Here’s a typical conversation at a social gathering, grocery store, or school fundraiser:
“Oh, you write children’s books? I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ve got an idea I always wanted to try.”
Then they hold eye contact, waiting for me to ask them what it’s about. I smile and leave the silence for just a teeny bit longer than a normal conversation would have because I’m a jerk.
Then I finally ask “What kind of book?”
Usually they’re taken aback because it’s not what they expected to be asked. They say something like “to teach kids about fire safety” or “it’s about the first day of school.”
I say, “No, what I meant is, is it a picture book? A Young adult?”
“It’s for kids,” they’ll say.
“But which kids?”
“All kinds of kids.”
I’m not getting through. I take a deep breath. “Let me ask this way: Who is your reader? What age?”
Have you ever been asked to read a friend’s manuscript, and, well, their work was borderline horrible? But that friend is so clueless that he/she thinks it’s PERFECT and is honestly thinks a movie deal will be offered any day now?
Well I’ve been that friend. My first drafts were horrible. In fact, I didn’t even know they were drafts. I thought I had a final product. And I thought I had a GOOD final product.
After the first pieces of feedback, I got busy rewording a few things here and there, changed a description or two. What I didn’t realize is I was waaaay off the mark in what needed to be fixed. It wasn’t a matter of copy edits. It was the story overall needed some attention. “Revision” was something that needed to sit tight while bigger issues were figured out.
Here’s what I wish helpful folks would have told me:
Thank you for the chance to review your manuscript. It’s a charming concept with some wonderful moments. But it needs a bit of work.
A book is a story, a destination. HOW you tell the story is almost more important than WHAT the story is. Both need to be solid.
A simple question to ask yourself is: My books is about _______ but underneath it’s about ________. Wanting to dance, for example, is really a story about wanting to find a partner, or wanting to belong. Knowing what your character wants is what your story is about. Continue reading