There! You’ve typed your last word and your novel is finished. If you’re anything like me, one of the first things you want to do, after you’ve had a cheeky glass of red to celebrate, is show it to someone. You want to say things like, “Ta-da! I’ve done it! It’s done. It’s donnnnne! So, what do you think?” This is a perfectly natural reaction. After all, you’ve just spent weeks, months or even years thinking, plotting, planning, writing and re-writing and to be finally finished an entire novel is something to be celebrated.
But before you rush off and send your first draft off to everyone in your address book, just stop for a moment to think carefully about who you are showing it to and why. Are you looking for feedback? Are you after some positive comments? Or are you looking for a book deal?
Here are some people that I showed my first draft to that I wouldn’t show again:
3. Mum (and generally any family members)
No don’t get me wrong. I love my Mum. But I just don’t think she’s the right person to cast an eye over my first draft. This feeling all started when I gave the draft of my soon to be released book Diary of a Penguin-napper to my sister to have a read. She’s got a good sense of humour and loves a good ‘project’, so I thought it would be fairly safe to show it to her. After she’d read it, she called up and we had a great chat about the book (which she enjoyed because there are many jokes from our childhood hidden in there and we share a similar sense of what is funny).
A few days later, I get a call from Mum, which pretty much goes like this:
“Claire says that you let her read your book. I was thinking I might like to read it.”
Right. Well, on the spot I couldn’t really think of a reason why not, so I sent it to her. The subsequent phone call went like this:
Mum: I’ve read your book.
Me: Thanks, Mum. (Again, I’m nothing if not polite) What did you think?
Mum: Well, on page 29 you’ve written verandah. V-e-r-a-n-d-a-h. Does it really have an ‘h’ on the end? I’ve always spelt it without.
Me: Oh … (massive pause). I can check that. What did you think of the story?
Mum: Well, it’s not bad. I noticed that there is a typo on page 52.
And so it went on. I ended up none the wiser about whether my book was any good and more to the point, I actually got a bit crushed by having all of my errors pointed out to me in one phone call.
Mums (and, as a general rule, most other family members) are not the right people to show your first draft to. They’re much too close to you to give objective feedback without a bit of a sting to it. Or the feedback will be in the form of empty praise: “It’s brilliant, darling. You’re the next JK Rowling.”
Save showing your family your book when it is published. They’ll be much more impressed when you hand them a shiny paperback with your name on it and they’ll think that it is what you are capable of producing on your first attempt. Then they’ll show it to all of their friends who will hopefully buy your book and be equally impressed. Win!
2. Certain Friends
I’ve had some great friends read drafts of my novel over the past few years and I’ve shown it to some people that I really wish that I hadn’t.
After you’ve written your first draft of a novel, you can pretty much divide your friends into two categories:
(a) The ones you’d show, and
(b) The ones you shouldn’t. (These are the ‘certain friends’ to which the heading pertains.)
The ones you could show your first draft to are the kind of friends who are able to give you gentle, constructive feedback and who are happy to discuss it with you over a chai latte. I have a couple of these and the feeling that you get after talking to them is: “I need to get back to my desk because I’m buzzing with great improvements/changes/ideas to add to this story to make it even better.”
The others say things like this:
“Oh … it’s a children’s book. I don’t read children’s books. I thought you’d written a novel.”
or “I think you need to change the name of Leisl because I had a bad experience reading a book about a character called Leisl when I was 8.”
And really, that isn’t the kind of feedback that is really going to encourage you as a writer and help you to further develop your story into the kind of story they might actually enjoy reading. These friends will be much better suited to reading the final, well edited, revised polished version of your book.
1. Agents and Publishers
The final group (and probably the most important group!) of people that you shouldn’t show your first draft to are Agents and Publishers. Yes, I know that it is tempting to send it off the moment you’ve typed the last word, but don’t. Why? Because there are going to be mistakes in it and probably lots of them! You only really get one attempt to impress and agent or publisher with your manuscript, so you want to put your best foot forward.
I’ve done this one too and believe me, there is nothing worse that re-reading a submission that you thought you’d checked thoroughly before you sent it to an agent, only to realise that there are typos, grammatical mistakes or inconsistencies (or sometimes all three!) My suggestion is that you send off some query letters to agents/publishers and then put your manuscript away for two weeks.
If you get a request for partial or full views, then get it out of the drawer and at least proofread it before sending any section off. You’ll be glad you did.
Stay tuned next week for people that I think you should show your first draft to. In the meantime, I’d love to know: Who do you share your writing with?