Book Revision, The Extreme Version

This week is the beginning of a new year. And for me, a new book. Except it’s not really a new book. I’m going to re-write a historical romance I wrote, and which was published, nearly fifteen years ago.

I’ve revised and re-released most of my backlist, so this isn’t a new experience for me. Except in this case, revising this book isn’t a matter of tightening and improving my prose and tweaking the story. This time I’m going start from the beginning and re-write the book the way it was meant to be written.

The reason I didn’t write it that way the first time was because this was a book I was coerced into writing by my publisher. They were starting a new erotic romance line, and since my books were fairly steamy, they thought I would be a good fit. My editor found a proposal I’d written for her predecessor (I was on my third editor by then) and suggested I write the story as an erotic romance. I told them no, that even though I wrote hot love scenes, I didn’t put sex in my books just for the sake of writing sex. In fact, I told them no three times. But in the end I gave in. Not for the money, or to revive my flagging career, but because they said if I wrote this book, they’d buy the third book in my Dragon of the Island series. I really wanted to see that book-of-the-heart published, so I agreed to write the other one.

They’d sent me several books to read, to give me an idea of what they had in mind And they came up with an underlying theme for the story and a title. I thought I knew what they wanted, and I did my best to give it to them. The process was intense and agonizing. Normally my stories just happen and I let the characters do what they want. I may have to push them in a certain direction to keep the plot from sagging, or rein them in here and there to give the story coherence, but I don’t force them to follow a certain formula, like having sex every X number of pages. But with this book, I had to do that. And to keep the sexual tension going, I not only had to force them to have sex, I had to keep them in conflict for most of the book. (The title they gave the book was No Surrender.)

The result was a disaster. I don’t know if my editor hated the book, but her boss, the head of the romance line, did. She disliked it so much she pulled it out of the erotic line and published it as a regular historical romance. Which meant it shocked and upset quite a few readers who bought it expecting an R-rated romance and who got an X-rated one. Other readers were turned off by the relentless conflict between the hero and heroine. Despite its flaws, the book actually sold fairly decently, proving it’s true that “sex sells”.

But it was demoralizing experience for me. It shook my confidence in my writing and in my judgment. It tainted, and eventually ruined, my relationship with my agent, who had strongly encouraged me to write the book. I felt as if I’d sold my soul for nothing. Even having the third book in my series published didn’t help. The Dragon Prince sold poorly and ended up being the last book I sold to my publisher. In fact, it would be another ten years before I contracted a book with any publisher.

But one good thing was that I used a pseudonym, so in some ways, it’s like No Surrender never happened. I’m free to start over and write the story the way I originally conceived it. I can take my characters and set them free. At the same time, I don’t have to develop the setting and the historical details and all the things that make up the world of the book. The framework is already there. It should be fun. And even if it’s harder than I expect to be, it will be wonderfully satisfying. My characters get to have their romance, as it was intended. And I get to write the story I envisioned so many years ago.

Mary Gillgannon
Mary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library.

She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! More about Mary on her website.

3 thoughts on “Book Revision, The Extreme Version

  1. Good for you, Mary. I hate the idea of ever giving up on a manuscript I worked so hard on, even if it has to sit and rest and simmer for a few years. I think you’ll find a lot of joy in making the novel what you want it to be.

    My current project is also a rewrite. I started the novel during NaNoWriMo 2011, finished the first draft about a year later, and set it aside because I knew it would need some major changes. Now. 3+ years later, I have a better idea what I need to do and I’m glad I didn’t just shred/delete the thing.

  2. I have no doubt you’ll love writing this, Mary! I have an early novel I’ve thought about reviving. I’m wondering about the best approach. Will you lock the original version during the new writing so the old novel doesn’t seep into the new one?

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