Whole Novel Mentors: They Read the Entire Manuscript and They Go Deep 

Jan 16, 2024 | Novels

Nicole Valentine is one of our enthusiastic Whole Novel Workshop faculty members, and she stopped by the blog today to let us know how very much she enjoys being a mentor. Thanks, Nicole!

Recently someone asked me why I love teaching at the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop and my answer grew into more of a blog post than a quick explanation. I can get mighty effusive about things I love. I can’t help it, I truly love everything about Whole Novel. What I love most about it is right in the name. I get to read the whole novel. Typically, I read ten yet-to-be published novels a year and I’m still mad they don’t count towards my Goodreads reading challenge!

I have recently had the opportunity to teach the genre Whole Novel as well as the regular Whole Novel. I love that Highlights offers this distinction because if you are writing historical fiction, horror, sci-fi or fantasy, you will get matched with a mentor who knows your genre inside and out. 

Perfect First Chapters Are Just a Beginning

It wasn’t that long ago that I was in the query trenches. I went to a lot of single day events. They were a great way to network and meet people in the industry. One thing a lot of them offered was a chance to workshop with other writers, meet agents and editors, as well as hone my first pages. After a few years of attending these I ended up with two novels that had perfect first chapters. Great, but we all know that’s well… just the beginning.

In my Masters program I spent two years studying in-depth. I worked with my mentors and sent several chapters at a time to be read. A much better scenario for learning, but a two year masters doesn’t come cheap. It costs both time and money. Even while there, it was rare that a mentor got to your whole novel in one feedback loop.

Whole Novel Mentors: They Read the Entire Manuscript and They Go Deep

Which brings me to why I love being a mentor for the Whole Novel Workshop. I get to go beyond chapter one and really delve into the world that another writer has created. We read the entire manuscript and we go deep. Every mentor has their own unique method, but one thing we all have in common is we dedicate every cell of our gray matter to your world. I’m thinking of your characters all day, even when I’m not at my desk. I even dream about them.

For me, it’s this fantastic vacation. I’m playing in someone elses synapses, worrying about someone else’s structure and pacing. In the end, it often feels like I’ve worked with more than just the author. I’ll see that author again and immediately several names come to mind. You become more than just one person–I see all your characters come to life before me. I will ask for updates on your life and theirs.

In my process I tend to read the manuscript in its entirety twice. First, on my Kindle Scribe where I make notes in the margins. This read-through is important because it’s what I consider the true first reader experience. Your eventual reader will not read a synopsis or query letter first, they will pick it up off a shelf and dive in.

A Collaborative and Fun Process

My second read through is that of the agent or editor. I’m now reading wholistically, analyzing all the components of story and forming my edit letter. I’m reading your letter and emails to me and focusing on the places you asked for feedback on. The whole process is collaborative and fun. A large part of being a writer is working in solitude, so it’s a delight to be able to brainstorm with another writer.

It’s a tremendous honor to be let into another writer’s entire creative process, to be trusted with the not-quite ready manuscript. At the Whole Novel Workshop we know this, and we’re so thankful to be let in.

Thank you to our faculty for this Guest Post!

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