When I had sent the draft of Now, Returned to India to my beta readers, the word count stood at nearly 98, 000. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, almost every reviewer had mentioned that my writing seemed verbose. So when I sat down to reduce the word count, I also began to maintain a chapter-wise ‘before and after’ word count. I also kept track of what was the reduction in words in percentage. During the process, I also learnt an important lesson – how to narrate the story in as few words. I am posting the results of my two week long effort below. Note that I also merged two chapters which would explain the numbers in the paranthesis. I am not sure if this was the most effective way of reducing the length of the manuscript, and would like to know how others go about the process.
Earlier this week, a writer and fellow blogger asked me how did I approach my reviewers. At the same time, I heard on the most recent show of Simon’s Rocking Self Publishing Podcast that probably 20 is a good number of beta readers to have. This got me thinking: How did I actually do it? Over the past several months, I had been so enamored by the novel that it is quite likely that I must have told anybody and everybody who cared to listen. And that probably got a lot of people interested to read Now, Returned to India during the interview.
Coming back to the question: When and where did I approach the reviewers?
In my case, the book reviews took place in two phases. The first phase was from June to September 2013, when I only sent the first one or two chapters to over 30 readers. My starting point was the tried and tested method- largely friends and family. I also approached few readers from my alumni or professional network, but the majority of the reviewers were “cold calls”. It so happened that my wife and I had set up a food stall for nearly a week in September at a fair. While she was getting the orders ready, I pitched the book to the customers or other who were simply curious to know what we had to offer. I had prepared a bunch of leaflets that told the prospective reviewer about the book, and also had a tearaway for people to write their names and contact details. I managed to get more than 30 reviewers this way. It was an interesting experience to say the least!
The second phase began in January, when I had substantially re-written the rest of the draft. I contacted a few of my friends & family again, but largely my alumni network and also members of the Return to India Forum, where it all began for me. I also happened to attend a family wedding in January, and unexpectedly discovered a new potential audience of my novel. They reviewed a few sample chapters and gave really encouraging feedback. (More on my target audience in a later post).
I am also including below the profile of the respondents. As you may note, nearly 1 in every 2 persons who I approached has given some feedback or the other. Many of them have gone line by line and sent back the sample chapters in track change mode (I had sent word docs to most of them), others sent long-ish emails with details on what works in the novel and what doesn’t.
For those who did not respond, I understand and appreciate that they are busy people, and it is perfectly fine!. Or maybe they did not like what they read and are too polite to let me know that.
I would be curious to know what other’s experiences have been with beta readers. Same question again, when and how did they approach them?
Over the past week, I received the feedback from several readers about Now, Returned to India. Some read one or two chapters, others read the entire book. And their feedback was an eye opener.
First, a word of thanks to the beta readers. They not only took the time sample chapters or the manuscript, but they were also kind enough to point out what worked and what didn’t work about the draft. Some even took the extra effort to comment section by section and sent the word document back by email. I am summarizing the overall feedback below. I’d like to call it my book’s “Report Card.” The good part is, that it is for the Beta version, so there is room for improvement.
The above is just a summary, and specifically, I was told that the OK’s can be upgraded to ‘Good’, once the grammar and the typo’s are addressed. But I took the “too lengthy” and “too verbose” comments seriously. And before sending the draft off to the editor, I worked on the manuscript one more time. Note that I had acknowledged that the draft had not been sent to a professional editor and the reviewers were aware of it.
I spent the nearly an entire week making the manuscript more concise. It was a lot of work, and I learnt a lot about brevity. A dear friend of mine had cautioned me – he said “use a scalpel and not an axe” while reducing the wordcount. The manuscript now down to about 78,000 words from 98,000. In other words, nearly one fifth of the words were either redundant or the sections weren’t really adding value to the story. That was the most important learning for me from this process.
On a positive side, the comment “Improve the pitch” led to an unexpected bonus- I was able to submit the manuscript for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award.
I will write about how I went about editing and trimming down the wordcount in my next post. Till then, happy reading! (And in the meantime, a big THANK YOU to C S Lakin for her very helpful guest post on Catherineryanhoward’s blog.)