Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Take Your Story For A Test Spin

I started thinking about this one a while ago, as I read a submission from someone that said they had been working on their manuscript for 6 years. Now first of all, don't get me started on the 6 year thing. That is a story and a blog post for another day. I want to take this to a completely different angle. As I read this writer's story, I really questioned why they would waste his or her (see how I keep this a neutral) time on this project that never, in this lifetime or the next would ever get published. No, this wasn't one of those long shots that might get published. It was downright awful. I wanted to scream. Didn't someone tell you this was bad from the beginning? Obviously not.

So the question I had was simple - When do you take your story for a test spin? When is it that you get some feedback on the project to see if it has what it takes to "make the cut?"

In my humble opinion, the answer is the moment you get the concept in your head. Not after you start writing it. Not half way through it. Not when it is finished. Before you start. Of course, this does link into my continual argument for plotting not flying by the seats of your pants, but you already know my approach on that one. It is crucial that you get some feedback early on, before you waste a lot of time on a project that will fail.

I know that some of you that follow this blog say that there is no wasted writing, and for the most part, I do agree. Sometimes you have to flush that garbage out of your system before you get to the good stuff. Still, unless you have unlimited time to write, your time is precious and you need to use it wisely.

Published authors already get to experience this when they begin drafting proposals for new projects. They contact their agent, they talk to their editor and discuss different ideas they have for projects. The idea is to find the write story for the market right now. Unpublished authors can do the same thing and unfortunately, fail to do so.

That advance talking that you do with other writers or friends is a chance for you to not only see what they would like to see in a book, but also a chance for you to start fleshing out the idea before you dive into the project. During these discussions, you may find a better direction to take your story, the readers may provide you some answers to points you have been struggling with. Simply put, there are a lot of great things you can get from this.

The next point I would recommend getting the feedback is after you have the first three or so chapters. This is where those contests come into play. I have to stress, there are a lot of times that contests don't provide you the right type of feedback due to who is reading your project in the preliminary rounds; but, with that said, sometime you do get some interesting comments. Send it out and see what people outside of your critique circle have to say. Send it to a couple of contests and look for patterns. If you see the same comments from a couple of people, that should tell you something.

I think what I want you to get out of this is get feedback and get it early on. If you wait until the project is too far along, it will take forever to fix the problems. Overhauling a partial is easy, the full manuscripts are tough. (Got it Leslie).

Have a great day and write well.



  1. Good topic. I agree with everything you say, though I’ve no problem with those who choose to invest time in that first story, used as an experimental crash dummy to discover flaw as a means to better the craft – any model that keeps a new writer motivated (dovetails with your excellent point about objective feedback). I think someone once said something like, we learn more from our mistakes than success. I’d rather the later come first, however. ~John

  2. Good advice, with the added bonus of making me laugh out loud.

  3. Yes to it all, but herein lies a connundrum! Unpublished writers can get opinions from friends, writers and contests, BUT this doesn't tell us if the storyline will interest an agent or editor who thinks its publishable when everyone else is saying, "It's a great story. I'd read the book." It's a crap shoot no matter how you slice it. I think. Hmmm...maybe I need an attitude adjustment today.

  4. Hummm.Now that is a most interesting post. When a plot appeals to me, I usually ask myself if a similar plotline has been successful in the marketplace in the past. I read bestselling books over and over, and ask myself exactly why, and how, that plotline works for me. I take extensive notes about particular chapters, and look at the way the author has drawn me into the story, and developed the story from the original setup in the first chapter. This has made my own writing much more effective.

  5. Anonymous...I really like your process. I have also done similar research with novels to teach myself craft as its executed by successful authors. However, I'm quite new to all this and haven't been as indepth in my research as you. Just curious, has your method helped you to get published?

  6. I get my feed back right away from several different people. It's great to expand our circle...much easier to do with the internet. I pick people who have no stake in a relationship with me.
    As far as the 6 year thing mine took 15 years. It became the Holy Grail, discs destroyed my computer accidentally thrown away by the repair shop but it's done.lol

  7. Hello Barb,
    I used to freelance fulltime for a major metro newspaper, and so have been published many times, as well as some long feature magazine work, but no, I have not been published in book form, and have been working on a book ms in which I have complete confidence.
    I sent an earlier book proposal out and just missed getting picked up by a major agent- I do think my subject was simply not unique enough to work for a writer with without a platform. I went with Plan B, and am very happy with it. A wing and a prayer. Like most writers, that's all that I need. Good luck to all of us.