While writing my first novel (not yet published, but give me time), I sent my chapters to beta readers, who responded with their observations and impressions. At times the feedback was encouraging (“I loved it!”) and helpful (“Stop describing every damn thing in the scenery”), but rarely did it address the story at a macro level.
Put another way: no one told me if my book would sell.
Sometimes a beta reader would compare my draft to an existing work. One reader thought it was superior to the first Harry Potter book, an observation that is flattering but not in accord with the reality of the known universe, while another thought it was better than Adam Sternbergh’s dystopian thriller Shovel Ready, which, again, is objectively untrue by any measure but hey, I like praise, it’s cool.
Whether my draft is better than someone else’s book is 1.) largely subjective and 2.) beside the point. These questions are all well and good from an artistic perspective, but I want to get published. I want to get published and I want to earn cold hard cash.
Fortunately I have a friend with a strong grasp of book marketability. He’s been suggesting revisions to make my book attractive to agents, editors, and readers with disposable income.
Everything he says boils down to one thing: pacing.
Which just isn’t fair. As a reader, I don’t care how quickly a book moves along. I’m there for the characters, mostly, and I suppose the plot, but the story can take its sleepy sweet time for all I care. I don’t mind if the motley group of protagonists wants to take a breather from defeating zombies or thwarting terrorists. They’ve got to eat, right? And sleep? Maybe blow off some steam at the pub?
Most contemporary readers are not as forgiving. Tolkien wouldn’t sell today: his books have some spectacular action scenes, but they are few and far between, with interim passages consisting of excessive setting descriptions and dwarves singing.
In an unsettling but illuminating post over at Jane Friedman's indispensable blog for writers, literary agent Paula Munier stresses the importance of fast pacing:
If I had a dollar for every editor who complained publicly or privately about the so-called “pacing problems” plaguing today’s submissions, I’d have a lot more dollars—and lot more deals. It’s gotten to the point where many editors will refuse to review manuscripts based solely on word counts they deem too high. The rationale: If the story is that long, it must have “pacing problems.”
What this means for me and my editing process: I'm putting my heroine in mortal peril a lot more often, basically.
Plus also I've gone through and removed all the instances of singing dwarves.