OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
A few weeks ago I talked about the editing and beta reader process in order to make your book the best it can be and now I have received my own feedback from all my beta readers on Prophecy, my next novel.
This is the hard part but it's critical because the more eyes you have on your manuscript before publication the better. They have to be the right eyes but you definitely need to improve the manuscript before it's published and you can't do it alone. I had several published authors as well as readers of my genre do a beta-read plus an expert on art history as I use a lot of this in the book. I've also had a structural edit for the whole book.
So I have a whole lot of constructive criticism to work through now and this bit is always difficult. But why is it so important?
You have to develop a thicker skin as an author because you will get criticism
If you're going to ‘ship' your work i.e. get it out the door and into the hands of readers, you have to take criticism. So it's better to catch as many issues as possible at the beta reader stage so that criticism you get later is because the wrong reader has read the book, rather than your plot has huge holes or grammatical issues.
Criticism in book reviews definitely hurts so it's good practice to get some before you make your work public.
I currently have 58 reviews of Pentecost on Amazon.com averaging 4 stars. 4 of those reviews are 1 star and 2 are because it's not Christian enough (and I never claimed it was!) I don't like those reviews but I have no influence on them, I can't do anything about that. I just have to take that criticism and try not to let it affect me. I counteract those comments with the 45 4 & 5 star reviews instead. We have to remember to focus on the positive and not just see the negative.
Taking feedback from beta-readers
Here's my post on the beta reader feedback for Pentecost. You can feel my depression! I'm happy that I have improved since last year and haven't repeated the same mistakes this time. The comments are still difficult to take but I know they will help the finished product. You know I like to share the hard parts as well as the triumphs, so here's my method for dealing with beta-reader feedback which can feel like criticism.
(1) Thank everyone sincerely for their help, offer to help them with anything and make sure you credit them in the book. This is a great service we all need as writers.
(2) Read through the notes everyone has sent and then let it settle. Do not react. Do not try to justify why you did whatever you did. Take the feedback without reaction.
(3) Bawl your eyes out, then self-medicate with chocolate and/or wine. You thought you were finished but actually, you still have a way to go. You're probably sick of the book but you have to go through it again. Ouch. After you have drowned your sorrows, go to the gym and play a lot of really loud music. My tracks for getting over these feelings (and here I show my age and how uncool I am!): Tubthumping by Chumbawumba (I get knocked down, then I get up again…), It's my Life – Bon Jovi, Don't Stop Believing by the Glee cast (am I losing readers yet?!) , Hold On by Wilson Philips and other such classic feel good tunes!
(4) Re-read the feedback with a critical eye. Have the same things been said more than once? For example, two of my beta-readers pointed out that the first sentences of my chapters start the same way which becomes jarring. Great feedback and easy to fix. I'm taking that to heart. But only one of my readers said that the theme of eugenics on top of the rest of the plot was ‘too much'. The others all said it was a good extra layer so I'll be leaving that in. I had been having some doubts about my ending although most loved it. One of my beta readers had a suggestion that will also ease my own concerns so that will be changed. But overall, most of the comments will not take much to fix, this is not a complete rewrite for me (thankfully!) but it will add more depth and fix the issues that the readers found.
(5) Create your hit-list of what needs to be changed so you have a map of the rewrites. It's also good to have a list of everything even if you're not going to change it, so you can use it as a learning experience, so I collate everything into one document organized by scene.
**At this point, I'll add a comment on versions and backing up as some people still struggle with this. At the end of every day, I save my WIP into a new document with the date on it and I email it to myself on Gmail which stores documents and is easily searchable. I also save to my drafts folder and back up externally. Then when there is a first draft that is saved as Draft_Date and so on through the multiple drafts. I have Draft_BetaRead_Date which is the version I sent to the beta readers and I will have the other drafts right up until the end. I always date them so I can trace back changes. This might be a little over the top but be sure to keep your drafts in case your change your mind later and back up somewhere other than your home computer – just in case!
(6) Go through the book again making the changes that you've accepted need to be done. Some may be big and others may be small. All are important. This is basically your final draft so it needs to be right. BUT/ don't let this become an excuse for not finishing the book and releasing it to the public. You must ship your work if you want to be a professional writer. It's a risk but if you don't do it regularly, the ‘flinch' gets worse and you'll never publish (read about the flinch here).
(7) Re-read in print or a different format other than your screen, and then give it to the copy-editor for the final run. They will pick up any typos, grammar issues and final mistakes. Make those final changes and you're finished. Yes, you really are!
There will always be more you can edit but you need to stop somewhere.
That's why deadlines are critical for perfectionist writers. I always planned on getting Prophecy out in 2011. It might be Dec 31st but I will have it out in ebook format and working back from that deadline has driven all my work.
How do you deal with beta reader feedback and criticism? Curl up and die or hack away and make those changes? How do you know what to change and what is your own voice and not for negotiation?