Writing a book? Know when to share your novel manuscript

Writing workshop, writing seminar, writing class

Most young writers (of all ages) share their manuscript much too often and much too early in the hopes of getting constructive feedback on their work in progress. For instance, I see a lot of writers share their work after just a first or second draft. Some share “Chapter 1” of a novel, even though chapter 1 is all they have written. Even if such drafts are free of spelling and grammatical errors, sharing a draft so early is a mistake.

Though I’m not sure exactly how a “draft” is defined, I won’t share my work with anyone until I’m on my 10th+ draft. My view is that sharing things too early is inflicting writing on others that is not well prepared, which turns them off and makes it less likely that they will want to look at your work again. And more important in the long run, IMHO, I don’t think most writers even know what their novel is about until they have written it and rewritten it 10 times and obsessed about it for a year or more. I didn’t.

I was recently asked if I obsess about how people will react to my opening scene, if so, shouldn’t I share early drafts of my work?

Yes, I do obsess about how people react to the intro…and every other aspect. But I think novels are a whole package, which is why I rarely provide feedback on just pieces of novels or early drafts. I don’t know (and I don’t think anyone knows) how to comment on a beginning without reading the whole.

Good beginnings work because they stick in that part of your head that responds to good writing. They hang there, helping the reader fit the flow of the whole into a pattern that resonates in a deep and powerful way. This is why I think beginnings are too important to be written first. Which is in turn why novel manuscripts should not be shared until they are mature and well-worked.

But to keep this real, and by way of example, the novel I’m putting through a writing workshop right now I initially wrote between Dec ’13 and Feb ’14. In Jan of ’14, I showed the first 70 pages to my wife and twin teenagers. They liked it, so I finished it and showed it to them again. They still liked it, and asked me what happens next? So I wrote the sequel between March of ’14 and June of ’14. In writing the sequel, I got a lot smarter about what the first book was about. So I rewrote the first book in parallel.

The second book I did not show to my wife and kids until it was “done”. They did not see a single page, and I had not said a word about it until I handed it to them after it was on its ~10th draft, and having worked it over with grammar and style checkers.

Without warning or preamble, one night I handed them a 3-inch stack of paper. Two of the three sat in the living room for three hours in silence except to hand pages from one to the other. I confess that was a nervous three hours for me! Fortunately, they love it (of course, they are family so that only counts for so much). My other kid did not finish it; the novel is dark, which she does not like, which is fair.

After my wife and one daughter finished it that night, we had a 15 min discussion about it; I had two questions for them (“Did it keep your interest? If not, where did you lose interest?”). They shared a few other comments. Since then we have barely spoken about it (except about once every three months they ask me “How much longer until you publish Lonely Hunter?” To which I always respond, “Oh…I dunno. Eventually. It’s not ready.”).

After my wife and kid read it, and I made a few tweaks, I shared both novels with three beta readers I had found (one of my kids’ friends — which was kind of weird — a person at my writing workshop, and an old friend who likes the genre). All very much liked both novels. Of course, there were caveats. Each provided a couple pages of notes. And, of course, each had their own bias because of how they were connected to me personally (a perennial problem with betas).

That was 18 months ago. Since then I have tweaked the sequel, and I wrote most of the third. But I have spent most of my time rewriting and expanding the first novel without showing anyone a page of it (except a few pages to my wife), or talking about it. As noted, the first novel is currently going through a writing workshop.

I’m my biggest critic (I think). Which is why I’ve gone through 4 first chapters…the first 3 just did not feel right. I’ve made other big changes, too since my wife and kids read it (added 40,000 words of new content and deleted about 5,000). When I do give it to my family again, it will be interesting to see how they react. In all events, I feel like I’m getting near the end, and I hope to publish Lonely Hunter this fall.

When I do, I will be looking for some Advanced Reviewers that will post to Amazon upon publication. I’ll be sending early copies to them. Let me know if you are interested.

In summary, as a writer you should write hard and fast and think about what you are doing, characterization, pace, plot development, etc. But what I want to also encourage you to do is take the time to really mature your manuscripts before you engage beta readers or your writing workshop. Writing is fun, but it is also work, and our readers expect the best quality we can deliver at every step. You’ll also find that you’ll have more beta readers if you have a reputation for giving them a good product.

Writing a book? Know when to share your novel manuscript
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Writing a book? Know when to share your novel manuscript
Writing a novel is fun, but it is also work, and our readers expect the best quality we can deliver at every step. You'll find that you'll have more beta readers if you have a reputation for giving them a good product.
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Tiffany Writing
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