Yay! Congratulations! You just finished your final draft and sent your manuscript to your beta readers or an editor. Or you self-published your work.
All of your friends went out of their way to congratulate you and to tell you what an honor it is to know an author, especially a published one!
But now, the fun begins. Actually, the opposite. This is when the reviews roll in; from your beta readers, editor or initial batch of readers.
Now is when you find out those same friends don’t: like your genre, write reviews, have time to read, like reading at all, lost their reading glasses, can’t afford your book and a dozen other things you never knew about them.
Now is when you’ll find out that your beta readers are heartless, hate your genre, think your hero is a wimp, your heroine puts out at the drop of a hat and they’re sure they could help you write a much better story for only a slight fee.
Now is when you find out the sole function of editors is to malign you as a writer, convince you that you can’t spell, construct a whole sentence or have the faintest idea of what a story plot is; no less know how to build one. Oh, and editors are color blind, except for… red!
Now is when you’ll find out that often, readers are like people who’ve had a bad meal in a restaurant and they can be even more heartless than editors. Good review or bad, you’ll also question whose book some of them read.
Before you convince yourself that this blog is a total downer, highlighting all the evils of writing and designed to convince you to never write anything, please read on. As you do, we hope you’ll find that it will help you understand that you’re not alone. You’ll suffer through the same things all authors do but you’ll know they’re coming. And that makes a big difference. With luck, we’ll also teach you to see the humor in some of them.
Forgive me because I’ve used this line before. Actually, it’s one of Robyn’s favorites. Stephen King once said, “Starting your story will be the hardest thing you’ll do as an author”. (Or something like that.) We totally disagree. Writing your story will be the easiest thing you’ll do.
Why? Because most writers have a story idea long before they start writing. Also there are numerous sources to help you along your writing journey. Sources to help you outline your story, create story and character arcs, develop your plot, characters, and scenes and then enhance them.
But when you’re all done with your story, as a first time writer, what your likely not prepared for is what comes next. The beta reads, the edits, getting it published or self-publishing it and the reviews. Then as if dealing with all that wasn’t enough, there’s advertising and marketing.
In this blog, we’ll skip a lot of that and only cover dealing with comments back from beta readers, edits and reviewers.
So, what do you do with the comments that come back in the form of beta readers’ responses, an edit or reviews? Simple. Read them, try to understand what they’re telling you and learn from them.
Ideally, your beta readers are not friends or family. If they are, you need to filter their comments to make sure they’re being honest and not just trying to make you feel good by praising your work. If they’re all: “Oh, I love this part,” and “Wow, your hero is hot, hot, hot!” you can probably skip those comments.
If the comments are more in line with: “Are you for real with this part?” or “I’m so confused,” or “There is no way anyone will believe this,” then you need to take a good hard look at what they’re pointing out.
Remember, beta readers are typically the very first to read your manuscript. Ideally, they have no idea what’s coming or what you’re trying to say. Trust in their comments and analyze them. Why didn’t they get what I said? Did I not describe my character? Did I over describe them? (typical for first time writers.) Did I just say they were in an ally and not describe the scene? Oops, they’re right. I jammed twelve thoughts into that giant run-on sentence. Ha ha. My heroine does sound like a twig with blondish kinda hair.
Hopefully your beta readers will be kind, but even if they’re not, don’t discount what they’re trying to tell you. Most of all, keep your sense of humor. And remember, we’ve all been where you are. Describing things with words is not an easy task. It takes time and practice and often one added word can send your description off in the wrong direction. So, have patience, read, analyze and learn.
Beta readers are not professionals, typically, but editors are. Make sure you hire an editor you can work with and one that understands this is your first manuscript. A good editor is one that will not just cross out things or suggest a different wording. Instead, they will explain why the word is not needed (unless it’s obvious) or another wording works better. This is critical for first time writers. This is how you learn!
When we edit someone’s work, first time writer or not, we always try to say why we suggest something. We’ll note “repeat” when we change a word. Add “not needed” when we delete something or “show” when we suggest they reword what the character is seeing. In our mind, every story is different and even with a ten-times published author, the story is new to them and in some ways, each one can be like their first manuscript.
Which brings us to two points: First, every writer has had an editor hack their work to death with a red pencil (or Track Changes mark ups) or totally reject a manuscript, often cruelly.
Some well quoted examples:
Sylvia Plath: There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.
Rudyard Kipling: I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.
J. G. Ballard: The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.
Emily Dickinson: [Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.
Ernest Hemingway (regarding The Torrents of Spring): It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.
In J. K. Rowling’s – A Year in the Life – she’s sitting down with her editor and you catch a glimpse of her manuscript – with red marks all over it.
Second, if you publish traditionally, you’ll likely not get to choose your editor, the publisher will provide one for you, even if your work’s already been edited. Worse yet, their editor is going to edit your work until your story reads the way they want it to. So here, you’ll really need to dial down your sensitivity, put on your suit of armor and not take things to heart. Can you learn from this type of edit? Debatable. (Unless you’re going to continue to publish in this publisher’s selected genre.)
Ah yes, every author’s nemesis. Can’t live with them and can’t live without them.
No, we’re definitely not against reviews. However, as you’ll quickly find out, people who didn’t like something are the first to post a review about it. Additionally, reviews will vary all over in terms of what the reader liked or didn’t like. Simply put, that means a reader may have loved your story but hated your hero. That ended up as a one star review. Or, you used one curse word and so your reviewer thinks you’re a heathen with no moral compass.
Then there’s the most confusing reviews of all. The ones that praise what you wrote, loved your story and characters but gave you two stars. (??? Go figure.) Or, the reviews that quote things they hated about your story but none of which has the slightest thing to do with what you wrote. (Uh, who’s story did they read?) Finally, the reviewer who drones on and on about what they think you should have written about but has nothing to do with what you did write about. (Obviously a frustrated author wanna be.)
So what do you do with all of this?
Simple. Learn. Read each comment and learn as much as you can from it. If it makes sense and you can go back and fix whatever was critiqued, do it. If not, store it in your memory banks (for us that means write it down) and use it next time.
Learn to read between the lines. Even with the worse review comments, there’s something to be learned from them. What made them feel that way? Why did they think that’s what you meant, said or described? (Some of our most valuable discoveries came from realizing a word or description created a feeling we hadn’t intended. That got stored away and the next time we wrote a scene around it.)
Remember, review comments express only that reviewer’s opinion. Just because they think something sucks doesn’t mean it does or that everyone else thinks it does. The same goes for good reviews. But here too, take note of what they liked, what worked for them and try to discern why. Then, use that in your next revision or story.
We’ll close by reminding you that it seems like everyone wants to write a book. But most people never do. So, have faith in yourself, cherish the good reviews and smile through the bad. No matter what, learn all you can from them.
If you have a funny story or two from your reviews, please feel free to share them.