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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Focus Groups and Pre-Readers

Lately I've been spending some time visiting with impromptu focus groups and select early-draft pre-readers concerning aspects of two WIPs. I have found this part of the writing process to be helpful. So I thought I'd share with you a few things I found out.

WIP #1 -- The 19th Element, A James Becker Thriller

This is the second book in a mystery/suspense series. Reviews of the first book had indicated a divergence of opinion about whether the relationship between my husband and wife main characters was a little too perfect. Some reviewers wanted more conflict between them, or to see more of their weaknesses. Other readers liked them just the way they were.

I found that, in the opinion of the focus readers for the second book, I seemed to have struck a better balance, with everyone expressing affinity for the husband and wife relationship. That was very helpful to me, as the author, to know that my target market was now in greater agreement about the plausibility and likability of two of my main characters.

I also discovered from a person who read my book on Kindle that I needed to shorten the indents on the paragraphs to eliminate screen white space. Three spaces is sufficient indent -- instead of maybe five, which would be considered a full tab.

I also learned that too many short chapters can be distracting on a smallish digital screen. So I found a few chapters that I was able to combine into a single chapter -- thereby avoiding all the white space leading into the extra chapter numbers -- by using asterisks as scene change indicators. That was easy, and it greatly improved the visual appeal of parts of the book for those who read digital versions.

WIP #2 -- A Higher Court


A Higher Court is not part of the mystery series. It addresses arguments surrounding the existence or non-existence of God.

My early-readers gave me input regarding whether I was striking a fair balance in presentation of the arguments on either side, whether any of the characters or scenes were distracting the readers from the main points of the book, whether they were able to "suspend reality" sufficiently for the action to proceed comfortably, and which aspects of the book the readers found most interesting.

Each of the readers had been able to follow the arguments (which is no small relief to me given the advanced science and philosophy involved). So I was happy about that. The writing was clear and understandable.

Each reader focused in on one or two particular scenes -- or even sentences -- as being most intriguing or compelling to them. Lots of those were surprises to me.

Some choices were in keeping with my vision for the book. So I could build on those. Others distracted the reader from more important points. So I needed to work on minimizing or eliminating those issues. The various parts of the book readers selected as most interesting were surprises for me. So I need to give all of those scenes/scenarios some more thought.

Conclusion

If you have access to a couple (or more) people who represent parts of your target market, and you can coax them to give your WIP some attention during the writing process, you can end up with a book that more clearly conveys your message(s) and is more appealing to your readers as well. And as we all know . . . if the book doesn't appeal to our market, it probably won't sell!

I know today's post was, perhaps, more introspective than directly helpful to you folks in terms of self-pub tips. But I truly hope that by sharing my experience, I can help a few of you have better and more successful writing experiences of your own.

That's it for today.

Cheers!

John

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