Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Wrecks

For those of you who don't know, I manage a bakery for our local Walmart. The bane of many Walmart bakeries is a website called Cake Wrecks. If you have never visited it you don't know what you are missing.

I don't know what is more amazing about some of these cakes - the fact someone actually decorated them to look that way or the fact people actually pay for them and take them home!

Romance novels can be a lot like cakes.

Some are gorgeous to look at, but with little substance inside.

Some are less than lovely, but man are they some good eating!

Some are social relevance tomes masquerading as romance novels - sort of like a tofu cake with goat cheese icing. It's good for you, right? Right? Yeah, not so much.

And some are just, well, for lack of a better term - a wreck.

There are a lot of ingredients in a really great cake. But the most important ingredient is the skill of the decorator. And more often than not, the oversight of a really great manager. A great manager would never allow anything less than the decorator's best work to go out the door.

In writing, if we are smart, we try to put our manuscript before some really great 'managers' before we turn it loose on the world. Beta readers, critique partners, contest judges and for the real hot shots - agents and editors. It can be painful when one of these manager types tells us our cake is a wreck, but not nearly so painful as seeing our wreck out there in the public with the icing falling off of it and the word "Critmas" in big bold letters.

For those of you who think this post is perhaps more relevant to self-publishing authors than it is to others, you couldn't be more wrong. As writers we owe it to anyone to whom we send a chapter, a paragraph, a partial or a full to present our very best work. And we owe it to ourselves to do whatever we have to do to make sure our work is at its best before we send it out into the world.

Most important, we need to be true to what we write. Romance doesn't need to be dressed up or over-iced with intellectual philosophy, long preachy passages on social issues, efforts to raise it to the level of "literature" or any other apologies for what it is. Give me a real romance. Give me two people who fall in love in spite of the odds, who find each other no matter what the obstacles. Give me characters I can root for, or fall in love with or really wonder if they will ever live up to their potential. Give me adventure or comedy or angst or grand drama laced through and covered with all of the things that make my heart sigh and my soul smile. Take me to times and places I want to go and show me how love is the most powerful force on earth. Take no prisoners. Make no apologies. And hold nothing back. Show me what you got, romance writers ! No Book Wrecks here!

What are some things that wreck a romance novel for you? What do you do to avoid wrecking your own books?


M.V.Freeman said...

I love that site!

And very true, our "managers" are invaluable. :)

Still, I've picked up an odd book or two and I've almost not wanted to read it, but when I started--I couldn't put it down.

I love those finds..;)

Louisa Cornell said...

You are so right, Mary! Sometimes under that glopped up icing and crooked border is a really great cake!

Carla Swafford said...

I've seen some horrendous book covers on some wonderful books and then also the opposite. For sure it takes practice to provide the near perfect insides, we can only hope others have practiced their art too.

Lexi said...

What an interesting post and so true! Icing and cake are difficult to balance and in the right proportions, but that is something to aim for. Sweetness and substance, both are required!

Cari Hislop said...

Great post! As a self-published author I know I need to take my cake decorating up a level or three. My husband found me a great editing program which should help.

To me, becoming a better writer means to be better at writing the right story. Yes, there's always room for improvement of the basics, but I want to be better at finding the pieces of the puzzle that slip into place rather than (as I've sometimes tried to do) finding a nice puzzle piece and trying to pound it in where it doesn't belong. If I listen to my guts I know when the story is right or if I need to rewrite. I'm a complete pantser. I sometimes don't even know the main characters' names (let alone anything about them) when I start so it's just as well I enjoy rewriting.

The published romance novels I've thrown against the wall had cardboard characters, too many pointless secondary characters clogging the story, plastic plots that came off a conveyor belt, a narrator who preaches or shares information only a character should share (ie when narrators describe food...the table was set with a 'delicious meal' etc this always makes me scream), but the greatest sin of all (in my book) is when the hero and heroine only meet half a dozen times or less in a whole book. I want to read about the couple...not the couples' cousin's sister's father who has gang green after fighting smugglers. Perhaps I'm picky, but I love my romance novels full of romantic moments between the main characters. I do use and love secondary characters, but I hate thumbing endless chapters before the hero meets up with the heroine. That drives me nuts.

Chris Bailey said...

How funny! The comparisons are interesting. In an extended cake analogy, I guess I'd say that, romance or cake, too much super sweet icing can make me feel like my teeth (or brain) are in imminent danger of falling out!

Louisa Cornell said...

Practice definitely helps avoid those book wrecks, Carla!

Louisa Cornell said...

I agree, Lexi, a good balance of sweetness and substance is hard to achieve but crucial in creating a book to remember!

Louisa Cornell said...

Oh Cari, you definitely understand what I mean.

And boy do I know the feeling of trying to pound a piece into the puzzle!

Louisa Cornell said...

Chris, great cake analogy! Too much icing can definitely make you sick! I like my cake with a few surprises - maybe some nuts or something to keep me reading!

Darynda said...

What a great post, Louisa!!!

For me, it's that fine line between making my character a lovable sass and making her a bee-auch. I do not want the latter, but it's so subjective. My line is not the same as any one reader's and she may see my MC as just rude and/or uncaring. While I don't want that, it's something I risk to get the ambience for the novel I want. Sadly, for some, that makes it a wreck. I just have to keep my fingers crossed it's not that way for most.

Happy New Year!!!

Louisa Cornell said...

Well so far, Darynda, your books have been WRECKLESS !! Your characters are just the right combination of sass and sugar. And you are so right, it really is subjective!

Gwyn said...

Excellent post, Louisa, and very relevant regardless of how you publish. I'm reading---or perhaps more truthfully---trying to read a book by an author I've enjoyed before, but I'm wondering what happened to her. Her lyrical prose has vanished to be replaced by that of a precocious five-year-old. It's like I've morphed back to the first grade and "Look, Susan. See Spot run." Two chapters in, and it's well on its way to being a wallbanger. I won't be buying this author again.