The Winner Maker
by Jeff Bond
on Tour December 1-31, 2018
Bob Fiske — the 74-year-old dinosaur who’s taught Honors English and coached varsity football for five decades — is missing.
To his Winners, class favorites Fiske designated over the years for their potential to “Live Big,” it’s heartbreaking. Fiske did more than inspire with soaring oratory; he supported their ambitions into adulthood. Four of his brightest former stars reunite to find him, putting high-octane careers on hold, slipping police barricades, racing into the wilds of Northern Michigan for clues about the fate of their legendary mentor.
Others don’t see a legend. They see an elitist whose time has passed.
When a current student — female — disappears just hours into the Winners’ search amid rumors of inappropriate meetings, the Great Man’s reputation is a shambles.
Feints, betrayal, explosive secrets from their own pasts: as facts emerge, each Winner must decide how far they’ll go for Fiske. Can the truth redeem him? Or has this cult of hyper-achievement spawned a thing so vile none of their lives will survive intact?
“An exhilarating and emotionally astute mystery.” ~ Kirkus
Genre: Upmarket Mystery, Thriller
Published by: Indie
Publication Date: December 1st 2018
Number of Pages: 332
ISBN: 1732255202 (ISBN13: 9781732255203)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Guest Post by Jeff Bond
Incorporating reader feedback is a vital part of writing. I spent a good chunk of years, when I first began writing fiction, as a lone wolf—consciously taking little feedback beyond family and close friends. I wanted to develop my own style without hearing a lot of conventional advice I feared could shoehorn me into someone else’s style. That rationale might hold water for a short time, but pretty quickly, a writer needs to be circulating their work broadly. Even the best self-editors will be too close to their own work—to their own life experience—to see certain weaknesses.
As a writer of thrillers, plot is a major part of my trade. Plot twists, plot builds, plot holes (hopefully not)—I need to understand how all these are acting on readers. Once a draft is written, I have the novel’s entire timeline and sequence of revelations fixed in my own head. There’s no way to temporarily set that knowledge aside and, by rereading, approximate a fresh reader’s experience.
How large an impression does the steel letter opener in chapter two make? Does the father-in-law’s military backstory shade his actions the way it need to, or get lost in the shuffle of introductory details?
I know how I want these elements to interact with the greater whole. Whether or not they do is a question I can’t answer alone.
While listening to outside feedback is important, there’s also risk in overreacting. Inevitably, after an author wraps up their pride and joy as a Microsoft Word doc and sends it intrepidly around to beta readers, somebody will come back a month later saying, “The climax was totally implausible” or “A real person would never do X, Y, or Z.”
Now what? Back to square one? Drop and drag all three megabytes to the laptop recycle bin?
Nope. Not yet, anyway.
If a contrary opinion like this echoes some doubt that’s already lurking in the author’s brain, by all means, they should take it seriously. If not, though—if the plot twist or character action still feels coherent even after hearing the beta reader’s beef—then corroboration is necessary. This is especially true for thrillers, a genre for which one reader’s perfect, mind-blowing twist is another’s bridge too far.
For a given draft, depending on where I am in the process, I’ll enlist between five and fifteen readers. If just one voices a complaint that I disagree with, I’m not likely to address it. If two complain? I’ll give it a hard look. If I hear some flavor of the same issue three or more times, then I know I’m dealing with a legitimate problem. Time to roll up the sleeves and get dirty.
Of course, not all opinions are created equal. A professional editor’s take deserves greater consideration than Cousin Picks-Up-a-Book-Once-a-Decade. The internet is a great source of beta readers—sites like Fiverr are full of folks who’ll read at reasonable rates—but how do you know who’s worth listening to?
The beauty of reader feedback is this: everyone is worth listening to. Any reader who articulates their honest reaction is providing grist for revision. Some readers will give only a vague sense for what’s popping off the page. Others with editing chops, perhaps writers themselves, might shed light on characterization or tension issues—advice that suggests more concrete actions.
An author shouldn’t rely blindly or exclusively on one set of eyes. My best advice is to solicit a broad range of readers; give each one’s notes a long, earnest look; thank them heartily for their time; then take what’s useful. Let go of the rest.
Speaking of letting go, and this slick internet of ours—a word about thick skin. Authors need it. Somebody won’t like your book. The flip-side of technology’s astounding reach is that if you leverage it at all well, you’re bound to find detractors. People who hate the title. People who’re bored by your character development and want faster chapters. People who’re put off by twists and want it slower. People who just don’t like your sort of story, but decided to pick it up anyhow and will now be using their corner of the web to vent.
When the harsh words come—and, again, if you’re distributing your work at all broadly, they will—be prepared for a multistage reaction. First comes the burn. That visceral sting of having a thing you’ve slaved over diminished. Next comes frantic diagnosis. Was it simply a fit issue, the wrong reader for your book? Is there a kernel of truth?
Finally, after you’ve arrived at a reasoned opinion of the opinion, and settled on how (or whether) to address it, the needle swings back to the middle. You’re at peace again. Either the book is improving with revision, or you’ve gained a better understanding of readerships that simply aren’t for you—at least not for this title.
Now it’s time to hop back on the keyboard and—grinding your teeth if you must—thank this reader too.
Is outside feedback important in your profession? Do you look forward to hearing others’ opinions, or dread it? What strategies have you found for incorporating a wide range of at-times conflicting views of your work?
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Jeff Bond is a Kansas native and graduate of Yale University. He lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters, and belongs to the International Thriller Writers association.
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