So, you’ve written your latest novel and you’re reasonably pleased with it after the usual changes and improvements… and then the publishers say it’s gone out to a focus group for their comments. What does this mean for you as an author? And is it going to make your book better?
My forthcoming novel ‘Confessions of an Invisible Man’ (a rom-com about a man who’s going to be invisible for EXACTLY seven days) was duly completed and passed to the publishers. It came back, as expected with quite a few changes, but nothing to give me sleepless nights. Then, the publishers tell me it’s gone out to a “focus group.” Woop-de-doo!
So my novel is then sent out to selection of people. Actually a selection of people of all ages and who are not chosen for their love of rom-coms. They are a group of people who read books they are sent and then pass on their thoughts to publishers. They may hate rom-coms for all I know, they may not… The group reports back on the characters, the idea, the pace, the storyline, the writing style and more…
Their comments (and scores) come back, it’s an interesting mix of remarks. Some will pick out a word or phrase that they’re not happy or comfortable with, others will tell you where they see weaknesses in the plot. One reader says my very first line could be improved and tells me which word to use in order to improve it. One mentions that the main character isn’t likeable, two have an issue with a sex scene, one says the pace of the story is too fast, another isn’t keen on the ending. It’s an interesting mix of comments. *Just for the record, I got the distinct impression that the people who had an issue with the sex scene were ‘older’ people who had never read a sex scene in a book before! Plus, it was actually meant to be a comedy scene and I’m not sure they understood that. Then again, maybe I didn’t write it skilfully enough!
If I changed everything the focus group mentioned, it would be a different novel to the one I’d envisaged. So, does a focus group help or not? Well, it’s easy to get defensive when going through all the comments, but I guess where focus groups are good, is that you can pick up patterns. If several people are making similar comments, then you can assume that particular thing may need looking at, tweaking or changing. Of course, when all the comments come back from readers, you have to stand back and not take things personally. Look at their comments positively, pick out the one’s which make sense and then improve your book. Better to fond out weaknesses now, rather than later.
At the present time, I’ve made a list of possible changes and things to look at, and I’m going through my novel improving where necessary. I must point out that whilst there were several negative comments from the focus-group, there were also lots of positives too, so the publishers and I are looking forward to producing a successful book later this year. Do focus groups help? I’d say yes, but be selective about what you take from their comments!
Confessions of an Invisible Man is published by Chronos Publishing and released later this year!