Beta readers are SO important if you want to find an agent, attract editors, and appeal to audiences. When I write, the story is engrossing that I don’t necessarily see the problems that are plaguing my work in progress, but I also have the fear of showing anyone my work. I’m Miss Passive Aggressive 2015, and I’ve always have had a problem showing anyone my art work, my writing, or really anything that I have done. It’s exposure at it’s finest and for me it’s like running down the street, completely naked while screaming: “Look at me! Look at me!”
When I handed my WIP over to my beta readers, I was like:
It’s hard to be a writer. Not only do you have to sit down and put a world of people, colors, smells, emotions, places, events, murders, romances, and heartbreak. I have fallen in love with my characters or hate them, because of their actions. My main character, Mary Elliot, is angry and hurt, but she is also 17 and does fall in love while trying to stop a villain that is concealed for a good portion of the book. When she gets angry, she gets mouthy and mean, and that comes off as being insensitive and nasty.
I’m like….okay….How the hell do I fix a character flaw that is supposed to be there? As a character, she actually isn’t nasty, but is hurt and desperate. She loves and trusts too easily, which is her fatal flaw. However, the problem that I am having is that I do not put enough information, what motivates her to act and react.
But back to the topic…
One big advice that everyone gives is get a trusted group of readers aka beta readers. I went to the Backspace Writer’s Conference in November 2012 (just after Hurricane Sandy), and that is where I met a group of awesome people, who are good writers. When it came time for me to give them a peak at my WIP, I was biting my nails and pacing around my room. Having them read my novel, was like having a villain finding me, feeling exposed that someone was tearing apart every word that I had written. (I chose this GIF because of Robert Kazinksy simply because he freaking rocked as Warlow and he has been in my dreams a few times since I saw Hot Pursuit earlier this month)
To put it bluntly, I felt scared that they would hate it. They did hate it. Actually, it was more like: “I hate your character” and “This is too long” and “You’re main character is too passive” and “This isn’t how teenagers talk (though I did when I was 17)” and “It’s too short” or “It’s too long.” I think my favorite negative response was: “You’ve got good bones, but it needs help.” After having three people read it, I was left feeling defeated, anxious, and a failure. Mostly though, I was frustrated.
I was speechless, and I took it to heart (not a good reaction). My reaction was:
My WIP is unique and I built it around historical events. There are real issues that are tackled in this novel, and I’m proud of the story. So I swallowed my pride, brought out my chair, and hyper-focused on all the problems they had said. Then I gave it back to them. No one has actually finished the entire WIP (mainly because I haven’t given the ending to anyone). There were some improvements, but the same problem. They didn’t like Mary. I was like:
“Yeah, thanks guys!”
“Thanks a lot!”
Honestly, I was doubting myself as a writer. The internet didn’t help at all. I was looking up different ways on how to write in action voice, dialogue, formatting, whether to use a prologue or flashbacks, and nothing helped. Nothing I did felt right. The entire manuscript was felt wrong and just bad, and no matter what I did, it was never going to get better. Finally, I realized my confidence had been shaken, because of what I thought others wanted from me was more important than showing the story through words.
I realized that Ernest Hemingway was right.
All of us learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t work. We can learn from each other, and take the critiques, because generally they’re right (just don’t take it personally, because it’s not personal). This is what beta readers are for. They help make our WIPs the best the can possibly be so that we can succeed as authors, so so that someday, Eric freaking Northman aka Alexander Skarsgard can pick up my book and I can think of this!
I also realized they don’t write horror/thrillers but romance! WAYYYY different formulas and styles. So I asked another friend to read it (someone who edits and reads thrillers/horrors and YA). She was like, great story, but details! I need details.
I smiled. Happily, I’m now back to work, adding details of why Mary is so angry. The information that motivates the characters, that makes them interesting was missing. That was my problem, and I needed that pointed out to me. Now I’m not doubting my writing skills and I’ve stopped looking up the “how to’s” on the internet, and comparing myself to other writers. My novel is a part of me, because it came from my imagination. That’s why I had such a defensive reaction. My betas were only trying to help, and they did help me. For that, I’m really grateful for! They are my friends, and they are fabulous, awesome people!
The moral is: It’s hard to put yourself out there, but it is helpful to do so. More so, it’s harder to not take critiques personal, but use them as a learning tool. I’ve learned not to take critiques personal, and now I’ve been given the reasons why my WIP wasn’t working. It’s up to me to fix the bugs, and submit the best manuscript possible. I can, thanks to my beta readers!
Have you felt this type of defensiveness and frustration?