Thursday, September 3, 2009

When to Get Advice on Your Manuscript

A friend from Facebook wrote: I've started to write a book but I'm not sure it's any good. How can I get some professional advice?

If you're a beginning writer, I wouldn't seek professional advice just yet. I would write a full draft and revise it a couple of times before getting feedback from anyone. If you receive too much criticism early on, it might discourage you from finishing the book. I made this mistake early on in my career and abandoned some stories that I should have spent more time with before having a critic point out the flaws. There are usually quite a few flaws in the early stages of a book, and it's better to just get the story down on the page first. You can always make it better when you revise the next several drafts.

Even today, when I start writing a new novel, my first draft is always rough. Some of the characters are still underdeveloped and there are many holes in the plot and questions left unanswered. My short stories and novels all go through several drafts before I let anyone read them.

For the first draft, I write purely from the heart. I write for the joy of creating the story, the characters, and the fictional world in which they live. I'm not concerned yet whether the book is polished or good enough for anyone to read. It's just a rough draft. A blue print to the story. After the first draft is complete, I read through it several times and revise it. The revision stage is where the magic happens. Some chapters I may revise 30 times, adding more details each time and improving the description and dialogue. That's just me, though, because I'm a perfectionist. Other writers can finish a book in fewer drafts. With each revision, I add new chapters and subtract chapters that no longer fit. I change character names and introduce new characters. The novel evolves over the course of several drafts. I continue to add depth to my main characters so they come to life on the page. I also write a synopsis, the outline to my story, where each paragraph represents a summary of each chapter. With my 400-page novel condensed down to 40 pages, I observe the pacing of the story, noticing where it may have gone on too long or places where I need to bridge holes in the plot. I can write for months on a novel before anyone reads a single word of it.

Only after I feel like the story is written to the best of my ability, do I seek feedback from others. I belong to a writer's group who I read chapters to each month and get constructive feedback. I also do focus groups, where I'll print out and bind the entire manuscript and have 5-10 people read it (usually friends and colleagues who are avid readers). I include a questionnaire asking what they liked and didn't like about my book. Then with this new feedback, I go back to revising. Once I have a polished manuscript that I feel absolutely wonderful about, I will submit it to an agent or editor. If self-publishing, then I would I hire an editor and proofreaders to give me professional feedback. The book then goes through a final polishing stage so that it's ready to go to print.

Another point I'd like to make is when I was a beginning writer, I was still learning how to write a novel. I spent some time developing my craft before asking a professional if my book was any good. The most encouraging advice they could probably give at this stage is your writing shows promise, keeping writing, keep fleshing out the story.

For any beginning fiction writers who are writing their first novel, I'd read books on the novel writing process and learn about all the elements of a novel: plot, characterization, dialogue, point of view, theme, pacing, setting, tone, etc. Here are some books I recommend:

How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey

Plot (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Ansen Dibell

The Art And Craft Of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb

On Writing by Stephen King

Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella

Dialogue (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Lewis Turco

Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints by Nancy Kress

Characters and Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Orson Scott Card

Creating Character Emotions by Ann Hood

Special thanks to Marlon from Facebook for writing me with this question. I'm always looking for blog topics, so if anyone has a question about writing, publishing, or book marketing, contact Author Brian Moreland on Facebook or email

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