Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lisa: One of the best mistakes I've ever made

A few years ago, I wrote a middle grade novel called It's Raining Cupcakes.

When I was revising the manuscript, I did 97% of what my editor asked me to do. But there was one thing I didn't do. The main character, Isabel, gets to compete in a baking contest, and toward the end of the book, travels to New York City for the contest. My editor suggested maybe I should tell the readers the results of the baking contest. It wasn't a command so much as a suggestion. And I decided I liked leaving it open-ended.

I did have a reason for it. I think sometimes, our society focuses too much on winning and losing. Isabel gets to travel to New York City for the contest, which is a dream come true for her. The contest is really just icing on the cupcake. (See what I did there? Huh? Do you? Pretty clever, right?) So, I left it up to the reader's imagination as to what happened at the baking contest.

It wasn't long after the book came out that I started getting e-mails like this one:

"I loved your book, It's Raining Cupcakes. I love all of the characters in the book and how you kept the story moving along so well. It is hard for me to pick, but I would have to say that Isabel is my favorite character. But I have to say that I was highly disappointed in the ending of the story. I wish you would have told us if Isabel won the baking contest." ~ Grace, 11

Highly disappointed? Noooooo. Oh please, no.

And this one:

"I LOVED It's Raining Cupcakes! But I wonder did Isabel win the baking contest? Are you writing a sequel? I NEED to know!" ~ Victoria, 10

NEED to know? Ack!!!

And so it went. I will spare you more of these sad e-mails, but there are quite a few of them. It didn't take me long to figure out what I didn't know before about this age group (8-12 year olds) - they don't really want things left to their imaginations. In Victoria's words, they NEED to know!

Every time I was asked about a sequel, I thought, should I? Could I?

I wrote a few chapters, we proposed it to my editor, and she came back suggesting a companion novel rather than a sequel. The nice thing about a companion is that the books can stand on their own. It also gives the author a chance to tell a new story about a different character. Sophie, Isabel's best friend, is a fun girl, and my editor suggested maybe I'd want to try writing a book from Sophie's point of view. Because Sophie is close friends with Isabel, of course readers would find out what happened to Isabel at the baking contest.

Guess what? Today is the day I've been waiting for - the day readers can find out about what happened to Isabel at the baking contest!! Yes, the companion novel, Sprinkles and Secrets, is released today!

It's another book about friendship, family and sweet treats. And I am really proud of how it turned out.

I admit, for a few months, I felt like a really bad author. Now, I'm glad I made the mistake I did. How often does that happen?

So, want to write a sequel or companion? Make your readers upset about a loose end, and you may have a shot. Just saying...

11 comments:

  1. Oh, wonderful! My kids will be so excited to get to find out! The students really loved the autographed bookmarks, too.

    Thanks, I'm definitely going to share this behind the scenes story with them.

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  2. It's wonderful how the mistake turned into a continued story. Congrats on the companion's release, Lisa! And thanks for sharing. :)

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  3. I love this story. It reminds me of the story of how The Lemonade War sequel was born, as well. I loved It's Raining Cupcakes--so thrilled there is a companion now!! CONGRATS!

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  4. Calling your decision a mistake sounds so definitive. But I am glad things turned out well and congrats on your new book!

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  5. I love your covers and this sounds like the kind of book my youngest could sink her teeth into. Huh, Huh, see that? Oh yeah.

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  6. Glad you were able to write the companion novel. Congrats on the release of SPRINKLES AND SECRETS.

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  7. this is a great post -- I love that you made the choice to leave off the results! and agree it's the best mistake to make. Even if your readers desperately needed to know the results, i think it gave them a way to show their feelings without having to go "all or nothing" (i.e., they can say "i like this but don't like this aspect") I find that with my college students they have trouble feeling multiple feelings about a story or, at least, expressing it.

    Congrats!!

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  8. That is so interesting Lisa. Loved that fan mail.

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  9. Oooo, that's wonderful! Congratulations. I'll have to pick this up for my niece. I'm sure she needs to know how the first one ended!!! I've had Raining Cupcakes on my to-read list for awhile, so I'll definitely be bumping it up to the top of my list. :)

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  10. I know that editors have a huge control on the book but there are time when something that the author stays with it.

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