My alpha reviews have come in for Death Out of Time. They’re extremely helpful. The cat appears to be alive, although it needs serious attention. I’m mulling over the review comments and letting them sink in before I make any changes to the manuscript.
I’ll bet every writer who has gone through alpha and beta reads has had a similar gut reaction to one I had. We’ve written a scene that we enjoy. But, according to the expert advice, and one or more test readers—
That scene doesn’t “move the story forward.”
That scene doesn’t “provide information needed by a main character.”
In other words, “That scene has no purpose.”
Some reviewers point out these issues while others enjoy the scene simply for the added insight into the characters’ lives.
My Fellow Writers, let me make this clear from the get go—I know every agent, editor, and writing expert will tell me my alpha reviewers who raised these issues understand the rules. The professionals will tell me today’s market (or at least today’s agents and publishers) demands tight writing with no extraneous bits that aren’t required to advance the plot or provide vital information. Every scene must move the story forward. If I seek a traditional deal for the manuscript, this scene at best might be sent to the cutting room floor. At worst, it could be the last straw that turns an agent’s “maybe” into “no way.”
But then I think of the “real world readers” (non-writers) who have seen the draft.
They enjoyed the scene.
Does that make those “non-writers” wrong? Absolutely not.
Does that make the experts wrong? No.
Does it add to the list of “pros” for going independent when I believe the book is ready? You bet.
And it makes me curious how much a non-writer’s perception of a book runs counter to that of an agent or editor. I was already pondering this question when I read a new English mystery with a fiction editor as the protagonist (A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders). One of the story lines is about how to handle her most successful author — who has submitted, instead of her normal genre, an awful piece of “chick lit.” Everyone at the publishing house hates the story. They can’t understand why she turned in such a piece of drivel in a genre she clearly “didn’t get.”
Then the manuscript is shown to several “real world readers” of the “chick lit” genre.
They get it.
The author has written a brilliant comic novel. Which is exactly what she was going for. Only her editor and everyone else at her publishing house were clueless as to what she had written.
I’m not saying my alpha readers didn’t get the story. I’m not disagreeing with their comments. But I am wondering if writers, agents, editors, and publishers all sometimes forget that we write for 1) ourselves and 2) readers. And most readers are not writers. Intuitively, most of them know if a book is poorly written. And they’ll toss it aside and tell their family and friends not to bother with that one.
They also know when a story works for them. And they’ll share that enjoyment with family and friends and recommend the book.
Most importantly, they know what they like to see in a book. For some readers, that’s plenty of description, painting a vivid image of the places and people in the story. Others enjoy scenes that offer a break from the action and show the character in a more typical setting. Of course, everyone has different tastes. While one reader loves descriptive details, another glosses over them. While some like an easier pace or chances to catch their breath, others want a non-stop ride at top speed to the end. No single writing style or story can appeal to every reader.
But I wonder if maybe—just maybe— writers, agents, editors, and publishers are missing the boat when we focus on the lowest common denominators (otherwise known as today’s rules). Are we leaving out something those readers might enjoy even more? And might have them reading more books, not fewer?
I know writers will have strong views about this post, but I’d also love to hear what non-writers think.