been reissued in a new format.

Negative reviews are worthless. It's impossible to learn anything useful from them, because they are often contradictory. One amazonian may mutter that the opening is too slow and the ending is too rushed, while another will grumble that it started out well and then ran out of gas at the end. One goodreader might complain that there's too much detail and another says too much has been left out.

Sometimes I wonder if they're talking about somebody else's book, because I don't recognize my own. At some point I reread my book--I've been away from it for months, and I'm deeply engrossed in a new project--and try to see it through a stranger's eyes. Then I ask myself if I could have done something differently. The answer is always no.
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