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  • Writer's pictureWalker Buckalew

Your In-Process Manuscript Readers

Your In-Process Manuscript Readers

I’m passing 90 double spaced pages (out of what usually turns out to be about 400) on the sixth novel – as yet untitled – in my Rebecca Series. That means I have reached the point at which I have asked my wife Linda to read this batch of pages and give me feedback. This is always a big step.

It is a big step that happens, for me, four or five times during the writing of a novel. It’s a little perilous because family members, being family members, have more to think about than merely their response to what they are reading. They’re going to have to live with the author after providing their response!

The author, of course, knows this, and knows therefore that any criticisms or suggestions offered by family members may need to be taken with more seriousness than an impartial person’s similar comments. The family member often will not offer a criticism unless that family member views the suggestion as of real importance. Why would she or he risk introducing a problem into the relationship over something trivial?

Of more concern to the author, however, are the comments that are not made. What if the family member doesn’t like the story at all? Will she or he actually say that? And will she or he say why? Some might. Many won’t.

When I finished – or thought I had finished – the second Rebecca novel, I asked one of our adult children to read and comment. He did that, and when he finished, he sat down with me and said this: “I liked this story, but… I did not feel as nervous… as anxious… as I did while I read the first novel. I was not on the edge of my seat nearly as much while I read this new story.”

I accepted this with great seriousness, because our son Adam is a voracious reader who had really liked The Face of the Enemy, and who was telling me that his response to the manuscript for By Many of By Few was tepid in comparison. As a result of that conversation, I spent the next six weeks going through that manuscript and adding a layer of tension to the plot at almost every point.

By Many or By Few later won a national award.

You need a reader who, first, likes the same kinds of novels that you like. I think that preferences in novels are as idiosyncratic as preferences in music. You would not ask a family member or friend to spend dozens of hours listening to a particular kind of music unless you already knew that she or he loved that kind of music.

If a family member likes novels of a sort quite different from those you write, there is no point in asking that person to review your manuscript. That person wants something different in a novel than the sort of thing you are going to provide.

Further, you need a reader who understands how to make big-picture suggestions, like the one I just cited from our son Adam. (Your editors will make small-picture suggestions and corrections; that’s really not what you need while you are still writing your story.) And finally, you need a family member who wants your novels to succeed almost as much as you do, and consequently is ready to spend hours and hours in careful reading in order to help that happen.

Does this role have to be filled by a family member? No, but there are not many friends or acquaintances whom I’d ask to do this. If you have a lot of those, then you are fortunate indeed. But I’d suggest the same issues would be present with such a friend as with a family member: will the friend risk the friendship by telling you the story does not work?

In my wife Linda and two of our adult children, as well as several friends of long standing, I have all I need to get in-process feedback at four or five points in each novel. I hope you have the same kinds of family members or close friends available to you. Your novels will need them.

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