Writing is a fairly solitary activity. Sure, we have writer's meetings, conferences, get togethers, all of that. But the actual act of writing is solitary. Many writers joke about how busy they are with friends...the ones in their plot, the ones in their heads. The bigger joke many writers have is that we writers are all a tiny bit schizophrenic.
The problem with a solitary activity is that we tend to lose perspective from time to time. I'm not talking about sitting at your computer, thinking you're writing the next Gone with the Wind, and you're really not even stringing together coherent sentences. We all have those moments, most of us recognize them, and we cheerfully hit the delete button and move on.
I'm talking about getting to the end of a manuscript and thinking that this is truly the finished product.
Well why not?
You've had your critique partners critique it chapter by chapter for you.
You line edited it.
You had your college aged brother/kid/neighbor line edit it for you in exchange for a hot meal.
You are ready to submit it to a publisher...or better yet...publish it yourself!
There's a tool you should have, could have, in your writing tool box, and you may not be using it...you may not even know you need it.
I certainly didn't.
When I was writing Dream in Color (Click here to purchase) I was convinced...CONVINCED that I had a complete project on my hands. So I sent it out...and got rejection upon rejection upon rejection. REjection letters being what they are, I didn't have a clear idea what was wrong with it.
Until I talked to my friend "Penny." Penny is not a writer. She is, however, an avid reader, and better yet, an avid reader in my target audience. I told her I was writing a book, she expressed a wish to read it. I asked her if she'd read it and comment on it for me.
About a week later, Penny handed me back my three ring binder. "Over all I like it," she said, " but there's just something....I'm not sure how you'd fix it, but it needs fixing because it's a little confusing. Although I'm not sure what else you could do it."
Not exactly a rave review.
BUT, knowing that a reader had actual feelings about the book, and was able to at least tell me that there was something unclear about it, I went back to the manuscript. I fleshed out the characters. I made Ramona's daydreams more vivid. I added more of the mother character, much to my own mother's delight.
And then I asked her to read it again. This time, she loved it.
And I sold it to The Wild Rose Press.
My next project, the much rewritten, oft shelved, never quite forgotten Lies in Chance (click here to purchase) got the same treatment. I set it to Penny. Again, a week later, she handed back my three ring binder and said the words I will never forget. "Your last book was good. This one was a joy to read."
It is, to this date, the best review I've gotten. And that's saying something since, reviews for Lies includes a woman who came up to me at a writer's conference book signing, pointed to Lies in Chance, and shouted..."I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THAT BOOK!" (and no, it was NOT my mother.)
So I guess what I'm trying to say is before you send your baby off to an agent, an editor, or a formatting company, pause for a moment and think about the reader.
I know, weird, right? I've taken probably 800 workshops on how to write to get published. I have taken classes on how to pitch a book to sell it, how to write three chapters to win writing contests, and how to get an agent to look at my book.
What we writers seem to have overlooked is...the reader.
In this day of self publishing, we get to cut out the middle man to a certain extent. Oh we still need to edit, to critique, but if self publishing is the path you've chosen, you no longer have to write to please an agent or an editor. You have to write to please the reader. So it stands to reason, then, that you should probably have a READER read your book before you publish it.
It may just be the most important tool in your bag of writing tricks.