The problem with writing novels is that you can go for so, so long without any sort of real feedback on what you’re doing. For all you know, typing away on the edge of sanity in the bleak hours of the day where minutes creep and seconds stalk your mind, whispering that you’ll never make it to the end of the sentence, much less the chapter, your words are a giant bundle of crap.
It’s ironic, then, that the most necessary thing that you’ll have to do as a writer is also one of the hardest. Solicit that feedback, send out your stuff to the wild open where a whole range of people can take potshots at it while your baby sits there and suffers. There’s no defense once the word is on a page in the hands of a reader. Nothing you can do to disguise the typo, no re-arranging of tin-eared dialogue or a protagonist whose hair color inexplicably moves from brown to black to red throughout the story.
The only way to catch these sorts of things in a way that doesn’t doom your book to the bottom of the trash pile is to spin it through the grasping hands of friends, writing-group pals, and/or anonymous nutters on the internet, so long as they promise to give you honest feedback. I’d recommend putting the book through at least three people, more if possible, and collecting their impressions.
Take notes on what they tell you. Store the feedback somewhere and when you go through an edit, hunt down and track the things they noted and make sure to squash them. Ask for theme and character feedback too – if they didn’t realize that your protagonist was really an amalgam of Ghandi and Vlad the Impaler, then perhaps you’ve got some brushing up to do.
Watch for the tone of the feedback too – were they excited about it? Ready for the next book in the series? Was it two lines of stuff chock full of meaningless adjectives and a link to the lunch menu of Tojito’s Taco Palace? All of those are clues that your stuff did or did not strike home.
My method, which for the novel and novella have worked decently well, is to do the following:
- Write the damn thing.
- Wait a bit, write the next damn thing (or at least some of it)
- Do an initial edit of the thing. Clean up major errors, do some polish, etc.
- The initial edit is key – you want valuable feedback, not a list of typos and a complaint on how all your names are variations on ‘John’.
- Send out to a group of first-readers. Continue writing other jazz.
- Get feedback. Do a second edit.
And from there you can send to another real editor to get into the weeds with it, or wrap it up for publishing. I’d recommend getting a real editor, but for now that’s all based on other people’s experiences. I’m planning on doing that soon, once work calms down for a hot second. But so far, having others run through my work has been a valuable, eye-opening experience. Do it.