Category Archives: Cheater’s Guide

The roller coaster of book quality perception

A couple of years ago, when my initial, pretty aggressive deadline for turning in a manuscript came due, I talked to my editor and had a conversation that more or less went like this:
Me: Sooooo… how’s the weather up there in the northeast? Good? What’s going on? How are you?
Editor: Where’s my book?
Me: Ah. Good question. Really good question. Here’s the thing: I’ve got about 25% of a really great book done.
Editor: Uh huh.
Me: And I could turn a manuscript with meeting the contractually obligated word count right now.
Editor: Okay.
Me: Or we could take more time and do a book that’s 100% great.
Editor: Yeah, let’s go ahead and take that option.

Doing the research for the book I discovered that almost every source I tracked down provided a hint of something else: Gaylord Perry led to Tommy John’s scuffing, tracing hecklers led to O’Toole and Adelis led to booster clubs. Every week I kept working at any chapter, all the other chapters improved.

But my list of research to-dos only grew.

Eventually, I had another conversation with my editor, which went:
Editor: Give me the book.
Me: I’m looking into this fascinating sideline about stadiums that burned down…
Editor: Give me the book.
Me: … and there’s this amazing thing that happened in the 1920s with bat manufacturing…
Editor: In a second, hired goons are going to come to your door. You need to provide them with the current version of the manuscript.
Me: Okay.

That defined the book’s scope. It had to happen eventually, but I still felt disappointed.

An abbreviated summary of my feelings towards the book since then:
Turned it in: excited, uncertain
Everyone loves the first draft but they want huge changes: relieved, happy, terrified
Drafts 2-4: increasingly weary
After copyediting, when I’d read the book for the 79th time: I despise this book. It’s boring, it’s flat, I should replace all the anecdotes and examples.
After a break: I don’t know. I’m too close to make judgments
After hearing from advanced readers: They seem really happy, but maybe my editor sent the goons around.
Library Journal review: Woo-hoo! It really is good! This is great!

Then yesterday, I got the Entertainment Weekly review, which liked it but gave it a ‘B’ (stand-up double) and I was, initially, really mad: how dare they only give it a B! I worked on it for years!

And then I thought “hey, they liked it enough to review it and say nice things, even if they didn’t think it was a masterpiece… that’s pretty cool.”

It’s like getting a bad review in the New York Times Book Review: as the editors will tell you, the fact that they’re reviewing you at all says something about the quality and noteworthiness of the book.

It’s strange, though — the book’s out. The quality of the book is set. It’s not going to get better, or worse. All that remains is for people to read it, and yet here I am, pulling for the next review to be positive, the same way I try and body-english a line drive down the line fair when I’m at a game.