Thursday, February 18, 2010

How to Test Your Manuscript Before Doing Yet Another Rewrite.

Critique partners may be great but the process is not. At least, it is not when criticisms are categorical. That is, when one comment is: the pace is too slow. Another: the conflict is not strong enough. A third is: the hero’s character arc is not complete.

When you think about it, these typical comments sound more like an autopsy report than a living ‘reading experience’.

Do you engage in another rewrite?

Will that really help? Remember the days when you had to retype an entire page to make a correction and by doing so you risked making even more typos than the page originally had? Of course you don’t. You’re not that old. But believe me, there was such a time, way, way back in the pre-White-Out days.

So Tell Me, What Should I Do?

Each book is an organic whole. The paper and ink only exist to create a ‘reading experience’ in the reader’s mind. The ‘reading experience’ is the true test of the book’s merit.

I would argue that there is no ideal quantification for the various categories that a novel can be divided into. A great book could have a low level of conflict if it is really funny. Remember: you are entertaining the reader. A hero might have no arc development if he is an angle. (Literally not figuratively.) A book might even score highly in each component category and still be a lousy read.

OK, So What’s Your Plan?

Take your manuscript and print it in facing-pages, book format in Word. It will look just like you xeroxed it from a published book.

Next, here’s the key part: give the book to a romance fan and ask her to read it because you want to know whether she likes it. Let her know that there is still time to make changes before the book goes to the printer. (This is surely true). Ask the reader to be as truthful with you as she can be.

The reader – and it’s best if the reader has no pretentions of being a writer herself -- will see the book as a story and not a manuscript. This is the true way it is meant to been seen.

If the reader loves the book, hold up on any rewrites until you have another reader or two render the same opinion. If the reader has problems with the book, these problems, once stated, should become immediately obvious to you. Fix these. If you think the problems are with the reader and not your writing, then test the book again with another reader.

This test is for when your book is in near finished form and you are considering submitting it to a publisher.

Bottom line: Give your manuscript a ‘reality’ test. Reality has a way of getting its way.


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