Today I want to talk about the “S” word. Yes, that most difficult of ideas that can be both the greatest encouragement and the bitterest defeat for every author. Sometimes nearly on the same breath.
I completed my latest manuscript about three months ago. And, as I normally do, I began lining up folks to read for me. Before now, I had about three beta readers all who knew me, and my work, very well. They were and are, great beta readers. But with this last book, the biggest challenge I had was writing well outside my typical genre. So I decided I needed beta readers who both read inside this genre and didn’t know me so well. I wanted honesty, even if it was brutal. So I went to Twitter and began asking certain select individuals if they would be interested in reading. I tried to select people I knew read the genre, but who had never read me. I also tried to select one of each of the following:
- Someone already working in the publishing industry.
- Someone with an agent but not yet well established.
- Someone who was part of my target demographic.
- Someone who was definitely not my target demographic.
I did actually have those criteria in mind. Why? I wanted someone who worked in publishing who could tell me what the book was like from a commercial stance. Could the book sell? Were there publishers interested in such a book? I wanted someone with an agent because no matter what I am attempting to do, I always want someone a little farther along giving me a view of the road ahead. I wanted someone who was part of my target demographic because I wanted to see how the book hit them, or not. I wanted someone outside the target demo to see if it could sell to people it wasn’t designed for.
Before I go further, and because some of these beta readers might actually read this, I want to say that I am beyond thankful for the feedback all of these readers gave. They were/are all of them, awesome. They helped me understand my own book in ways I can’t easily convey, here. And what comes next is in no way any criticism of them. At all. It’s more an exercise to try and help other authors understand this part of my process.
The feedback I got from what, in the end, amounted to seven beta readers was universal in exactly one way: they agreed on nothing. And you might think I am exaggerating. Where one would laud and commend me over one thing, specifically, another would complain about that exact thing. Where one wishes that there had been double the amount of time spent on a character, another wishes I had cut that character.
If it had been a book club, they might have been shouting at each other or at least glaring at each other over cucumber sandwiches.
And this is important because it helped me learn some amazing things about beta readers and eventual(hopefully) agents and eventual(hopefully) editors and eventual(PLEASEGOD) readers.
Your work, your grind and your sweat and your tears, will strike every person differently. Every single one. It can depend on the day they had, what they ate for breakfast, how their mother treated them growing up, if they had a close best friend, if they ever struggled to buy a car, what their next vacation was going to be like, etc. And you can’t predict any of that. If you can, please contact me because I can make us both infinitely wealthy. But that list of things I just outlined? That goes for agents. It goes for editors. And it most assuredly goes for readers. Both beta and not.
Your work might be amazing and still never land exactly where you want it to. But that doesn’t mean it’s not good work. Subjectivity hurts. Subjectivity is not, however, fatal. And if you remember that, if you can refine subjectivity and use it to coach your work, you will continue to grow as an author.