In an online writing discussion, one writer said that the first nine chapters of her book went through a readers review and most of the readers agreed that the first paragraphs really grabbed their interest, but then her editor suggested placing the opening sequence later in the book to make the beginning more appealing to guys. The writer wanted to know if she should follow the editor’s advice, or go with the original beginning.
To be honest, the question confused me. Why would a writer have an editor if the writer didn’t want to follow the editor’s suggestions? And who are the readers? (And what the heck is a readers review? Do I need one, and if so, where do I get one?) What stake did this “readers review” have in the book? If the readers were family and friends, then it doesn’t make any difference what they say. And, if the readers only read the original beginning and did not have the editor’s suggested revised beginning to compare, it seems to me that the readers’ opinions don’t really account for much.
Even more confusing, why is the writer having someone edit the book when she has only nine chapters? Every writer knows that a novel takes so long to write that by the time it’s finished, either the writer has changed or the focus of the book has changed, sometimes both. It’s entirely possible that by the time the author finishes writing the book, the story would have strayed from the original premise, becoming stronger and more vibrant, in which case that first chapter would be superfluous, and any discussion about keeping the beginning or changing it would have become irrelevant.
To spend any time debating the beginning of a book before the entire thing has been written puts too much emphasis on something that is unimportant for now. The beginning sequence of a work in progress is merely a starting point for the writer, a place to anchor the story while s/he is writing it. In many cases, especially with new writers, a story will be stronger without that first chapter, but no one — not the writer, the editor, or the readers — will know that until the entire book is finished.
All an author has is his or her vision to see the way through to the end of a story. When a book becomes a committee project, then it is no longer the writer’s vision but the vision of anyone who happens to have an opinion. Sometimes new writers seek readers early in the process because they are unsure of themselves, but the way to become sure of yourself is simply to write. And sometimes writers want to make certain they are on the right track, but even the wrong track is sometimes the right track since everything you write helps you become the writer you were meant to be. (I’ve heard it said that you don’t become a master at the craft until after you have written a million words. I’ve also heard that it takes four million words. In other words, you need to write a lot of words!)
If you too are in the middle of your book and are pondering whether to change the beginning — don’t. For now, it is serving its purpose. When the book is finished and you are reviewing every minute detail, then you can decide how to improve the beginning to foreshadow the premise of the book and hook readers into wanting to continue exploring your vision. But for now . . . just write.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+