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. 🙂
Copyright © 2012-2014 · All Rights Reserved · TerriPonce.com
“A great editor is priceless.” That’s what I keep telling my clients! 🙂 Thanks for a great article that explains from a writer’s point of view why it’s true.
And thanks for stopping by, Bridget!
Great post, Terri! We’ve all been there and you summed it up well!
Well, it was a great learning experience! Happy to be able to share what I went through, too.
Thanks so much!
I write the way you do. I edit a bit, then move on. When you wrote out the entire ms, you weren’t paying attention to all the points your beta reader mentioned. You were out to get the story down. No doubt in rereading and editing, you would have noticed most of what she did and fixed the problems yourself. I imagine that’s what people who write the entire ms do.
I think you may have a point Marilyn. I hadn’t thought of that before — and I wonder just how different the story might have turned out if I did.
I’ve always envied folks who write great first drafts. I don’t and sometimes my critique partner sees where the seams aren’t stitched together well. She always calls me on it, as I do her, and I need that kind of feedback. You’re lucky you have such an honest, diligent beta reader.
No one ever said writing was for sissies. Just saying!
Best wishes, Maggie
I can’t ever imagine a great first draft for myself. Ever. Ever. Ever. Lol
I liked the way this turned out, as you do.
I can’t begin to describe the trepidation I felt when I received the scoresheets to two contests I’d entered a few years back. I knew I hadn’t finaled in either, since I’d received neither a phone call nor an email by the deadlines. I worked up my nerve and scanned the comments and scores. I was crushed.
After a few days of mourning and thinking that I’d never get this writing gig right, I was able to go back and read through the comments again, this time slowly and paying attention. The first thing I discovered was that they weren’t as harsh as I’d first thought. The second thing was that, now that I was over my emotional tempest, I could see where they were right–especially when more than one judge commented on the same thing. That gave me what I needed to go through another revision.
Every writer needs feedback like this. I’m now in a critique group which does the equivalent of content edits. Their comments are invaluable.
It’s the most amazing thing, Elise. Having that support mechanism makes all the difference in the world to a writer, even when, at first, it doesn’t seem like it’s support.
It’s very hard receiving criticism of our creations. It’s like someone criticizing one of our children. But as most parents recognize, we don’t have perfect children–and most times, perfect manuscripts. There’s always room for improvement. At least your beta reader gave you concrete things to focus on that you could address. That’s a lot better than someone just flatly saying “It didn’t work for me.” Having an beta reader/editor you trust is key. I once had an agent’s beta reader tell me I was blatantly discriminatory. Ouch! The problem was I didn’t know the beta reader and whether I could trust her judgment. My own beta readers didn’t have a problem with the portion of the manuscript referred to. But rather than have other readers view me as such, I took it out. The lesson was you never know how one reader will react to something we’ve written.
So very true, Grace. More than that, it can take time to develop the trust needed with an editor or beta reader. But I’m one of those people who can feel something in my gut – or at least trusts my gut – so I know right away whether or not a writing relationship will work for me. From hired editor (something I just did), to beta reader (my best friend) to cover designers (got an awesome one!). There are so many options out there, and so many professionals to choose from, it’s liberating to know you can pick and choose for you. Like a writing style, it’s all about finding what fits you.
Thanks for opening the doors, Terri — and congrats on your courage.
I admit, my eyes popped when you confessed that one reason for missing the mark may have been writing a full draft and not using your customary write-itor style. I started a ms. on retreat 2-1/2 wks ago and chose to just write — no write-itor, also my habit — to maximize the retreat opportunity. So then, the debate: just keep going, or go back and sharpen, etc. So far, I’m moving forward, but a little nervous about it. I’ll keep your experience in mind as I go forward–or go back!
Leslie – changing writing processes can truly be scary. For some people it works. It opens doors to creativity that may not have been accessible before. It also gives the writer new things to think about. But for me, I have a tried a true process that I obviously can’t change. A writer retreat for me would probably have to last 6 months!
Opening doors. I think that’s spot on. I might not have been able to change the process for this book had I been home in my usual space and routine, but elsewhere, with other writers fully absorbed in their own projects, this one just seemed to take a different turn. In truth, all my mss. have had their own processes; this shift is just bigger than most!
Learn, grow and never regret. 😉
Ah. Famous words from the famous beta reader.