Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Book of Your Heart

By Beth Revis, @bethrevis

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: An extra treat this week! Beth Revis stops by to share some thoughts on writing the book of your heart, as well as offer a giveaway for her newest series on writing, Paper Hearts.   

Beth is the New York Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe trilogy, as well as The Body Electric, Paper Hearts, and the forthcoming A World Without You. She lives in the Appalachian mountains with her boys: one husband, one son, and two very large dogs.

If you never want to miss a thing and also get exclusive insider opportunities, sign up for her newsletter here. 

There is a phrase I’m hearing more and more: “book of my heart.” It’s a term writers are using to explain to others that the particular project they’re working on is one that is very personal and dear to them. All books are works of art and take some of our very self to write, but a “book of your heart” is one that is ripped from your very soul. It’s the important one, your baby, the one that you wrote with blood, sweat, and tears; the one that means more to you than any other.

And it’s a beautiful sentiment. If an author tells me she’s on submission with the “book of her heart,” then I know it’s a particularly important time in her life. If an author tells me she’s just finished the “book of her heart,” this calls for more than a toast—it’s an all night celebration of joy.

But I also think there’s an important thing for everyone who’s a writer (published or not) to know.

The book of your heart doesn’t always sell.

I have a book of my heart. I wrote it in college, and it was my third (unpublished) novel. Writing it was like magic. The world consumed me, and despite the fact that I was working on my Master’s thesis and writing academically nearly full time, I would give up sleeping and eating in order to keep working on the book of my heart.

I loved that book. It had everything I loved: magic, a touch of romance, excitement, mystery, family themes, heartache, tough decisions.

It was the first book that was mine. The other two novels I’d written before were not really good, and they were basically copycat novels of other books I loved. But the book of my heart was all me. It is still, I think, the most original thing I’ve ever written.

But it never sold.

Not for lack of trying. And it came close—very close. Thanks to a connection at a writer’s conference, it got to the acquisitions table at one of the Big NYC publishers (agentless), and I even got a revision request and a ten page edit letter. I thought the book of my heart would break me into the market; I thought it would be my debut. And—after about a hundred rejections from agents and a rejection from the Big NYC publisher I’d been working didn’t sell.

I eventually moved on to the next book. And the next. And the next. And as I wrote each subsequent book, I worried that I would never write a book as good as the book of my heart. That that book had been The One, and since it didn’t sell, nothing would.

That’s why I’m writing this today. Because I’m starting to see this phrase, “book of my heart,” more and more often, and a lot of times it’s accompanied by a corollary: “it’s the best thing I can ever write.”

And too often? People will only write the book of their heart.

Don’t do this. Don’t do this. A book of your heart comes rarely—and sometimes you’ll only ever taste that magic once—but publishing isn’t just about the magic. And sometimes the book of your heart? It isn’t that good. Despite the fact that my book of my heart is my mother’s favorite thing I’ve ever written, I can look at it objectively now and realize why it didn’t get published and why it probably never will. It slips between the cracks of genre; it doesn’t really have a home on any shelf, even in YA. It’s too weird. Maybe one day I’ll be able to revise it, but for now, it’s more like “Jabberwocky” than Alice.

If you’re a writer who is unpublished, then I hope and pray you will eventually write the book of your heart. It’s a wonderful thing, and the closest I’ve come to touching magic. But I also want you to know something very, very important: The book of your heart is not the apex of your writing. It is not necessarily the best thing you’ve written, and it’s not necessarily your only shot at getting published.

Very often the book of your heart is a practice novel—you’ve written it too early in your career, and the quality isn’t there (even if you can’t see that). Or it’s so close to your heart that you can’t properly edit it. Or it’s a story important to you—but not the rest of the world. Or it was easy to write, and the next thing isn’t. Or it was hard to write, and you don’t want to think of writing the next thing because that will be hard, too. For whatever reason, chances are that the book of your heart just isn’t meant to be published. But that doesn’t mean it should be the last thing you write.

And also? The magic will come again. Maybe the point of writing the book of your heart is to open your eyes to see the magic in everything you write, to find the scenes that speak to your artistic soul.

Don’t weigh all your dreams on one book. Don’t think you’ve only got one chance. If you write the book of your heart and it doesn’t sell, remember this: not all of them do. And the important thing is not to stagnate at that point, but to try to find the magic again where you can.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Paper Hearts Series

You can win a journal with this cover!
I wrote Paper Hearts for the writer I used to be. The questions I used to have plagued me when I was starting this career path. How do I get to the end? What's the proper way to structure a novel--is there even a proper way? How do I make my book stand out from all the other ones on sub?

Now, fifteen years, eleven unpublished books, three New York Times bestsellers, one self published book, and countless hours working on craft and working with other professionals, I think I finally have the answers that I needed way back then.

Unfortunately, I can't travel back in time.

But what I can do is try to help others. I've been compiling articles on the things I've learned about writing, publishing, and marketing for years, first informally on blog posts, then more collectively on Wattpad. After hitting 100000 reads, I realized that I should take Paper Hearts more seriously...and that I had not one book, but three.

Fully revised and expanded, the Paper Hearts series will feature three volumes, one each on writing, publishing, and marketing. Paper Hearts, Volume 1: Some Writing Advice will be out on November 1, with the other two following in December and January.

Preorder it now from: Independent Bookstore ~ Amazon ~ BN ~  Kobo ~ Smashwords


Your enemy is the blank page. When it comes to writing, there's no wrong way to get words on paper. But it's not always easy to make the ink flow. Paper Hearts: Some Writing Advice won't make writing any simpler, but it may help spark your imagination and get your hands back on the keyboard.

Practical Advice Meets Real Experience

With information that takes you from common mistakes in grammar to detailed charts on story structure, Paper Hearts describes:
  • How to Develop Character, Plot, and World
  • What Common Advice You Should Ignore
  • What Advice Actually Helps
  • How to Develop a Novel
  • The Basics of Grammar, Style, and Tone 
  • Four Practical Methods of Charting Story Structure
  • How to Get Critiques and Revise Your Novel
  • How to Deal with Failure
  • And much more!

BONUS! More than 25 "What to do if" scenarios to help writers navigate problems in writing from a New York Times Bestselling author who's written more than 2 million words of fiction.


Remember: if you pre-order the print copy from my local indie bookstore, Malaprops, you'll also get a chapbook of the best writing advice from 12 beloved and bestselling YA authors included in your order for free!


  1. Thank you Beth for this article. I did put down the book of my heart after years of struggle. A book about one of the 10% of US children who live with an alcoholic caregiver, and all this means and does to them. It is not a newsworthy subject, a problem book, and therefore, of no interest. My new project has been a lot more fun to write, and your blog post helped to file the book of my heart away, finally.

  2. Great post! I definitely thought I've written the book of my heart. But looking back, the time and effort it took might have colored my opinion. My current WIP is already my favorite in the rush of writing it, and the save thing happen on the last book well, so I think it's about finding that aspect of your current project that galvanizes you to keep writing.

  3. Lovely article! I wrote the book of my heart, and it sits in a bottom drawer in my desk, never to see the light of day. It was my first, but I've written more books since then. Writing that book taught me so much.

  4. Thank you. I needed this. I've been writing and editing and re-editing and re-re-editing that first book for the past three years. The process taught me a lot, but more importantly, it taught me discipline and re-ignited my passion to write after a writing 'break' of quite a number of years. By coincidence, today I've put it behind me and began my second book. I don't know if it will be better or worse than the first one, but at this point, what is important to me is that there are other stories to be written and the will to write has not snuffed itself out.

  5. Thanks, Beth, for your brutal honesty here. It scares me a little though. I'm revising my first novel (which feels like the book of my heart) and I can't imagine letting it go if it's not picked up somewhere along the line. But, I haven't sent it out into the world yet so there's still time. But if I do, and it doesn't find a home, I'll have to come back and reread this blog post!

  6. I've never heard the term "the book of your heart." but as soon as you defined the saying, I instantly knew which one of my WIP's fit the description. That story where the characters are as close to you as family, the one you can't help but work on in between projects, the one with the plot that...still needs a bit of fixing (at least in my case).

    and I totally get the fact that the book of you're heart might not be the best thing that you've ever written, even thought its your favorite thing you've ever written. Heck, the only reason I haven't started mine is the fact that it falls out of my normal genre and involves tons and tons and tons and tons x 50 of research. But i think the main reason most of these books don't get published is because their cherished by the authors who have spent years with it, but not exactly by everyone else. Its like a special book just for you personally.

    This was an excellent post. Great advice!


  7. I'd add one addendum: if, a few years later, you reread the book of your heart and still love it, then publish it! We no longer need to find publishers who understand why our books are worth sharing. There's a wealth of good advice out there about how to publish and distribute your own book (without expensive service bundles from companies who "assist" self-publishers).