OK, so you finished your book at last. You always look back on it self critically and think – yeah, it’s good, but is it good enough?
That kind of question can drive you mad, right? Keep you endlessly writing and re-writing and re-writing.
In 2013 I wrote the first draft of a book I called ‘Schizophysica‘ (I know, bad name). I looked at it and thought, yeah, I think it’s good, but it’s just like a thousand other quirky serial killer stories. So, I put it on a (digital) shelf and rather than try to rewrite it then and there, I went on to other ideas.
Fast forward to 2015, I had decided to publish the novels I’d been writing for the last couple of years to raise some money for charity. (I give all proceeds to Doctors without Borders – trying to make up for some bad karma. All my books are about people trying to undo deeds they’ve done, or had done to them. I’m thinking it will probably be a life long project!)
Anyway, I pulled out Schizophysica, looked at it again and remembered a trick from a creative writing class (yes, they do pay off!) where we had to take a chapter of something we wrote in one genre, and rewrite it in another genre. Maybe that would work? So that’s what I did. I changed it from crime to fantasy. Moved the book forward into a post apocalyptic world, added some Norse mythology and changed one of the police characters from male to female to add some romantic tension.
Boom. ‘Schizophysica‘ became ‘The Vanirim’ and won the Publishers Weekly BookLife prize.
Publisher’s Weekly BookLife Prize for Fiction
I’d recommend the BookLife prize to anyone (and not just because I won!). But because uniquely, the BookLife prize ensures every entrant has their book rated by a professional Publisher’s Weekly reviewer on a range of parameters including originality, plot, prose and characters. And each book gets a well written blurb you can use if you like it.
Since 2013, I’ve written six books (my books are mostly dialogue driven so I write fast), and I submitted five of them to the BookLife prize. Two made the final six shortlist (Cloister, as mystery/thriller winner, and The Vanirim, winner of the Scifi/Fantasy category) and were rated 10/10 but the other three were rated 8.5, 8.5 and 6.8.
The feedback was incredibly useful to help me improve them, especially the feedback on the book that scored 6.8! For the sake of full disclosure here is the worst BookLife review I got!
Originality: 8 out of 10
Prose: 6 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 6.8 out of 10
Assessment: Australian Security Service Officer Charlie Jones wrestles with an alphabet soup of Turkish, Syrian, and American players in this winning, entertaining spy novel. Charlie is a likeable smartass and the Australian setting is refreshing. The espionage plot and romantic complications are well-paced, if improbable at times. And while there is an interesting plot twist, it comes off as a little gimmicky.
Using this, together with reader feedback I got mostly on Goodreads, I’ve been able to rewrite that book and the new version is a hundred times better. I realised the plot was too complex and stripped out an entire storyline. The language was too ‘Australian’ so I toned that down. And my much loved plot twist, yeah, it came off gimmicky. So I redid it. The new version gets much better feedback now.
What is the takeaway from this ramble? Well if you get stuck writing something, stop. Start writing something else entirely! The first work will wait for you to get back to it. It ain’t going anywhere and you may come back to it with new inspiration.
TJ Slee is the Grand Prize winner of the Publishers Weekly BookLife Fiction Prize and won two of the six categories in the prize: thriller/mystery with the book ‘Cloister’ and sci-fi/fantasy with the eventual grand prize winner “The Vanirim”.
CONNECT WITH TJ: GOODREADS