Robert Burns said it best: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us / To see oursels as ithers see us!” No matter how fine a job you may think you’ve done in writing your novel, you must always be willing to seek out and listen carefully to input from knowledgeable readers. You may think you’re such a genius that this principle doesn’t apply to you; but you’re not.
Today I received a professional evaluation (not free — I paid $900 for it, and the pay was up front, not on delivery) from a developmental editor. I had already gone through two complete drafts of this new novel, and was confident that it was as good as I knew how to make it. And now I have some serious rewriting to do.
Until you’ve worked over your manuscript to the point where you’re confident that it’s as good as you can make it, there’s no reason to send it out for reading. Paying someone to read your rough draft would be a complete waste of money. Also, you can’t rely on beta-readers. A beta-reader, if he finishes reading your book at all (not guaranteed), will probably have neither the insight nor the communication skills to tell you what you need to hear.
In the old days, publishers had editors who could help whip a novel into shape. I’m pretty sure that’s no longer the case. Today, mainstream publishers face such a glut of submissions that they can easily afford to offer contracts only on books that are solidly commercial from page 1 clear through to the end.
If you already have an agent, you may (if you’re lucky) be able to get some advice from the agent on how to tighten up or add punch to a story, but in order to attract an agent in the first place you’re going to have to submit a manuscript that’s already damn close to perfect: An agent is not going to waste ten minutes on a manuscript that’s promising but needs work.
If you happen to have a friend who is a professional editor, you may be able to get a free critique; but realistically you should plan on paying someone.
To find an editor, I looked around on Reedsy dot com. I’m by no means convinced that Reedsy is a one-size-fits-all solution for writers who are seeking services, but if you’re careful about vetting your freelancer, it can work. This particular editor shared with me a couple of critiques she had given to other authors. On reading those, I was able to see that she knew enough about fiction to be helpful.
I may not follow all of her suggestions, but even when a suggestion or observation feels off-base, I need to be willing to think about it in an open-minded, non-defensive way. Why did the editor have that reaction? Did she notice something that I missed? If her suggested fix for the problem won’t work, what sort of solution might I be able to imagine that will work?
She suggested writing the opening chapter from the point of view of a different character, but that feels very wrong to me, for reasons that it would be spoilery to explain. Nonetheless, she’s right that the character whose point of view I chose doesn’t have his own conflict. He’s emotionally uninvolved. Now that I have the benefit of a second opinion, I can see that he’s basically a reassuring father figure. That fact drains some tension out of the scene. It also, in a subtle way, undercuts the suspense clear through the book. I may have to change his character in a major way, and that will affect every scene he appears in.
Okay, it’s time to start working on the third draft.