The Need For An Expert Opinion

You think your writing is good, but seeing your book the way an editor would becomes harder the longer you work on it.

There comes a time when you are so familiar with your story, characters, plot twists, structure and major scenes, that you completely overlook weaknesses which might mean the difference between rejection and publication. You can’t read your own writing and experience it unbiased by foreknowledge. Even putting aside the matter of whether the story is written in a professional way, do all the elements of the plot add together? Or is a piece of information missing, or not presented clearly enough? Does the writing cause the reader to react the way you intended? Are they gripped, moved, excited? Or are they confused, irritated, bored?

Many writers ask the opinion of family and friends. Unfortunately it is unlikely you can believe what they say about your unpublished book. If your work is good and they tell you so you can’t believe them, because you’ve put them in an awkward and embarrassing situation. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. The embarrassment of telling you your book is bad is not something they want to go through. So they are going to tell you your book is good, or very good, or brilliant… even if it isn’t. They do not want to tell you they do not like the book you have worked so hard to write. If your book is close to brilliant, they still won’t tell you what is wrong and what could be improved.

There’s another reason you can’t trust the opinion of friends and family, that is, unless they happen to be professional writers or editors. It is simply that even if your friends and family were to tell you the truth about your book, it wouldn’t be the truth as a publishing professional sees it. What might seem fresh and original to your friends or family might be tired and clichéd to those whose job it is to know your chosen field inside out. The editor or agent you send your book to will have read hundreds, if not thousands, of works in the same genre or subject. They are intimately familiar with the best. These are the people you need to impress, because these are the people who will decide if your book is to be published. You do not need to impress your friends and family in order to get published.

The probability is that if you are writing serious modern science fiction, family and friends won’t have the experience of the genre to know how good, original and creative your work is. Popular perceptions of the field are dominated by film and TV, where special effects and action set-pieces are seen as the heart of a genre. The exploration of ideas, complex characterisation, world-building and coherent plotting rarely enter the picture. Likewise having seen, and maybe even read, The Lord of the Rings, is no qualification to assess the merits of a modern fantasy. Having read some Stephen King novels doesn’t confer the knowledge to appraise horror fiction in the new millennium. And the same is true across the board, from literary or contemporary fiction through historical fiction, romance, crime or any other type of writing. Your family and friends may know what they like, but they won’t know how writing works sufficiently well to give the advice you need.

So expert guidance is invaluable. First to help you determine if your writing is of a professional standard (and just hasn’t reached the right agent or publisher yet), and if with some pointers towards revision, polishing and editing you could earn you a publishing contract. Or if, and this is the hard part, you should think about going back to the beginning and starting over. With three decades professional publishing experience I am ideally suited to advise you.

If you are submitting work and it is repeatedly rejected, usually with just a form letter which tells nothing except ‘no’, there are two ways of finding out if your work might one day be published. Keep sending it out until it is accepted. Or get some guidance from a good independent editor. Someone who can help you bring out the best in your work to give it the strongest chance of being accepted by a publisher.