Last week I talked about how my beta reader/editor pretty much said my latest book sucked. Since then, I was inundated (INUNDATED!) with commiserations, kind advice, and loads of requests for an update on what’s happened since.
So here’s the continuing tale…
Though my beta reader had sent me her comments to my third book, I sat on them for a bit. For a couple of reasons. One, because I was writing my next book and didn’t want to be sidelined. And, two, I had to mentally and emotionally prepare.
So this past Monday, when I was finally feeling better after a long bout of the stomach flu and enjoying a snowy day inside, I opened her email. (This, mind you, after she pinged me the night before and said, “Just stick to reading my thoughts on chapter 1; the rest of it is too, too brutal.”)
Being the long-time, best friend I am, I read the whole thing anyway. Plus, I have zero self-control.
Now, I’ve either grown an incredibly thick skin these past seventeen writing years, or she underestimated the value of her feedback.
I’m thinking it’s both.
Before I go into detail about my reaction to “your book sucks”, there are a few very important tenets a writer always, always, ALWAYS must follow when they write fiction:
- write what you know
- write tension — not necessarily a physical fight or a shouting match or the world positioned on the brink of destruction, but the push/pull dynamics of a protagonist and antagonist who are actively seeking something that is in direct opposition to the other, and on every page
- write characters who are engaging — this means making them real and realistic, and believable and three-dimensional, and who have a pulse on the page
- write in your genre — this means if your story is suspense, it shouldn’t read like a romance (readers, don’t take offense at that please; I’m purely making a point on how it’s important to write what the story is about and not something else)
- write to your limits, and then push harder — if you take the easy way out with your writing, your story will bore the reader
- write to your character’s limits, and then push harder — if you’re not pushing your characters to their limits, you’ll have characters with no pulse (see item #3) and your story will have zero entertainment or thrill value
- write a book that’s better than the one you wrote just before it
Okay. So keep all of that in mind while you read some of the comments she sent to me:
- The whole opening gambit was very interesting and built me up to expect something really interesting. Unfortunately it never happened.
- I thought – OMG the character’s dead!!! Yessss!!! Exciting! But then, the character wasn’t and it wasn’t (exciting, that is).
- A nothing chapter that did nothing but reiterate her ‘trouble’ feeling which is becoming tiring.
- Good chapter but frustrating that [character] didn’t progress with the [other character] problem. The fact that *she* didn’t progress means the reader didn’t get any further into that mystery. Again a missed opportunity.
- Still interesting but still not going anywhere. Too much play in his sexiness — it’s getting flat (and what genre is this supposed to be anyway?)
- [character] fails miserably – he fails the other character and he fails the story
- That weird stuff with [character] didn’t go anywhere or do anything — stare down both of them — shown some backbone, some three-dimension… something!!!
Now, to some of you this may sound brutal. To me, this was my beta reader being honest and in a way I understand, because those tenets I itemized above? I’d ignored them and she flagged me on it. I don’t take her feedback personally…she’s commenting on my story and not me. And you know what? She was right. On each and every single count, she was right.
As you may remember, all of this came to a head because I (stupidly?) decided to try another way of writing (as in, writing out the entire story and then going back to revise it in full later). This obviously does not work for me.
So, I’ve since returned to my old write-itor writing style (writing a chapter, revising, reading, tweaking, reading again, revising, and then moving on to the next chapter) and am doing that with the next book in my Past Life Series. As for the book referenced in this blog? It’s a standalone, and I’ve decided to sit on it for a bit.
Oh, but I don’t feel bad. If anything, I feel excited and jazzed because, once again, my beta reader gave me valuable insight. And this, my friends, is what a valued and trusted editor does. They save a writer from themselves, each and every time. They are the true heroes behind a book.
And thank the gods I have one.
PS – For the hell of it, I’ve since sent my beta reader the seven or eight chapters I’d written to the next book in my Past Life Series. She immediately read those chapters and wrote back: “Brilliant! You’ve got another winner!”
See? A great editor is priceless.
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