So you’ve written your book. Amazing! Congratulations! Maybe it’s even your second or third book, you total rockstar. If you already have a literary agent, then chances are the two of you are already talking about how to proceed. But if you don’t…now what? Are you ready to send a query and sample pages, or could you benefit from another pair (or many pairs) of eyes reading it and giving you feedback? Do you show it to friends, family, co-workers for free, or do you hire beta readers or a freelance editor?
Obviously, here at BookHive we highly recommend beta readers, and you can read more about why and how to get involved on the homepage of this website. But once you receive the feedback, whether from professional services or your best friend, knowing what to do with the comments and questions can feel almost as daunting as writing the book in the first place.
(Okay, so not that daunting, but still. Tricky.)
I showed much of my first book to some friends and family members whose opinions I trusted, but decided that I eventually needed a professional’s eye to pick up on issues that the rest of us wouldn’t notice. When I finished the novel, I actually didn’t know about BookHive yet, so I decided to invest in a freelance editor. I did my research, picked someone who was also a YA author and whose voice complimented mine. Her company offered a few levels of editorial thoroughness, and I went all out, picking the most intricate package. This meant a lot of comments, opinions, and suggestions.
Reading my editor’s report was sometimes so encouraging, and sometimes downright upsetting. I had to try to distance myself from my attachment to my own writing and try to think of things objectively, as she had. Most of her points were spot on, and made for some incredibly helpful edits. I am confident that I would not have gotten a strong response from literary agents had I not implemented many of her suggestions.
But then, of course, there were the aspects that she didn’t respond to or agree with that I was totally in love with. My prologue, for example: she didn’t think it worked at all, and it remains one of my favorite parts of the book. I grappled, for a while, with what to do about these moments. I wrote revision after revision and then scrapped them altogether, returning to my original prologue every time. Finally someone told me, “You don’t have to take all of her suggestions, you know. At the end of the day it’s still your book.”
Words that may sound obvious, but in the midst of this process felt revolutionary.
Like with all art forms, receiving critiques from editors or beta readers requires a thick skin, but not too thick that the comments slide right off. It’s a strange, vulnerable thing to pay someone to judge a piece of yourself, and to know which parts to ingest and which parts to let go.
The biggest thing I learned in the editing process was to stay open to everything that my editor said, but that it’s also okay to disregard the comments or ideas that really don’t click with you. If you’re worried or convinced that a change might take away from the truth of your work, then don’t make it. That doesn’t mean your money was wasted; on the contrary, you now have a much grander scope of what works, what doesn’t work, and what works for some but not for others. In short, keep a clear head and turn up your instincts as you read your comments, and don’t be precious about trying all kinds of rewrites that also might not work. Know that you are your harshest judge, and at the end of the day nothing will ever be “perfect.” And as hard as it sounds, trust that when your manuscript is ready to query, you’ll know.
Your writing prompt this week is:
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Tallie Gabriel is an actor, writer, and BookHive social media maven. She’s a member of InViolet Theatre and works with BEDLAM Theatre in NYC.
She currently lives in Astoria and at the Strand Bookstore.