Friday, March 14, 2008

The Readers Speak

It's been about three weeks since I sent out the first draft of The Dreadnaught, and most of the first readers who volunteered to have a look at it have reported back. There are a few who got the file late, and a few more who have made partial reports, but I thought I'd offer a progress report as to how it's going.

So far, most of the readers seem to think it works okay. Some even liked it. Comments have been offered in the spirit of constructive criticism, and some of them will be reflected in the rewrite(s). Some of them missed the mark, and won't show up in the finished ms. That's how it always goes -- win some, lose some.

To those who read and reported, thank you.

Some of the readers worked too hard. They did line edits for typos and punctuation, and while I appreciate it, I didn't even run the spellchecker, I never do that until final draft. It has at least two more passes -- Michael's, then me again.

One dedicated reader printed the ms out, bound it in three volumes, went through it and marked typos, and offered critiques on content, and tabbed each page. Way more work than I expected, though I certainly appreciate it.

Without offering too many specifics to get in the way of those still slogging their way through the book, a few things I've noticed:

People seemed to have different favorite characters. A couple pointed out how pleased they were that there weren't many real villains, just contenders with opposing ways of looking at the world. I was happy to hear that. Good villains need to be understandable, even sympathetic.

There was one woman that nobody felt comfortable around. Her, I wanted to make people nervous. There is a scene -- I won't spoil for anybody still reading -- wherein a couple of readers came back with, "Oh, man! That's just cold!" I was happy to hear that. Exactly the reaction I wanted.

Everybody who said anything liked Ven, our archer.

Our comic relief characters seemed to play okay, and the resolution there paid off.

The martial arts guys mostly liked the martial arts stuff, though they wanted to see more of it. One reader wanted to see more of the economic effects of steam on society, but we planned to get to that in the second or third book, since the technology is just in its infancy in this one.

A few people have said they thought the book was slow, and much of that due to the cadence of its language, much different from what I usually write in my science fiction or technothriller stuff. The Matadors don't beat around the bush, they shoot right through it, and these readers preferred that.

Me, too, generally, but not here.

Most of the people who said this confess to not being fans of doorstop fantasy, which is why I made this request up front -- if you don't read the stuff, probably you ought not bother with this. (If you want to see real foot-breakers, pick up any of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The shortest of these -- there are, I think, eleven of them, with one more half-finished when Jim died -- and the shortest of them is longer than The Dreadnaught. Dense with detail, not much plot, though many plots afoot, and pages and pages without a paragraph break ...)

The ratio -- usually for me -- between a manuscript's page count and that of a printed page in a novel is about 10:7. A tad more or less, depending on font in the book, but that's the norm. So, for a 700 pp ms, you are looking at a novel that will run under 500 pp. Not something you read on the bottomless throne Monday morning before your shower, but not anywhere near the really big ones, which can be half again, or even twice as long.

Big fantasy is an acquired taste, and part of it has to do with that King James' thee-thou-thither prose. People in magical book realms are less direct in their speech and thought, they dance around things before getting to the point. The pace of life is slower when you have to walk or ride a horse or a cart drawn by aurochs everywhere. No TV, no movies, no electric lights.

Sure, I liked The Princess Bride, too, but that's not the audience we are looking for here. If you noticed such a stately flow of prose in this ms, it was because we did it on purpose, not because we suddenly forgot how to write. At least we didn't make up an entire language and force you to learn it ...

In a short story, everything has to move the piece forward, there's no room to lollygag. In a big fantasy, you can wander around in the wilderness for twenty pages and as long as it is, in itself, interesting, it need only have the most distant relationship to the storyline. People who like this kind of thing, like this kind of thing.

Oh. And some some of what is there has to do with marketing. We might not be able to convince our usual publishers to take this one on, and if we wind up at a new house, they need to know this is but the first book of a series, and that we have some clue as to where it is going.
They might not know us well enough to trust us, so we have to lay some things in to show them.

Some things will wrap up, but not nearly as many loose ends will be tied-off as in a stand-alone one-off. We do have to offer satisfactory character arcs, but many of these people are going to show up in the next book, and maybe the one after that, so they aren't done yet. This isn't the story of the Great Eilandia War, it's the story of the start of the war, and focused on a new invention, the steamship. Our folks don't have to change as much in Part One of a trilogy as they would in a single novel.

Readers who have read a lot of doorstop fantasy didn't seem to think the ms was slow or overlong at all. One took me to task for claiming it was a big book. Not a patch on George R.R. Martin's arse, this. (In more ways than one, sez I, not the least of which is page count.)

So there we stand. Just for fun, I've put up a cartoon I did of The Britta when I got started, just so I'd know the general layout of the vessel.

Thanks again for the input, folks. We do appreciate it.


Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

Funny, I thought it looked more like this.

That aside: I didn't find most of the language in Dreadnaught to be particularly overblown. (Of course I do read a lot of large fantasies, though I tend not to like the super-large ones.) It wasn't modern-colloquial, but it was neither archaic nor excessively formal.

Anonymous said...

Three weeks? Eek! I'm on page 622. Almost done. :-) Kind of. Anyway... I enjoyed it much more after the first 60 pages or so, when I began to get a good feel of who was who. In the beginning, it was too much to keep up with.

Also... Ven, yes, she is my fave. :-)


steve-vh said...

I wouldn't call it slogging Steve, I'd more call it savoring.
Don't get enough from you often enough. I'm trying to pick up the pace.
And I don't typically read doorstops cause they're too darn drawn out. And yes I enjoy the pace of the Matadors but they almost go too fast and they're over. So I'm beginning to think this is you're best genre for me personally. I love all the character depth and developement, and the range of main characters developed. My only real issue so far is how often it jumps between them. I just get in the groove with one and it switches. Makes it harder to not be distracted bay all the chaos around sometimes.
Maybe twice as long on each one would be nice.