The Perfect Book

January 24, 2009

“This is why I’m not good at being witty in real life. I think I’m so clever that I start laughing before I finish what I’m saying.”


It’s probably no secret that JLY and I both enjoy writing SFA quite a bit… That should probably be reward enough for toiling over our pages… But I do take great delight whenever I see on the forum or in an email that someone is enjoying reading our work.

On the other hand, it makes me sad, sometimes, to know that some people… okay, possibly a lot of people… aren’t going to like our book.

There are many reasons for this, some of which have already been elaborated on in various comments, and others that are simply reasons I know, reasons that keep me awake at night every now and then, wondering if we should have done things differently.

I should probably admit that this is in no small part my own fault. I’ve developed a bad habit of reading the Amazon reviews for other books. It’s oddly fascinating to read the 5-star reviews, and horribly terrifying to read the 1-star reviews. Even great books, amazing books that are given 5 stars by reviewer after reviewer can be ripped to shreds by a single scathing 1-star review. How can some people hate a book so passionately, and other people love it so entirely?

The answer, I think, is both reassuring and unsettling. It’s just that people have different tastes, different things they look for, different things they love and hate.

For example, with our story, I know there are going to be people who don’t like the pace, people who don’t like the characters, and people who don’t like the plot (or lack there of in the beginning). But I also know– or at least hope– that there will be people who love seeing the school before we launch into the story, people who delight in watching the simple stereotypes blossom into deeper characters, and people who read foreshadowing into the early events that prepared the way for the main plot.

Writing is about making choices, and those choices come with trade-offs. The trade-off to getting a big, fun cast is that you might lose people when you introduce so many new faces at once. The trade-off to spending time on bullies, social events, and all the high school details is that there’s less time for the epic fantasy elements. The trade-off for entertaining ourselves with funny jokes and twists is that we undercut the dramatic elements.

One of my friends recently read our story, and he commented that he was taken by surprise when everything in the ending started happening, since up until then, it’s a happy little story without much danger.

Part of that is intentional. We wanted the twists to come as a significant surprise, but the trade-off is that there’s less urgency early on. Wisteria having a bodyguard, for example, seems completely superfluous at first. Rakam comes off as a slacker tag-along set on annoying her and making an easy buck… But we all know how that one ends.

Ultimately, there are many different ways that we could have told our story… I strongly believe that the published version is much, much stronger than the draft that is on the website. Even so, sometimes I still wonder if we should have told it a different way…

But if writing is about trade-offs, then I think the best we can do is to write from the heart, and write what we love… Because there’s no such thing as a Perfect Book that everyone will love… There will always be people who like a book, and people who don’t. And if you write for someone else, for what you think other people will like, at best you’ll still end up displeasing some readers, and at worst your writing will ring false to your readers and to yourself as well. The best I think we writers can hope for is to write for ourselves, and if someone else happens to like it, then we can consider ourselves very, very lucky.

And on that subject, I have a confession.

If you couldn’t tell, last week’s post is one of my favorites. JLY and I have had this scene planned for quite some time, so we’ve been looking forward to finally getting here. We’ve debated for a while how we wanted to play this scene… Ultimately, we had had to do it this way… It was just too much fun.

There are a lot of different ways that this scene could have happened. Perhaps more dramatically, perhaps with more suspense. But here we are, and I happen to personally like it the way it is.

You see, here at SFA, we write because it’s fun. We wouldn’t be able to sit inside on a Friday night and write for hours if it weren’t fun. We can be serious when we need to be, but our default setting is ‘have a good time’. And I can imagine that a lot of our choices aren’t very traditional, or might be very different than how other writers would do it… But maybe (hopefully?) different can be a good thing?

So that’s my rambling for today, but before I go, my sincerest thanks to everyone like mjkj and Mary who has helped so far with The Great Tagging Project (I’m compulsively checking to see if we ever claim the #1 spot for “Young Adult Fantasy” or “Young Adult”), to everyone who has bought the book, and to each person who has posted a review–Generic Pen Name, Charvale, Aiden Naecea, G. DiStefano, Larry Liang, and Drucilla Shultz–you definitely made our day, week, month! I’m savoring the time while we have a 5-star rating, since I know it’s doomed to not last for long…


Quote for the week:

JLY: We have option A and B.
KL: What should we do?
JLY: Well, ‘A’ sounds funny…
KL: Yeah, let’s do that. Like we usually do. Whatever personally amuses us.



  1. I’m glad to hear you write all this. When I read a scathing review someone had given your book, I was furious at how self-important and ridiculously critical they were. I wanted to shout back, “Who are you to judge!” So basically, I’m glad that you recognize that there are some people who will never be pleased, and I wanted to add my two cents that I think the overall quality of the characters, plot, and style are solid. And, of course, I had a lot of fun reading it!

    Also, when I received the print version, I was stunned by the number of pages. I never noticed how long the story had become while reading it online.

  2. I TOTALLY agree with what you said about writing for yourself first and foremost. Our culture is way to entertainment oriented, and I very much enjoyed your story.

    I do like writing fiction myself and am thoroughly happy to read your story! *****

    One question, is your book published w/out the pictures that are said to be “coming sooner or later?”

    If you don’t mind some critique (u guys seem to like reviews, but then again, i realize u have a very particular way of writing) I think the personalities of the upperclassmen should be developed more (the students who are currently third and fourth year like jacey and silhouette). they seem to play important roles, but it feels as if they are simply inserted where needed (i will admit though, this is very much what thieves are about…)

    • To Peregrine – There aren’t any additional internal images, but you would be able to bask in the glory that is KM Ricker’s cover art. =)

      –Edit: As for the plot, on the other hand, there’s been some tweaking to that. The finished product is actually quite different on a number of points, including additional scenes and some heavy editing.

      Thanks also for the comment about the upperclassmen! JLY and I usually feel like there’s just not enough time to properly develop all of them as much as we would like to, but one of these days we’re hoping to get around to making a side-stories project. =)

  3. I started the story only a few days ago, and even though I probably should have dedicated that time to classwork, I finsihed it in two days. At first, I thought the story seemed a little contrived, the characters having stock personalities. I think the real turn came when Averi received the Undead Rune. The characters are deeper than they first appear, and it was an excellent way to show them maturing. The pacing of the story is done very well, and the writing is very unassuming, which is refreshing in a fantasy story. I’ll be buying the book on Amazon soon.

  4. So I can’t really give a full commentary to be honest I haven’t bought the book yet. From what I have read online 2 people would have a problem with this book.

    1. If they didn’t like harry potter they wouldn’t like this it feels like a throw back of a more youth oriented book.

    2. You have to enjoy this type of writing or just plain never grown up, you didn’t intend this is be a serious adult book hence how it is categorized. Do I think it could have been done better, sure but did I enjoy it just the way it is, make that a double sure.

    Thanks for writing, wish you updated more then just fridays :-). Thanks for all your effort.

  5. well i personally think that the project’s a good job and i believe that there’s alot more that is probably gonna come up and spice the story to make it epic 🙂
    there’s only 1 single problem i have with it 😛
    i live in Malaysia and i don’t have a credit card 😦
    so i can’t buy the book(assuming i could afford it AND the shipping rates)
    i respect u for listening into other people’s criticisms and taking them in.
    but u’re doing a great job and i’d say “keep ur spirits up, u can’t please everyone. So do what u do best :)and smile while u’re at it”

  6. I am sorry, but I cannot describe as to why I like your (online) book. I just do. I enjoy reading it. And I think it is great 🙂

    Do not let others discourage you – you are doing a great job. 😀

    I have seen that there is another book out at Amazon with your name (and more with JLY’s), is this from you or just from someone with the same name? If you have other books could you please point them out? (…it might be that I like them also…) 🙂

    And thank you again for putting it up both as online and dead tree version. 😀


    • So… About that. This is the first book that JLY and I have written together. I can definitely say that anything else that comes up for JLY on amazon isn’t written by her, it’s just a matter of having a rather common name.

      As for me, there is something else that I’ve written, back when I was a freshman in high school, or around 14 years old.

      My parents later self-published it so we could give it as gifts to our relatives, and it ended up on Amazon some time later.

      Uh. All I’ll say about it is that I have nightmares of people reading it and judging SFA on its merit. This earlier book was written before I took my writing classes, before I majored in English/Creative Writing, before I apparently learned the difference between “steak” and “stake”… >_< There are several, several errors, and it of course lacks JLY’s very necessary collaboration.

      So in light of all of that, I would say that you’re probably better off sticking with SFA. =)

  7. Yes, unfortunately, my name is very common… As KL has pointed out, I haven’t published anything on Amazon.com, but to keep up with the spirit of admitting things we’d much rather keep in the closet, I used to write fanfiction… – JLY

  8. Your book is great just the way it is. Don’t apologize for the fact that you take the most fun route, in fact the part that I like best about SFA is that it’s so laid back. It’s just plain old fun! If I felt like reading something really serious I’d go read Dune or a Charles de Lint book. When I feel like reading a book for just fun or to relax I read SFA. The characters are great and even if I’ve left it for awhile I never have one of those moments where I have to stop and think (who is this character again? or I’m lost what’s going on?) I guess in short it’s very entertaining but still requires so little effort to read. I’ve tried to write before and found that the one thing that stops me is I always end up taking it too seriously and it’s stops being fun to write anymore. So don’t stop having fun!

  9. Wait, you’re taking AMAZON reviews seriously??? The five stars, and the one stars, are written by professional authors and marketeers. That’s why they are so dang well written. In fact, often they’re more entertaining than the book itself…

    Yes, some people won’t like what you write. but most who don’t will also be unable to type coherently, or spell gud.

  10. Hello, dropping in courtesy of the WordPress blog linking system. I read this post with interest, and will inevitably find myself wandering off to read more about SFA in a minute…I just wanted to say that I followed the blog of a tv writer who eventually withdrew his blog because of criticism of s storyline he worked on. A vocal MINORITY felt agrieved at the choices he and co-writers had made, but the point he made in return wa thid: Fans don’t own the story. You can’t please all the people all the time, so when you’re writing the best thing to do is write what feels true and right to you. Stephen King calls it “writing with the door closed”. I am stood cheering you on for writing, let alone publishing your writing. Defending it is NOT something you should have to do, especially to internet critics. All the best for the future,


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