Last week was exciting. There is something incredibly fulfilling about finally completing everything and rolling out a new novel. This week we had the opposite experience. We killed a book without publishing it. Although we can’t hide the fact that it is disappointing, in many ways we learn more from our “failures” than from our successes.
Promise was first written in the heat of passion. Evans wanted to capture the overwhelming feelings of unexpected first love that was both unusual and universal. A love that was instant, deep, quiet, and scary all at the same time. And he wanted unforgettable characters that everyone could relate to. In short, he wanted to push the boundaries of a young adult love story. The first draft was 120,000 words, twice as long as it was supposed to be and, while obviously full of passion, it was a jumbled mess.
We worked on Promise together for more than two years. Lynn loved the ideas but knew that the book couldn’t work the way it was first delivered. She was ruthless about restructuring the story to make it coherent while trying to divest it of anything not germane. She sent it out to readers multiple times and we reworked the narrative over and over again, eventually getting the word count down to 95,000. Then we sent it out again and the reviews weren’t great. One of the biggest problems we had was selling the idea that high school kids could be that mature. The other was that there wasn’t enough doubt about how it would end up. Our readers loved some parts, but not the book as a whole.
Evans took it back and restructured the first half, making the characters older and removing anything not connected to the main story. We reread it this week with the idea that we’d pick Promise up again and push it through until it was finally right. However, we both reached the conclusion that Promise was never going to fly. We know at this point that many independent authors would just go ahead and publish the last clean copy anyway and we can understand why they would. But even though we’ve spent hundreds of hours working on it, we just can’t ask people to read something we’ve written if it isn’t our best. Instead we’ll move Promise into the home of wayward stories with the hope that we can mine some of our favorite parts for future novels.
So, though it’s a little sad that you may never get to read the scene where the protagonist gets her face slapped during her best friend’s art exhibition or learn how passionately we can write a lesbian love scene while still remaining tasteful, we know we’ve grown as writers from the experience. And, maybe, making writers better is the most any book can do for its authors. If that’s true, then for us Promise has been a success.