OK, I’m getting the feedback.
I sent out copies of my latest book – The Secret Place – to a number of readers in order to get feedback. That feedback is beginning to come in, together with thoughts and comments from people who weren’t on the list but who have read it anyway.
It’s grit your teeth time. All the advice is to give your manuscript to people who a) read a lot; and b) read in the genre which you’re writing in. That has largely been true of the people to whom I’ve sent the book, but not exclusively. A couple of them don’t read private eye or thriller novels. However, each and every one of them does read extensively, so that’s a bonus.
So my book is the second in the series of thrillers about my PI, Sam Dyke. Most of the beta-readers have read the first book too, which is an advantage. The consensus seems to be that The Secret Place is better than Altered Life, which can only be good. It’s allegedly more pacy and more gripping.
Which doesn’t mean it’s perfect, of course. Criticisms have included, ‘It starts really well but then doesn’t fulfil its promise’; ‘there are inconsistencies in the plot-line’; and ‘It’s obvious you’ve never been to some of the places you write about … ‘.
All of these are true, to a greater or lesser degree. So the fascinating thing is, how do you respond to them? Some people, I know, have the response of, ‘Oh my god, you’re absolutely right, how could I have been so stupid not to have seen that? I should shoot myself right now … ‘ While others shrug their shoulders, say ‘Meh,’ and get on making the corrections.
I’m kind of in the middle. Despite planning to the nth degree, there are still inconsistencies … how could that be? I thought everything through, didn’t I? All the implications of every action of every character. But still character A says this on page 10 and this – completely contradictory thing – on page 20. Doh! This happens when you make things up on the spot. It seems natural and almost ‘inevitable’ at the point at which you write it. But you conveniently forget that you said the opposite thing only 10 pages previously. Because those 10 pages might have been written 5 days apart … so why would you remember something that was created spontaneously, just in order to add ‘depth’ to a given character?
The harder things to cope with are where your readers tell you that the pace slackens, or a scene was unnecessary, or a scene that was actually essential doesn’t appear to have been written … this means more serious re-writing. Not just re-wording, but actually adding scenes and maybe even characters. So more research! More creativity! Just when you thought you’d done the hard stuff, you have to do more of it.
In the end, I guess what you have to do is consider that you’re trying to make the book be the best book it can be. Yes, it’s tedious and hard work to alter and re-write extensive portions of the book. But if you don’t, you’ll always have those voices playing in your head: ‘It could have been fixed. It could have been better.’
And that’s a lot, lot worse, than the trivial pain of rewriting.