Fri 17

How to Tell Whether the Book is Working


Max! So good to see you back! You’ve been sorely missed… totally can’t wait for your new story. So, question: how do you know a story isn’t going well? Or, how do you know it *is* going well?


Thanks for the question! Over the years I have figured out a foolproof process for telling whether a story is working. This won’t work for everyone, but it works for me, 100% of the time. Occasionally I think I’ve found an exception, but then I realize I haven’t.

Foolproof Method for Determining Whether Book is Working

  1. Do you wonder whether the book is working? If yes, it’s not. If no, continue.
  2. Do you ask people to read parts of the book to tell you whether it’s working? If yes, it’s not. If no, continue.
  3. Do you stop to go write other stories? If yes, it’s not working. If no, continue.
  4. When you read the last thing you wrote, do you feel like writing more? If no, it’s not working. If yes, continue.
  5. Are you convinced the book is (or will be) the greatest thing in the world ever? If yes, congratulations, it’s working, for now.

Books that aren’t working can be made to work, though. They may require radical surgery, like removing everything except one scene, but it can be done. Most of my books were Not Working for a long time before they started working.

I thought I would get about three ASK MAX! questions a week, and I would pick one. But there are tons already! Thanks so much. And please forgive what is clearly going to be a terrible question-to-answer ratio.


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fluffybunnyboo (#3921)

Location: London
Quote: "My words are powerful enough to give you a headache."
Posted: 2762 days ago

I'm so glad you're back!

ryandake (#2199)

Location: scenic monterey, ca
Quote: ""The rest is not our business.""
Posted: 2762 days ago

thank you so much! your method seems very sound & useful. it has certainly worked well for the books you've published, because they all rock. i'm stubborn; i've usually ended up going through 1-4 (sometimes in cycles!) before giving up on a piece. now that i can see the steps of the Foolproof Method, here's hoping i can shortcut the process and reconsider the work at step 1 :-) Since I have studied Machine Man extensively, I now know how to do surgery with common garage tools.

so looking forward to your next book! i'll be watching this blog and hoping you'll drop some hints what it's going to be about.

nothing but love for Max!

Liz (#6927)

Location: Toronto
Posted: 2760 days ago

Yay! I'm so happy to hear from you and that we may see something from you "soon". :-)

adam ford (#989)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: "Pants Money = Good Money"
Posted: 2760 days ago

Thanks for this Max - it's very timely.

I've just given up on a novel manuscript I've been slogging away at for more than ten years, and most of the time the answer to all of those questions has been "yes".

I've chucked the whole thing now, except the plot outline, which I've flipped on its head, and am now tackling it as a different writing project altogether.

I feel so liberated. Wish I'd done it years ago.

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