Stephen King (author of more than fifty novels and two-hundred short stories, you may have heard of him) once said that he always entrusts three friends to read his first drafts. If more than one brings up the same issues with the story, he’ll consider revising that part of the draft. This is called workshopping, and if you’re a self-published author, it’s incredibly necessary.
While not necessarily editing, workshopping is the process of hearing feedback on your soon-to-be self-published story: what’s missing from the plot, what doesn’t make sense, what isn’t good, and what could be better. Workshopping is a crucial step in the self-publishing process for these four reasons.
Your workshoppers didn’t write your book.
Seems pretty obvious, right? But this part is vital. Sometimes writers are just too close to their work to see it’s flaws. This is why the transition from writer to editor can be awkward sometimes. Being so close to the work, it can be hard to admit that it needs more work. When you pick workshoppers—whether they’re friends, colleagues, or other writers from your community—make sure they’re willing to be honest with you. The task of a workshopper isn’t easy; it can be intimidating at times, so be sure to find workshoppers that aren’t afraid to be totally honest with you about your work.
Workshopping is about the story.
A lot of editing, especially for self-publishers, is going to be focused on grammar, punctuation, and syntax. Polishing. Workshopping, however, is about the story. It’s when the author can make sure everything fits, moves the story along, and is interesting. Like Stephen King said in On Writing, if more than one workshopper brings an issue up, it means that part of the story should be revisited and, perhaps, revised before it is self-published. This is the time to ask whatever questions you have about your story or to air out any doubts you may be feeling.
Workshopping can give the you new ideas.
Since workshopping is about the story, chances are, you’ll probably receive several ideas from your workshoppers that aren’t in the original story. You may get your manuscript back with several interesting suggestions such as new scenes, new characters, different pieces of dialogue, etc. It doesn’t hurt to get advice from others. Because of this advantage, be sure to select your workshoppers carefully. The best workshoppers are other writers, but if you don’t have fellow writers in your circle of friends, choose people who’ve read a lot.
Workshopping will reveal if your draft is ready to be self-published.
Like editing out parts of your story, admitting your draft isn’t ready to be published is difficult. Thankfully, workshopping can reveal if it’s ready or not. If there are little suggestions or recommended changes, it is. If large chunks of the story must be redrafted or revised, it isn’t. Don’t be discouraged if your manuscript isn’t ready. This is exactly what workshopping is for. Revision isn’t so scary. It’s a chance to make your book even better than it was before. Embrace edits, embrace suggestions, and embrace the rewrites.
If writers like Stephen King need their novels to be workshopped, then there’s no shame in allowing yours to be, as well. Take your time in this crucial phase. Your story will be all the better for it. If you workshop, the editing process will be much smoother and easier, and self-publishing is one step closer.