Friday, 2 April 2010


The novel is starting to take shape nicely. I suppose you’d say I’ve completed a second draft. Still lots of issues to resolve, sections that could be tightened, flab to cut away. But overall, I’m pleased with the progress. (‘Pleased’ is the strongest adjective I use about my fiction; there will always be improvements to make, even after submission. Dissatisfaction, for me, is where motivation comes from.) A few more drafts, three weeks, say, and I’ll want someone to look at it.

I have two rules for showing work to others: Choose your reader(s) very carefully; and approach this phase with pragmatism.

Let’s look at the first. Say I ask a good friend, a non-writer who reads a lot, to have a look. They know I’ve been slaving away for over a year, they have a vested interest in maintaining our friendship (telling me it’s terrible might feel risky, and an utterly clean bill of health is of no use to me), and, well, their voracious reading habit doesn’t make them a good editor. Also, they might be excellent at spotting weaknesses, but have no idea how to resolve them. So, I now never give work to (close) friends; let them see it in its (I hope) published glory. This obviously goes for family members too, unless your aunt is a literary agent, your cousin a publisher. How about paying one of the many editorial services? Well, some out there are better than others, some will do more harm than good, so research is essential if taking this path. Ideally you want someone who is qualified to appraise every aspect of your manuscript, knows what you're trying to achieve, and who'll give you honest and valuable feedback. I’m lucky in having people I trust to do this.

Secondly, and I think this comes with experience, you need to receive this feedback as advice that will strengthen your book, not as a criticism of you the writer. If the person has done their job properly, there will be an awful lot of phrases, perhaps even whole scenes, a character maybe, that just don’t work. And hearing this can be devastating. There will be a few occasions when you remain faithful to your original output, but you need to remember you are too close to the work to regard it dispassionately, objectively. Now is the time to listen to Them What Know.

So there. A few more weeks and this epic journey I began 13 months ago will near its end. There’s just the small matter then of a publisher deciding it warrants a punt.

Happy secular holidays.


Paul Lamb said...

I've given my manuscript to a reader I selected based on her knowledge of the field of art painting, which plays an important part in my story. I especially wanted her input on how well I have portrayed that field. The feedback I've received has been valuable, and it has lead me to make a few changes to correct some misconceptions I had (as well as to fix a plot problem I didn't know was there). She even pointed out a bit of foreshadowing that I didn't even know I'd put in the story! But she has been painfully slow in responding. Seems she has a "real life" or something like that which keeps getting in the way. She's only about half way through the manuscript (though she's had it for nearly two months). I want to begin shopping the novel around, but I want to have her full input, so I wait.

I've considered looking for other readers with different perspectives, but I'm not sure who that would be or if I want to bother with that trouble all over again.

Good luck with your endeavor. I'm thinking that next time I'm going to give my readers a deadline, the "rules" as you say.

Also, thanks for the warm, secular holiday wishes. I'm going to observe them by going to the woods for a barbecue with my neighbors.

TOM J VOWLER said...

A real life, Paul. How outrageous. She should pull her finger out. Seriously, she sounds an invaluable reader, even if she takes her time.

Mare Biddle said...

I tend to ask for feedback way too early in the process. With this novel it's a whole new level or looking for a gold star. I hate it. I get so excited when I push through a problem, or discover a new character, or let go of one that I want to share! Just get an "Atta girl!" "Keep going!" I know it's pathetic, but solitude is a mighty price for the extroverted writer.

Mark said...

It sounds like you are progressing at quite a pace, I admire the determination required. It is not something I could contemplate myself. Reading some of the comments I am in a definite minority in the present company of bloggers and bloggees (did I just make that word up?). I apologise for not being the aforementioned "cousin with a useful skill".

TOM J VOWLER said...

Thanks for stopping by, Mare. Yes, it's tempting to ask for feedback too early, particularly when you're struggling. Best take it as far as you can alone, your absolute best, I think, before getting someone to tear it to shreds!

Ha, Mark. Fortunately, my next protagonist is a handsome pathologist.

Mark said...

Handsome ...... you have obviously covered your tracks.