Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Check Your Blind Spots by Andy Scheer

While reading someone else's book, have you ever caught yourself skimming? I thought so.

The next time you find yourself not reading every word, take advantage of the opportunity. Try to figure what went wrong – why this passage doesn't hold your attention:

The author stepped away from dramatization and dumped a long passage of summary or backstory.
She let a character deliver a speech.
He wants to explain something in numbing detail.
She spent too many pages exploring a subplot instead of advancing the story.

Whatever the problems, store them in a self-editor's checklist, and use that list to examine the nearly complete pages of your work in progress.

If you're fortunate, you'll find pages to revise. But don't trust yourself. You have blind spots – especially about your own work.

That's where beta readers come in. Or they should.

I doubt the author of the nonfiction manuscript I recently edited used beta readers. Or heeded their advice. Most of Chapter 2 expounded basic information his target readers should already know. It interrupted the flow between Chapters 1 and 3, and he'd done nothing to set it in context.

He was impassioned about the information, and the entire chapter sat squarely in his blind spot. After a paragraph or two, readers will skim. If the author is fortunate, they'll peek ahead to Chapter 3 – and check back in.

If you've secured an agent and anticipate traditional publishing, you're working with a safety net that independent authors may bypass. But you're working with gatekeepers who set the bar high.

They'll expect you're aware of your biggest blind spots—and have taken steps to address them.

There's no point in writing words your audience will want to skim.


Diana Flegal said...

I am definitely going to recommend this when I teach my workshop on Self- editing. Great post Andy. Authors are their own worst editor.

Linda Glaz said...

Am doing this right now with a novel nominated for a Pulitzer. I have to skip and skim so much. He gets a bit of a pass because it's def literary fiction, but still, enough is enough. I'd be lost without critters who help catch these things.

Andy Scheer, Hartline Literary said...

Of course the list of problems I cited is not exhaustive, but just the dangerous tip of the iceberg.

David Smith said...

So true that no one else in the universe reads my "baby" in the same self-adoring way I do. It's painful to have a good friend say that a subplot has gone astray or missed the mark, but that gives me the opportunity to do necessary surgery. Your blog is spot-on, Andy.