Actually, I know the answer, it’s a rhetorical question, but readers keep asking me this question, so here is how I do it. Other processes might be better so please tell me what you do; I am eager to know!
When I first starting publishing books, independently in 2006, nobody had any interest in my books at all. Apart from one short story, which a few kind souls told me had merit, I could get nobody I knew to read my stuff, not friends or even family.
By the time of completion of my first draft for Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, things had changed. Several people were now interested and I felt lucky to have three readers of the manuscript (MS) before publication. This helped me a great deal to improve the book although I really had to bit the bullet because I needed, among other things, to cut 15000 words from the overlong manuscript. This resulted in a big improvement so I had learned that readers of your pre-publication MS, beta readers, can be a very useful part of the writing process.
Since then, my writing has become an increasingly collaborative process, to the point where I will even send out chapters or passages to people, as I write them, for feedback. For a really first class MS, this saves time but when the MS is finished, that is just the first part of the process.
If you are a writer and haven’t tried it, I thoroughly recommend you do get some beta readers and try collaborating. I am not suggesting your whole book should be decided by committee but having honest feedback about aspects of your book like; length, grammar, tone, characters and character development, the hook, the climax and the ending are all extremely useful. I believe the quality of my books and the sales figures have both shot up as a result. I think yours will too.
If you want to try my method:
Stage 1: Write the first draft (beta readers can already input now if you are brave enough!)
Stage 2: Send the MS to the beta readers (spell-check at least 3 times to save them some pain)
Stage 3: Incorporate changes required from feedback (can be extensive!)
Stage 4: Send second draft to beta readers or sections of MS
Stage 5: (If you are lucky) final proofread.
Stage 6 Publish
Stage 7: Revise from public reviews and feedback
Stage 8: Continue the cycle of annual review and release of new edition from reader feedback
Let’s look at the process in more detail:
1. You have probably already done this part or are doing it now.
2. As you can see, there are a lot of stages but it will be worth it!
3. After you get the first feedback from beta readers, you will usually have a long list of grammar mistakes and continuity mistakes as well as a long list of things the reader doesn’t like. This is the point at which you have to sit down and search your soul to find your own aspirations for the book. Sometimes, you feel you have written a world-shaking book, only to find that people think its a great adventure but no more. Sometimes you think you have written a simple adventure only to find people reading deep things into it. More commonly, readers will simply find some parts irrelevant or irritating and have big ideas for how the book can be improved.
Twice, I have cut out more than 15000 words after hearing the feedback which sounds drastic but one wants the green light from the readers and if they all say its ‘too long,’ well, you have to cut! There are times when you simply say to yourself, “This book has a deep theme and, although nobody gets it yet, I am going to keep these bits in because I am sure I am saying something.” This can often mean a reader saying, “Okay but I will not be able to write a good review then.” That’s when its really hard to stand your ground. But that’s part of the process. Personally, I don’t want to write pulp-fiction and you may not do either so you are always going to come up against some resistance or reaction. In fact, I like reactions; it means I am saying something.
4. By now, you will hopefully have achieved the Holy Grail; approval from your beta readers. It doesn’t always come so celebrate! Now can send them a second draft. This needn’t be the whole book; most beta readers are doing it for free (I am lucky that mine certainly are!) and have a day time job to cope with as well. You have to take their commitments into account and have patience when waiting for their precious feedback. Don’t try rushing them!
Usually, you will get positive comments at this stage, along with more typos and grammar changes. Be patient; it will all be worthwhile. Many of you will have seen writers who cannot take feedback well and I am sure most of us remember cases where such a writer has ended up removing their book rather be subjected to any more criticism. This is not the right approach! Take the comments in the spirit in which they are intended; to help you make a book worth reading.
5. So now you are ready for the proofread. Have somebody who is patient, loves detail and is good at spotting continuity errors read your final draft.
6. At last you are ready to publish!
7. But all the pain is NOT over! You will next find that not all reviews are positive. Some might mention the lack of climax or character development. Don’t ignore them, especially if the comment appears in more than one review. You can always publish a second edition if drastic changes are required; Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe certainly did. You might also find that some facts become out of date or even that linguistic fashions change. In my earliest book, for example, I wrote phrases like ‘in-control’ because that is how people spoke in 2006. They no longer do and the phrase now sounds weird so I took examples out recently. These are just examples of what you can change but keep your ears and eyes open. If you see an opportunity to change something for the better, make the change. However, you will never please everyone. I recently re-edited a book and took out a few commas here and there because some readers felt there were too many. Almost immediately, I received a review from a disgusted reader which said that there were ‘not enough commas’ and that they didn’t get beyond page twenty!
Warning: make sure readers who have already purchased the book and new readers know that you have made big changes by releasing a new edition. If you don’t keep people informed, you are likely to anger them. In some cases, you might even want to keep the old edition available.
8. Finally, as Leonard Da Vinci said: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Never stop the process of revising work although I hope you will find you need to make fewer and fewer changes as time goes on.
If you liked this article and want to contribute your opinions, please drop me a line below. The best comment will get a free post on the Lazlo Ferran blog about the book of your choice!