How Did This Book Get Published?
(Part 6 of … 7*)

Let’s talk about the cheat of that cover, shall we?

Take the image. This is clearly a contemporary woman: she’s wearing a tank top, has slightly sculpted arms as if she works out, and is squatting behind a scruffy dog that may or may not be an Irish wolfhound—if it is, it’s a puppy—and yet the dog(s) in the story are all in 1844 Ireland. So already we have a disconnect.

Already there’s a disconnect.

Already there’s a disconnect.

The hook on the front cover reads: A magical tale of hope, second chances … and a not-so-little dog. The hook on the back cover reads, Living a dog’s life … Now and then. I’ll pick up the cover copy halfway through:

Will every choice they make reverberate down through time? And do Irish Wolfhounds [sic] carry the soul of the ancient celts [sic]?

The past and present wrap around finely wrought characters who reveal the road home. Mystical, charming, and fantastic, New York Times bestselling [sic] author Jacqueline Sheehan’s Now & Then is a poignant and beautiful tale of a remarkable journey. It is a miraculous evocation of a breathtaking place in a volatile age filled with rich, unforgettable, deeply human characters and one unforgettable dog named Madigan.

Holy smoke, kids, it’s getting thick in here! No part of this copy reflects the actual content. One might actually think the dog plays a significant role in the story, but it does not. (Check the comments at Amazon; the lack of dog action is a frequent complaint. In fact, everything I’ve noted in these posts is mentioned in one-star reviews on Amazon—for this or the author’s other dog books.)

A liar-liar-pants-on-fire cover could be forgivable if the book itself were good. But that’s the problem, as you’ve seen (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

To be clear, what you’ve read in this and other posts about this book is a rantnot editorial notes. While the things I’ve listed here are the sorts of things that would be pointed out, they would be presented much differently (at least if they were being presented by me). They would be tied together with narrative and structure. I’d talk about characterization (for example, I never developed sympathy for or an affinity with any of the characters) and plot and themes. I’d organize my comments so they flowed in a logical manner. I’d try to offer action points.

I’d even tell the author I liked the ending. That is, I liked the final eight paragraphs of the story; it’s less than a page in length. In Ireland of the present, Anna finds the walking stick her lover, Donal, had carved for her in 1844. Those eight perfect paragraphs are the most romantic in the book. Well done.

I often spend a week just writing and rewriting my editorial notes. If I’d written notes for this manuscript, they would easily have run to twenty or more pages. If I’d been the editor for this manuscript, I would have told the author there is too much going on—too many subplots, too many loose ends. I would have told her there was too much purple prose.

But here’s what bothered me most: Anna is taken back to the past so she can break a curse that never would have been spoken if she hadn’t gone back to the past in the first place. Think about it: a descendant of the witchlike wisewoman (see here) seeks out Anna in the present to give her the scrap of old fabric (specifically, the underwear she is wearing when she discovers Joseph rooting through her luggage in present time) that will magically take her back to the past so she can forgive the young girl who curses Joseph and his family.

Are you with me? It’s the Bobby Ewing Solution with a twist: none of it would have happened … if it hadn’t happened. Ugh.

As we’ve discussed, Anna and Joseph both have to be holding that scrap of fabric in order to time travel. But why did Joseph look through Anna’s luggage, which contained the magic scrap of Calvin Klein underpants? A dream. How did he get that dream? It’s a mystery.

And there’s one more odd detail: in the present-day hospital scene, a nurse approaches Anna. Patrick, Joseph’s father, said one sentence before he was sedated: “Mind the coin.” Do you know what he meant? the nurse asks. Nope. Later Anna asks Joseph about it; still nope. But late in the 1844 Irish section of the book we learn that Patrick was probably saying quoin (look it up); when Joseph hears this word in 1844 Ireland and remembers Anna had asked him about it in present-day Connecticut, he 1) changes his mind about not returning to his future life, 2) confides this to his little (now pregnant) girlfriend, who then 3) curses him and his entire family forevermore with a magic curse. It makes my head hurt just trying to keep this straight.

No, it doesn’t make any sense. (And how did Patrick know to say that? No, no, no! I. Can’t. Think. About it. Anymore!)

* Note: I’ve been calling this a six-part series but there is one subject as yet unaddressed. We’ll talk about that on Monday. :)


Tweet: Let’s talk about the cheat of that cover, shall we? Already we have a disconnect.
Tweet: And none of it would have happened … if it hadn’t happened. Are you with me?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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  1. I have read each part of this series in stunned dismay. How does this happen? And now, to see the cover, and to read that she’s a best-selling author? This makes no sense. None. Do you think this kind of thing happens often? Or is this a one-of phenomenon? Goodness, I hope so.

    • Jamie says:

      You know, E. L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Stephenie Meyer (the Twilight series) are best-selling authors too … and neither of those is particularly good II’ve blogged about both). So it does happen. I’ve written a seventh blog post that will run Monday about how this might happen. :)

  2. Matthew says:

    Thank you Jamie, as I’ve read each of these blog entries I have been wondering the exact same thing: how the %$#@ did this book get published?! The nice thing is that now I feel much better about my own writing! Just this morning I’ve been looking over the book I started a couple of years ago and I like what I see, so your critique of Sheehan’s book has been both very instructive and inspiring!

    • Jamie says:

      Thank you so much for reading! Stick around for Monday’s post too (and today’s, which I am about to post).

  3. EC Sheedy says:

    Awesome series, Jamie. Thank you. One thing is certain in this uncertain universe–in the book-writing biz, the learning never stops.

    Stories are such slippery things…

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed your dissection of this awful novel.

    I’m not an editor, but an avid reader and author of suspense fiction. Recently I got a comment that due to the romantic content in my suspense, I could see if I could put my novels in the Romantic Suspense genre, which supposedly is a commercial goldmine…

    So I checked out a free Romantic Suspense e-book by Jerri Drennen called Agent in Training. I struggled through the ludicrous story until I got to an awkward and ridiculous scene halfway through the novel and decided to write a ‘Stopped Reading’ review (see: I actually got some requests from people to find more ‘bad’ books to review, because my review was more entertaining than the book could be.

    Suffice to say I don’t hanker after a Romantic Suspense label for my books. Nor would I enjoy reading Now and Then as much as reading your excellent dissection. Thank you for a delightful series of blog articles, I’m eagerly awaiting the Monday installment.

    • Jamie says:

      Oh dear … Although I must say I laughed out loud as I read your review. :) Do stick around for Monday (you’ll see why!). Thank you so much for reading my blog!

      • You don’t have to thank me for reading your blog–I rarely read blogs that give so much good information. And I’m glad you enjoyed that review. I’m currently reading an e-book that reads like someone published the manuscript. Passages with strike-through and underlined formatting, character names struck through and changed. Really weird. And it’s a shame, because the story is quite well crafted. The crappy formatting shakes the reader out of the ‘suspension of disbelief’. Plus you have these weird things like putting the safety on a semi-automatic pistol that is described moments later as a GLock 17, which has not safety lever, but a safety built into the trigger mechanism. Things like that happen because the author probably changed the brand from something like Browning to Glock, without paying attention to the particulars of the Glock design.
        One thorough proofreading could’ve prevented that.

        Carry on, Jamie, I want to read your Monday post!

        Martyn V. Halm, author of the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

  5. Amy says:

    OMG magic panties.

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