The Beautiful Disaster of a Debut Novelist

Wow! It’s been a while since that image was front and center. While mainstream news is all about the weather, I have an anniversary to celebrate today. Seven years ago, Beautiful Disaster, my first novel, made its debut. It was an exciting time filled with great anticipation. I’d only taken up novel writing five years earlier, so I was pretty pleased: Penguin publishing my little work of Southern romantic fiction.

I was, and still am, absolutely crazy about the cover, created by cover artist extraordinaire, Richard Tuschman. There’s a lot of green in that cover—evocative of the setting, beautiful, and telling… so very telling. The green also perfectly depicted my working knowledge of being a published author. The highs, where you just sort of blink and pretend to know what you are doing, and the lows, which I was extremely unprepared to manage.

Publishers Weekly didn’t love my novel. It’s taken me about seven years to say that out loud, never mind type the words. It wasn’t scathing, but it was stunning—like an arrow between the eyes stunning. I had a new threshold for a “deer in headlights” effect. In that moment, I realized the book I’d nurtured, wrote and rewrote, was wide open to public opinion.

Admittedly, my naiveté remains a bit dumbfounding. It seems this possibility should occur to one before they publish a book. But it didn’t; I never imagined critical words. I never considered how badly they would sting. From there things actually got worse. A review not as high profile, but far more straight to the heart.

I’d sent a copy of Beautiful Disaster to my alma mater, the University of Georgia (the novel takes place in Athens and includes mentions of the UGA atmosphere). The university was quite lovely about the book and offered to host a signing at the campus bookstore. This was back in the day when bookstore signings were a thing for debut authors, and Penguin went to the trouble of setting up a nice little tour through the South.

In the meantime, the campus newspaper ran their review of Beautiful Disaster. And just like that, the word scathing now applied to my book. Apparently, the assigned staffer had a hardcore dislike for romantic fiction, and took great exception to the book’s Athens setting. In fact, he hated it so much, I think there was something about the the book being cause for the author to be blinded or have her fingers lanced for writing it. At this point, all book dreams felt shattered, and I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. More to the point, if I’d never taken up the notion of book writing… well, it certainly seemed I’d brought all this upon myself.

Despite this newfound ring of hell, I persevered. While I imagined the throwing of rotten tomatoes, perhaps picketing, none of this came to fruition. Lesson two for debut authors—nobody cares as much as you will.

This is good and bad news. With an abrupt wakeup call, I slowly realized the fostering of a novel hardly stops with a final round of edits. An author has to care for their book much the same way one cares for a child. It’s an ongoing effort where bumps are to be anticipated, sometimes deep divots. You can’t control everything and, to a point, you will get out of it what you put into it.

After these two baptism-by-fire events a miraculous thing occurred. Readers did not agree with that dry PW review, nor did they see Beautiful Disaster through the eyes of one very sure of himself college newspaper reporter. As all this happened, I received my first email from a reader. Prepared for a tongue-lashing—too much sex, unfleshed out characters, high drama—I was amazed when she gushed, saying she’d found a “new favorite author.” A few people who came to book signings seemed to be fans of Mia and Flynn’s story as well. Of course, these aren’t the things writers dwell on; we’re far more susceptible to the negatives—at least this proved true for me.

Nearly seven books later, I still don’t read reviews, good or bad, unless absolutely necessary. Okay, I admit to wanting to frame the starred PW review for Unstrung, but I think it only demonstrates the subjectivity of writing and reviewing. Unstrung, in my opinion, is a far greater writing risk than Beautiful Disaster ever was. I suppose that also shows I’ve grown a little thicker skin in the past seven years—the willingness to write the story to which I’m drawn.

So whatever became of that debut novel about the enigmatic Flynn and the tenderhearted college girl, Mia—the book that seemed so terribly doomed? It went on to win multiple awards for Best First Book, and was a RITA finalist the next year. Of course, in January of 2011 I couldn’t have known any of this, and I had such a long way to go. Most days I still do. Happy Anniversary Beautiful Disaster, you lived up to your title, delivering a good dose of both.

Go Dawgs, on their way to the National Championship! Me, Athens, Georgia


  1. Christie Sitterly on January 4, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Oh, I will have to read this too. My granddaughter who is making her debut in March will be named Mia!

    • Laura Spinella on January 4, 2018 at 1:16 pm

      I hope you get a chance, Christie! Congrats on your forthcoming granddaughter, and I’m quite partial to that name! Best wishes all around!

  2. Diana Rae Fahrenbruck on January 4, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you Laura for this great onsite to your first book. Something g I have believed for so long are the words-be true to yourself!!

    • Laura Spinella on January 4, 2018 at 1:47 pm

      Many thanks for stopping by, Diana!

  3. Diane Russom Harrison on January 4, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    This is exactly why I will never post a negative review about a book I’ve read. It is like telling some proud mother that she has an ugly baby. Rather, I post nothing unless I have something positive to say!

    • Laura Spinella on January 4, 2018 at 2:36 pm

      Bless you, Diane! Negatives are bound to happen, but I know authors appreciate a sentiment like yours.

  4. Susan Peterson on January 4, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    I can’t even imagine how that feels. I’m just glad you wrote that book and that you continue writing wonderful stories!

    • Laura Spinella on January 4, 2018 at 3:56 pm

      Not as bad as it did seven years ago! You just learn it’s all part of the package. A good lesson is perusing any long-loved classic novel. You’ll find detractors. You agonize, then you compartmentalize. 😉

  5. Jane on January 4, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    Thousands of positive critiques can be undone by one scathing review. After all, it’s your baby!
    I would love to have the pleasure of framing the PW review for Unstrung!
    Keep,up the good work!

    • Laura Spinella on January 4, 2018 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks, Jane for those thoughtful words and the offer! I just may do that!

  6. Beverly Turner on January 4, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    Laura…Your experiences make me cringe as I get ready to start sending out queries for the novel I’ve finished. I know rejections and negative reviews are part of the process. If I am lucky enough to land an agent for my novel, I realize I will have to suck it up and take the bad along with the good. It’s part of the territory. But I also know I will feel the way I did when I sent my son out into the world for his first day of kindergarten. Like someone sucker punched me. LOL

    It helps to know you survived the slings and arrows and have gone on to prove how wrong the critics were.

    • Laura Spinella on January 4, 2018 at 6:10 pm

      Thank you for the kind words, Beverly! I wish you grand success with your queries and future novel!! XO

  7. Susan Peterson on January 4, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    A reminder of a 5 Star review:
    Finding faith

    Beautiful Disaster is a riveting novel, an emotional roller coaster filled with ups and downs, twists and turns. It is a story about trust and honesty, and believing in a person no matter what they look like, no matter what secrets are hidden in their past, no matter that the odds seem stacked against them. When Mia meets Flynn, he is a drifter on a motorcycle riding through town. Despite her own misgivings, and especially the concerns of her friend Roxanne, Mia can’t fight her growing feelings for Flynn; somehow she must not only convince herself that she can trust him, but prove to him that she can be trusted with the things that cause him nightmares. Flynn and Mia are complex characters whose emotions and feelings are felt on each page of this book. This is a powerful story, compelling and fraught with tension, but filled with passion and love.

    • Laura Spinella on January 4, 2018 at 6:17 pm

      ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

  8. Kathleen Basi on January 5, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    This is such an uplifting post. Thanks for being so vulnerable.

    • Laura Spinella on January 5, 2018 at 3:53 pm

      Well, time and perspective in this business does help.????

  9. Ellyn Oaksmith on January 5, 2018 at 11:53 pm

    What a lovely post. Glad you stuck with it and went on to write so many great novels. Now I’ll have to go read Beautiful Disasters. It’ll be I interesting to see what your earlier work is like compared to what I’ve read so far.

    • Laura Spinella on January 6, 2018 at 8:25 am

      Thanks, Ellyn. You know I haven’t read it in so many years I’d wonder myself how different it is! ????

  10. Barbara Davis on January 10, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    I love the introspection on the anniversary of your first book baby, and hearing how it has all come full circle for you. I absolutely adored Unstrung, (and Beautiful Disaster) and am preparing to begin the Ghost series. Can’t wait! Well done, you!

    • Laura Spinella on January 10, 2018 at 2:50 pm

      Well, thank you very much, Barbara! I appreciate the kind words. And yes… introspection. I think the hardest thing about that word is the time involved.

  11. Susan Marshall on February 2, 2018 at 10:53 pm

    I love reading everything you’ write. Very entertaining. Honestly it must’ve been very painful for you, I know it would’ve ripped me up. Even though you may tell yourself that not everyone will love it love blah blah, you don’t expect someone to just be mean and probably wouldn’t expect to be that hurt about it either! That applies to a lot of situations I think. Although you know you won’t enjoy negativity, you know it’s a possibility-you didn’t realize how much it would hurt. I’m glad you got through it and didn’t give up because look at you go. Seriously you should be so proud of yourself, you kicked ass !

    • Laura Spinella on February 2, 2018 at 11:41 pm

      Thank you for the very thoughtful words, Susan! A thick skin is lesson #1 in the book writing business. ????

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