Beta readers and critique groups
Posted on October 29, 2012
When I first started writing Can’t Buy Me Love, my novel that will be out in June 2013, I got a bit nervous a few chapters in. Was this story interesting to others, or was it only fun inside my head? I needed perspective right away, so I contacted Lisa from over at That’s Why. We’ve been blog friends for about four years, and I knew she would tell me straight. I sent her the first forty pages of my rough draft with the plea: Should I keep going? Her response was simple and exactly what I needed to hear: You have a gift. Keep writing.
I did so. Throughout the writing, I would run my zanier ideas past my former mother’s helper, a brilliant young woman who reads widely. I needed the affirmation that my ideas were original. They absorb so much of my thought that I start to think they are obvious to everyone. She would tell me, “No, I have never heard anything like that ever before. I’m pretty sure you made it up.”
When I had my first version of the rough draft finished, I sent it out to a few relatives and friends. They told me what they liked (the story, the characters), what they did not understand (how to pronounce Javier), and where I gave too much detail (sex). My sister also corrected a lot of my terribly spelled Spanish. I started the first revisions based on their feedback.
Then I took the major problem with the draft to my RWA meeting. We had a great session in May where we broke into small groups to brainstorm problem solving on one another’s plots. My group helped me find ways to show a character’s emotional progression without showing her having graphic sexual encounters. I came away with a new direction to my thinking. I only explicitly used one piece of the advice, but was the seed that grew into a wonderful plot expansion, a much more honest and real show of growth, and a very fun and satisfying story.
I was not surprised to find that my editor wanted similar changes to my beta readers. By the time she wrote me with a few broad course corrections, I was already working on the new direction for the plot. I had to put my writing on hold for a month while I grieved the loss of my father. Then the revisions came quickly. In three weeks in September, I revised and expanded, winding up with another 20,000 words to the manuscript length, all told.
The revised version was polished enough; I signed a contract with Light Messages to publish my book in June.
I sent out a plea to my RWA critique group, and one of the members got back to me quickly. She read the manuscript, told me its strengths and weaknesses, and thought the new version flowed well. I incorporated some of her advice in my most recent round of edits. Because of her insights, I was able to fix some of the problems that my editor saw when she fine combed the new story. I was able to zoom through the edits in a week, even though some of them were difficult to work out, because I had a heads up from my critique partner.
I’m sure there will probably be another round or two of edits, but the bulk of the work is done. I hope my process gives you some perspective on how much other people contribute to a novel’s progress. The time scale may differ depending on your writing speed and life circumstances, but you should expect to involve others in the evolution of your book.
I have encountered a few writers over the years who would not accept input from other writers. They would solicit “feedback,” but really only wanted approval for whatever they had written. That’s not the best way forward if you want people to read what you write. Writing well takes a degree of humility. If you think your story is the best it can possibly be, but all of your readers disagree, that might be a hint that you need to edit some more. Editing is not a punishment or condemnation of your work.
Think of stories like this: they are precious stones, and editing polishes them and cuts them so they shine. Be grateful for the people around you who will help you make the story radiant.