Actually, I believe you can MORE than double your odds of a book’s success just by following this one piece of crucial advice that’s overlooked more often than you’d think:
Read it OUT LOUD.
Read it OUT LOUD.
Read it OUR LOUD.
(ha ha ha… see what I did there?)
Yesterday, I had Word open and was tootling around in the final manuscript of a kids’ book when my 6-year-old son came up behind me. (He was home sick with a cold.)
“Want me to read it to you?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said, but he continued to read over my shoulder, which everybody here knows drives me craaaaaaaaazy.
After a few minutes, while it sunk in that I was flipping around in my ADHD style aligning illustrations and wasn’t going through the book in a linear way, I asked again and he said yes. So I read it out loud to him, the whole thing, start to finish.
And instantly found not one, not two, but FOUR changes I needed to make – urgently! – in a 27-page book.
Now, these weren’t catastrophic errors. This book is long past that stage. These were minor lumps and bumps; places where the reading wasn’t clear or the wording of a sentence was awkward on the tongue. Mistakes you’d only catch by reading it aloud. Mistakes I wouldn’t have caught if there hadn’t been a little guy standing behind me willing to listen all the way through.
But if you’d have asked before I read it through, I’d have said it was ready to go to print, and I would have been wrong.
This book is a bit of an exception: most of what I’ve written has started out as a story, been read to the kids and their friends a few times, and revised several times based on what they like and how well it reads out loud. In this case, it’s been sitting neglected on my hard drive since July and we don’t have a printer here, so they haven’t heard it yet.
BOY, was that a mistake.
Would Microsoft release a new operating system without beta-testing it first? (okay, don’t answer that!) Would General Mills put out a new flavour of Cheerios without giving it to a bunch of typical families for feedback? Would Hollywood release a movie without focus grouping it to death first?
Sometimes, dogs will get through anyway. Like professionally-“edited” books that are full of typos, breakfast cereal that is so woefully bad nobody eats it, cars that catch fire when driven at highway speeds, multimillion-dollar movies that flop during opening weekend and are never heard from again.
But you have to do your best to up the odds, and the quickest, easiest way to do that is to “beta-test” your book with actual kids. This isn’t expensive and it isn’t hard:
Print it out! Gather kids! Read it to them!
Of course, what you do with their feedback is a topic for a whole ‘nother post, like how to tighten up bits where they squirm and get restless and what if they don’t understand some of the language or the plot.
Read it OUT LOUD.
This is especially true for poetry, by the way. Just because the rhymes all cap off nicely at the end of the lines doesn’t mean it scans perfectly. Ask me how I know.
Oh, and even if your book is for older kids and isn’t really meant to be read aloud, do it anyway. If not with children, by yourself in a room, unless your manuscript is prohibitively long, in which case you need to get as many eyes – kids’ and adults’ – on that thing as you possibly can if you really want to double your odds of creating a hit.
If you don’t have willing
victims kids standing peering over your shoulder, who are your victims children of choice to test-read your books aloud???