Goodbye little book - How to let your novel go

5:46 PM

Two weeks ago, with the frightening deadline of school holidays approaching (and therefore the chance of getting zero work done!) I sent The Novel off to my four beta readers.

These are the first official readers of the manuscript, whose mandate is to provide feedback on the novel's structure and characters. They will look at things like whether the narrative arc works, whether the characters are sufficiently developed and, ultimately, I'll get an idea of whether they think I can write or if it's a big pile of bollocky bollocks (although one hopes they might put it a little more diplomatically than that! See below for a link to a great post on Beta Reader Etiquette).

Now I've done this beta reading gig and it is a scary undertaking, particularly if you're doing it for the first time, and with someone you know well. What if you hate the book? What if you can't provide constructive feedback?

So first of all, THANK YOU to my four lovely beta readers for taking on this pile of pages. I'm humbled.

As I wrote a cover note to each of them and bundled the bound manuscripts into envelopes, I found myself having a bit of a moment. This was it. The relinquishing of my words. Words that, until now, had been for my eyes only.

I'd been pretty nice to the words, not too judgy, prepared to overlook their flaws, the little darlings. But now they were, gulp, going off to be read by people who know more about writing novels than I do, people who will read my words with a reader's eye, people who will expect to be hooked in the first chapter, nay, first page!

Luckily 'the moment' was quickly tapped on the shoulder and kicked to the kerb by the words of Elizabeth Gilbert:

It has never been easy for me to understand why people work so hard to create something beautiful, but then refuse to share it with anyone, for fear of criticism. Wasn’t that the point of the creation – to communicate something to the world? So PUT IT OUT THERE. Send your work off to editors and agents as much as possible, show it to your neighbors, plaster it on the walls of the bus stops – just don’t sit on your work and suffocate it.

I love this philosophy. I embrace it! This novel isn't mine any more. It belongs to the readers. First my beta readers and then, one day early next year, an agent, perhaps then a publisher, and definitely you (the $1.99 Kindle bargain box option is still on the table should all else fail!)

This is your book now, to sit lovingly on your bedside table, or to yellow and fade on your bookshelf, or to turf into the council cleanup and watch maliciously as some hapless, unsuspecting dog walker picks it up off the pile.

My job is to make it the best it can be; to get that narrative arc working, to blow life into the characters and to polish those bollocks for all I'm worth.

And then? It's on to the next novel, and the next one after that, because it's a journey I've loved (well, mostly) and that I want to go on again.

In the words of Stephen King . . . If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.

So goodbye for now little novel. Off you go to your beta readers, unshowered, in your pyjamas with very bad bed hair. Hope they like you anyway. If you're very lucky they might see your potential and tidy you up a bit.

Hey, don't forget to take my ego with you.....


Now, my question for you, one that I've nicked straight from our mate Liz Gilbert, is this . . . What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?*


And while you're pondering that, here are some resources related to this post:

Thoughts On Writing - Elizabeth Gilbert

A Quick Guide to Beta Reader Etiquette - KM Weiland

The Ultimate Guide to Working with Beta Readers - The Write Life

* Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, p259 - a book you should buy immediately if you have any kind of creative urge in you (and who doesn't?!)

PS. I'd love it if you'd 'like' my special writer's page on Facebook where you'll get all the latest updates plus other people's interesting writerly and readerly things I like to share - ta!

  • Share:

You Might Also Like