After writing 10 books myself and helping countless authors to do the same, I realise that at some point all authors ask Is my book any good? That’s the point at which most authors come to me for a manuscript appraisal, but there is another way you can get a good idea of whether your book is ‘any good’. When we evaluate ‘good’ in this context, we usually think in terms of how our book matches up to similar books. We’re wondering, Is our book as good as the others out there?
Here’s a way to find out in 8 steps.
Step 1: Take a break and read
Take a break from working on your novel of at least 3 weeks (the longer the better) and read at least 3 quality books from the same genre.
Choose competition winners and best sellers, books with thousands of reviews and no more than 2% of them 1 star. You’re going to examine these books so you can compare yours to them. It’s important that you get a feel for the quality of the prose and tightness of the story.
Step 2: Consider the plot
Choose the best of those books and ask yourself, What’s the book’s plot? Analyse the ‘protagonist, goal, antagonist’ plot basics and make a note of them.
Step 3: Examine the characters
Examine the characters in your chosen book and ask yourself the following:
- Are the characters three dimensional? How do you know?
- What are the characters’ flaws and challenges?
- How do the characters change/ grow/develop throughout the story?
Step 4: Tension & structure
As yourself, How does the author grab me in the beginning and keep me reading? How do they create tension and build the story to a climax?
Can you recognise a clear structure to the book?
Think of your own book; how does your structure compare? How do you create the dramatic tension that keeps the reader reading? Is there any? Be ruthlessly honest.
Step 5: Reread your book
Don’t try to work on it, just read it. Read it as if someone else wrote it, and make a note of anything that sticks out as needing improvement.
The greater the break you’ve had since working on your book, the easier it will be to be objective like this, and the more effective this process will be. After reading those top-notch books, you should be able to notice things you couldn’t see before.
When you’ve finished. Ask yourself how it compares in a general sense. Is it as good? Could it be better? Is it time to get professional help?
Regardless of how you answer those above questions on a general level, there is more you can do to drill down on where the specific issues may be.
Repeat the questions in steps 2-4 about your own book.
If you can’t work out your own plot or aren’t clear on any of these questions in regard to your own book, then you have a problem in that area that needs solving before you can consider your book ‘any good’.
Step 5: Compare the dialogue
Read aloud a section of dialogue in the best-selling, award-winning book, then read a section of dialogue in your own book. How does it compare? Does your dialogue sound as natural as the dialogue in the book you’re examining? If not, why not?
How do they show who’s talking? How do you show it? Can you learn from the other author?
Does the characters’ body language add subtext to the dialogue? Does your writing do the same? Could you add gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice?
Step 6: Check for extraneous scenes and information
A quality book won’t have anything extraneous. All the scenes will move the story forward and there will be no excess of information. Certainly there will be no dumps of information. Take a look at every scene in your book and ask yourself, How does this scene move the story forward? Many writing coaches say there should be at least 2 ways in which a scene does that, and any scene that doesn’t have 2 ways in which it moves the story forward should be cut – you can remove the important parts and add them somewhere else.
Check that when you introduce a character for the first time that you don’t give a complete run down of their history and qualities. That’s an information dump. If you find that, then your book still needs improvement.
Step 7: Compare the prose
Read a passage from the quality book aloud, then read a passage from your book aloud. How does it compare? Does your writing lack something? You probably won’t be able to put your finger on why – if you could, it wouldn’t be lacking because you’d know in what way it was deficient. If you admit that your prose looks pretty basic in comparison to the other book, then you need a line editor to take a look at it.
Step 8: Ask others and your gut feelings
If you haven’t already had beta readers read your book and tell you honestly what they think, then do so now, but give them instructions for what to look for. Make sure they are people who read a lot and in your genre. Otherwise they have nothing or little with which to compare your work. If you’ve already had feedback from avid readers or other authors, then it’s time to have a professional appraise it.
Also listen to that little voice that is quietly telling you that, no, actually, it doesn’t quite make the standard you’d like it to. If however, after reading those 3 other books, you read your book through and are quite satisfied that it is good enough, then congratulations.
Now it’s time to see what an editor thinks!