Go, stop and listen
How to write a novel and get it published in 14 easy steps – PART 2
This is part two of my story about making a dream come true (publishing my debut novel) -if you want to start at part one, here it is, ‘Realising a Dream.’
I have structured my account around 14 easy steps, which originated from a WikiHow article. My blog today is about my own experience of those ‘easy steps.’
’ Step 4. Stay diligent ‘
By this I think the article means keep going – don’t give up – it is all too easy to be distracted, frustrated with the slow process, or even bored. The article suggests that you ‘put yourself in the chair… make writing a habit you can’t quit. Find that unique place to write and do it every day at the same time.’
I suppose I followed this advice because I sat in my chair and typed – determined to get my book finished – I was motivated by both the desperate need to tell my story and the fact that my circumstances allowed me a finite amount of time to complete my mission.
I do know, however, how easy it would be to quit now – I am in the final stages of getting my book published and because I am self publishing, I have to think about how my potential readers are going to find out about my new novel. I have to get to grips with social media and learn how to use it effectively.
In a way, I am enjoying facing up to social media – I am learning new things, I relish the challenge and I am finding new people online who share this passion for writing. But it is daunting and scary and hard. I try to imagine that I am talking to someone in the passenger seat of my car – friendly and open banter but it’s different because I am communicating and I never know what the response will be. I can’t see my companion’s facial expressions as I talk, there is no nodding or shaking of their head, there are no interjections, no spontaneity and no giggling. I just have to hope that I am on the right track – so this is where I am finding the discipline of getting in the chair and just doing it is really helping me.
‘ Step 5. Get early feedback ‘
This is the step where I went wrong but in hindsight, it all worked out in the end. The advice from the WikiHow article is ‘get frequent and early feedback on your writing from people you trust to be honest with you.’ and it makes two further points :-
‘1) … consider joining a local writer’s workshop. These groups will help you flesh out your ideas, give you feedback, and keep you accountable.
2) Use the internet. If you’re nervous about showing someone you know your work, find an online forum where you can get feedback…’
My quest for feedback was a shambles but then again, I am one of those people who avoids instruction manuals. I dive in and wish afterwards that I had at least given the directions a cursory glance! I am still getting feedback, which I should have sought earlier and its about how I write as much as what I have written. It is helping me to see my writing through someone else’s eyes and lets me know if I am getting my message across in the best way.
I do a lot of oil painting and it reminds me of how my picture looks so different when I stand back from it. Up close, I can’t see the whole composition, I can’t see the proportions and the whole effect of the colours and lines. I always step away from my paintings and getting feedback from others is just as crucial for your writing.
Feedback has been a difficult leg of my journey. I fell into every pitfall imaginable along the way. I will write a post about it soon but at the moment it feels like my list of mistakes would be about the length of a novel! I need to sit down and analyse just what I did and how to get it right in future.
Here are some of the lessons I have learnt,
STOP AND REVIEW
When you think your draft manuscript is ready to send out to your well chosen initial readers, it is best to sit on it for at least a week and then reread it yourself. I was horrified when I sent mine out and realised how many things were wrong about it. Your readers are precious commodities and you don’t want to waste their time reading something that you could have improved before they read it. I feel so sorry for the people, who so kindly agreed to plough through my first draft, how they got to the end, I will never know?
CHOOSE YOUR READERS CAREFULLY
Find people who read a lot – I mainly asked friends who readily agreed to help and looking back, only the avid reader amongst them gave me the most helpful feedback. I got loads of help from the others but everyone had different thoughts and I was left in a quandary as to where I needed to go next. My saviour was a literary agent who read my manuscript and just gave me feedback on the actual story and from this I was able to sort out the confusion I was in, I could see a path to follow. As I have said before, Melissa Eveleigh of the Honeycomb Literary Consultancy gave the most insightful and positive criticism. Her advice and all the feedback from my wonderful volunteer readers, led to further hours of re-writing.
ASK YOUR READERS SPECIFIC QUESTIONS
I did, eventually, come up with a list of the questions I wish I had asked, I think it would have made my readers’ feedback a lot easier to give me. I am not saying this is the right list for everyone and it’s not a questionnaire, it just something to use to structure any comments they may wish to make. I suggest your manuscript readers go through the list before they start reading your book to understand the kind of feedback that would help – it is a long list but I hope it would give a focus .
Was my first page compelling? Did you want to read more? If not, can you see where or why you stumbled?
Did you grasp whose story it is, what’s going on, where and when it’s taking place? If not, what were you confused you or did you want more information about something?
Did you notice a point where your interest started to drag?
Are there characters that need more description?
Did you relate to the main character(s)? Did you feel her/his pain, joy, fears, worry, excitement?
Which characters did you love to hate?
Do my characters need to be more interesting or more likable?
Could the bad guy(s) be nastier or more interesting? Any ideas about how?
Are there too many characters?
Are any of the names too similar?
Are any characters too similar?
Did the main characters relationships make sense? were they plausible?
Which side characters are you curious to know more about?
How well did you think the relationship developed ?
Did the dialogue or interactions make you cringe?
Did anything make you feel uncomfortable? What and how?
Did the dialogue sound natural to you? If not, which bits sounded artificial?
Could you visualize where and when the scenes took place?
Did the descriptions seem real ?
Plot, Pacing, Scenes:
Was the story interesting to you?
Did it drag ? Which parts?
Are there bits you really liked?
Which parts were exciting?
Are their parts which should be elaborated ?
What parts did you dislike or not like as much?
Which parts bored you and should be compressed or even deleted?
Was there anything that confused, frustrated, or annoyed you?
What parts resonated with you and/or moved you emotionally?
Did you understand every phrase / term I used? If not, which ones?
Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, plot, etc.?
Can you SEE every action clearly?
If you went there in real life, would you recognize the places? If not, elaborate.
Did you have to reread any part of the ACTION SEQUENCES to understand who was doing what? List any issues lines/paragraphs that didn’t make sense and required a re-read.
Could you SEE what the characters looked like clearly? If not, who?
Do you think the writing style fits the story and genre? If not, why not?
Did you like the ending?
Was the ending satisfying?
Was the ending believable?
Grammar, spelling, punctuation:
While you were reading, did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors?
In your opinion, what are the main strengths of the story? The main weaknesses of the story?
Anything else at all?
LISTEN TO WHAT YOUR READERS SAY
I chose to listen selectively to my feedback, I didn’t value their comments and suggestions because I was too delighted with lots of the descriptions I had written and how I had been so clever misdirecting my readers. It took me ages to realise that many of my precious (and long sweated over) paragraphs were superfluous. Pressing the delete button was so hard but I look at my novel now, where no more than fifty percent of my original draft remains – and I am very pleased it doesn’t!
This week, I found a local writing group – much too late, I know! But still, I have loads more to learn and I can’t wait to meet them. It will be so good to have some real face to face interaction.
I will publish the next instalment soon… in the meantime, please let me know what you think… My debut novel Fox Halt Farm will be self published in November. If you would like to follow my journey here are links to my blog and Facebook page.
A is greatly appreciated and a share would be amazing… THANK YOU