Spoiler-Free Book Review
(For writing tips based on Susan Ee’s success, skip down a few paragraphs!)
It’s safe to say that if I’m doing this review on the entire Angelfall series, I loved it! Everything about this book was amazing. Susan Ee is officially one of my new favorite authors. But just her writing wasn’t all that was required to get me hooked. I listed to the audiobook, so the narrator of course always plays a significant role in how the book is received. Caitlin Davies is an amazing narrator for this novel and her style of narration quickly grew on me. I’m extremely picky when it comes to YA narrators because there’s a fine line between sounding whiny and getting it right. Caitlin definitely gets it right.
I’ll stay away from any spoilers and will keep to the same information you’d find in the blurb. This book is a post-apoctolypic YA novel, with angels being the cause of the destruction of the world. That mix seemed like it could get really lame really fast, so I was delightfully surprised when it not only was actually scary, but also really good. If a book can get me scared, that means that I find the world believable and that means the writer is doing their job! Well done.
The second and third books continue with the train of excitement and thrill from the first book, but what really got the momentum going was the love story. I realized at the end that this was one of the “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back” kind of tropes. Which should make it sound predictable and boring, yet it was anything but that. I found myself awake at night grabbing for my earbuds to find out what would happen next. I’m quite devastated that the series is over! What ever shall I do now?
Writing Tips from Angelfall
What can writers learn from the Angelfall series?
- Self-Published turned Success
Even though Susan Ee had the perfect recipe for agent-bait, she self-published Angelfall. (She wrote a guest blog post which explains why she didn’t choose to query.) This is impressive, especially considering that Angelfall sold movie rights on September 13, 2011. (Source.) I think the sad reality however is that angels just don’t sell to the initial gatekeepers. I think Susan made the right decision going straight to the readers who actually do want books about angels. Agents just don’t want to get stuck in the hamster wheel of tropes and marketing trends that are over before they begin. I get it, but still, it’s a sad reality.
So why do I say Susan’s books are full of agent-bait? They have some must-have elements such as a main character with a physical disability, the MC’s sister is in a wheelchair, a main character with a mental disability, her mom is nuts but it kind of works to her advantage in this crazy world, and these elements spring up time and again for angels who have parallel disabilities to which the MC can relate. Those are two very big tick boxes.
Whenever I’m reading a new angel novel, I’m trying to sniff out what elements made that book sell to an agent or publisher. What made it attractive enough to overcome the horrid main ensemble which are big white wings? In my review of Unearthly, another YA angel novel, it was a masterpiece of character building. In this book, I’ll never know. A publisher sniffed it out after the mass of readers had already put it on a pedestal as amazing. Just go check out reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, anywhere. You never see that many happy readers.
Based on the information I found on Susan’s blog, the publication route she took was to first utilize free resources such as volunteer beta-readers and at least two revisions in self-edits from the feedback. Once she self-published, her books still had errors which readers graciously pointed out so that she could fix them. Some might say she published the book before it was ready, which is a common indie-writer pitfall, but it’s also possible that she published when she knew the book was “good enough.” A book will never be perfect, and even if one can’t afford a professional proofread, it doesn’t mean you have to shelve the book until you can.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not recommending to publish a book before it’s ready or that copyediting services aren’t necessary, but to say just because you don’t have the money for such services doesn’t mean your book won’t stand a chance. Andy Weir did it on his own, and now Susan Ee is another author I can talk about who didn’t utilize expensive services to achieve success. It’s rare, but it’s possible to land a publisher after already proving your book is successful. When it comes to books which are a hard sale to the gatekeepers, it’s an attractive option.
- A Good Cover Goes a Long Way
The original self-published cover for Angelfall wasn’t much different than what’s available now. See below:
The only thing the publisher changed was the typography and a small adjustment to the lighting to make the image pop. I think that says a lot. The publisher already recognized that this is a rockin’ cover. I’m sure it played a hand in Susan’s success, because covers DO sell the book.
- Spot-On YA Theme Done Well
As a YA story, this book focuses on elements that make it “feel” YA. I am still trying to grasp how a writer can do that and what it really means to get that YA “feeling,” but it seems to be keeping the story extremely focused, on track, and tossing in a good measure of romance. That works great for Susan, and I think other YA writers would do well to try and emulate her.
- The First Book Gets the Most Editing Attention
About the series, I think the first book has a leg-up editing wise than the sequels. The first book was one of my favorites because the storytelling was masterfully done. Susan gripped us into an immediate threat and had a natural plot arc that we followed, giving us invisible world-lore along the way. I say invisible because I was learning world-specific facts and didn’t even know it. By the end of the series, I made a conscious effort to think about how much world-lore this series actually has, and it’s quite a lot. But at no point was I force-fed with information dumps, boring flash backs, or anything that smelled like “here’s some information you need to know.” It was just action, excitement, and stomach-gripping terror at what might befall the MC. The second two books had that as well, but I noticed a clear trend of increased wordiness and unpolished prose. It wasn’t anything detrimental and there certainly weren’t any grammar errors or anything that blaring, but the prose stepped down enough for me to notice.
- Readers Forgive Anything if you Hook Them to the End, And Go Out With a Bang
That said, the last book did a great job of keeping me guessing. I even had some points where I assumed where the plot was going, only to find out I was completely wrong and something even more amazing was happening. I don’t really feel there’s much a writer can do to emulate that, as that’s pure imagination and talent. Or… is it? After reading Susan’s blog all the way back to 2011, I discovered that she used to make films. Did her experience of film-making give her an edge to create unpredictable stories and have such delicious focus in her plot arcs? I’ll never know, but I certainly have my suspicions.
If you enjoyed this book review and writing analysis, be sure to leave a comment! See you next time!