14- Listen to feedback. Your readers are trying to tell you how to write a better book.
NP: BTS didn’t always have the beginning it has now. Initially, it was the story of a tank company on the northwest frontier fighting to survive the seed storm and hostile natives. I had conceived something that was a cross between Team Yankee and Anabasis.
This didn’t go over well with my test audience. My wife kept falling asleep while reading and asking so many questions about what was going on in the book that it was clear I was not writing something intelligible to the average reader.
I wrote the first chapter of the final version of NP: BTS for fun. Instead of the grim valley of the seed storm, I wrote about the prince’s ball at the palace in Persepolis. I wrote about dancing and introduced the women characters. To my surprise, the result was much better than the original story. My wife was suddenly paying attention, and her questions were about who the people were instead of about radio procedure. For a little while, I worked on both versions before abandoning the first.
I abandoned almost all of it- fifty thousand words. All that remains is the flashback of Basir’s childhood when he found a native seed. The rest is gone.
What I was doing was introducing too much at once. There was the exotic setting with the seed storm and the native tribes on top of a military setting that most people are not familiar with. I was also introducing the characters as people. It was too much for the story to sustain.
The new beginning introduced the characters and the world while something most readers will understand, a formal ball, is happening. The story can sustain the reader’s curiosity without overwhelming them with action.
I’m told War and Peace opens the same way. Oops.
I didn’t quite give up on the earlier beginning. I put in a prologue chapter about Basir, my main character, finding a seed as a child. I even re-wrote that chapter to have more action. My wife hated the re-write.
So did a publisher, who in their rejection letter recommended that I start the book with the real beginning of the book, the ball because the prologue was better as a flashback and only served to slow the book down. I finally made the change to start with the ball, sent it back, and…
The publisher rejected it again.
I didn’t give up and kept submitting to other publishers. I kept the suggestion in mind and kept the ball at the beginning. It worked, and Wings ePress picked up my book.
Listening to feedback improved my book. What I originally wanted to write wasn’t the best story I could tell. Left to myself, I would have written something, but it would have been a very different, and inferior, book.
There are other examples of changes I made to the MS because of feedback, too many to list here. All changes improved the book.
To write the best story, listen to what readers are telling you.