My last novel was a learning experience in many different ways. While there’s truth to every novel a writer completes being a learning experience, there’s also room for learning after the first reader eyes have touched the manuscript.
In my case, I learned a number of things I’ll implement from now on.
In no particular order, they are:
- Do spell check first. FIRST. Do not do spell check AFTER sending the manuscript out. Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. *Sigh*
- Let my First Reader make the first pass, before asking anyone else to read it. Many of the comments and feedback items I got were redundant because I didn’t do that. And the catches other readers make will stand out more because they’ll be fewer.
- If the story is part of a series (this one was), try to find someone unfamiliar with your characters and the world you’ve created. It will show whether new readers can dive into the series without feeling lost. One reader pointed out things I would never have found on my own, and my First Reader may have missed too, because we know that story world, and those characters. Getting outside perspective really helped here.
The problems brought to the fore by the readers are interesting, but not difficult to fix.
For instance, my First Reader found time line issues. She pointed out as many places as possible where the time frames seemed inconsistent. I sort of know this is an area of weakness (weekness?) for me, so I should plan on creating a calendar for any time-bound story. Or any story at all, really, since most will involve time in some form.
Another reader pointed out where someone without the background on the characters of the first book in the series didn’t necessarily understand some of the interplay between characters. Some relationship information has to be communicated early in the story, and it’s pretty easy to do that.
It’s also pretty easy to ham-hand this, so as always, caution is required. But it’s a fix requiring tweaks, not revision of entire sections. No insertion of scenes to clarify, for instance.
That same reader indicated a clarity problem with the ending. (D’oh! The ending? Oh no!) Again, it’s a matter of adjusting, adding plants into the story which aren’t there now.
But I got curious whether this was a single reader item, or a general problem.
A third reader previewed the book as well. When I asked what she understood the ending to be, her interpretation didn’t match what I tried to portray. So there’s definitely some repair necessary. Not a lot, I don’t think, but a bit of patching is required to clarify what I want the reader to understand.
This feedback is valuable in so many different ways.
As a writer, having other eyes look at the text, the words on the page, is incredibly helpful. I can’t, and shouldn’t try to, catch all the errors in the manuscript. It’s important to have others assist here, and I had some really good readers for this. Great readers, in fact.
But it’s bad they had to wade through so many mistakes. I don’t remember why now, but I sent the manuscripts out without running spell check first, and that made it more work than necessary for the readers to get through. I’m sorry about that, everyone; it was just oversight, not something I planned.
As a storyteller, I learned so much from the feedback. I learned how important it is to include enough backstory for new readers to understand the characters and past events in a series. I don’t know if I would have done more than I did on the ending without reader feedback. One of the readers completely understood the ending, though she had to put into a different context to do so. But the other two didn’t, so I left out too much, didn’t explain enough.
Nothing irreparable, again, and not even a lot of work to fix, honestly. Just something I have to be careful about in any story.
And that is why I’ll ask for reader feedback again next time I write a book. I love talking to other writers, especially those with more experience than I have. I gain so much, learn so much. But there is no substitute for someone who can tell me what the people on the other end of the story are seeing, how they’re reacting, and what they want and need at any given point.
I can’t wait for the next one. I hope it was as pleasant an experience for the people who were so gracious with their time.