Hello, dear ones!
So, I'm in the midst of a second round of revisions of my current YA fantasy, after having sent it out to beta readers and my wonderful agent (have I gushed about her lately?) and gotten a good feel for what needs to be fixed. The good news? There isn't a lot of heavy lifting involved, and I'm beyond thrilled that, at only a draft-two level, Danielle found my structure solid and the story in overall good shape.
Hmm. Maybe I've learned a thing or two about writing novels over the past few years??
At any rate, I'm thrilled to be moving forward with this story.
My new experience this go-around was asking a local, I-know-you-in-person person to read for me. (Well, okay--I've had local people read before. But they've all been family members. Which, as you know, isn't quite the same.) A lovely gal in my ballet classes spent some time as a freelance editor, and she aspires to return to the editing world at some point. She's also an avid reader (of course), so I felt like she would have a sharp eye and wouldn't be afraid to say things that needed to be said. And she was delighted when I asked her to read my story.
She had some good insights, but mostly she was highly complimentary. Loved the novel. Talked about how, when she was working as an editor, so much bad writing crossed her desk. So, sure, that felt good, but also I trusted the things she had to say about the story because I knew she had experience reading critically.
We had our discussion about the book via email, but last night after class, she proceeded to gush about my novel in front of another of my ballet friends, whom we'll call Kelly. Later, as I was dropping Kelly off at home, she asked me if she could also read my book.
"I've done that before for people," Kelly said, "and I would really love to read your story."
Ugh. That's when things get messy.
I know Kelly's "done that before", because, about a year ago, she went on and on about a book a friend of hers had published, and how it was so very good, and how I should read it. So of course I looked up the book, and read the first page or two. And it was terribly overwritten and I knew I could never sit through the whole book.
That doesn't mean it wasn't a good story. And it doesn't lessen Kelly's enjoyment of it--this stuff is so very subjective. It does, however, lessen the value of Kelly's input. I am almost one hundred percent certain that, if I handed her my book, she would read it, love it, and proceed to tell me how wonderful it was. She might actually have an opinion or two about something she thought I might want to change, but the opinions wouldn't be based on anything useful from a structural standpoint.
I would call this a "vanity read". Sure, the person's opinion is valid--we are all entitled to our opinions. But this is not the kind of read that will be in any way useful to us, despite the obvious ego strokes.
So I said to Kelly--ever so gently--that I was finished with this round (which is true), so I didn't need any more readers at this time. She proceeded to tell me, as I knew she would, that she would be happy to read it at any time.
I thanked her. Sincerely. Between you and me? I probably won't ask her to read it. But I do appreciate her offer, and her desire to support me this way. Because, yes, she is a supportive friend, and we all know how important that is.
But the truth is that handing out our stories to every friend who offers to read it isn't necessarily the best strategy. A handful of beta readers who are going to read with a keen eye to the things we need feedback on -- story arc, character development, world building -- is what we need to propel us to the next level of revisions. What we don't need is a sycophantic gaggle of friends ready to shower us with praise.
(And, hey. Those are the friends who need to buy our book--or request it from their local libraries--once it's published, yes?)
So, dear fellow writers-in-the-trenches -- choose your readers well! Ideally, you want other writers to read your work (and you will read theirs in return), but it's also valuable to find people who may offer a particular insight. For instance, my current novel is set in a world that is based on ancient, dynastic China, so I've asked a Chinese friend to read it for me. So far, so good -- she emailed me after she'd read the first three chapters to tell me that she was in tears because of how something in my story so deeply reflected her own personal experience as a Chinese daughter. Talk about affirming--for both of us!
It's tempting to hand our story to people we know (or at least hope) will fawn over it, but in the end, that's not going to help us grow as writers. Of course, it's always okay to give it to your mom or your sister or your husband, because, yes, a little bit of unconditional love goes a long way. It feels good to share the fruit of our labors with people who are important in us, and who are invested in us. But in the end, we need to be far more discerning in our choice of beta readers and critique partners.
Ever growing, ever learning, ever pushing ourselves to the next level. That's what it's all about. Now go share your story with someone you're pretty sure will pick it apart. Be brave! It's amazing how much better our stories become once they've been subjected to the critique of folks who aren't doing it to soothe our feelings.
And now, I'm off to Christmas shop, and then come back home to slip into fuzzy socks and -- what else? -- work on revisions.