You finally finished the novel you’ve been pouring your heart into. Sleepless nights, long days, no time out for friends or extracurricular activities. Just you and this story you’ve had in your head for the last six months. Full of excitement, you package it together and give it to three close friends and two beta readers and ask for honest input.
A few months go by and you’re surprised you haven’t heard anything. You check your Spam folder and junk mail: Nothing. You check your voicemail and Instant Messenger: Nothing. Dead silence from all the people you’ve sent your story to.
Knowing it doesn’t take that long for any of your friends to read a good book your anxiety goes up and you begin playing scenarios around in your head, “What if my book sucks and they don’t want to tell me?” You realize that both friends usually check in every few weeks but have been unusually silent. And the Beta readers… it’s unusual not to her back from them since you used a professional and went with folks who do this regularly.
So you reach out. You send the email and make the phone calls and you ask them: “How’s it going with my book? What has caught your attention? What questions do you have? Is there anything that doesn’t make sense?” You ensure the emails don’t come back returned and you ensure you leave voicemails when your friends don’t pick up the phone.
And then it happens. You get the feedback you’ve been waiting for. As if your email server had been frozen suddenly all their responses are sitting in your email! You brace yourself for their comments and open the first email, and then the second, and you continue until you’ve taken in all the feedback provided. When you’ve read the last sentence of the last email, you exhale deeply while staring at your phone’s screen.
“Your story sucks! I am not sure what I read but seriously, you need to rethink putting this one out there for the public.”
“It’s terrible. Why did you waste your time writing this disaster?”
“I’m not sure what I read but this was a total waste of my time.”
That’s what may as well have been handed back to you from the respondents. Friends? You can’t possibly call them that now, can you? Who would say such harsh things to a friend?! You sulk all night wondering what to do next.
Have you been here? Does this situation remind you of a situation recently? Then let’s talk because we need to reframe this situation and pull you back into reality by taking 3 steps to get you back on track.
No writer wants to hear their work sucks. I get it. I am a writer as well. While most of my work to date has been published other names, I would have hated for anyone to come back and tell me something I wrote for them wasn’t good enough. Sometimes it is hard enough to make edits to what I write because I always hand off what I believe to be a quality product. When you have invested time into writing a story, even if just for internet consumption, you want to hear that people were touched by it or that it helped them realize something they’d not previously seen. Hearing that your book sucked is something none of us want to hear. But it’s time to get over it.
Regardless of what your friends and beta readers thought of your story, they took their own time to read the book you hope to make money by selling. They volunteered their free time and invested in you so they could give you helpful feedback. I get that you’re hurt, but you need to be polite and thank them for being honest with you and let them know you will take their feedback into consideration and see what changes you can make so your final novel is stronger. In the next step, this will make more sense, even if it’s painful the moment you press send on the emails or as you speak the words to them through a phone call or in-person conversation. You will soon appreciate that they didn’t lie to you, as some people would have done
Grab a notebook and pen, grab your phone, and get your favorite drink – whether it be coffee, chai, or wine. Open the first message and listen to or read it again with a clear head this time.
Whether you enjoy the feedback isn’t the point here. The point is that you trusted these people to read your story and offer feedback and now you need to honor their time by at least considering whether their feedback has merit in the larger scale or is based upon personal taste.
If the comments have merit, address them by editing your story. Reread the story when you are done and see how you feel about it. Do you feel that it is stronger? Do you feel like you addressed their concerns? If so, now it’s time to send it off to another group of testers or to your editor, whichever you feel most ready for.
What if the comments your beta readers and friends made isn’t valid? What if you go back in to read your novel and you don’t see the same issues? This is possible! How much research did you do or consideration did you take before asking your friends and beta readers to read your story?
One of the most common problems I see when people ask others to read their story is they pick either folks who are close to them because they will get honest feedback or they take whoever is willing to do it free. They don’t take time to consider if the folks they chose would actually enjoy their type of story. When the feedback comes through and it isn’t what they expected, they feel like they have failed at their goal of writing a book. This is not true for two reasons: 1) you did complete the book and 2) you failed at choosing the right audience not writing a successful story.
This is where you take in what is good in the feedback provided and what can help you make the story stronger and you ignore the feedback that doesn’t help you with the type of story you wrote. Then you move forward by realizing we all have different tastes in what we enjoy reading. You will do better research next time and continue forward with publishing your book.
Listen, there will be times that your book really does suck. You didn’t get the flow right and you mixed up characters’ names and roles within the book. You left plots unfinished or forget to finish what you started when you were outlining processes. It happens. Especially if you’re a first-time writer. Don’t give up! Instead, press forward and apply the feedback you received from your friends and beta readers. Once you’ve finished, put the book down for a month and walk away from the project. In a month, pick it up and read it as though you are the reader.
Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, you should end the book with a clear understanding of the story and closure about what you just read. If you are writing a series you should have some questions outstanding but only so many as you plan to answer in the next book and just enough that the reader will want to come back and read the next book in the series.
Writing is an art. With any art, it will be great for some and not for others. I can remember art exhibits that have brought me to tears while others stood and wondered what the artist was possibly thinking! I can also remember books I have read that have changed my life in powerful ways that others would skip right past because they weren’t into that type of book and didn’t need that type of information in their lives. Don’t let others discourage you on your journey. If you are a writer who writes with a passion to help others and to get out the words that swim around your heart and mind, it won’t matter if only one person enjoys the final book. If you’re writing to try to earn a six-figure income, well… you may want to hire a writing coach and work with them one-on-one to learn how to streamline your writing and choose the correct audience (and this isn’t a plug for me as this is not the type of writer I work with; I work with the former). Whatever your reasons for writing, it’s time to get back up and go write some more so you can be the writer you truly are!