Letting other people read what you’ve written is scary. Like public nudity scary. Perhaps like public nudity, the fear wears off after repeated experiences.
My first sharing experiences were with two writing groups, one that is no more and one that’s current. They gave great feedback, but it was often on 5-10 pages and not the whole work. This summer, though, my husband finally read the book, and he was the first person to read the whole thing in its entirety. You often read about writers sharing every stage with their spouse, like a built in critique partner. That’s not been my experience, at least for the past few years. At first I wasn’t ready, then my husband resisted. What if, he worried, I don’t really like it? It could be that it just wasn’t for him, but he knew that would still hurt me. And if my husband is one thing, he’s honest. Which means that if he tells you that you look good in sweatpants, gosh darnit you look awesome in sweatpants.
But since I was rounding the bases and getting ready to query, he took it with him on a work trip and read it.
He liked it! I’ve never been so relieved. In fact, he wrote this on one of the pages and I jumped out of my chair for a victory dance.
After that, I sent it to a high school friend who lives in Texas. Then a college friend in DC. Then a current work friend read it. Then my mother-in-law read it. Then I made a Twitter friend who offered to give my query letter a read. She wrote back with feedback and ideas for improvement.
Here’s what I’ve learned, boiled down as best I can:
- Your mother (or mother-in-law) has to by law and biology say nice things. Still, it’s nice to hear and I’ll take what I can get.
- Apparently some readers may really dislike something about your book that others love, or at least didn’t mind. It’s bewildering and can make you question your existence.
- However, if the reader was definitely on to something, you’ll get a pang in your stomach and you’ll know that you also had that thought. They might point out an odd word choice on the opening page, and you realize right away you also questioned the choice. This is helping me to trust my gut instincts when editing.
- Sometimes the reaction makes you realize you need to clarify something. In my Twitter friend’s response to my query, it suddenly became clear that I was not making a plot point clear. I rewrote and hopefully the confusion will be gone.
- Sometimes the feedback or suggestions make you realize what you will not compromise on, and what, for you, is essential to your book. My first writing group really liked one of my POV narrators and didn’t love the other. Consider just narrating the book from one POV? That was definitely a no for me. But, it made me realize that to keep the other POV, it needed some work. (Which it got in draft 3.)
- Every piece of feedback I read that has no emotion, my brain adds hatred and disgust to. I’m a generally confident and positive person, but it’s so hard! I keep wondering, Does that mean you hate it? As Erykah Badu says, “Keep in mind I’m a artist, and I’m sensitive about my s***.”
Writing the book was hard. Editing was harder. Sharing it with the world has to be the hardest.
My query count is up to 56 since 7/11/16. I’m teaching a week-long day camp next week, so I’ll probably slow down considerably. I’ve had one request for a partial (first 50 pages) and that was from a query letter alone. I’m taking that as an encouraging sign.