Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Happy Wednesday, dear readers.

I recently finished reading a book by one of my favorite authors. This author’s books are tagged with the unfortunate characterization of “chick lit,” even though they are smart, funny women’s fiction. The characters in her books have more to worry about than buying another pair of shoes, or whether or not that cute guy will call. This writer reliably churns out a great read–so much so that I trust her enough to buy her books in hardcover as soon as they’re released.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when her latest release fell flat. The story was told from the point of view of three women, and I didn’t care about a single one. All of the characters were unlikeable in their own way, and the story itself was predictable, uninspiring, and trite. (When the ditsy sister dumps the adorable guy who’s inexplicably madly in love with her, do you think he’ll show up and offer her a happy-ever-after at the end of Act III? Duh.)

It was paint-by-numbers writing that completely failed to engage. I was shocked that this writer had produced a book of such low caliber, and my initial thought was that her publisher had “encouraged” her to write a novel before she was ready. Then I read the Author’s Notes. Uh-oh. That explains it.This lovely novel was something most writers have in their closets or under their beds. The Novel I Couldn’t Get Published.

Here’s an unfortunate scenario that happens more often than it should. You write a book. It sucks, but there’s a glimmer of promise there. So you read, you learn, you write another. (And maybe another and another.) You get published. Your book does well. So does your second. You build a readership, and eventually (maybe you’re bored or feeling uninspired that year) your mind wanders to all those unpublished books hiding at the back of your closet. “Looky here!” you tell your overjoyed publisher, who is convinced he could successfully sell your grocery list at this point. “Guess I will have a new book coming out this year after all!”

Yes, sometimes publishers are afraid to take a chance on a brilliant novel, just because it’s too edgy or too unique or too whatever. Sometimes they’ll turn their nose up at a wonderful book because they already have a writer whose subject matter is sparkly vampires. But in most cases, there’s a reason why that book wasn’t published. Like most first efforts, it simply wasn’t good enough.

As much as I blush to admit it, I used to be an avid reader of Dean Koontz’s work. (Stephen King just didn’t write fast enough to satisfy my needs.) But Koontz fell victim to the Harvesting Crap That Wasn’t Published syndrome. Since he’d already produced dozens of novels by the time I discovered his work, I found it impossible to distinguish between his legitimately published novels and those books-from-the-back-of-the-closet…until it was too late. Then I paid for my error. Oh, did I pay! Ultimately, I stopped buying any of his books.

Writers improve with practice. It may take several books before they find their voice and learn their style. Their readers love the author’s work as they have come to know it, and while they may appreciate a glimpse of the writer’s early amateur stylings, out of sheer curiosity, they will not appreciate paying over $30 for it. Especially if they had the impression that they were paying for a great new novel. Because it won’t be great. Trust me–there’s a reason why it wasn’t published. Please leave those books in the closet. Or bind them for your mom for Christmas. Or use them as door stops.Whatever you do, please don’t punish your poor fans with those early efforts!

Has this ever happened to you, dear readers? Have you stumbled upon a case of Harvesting Crap That Wasn’t Published syndrome?

Thanks for reading!

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  1. Elspeth Cross

    Been there, read that. 🙂

    Yes, if you are a fan of an author, you can tell when they start raiding their trunked novel stash. It’s almost as bad as when they (much published authors) run out of ideas but are obliged by contract to submit another manuscript and you end up with 400 pages of uninspired, regurgitated story.

  2. Kim

    Stephen King has pulled out of the trunk too. But he often admits that he has MORE in the trunk that he hopes never see the light of day. He does do a lot of what Elspeth comments on above with the uninspired regurgitated story — shall we all name one or two? Ahem… Tommyknockers…. but then again I think he was cranked out of consciousness with cocaine when he wrote that.

    I imagine there will come a time when I look at my first book (which for the moment I am still pretty impressed with) and be glad it never got published. It’s my second book that probably should never see the light of day. Although…. my second book might just need another good draft too, if I ever one day decide I care to do it.

    Would love to know what author you are speaking of BTW. Message me if you get a chance.

  3. Mystic_Mom

    Well said Holli! Kim you are right! Tommyknockers put me off of Stephen King and I’m still not back! Dean did it, sometimes James P and James C do it…I’ve got very few ‘take all their books to a desert island’ authors, and they have sometimes been less than perfect have yet to let me down so much I won’t pick them up again!

  4. Lisa

    John Grisham and Sidney Sheldon come to mind. Their earlier works were much better than anything recent. I think what bugs me is when an author dies with an unfinished manuscript and the agent/publisher/whoever takes it upon themselves to have someone finish the book and then sell it under the author’s name “with the co-author”. And then they go on to write a bunch more books (using the author’s notes??) and continue to publish under the original author’s name. It’s capitalizing on the success of the author and I think that is both unfair and immoral.

  5. Story Teller

    Interesting comments! Thanks for posting.

    @ Elspeth – yep, that’s exactly what I thought had happened with this woman, until I read the Author Notes.

    @ Kim – The difference with Stephen King is that he has a backlog of books because he writes several a year–not because he has a bunch that he couldn’t get published. However, he did write a bunch of crap during his cocaine years, and he is starting to regurgitate the same themes. But he’s also written a lot of high-quality material, so I tend to be forgiving when it comes to him. On Writing is my bible.

    @ MM – For shame on those authors, especially James P. He’s making enough money to NEVER stoop that low.

    @ Lisa – I sooo agree! I used to love Sidney Sheldon, until he started writing about aliens, of all things. I hate the whole ‘dead author still writes bestsellers’, too – that’s deserving of its own blog post. Were you thinking of VC Andrews?

  6. Lisa

    Yes…VC Andrews (dead since 1986 and has had more than 60 books published under name) and Robert Ludlum (published 12 novels in the 6 years since his death). I was curious and googled it and basically publishers would rather go with a known name, and an author who would give their own up to write the books, because it makes them more money than nuturing an up-and-coming writer. Sad commentary really…

    VC Andrews estate hired a ghostwriter, Andrew Neidermann, to finish the second series she had started on before she died, but then he was kept on to continue to write more books. I stopped reading after the initial Dollanganger series.

  7. Story Teller

    Hi Lisa! I knew about the VC Andrews story, because I looked into it when I realized that she kept having new books coming out after her death. What a bizarre twist: what happened after her own death is creepier than anything she wrote about in life!


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