In my last blog I wrote about the writer’s conference I attended and the importance publishers place on building your online presence. There were a few other pieces of advice I picked up which might be beneficial to pass on. One of these was…..
Get your novel professionally reviewed.
I was skeptical of some providers of this service (and I’m still skeptical of those services who also run a self-publishing arm because, I imagine, it would be in their interests to convince you your work was good and encourage you to spend money ‘self-publishing’ it with them). But I am a definite convert.
I got to the point with my novel where I needed to know whether or not it was worth my while spending more time on this mammoth project. I felt tied up in knots, as if I was losing direction and perspective. I’d let a few friends read some of what I’d written and received mainly good feedback, but one person, to whom I was very close, absolutely slated it and said they couldn’t comment on it as there was nothing they liked about it. This completely floored me. I began to doubt myself, my ability and my story. So I sent it off to a literary critique (one recommended at the conference) and waited with baited breath (and a much depleted bank balance – this wasn’t cheap!). I spent a good few weeks stealing myself for the eventuality I might need to take the decision to put down my laptop and save the world from my terrible writing.
When the in-depth critique came back I was so nervous my hands were shaking as I unfolded the letter. I know that sounds melodramatic, but I’d spent nearly 4 years on and off, mostly whilst working full-time (and long hours) getting as far as I had.
When I sent the piece off I was already aware of its major flaws; the novel, (which is in the fantasy genre) was massive. I’d cut and cut but couldn’t get it down. To aid the critic I’d included my synopsis of the ‘whole’ tale which included a great deal yet to be written and I asked for advice on what I should cull. I also knew there were gaps and I was worried about the main character’s likeability. What the critique told me was heaven sent.
The first paragraph read:
“There are some really good things to say about it; intriguing setting, well drawn characters and some unusual world building. Overall it was an enjoyable read.”
and later: “I think you have a potentially exciting and unusual work hiding in amongst the mass, but now you need to streamline the narrative, to unearth the story and make it truly readable.”
I also was relieved to read that I should ‘relax’ and accept that
“You don’t have one book here but a potentially satisfying trilogy.”
Excellent! She realised a lot of the disjointedness was due to me trying to cut three books into one. She told me definitely not to write less, because she wanted to know more – a great compliment.
What I found most inspiring was that someone I didn’t know had really engaged with the book and had, for a brief time, entered my world.
Her advice was at times very specific and at other points more general; things I had a tendency to do again and again that I needed to stop. As she advised, I took a break from it for three months and mulled things over. I’m now addressing all the gaps and bad sections of writing and getting a clearer idea of the central core of the narrative. I’ll tell you the second piece of advice from the conference that I took next time…
As an unpublished writer have you ever submitted your work for criticism (outside of friends and family)? How did you feel about the feedback? If you’re published I’d love to know how you work with the suggestions/amends made by your publishers.