The single most important thing that separates professional writers from amateurs is the willingness to have their work critiqued. It’s the hardest part of being a writer and it’s also the most important step toward completing a well-written book. When I pick up a book from the library, I know that the book has been through dozens of revisions and has been seen by many pairs of eyes. When I pick up a self-published book, I have no idea how many times the book has been edited or even if it has been reviewed or edited at all. I can tell pretty quickly, though, and so can the rest of your readers.
It’s not just about the grammar, though. I recently read – or at least I started to read – a self-published book that was perfectly grammatically correct, but it was almost entirely telling and not showing. At least the entire first chapter was like that and that’s when I gave up on reading it. No editor or beta reader worth her salt would have let that slide. The story had a good plot to start off with – a bride-to-be was left at the altar when her fiancé ran off with her best friend.
Good drama, right?
Except the author forgot one thing.
The author glossed over all of the action of the inciting incident. She just described it all as if it was something that happened already, robbing the reader of the chance to go through the emotions – and thus empathize – with the main character. The rest of the chapter went on the same way. The character told us how she had to cancel all the wedding vendors and then went on her honeymoon alone. That situation is so rich with potential emotion and drama. What would it feel like to have to call and cancel the church, the caterer, the flowers for your wedding when you know the groom left you for your best friend? Show us! Have us go through those agonizing phone calls with her. Make us feel something!
This author has talent and definite potential, but she really needed to flesh out the story. Grammar and spelling errors are always the most obvious mistakes, but editors and beta readers also help point out plot and character problems that you as the writer cannot possibly see, no matter how experienced a writer you might be.
Being told the harsh truth about what’s wrong with your manuscript and then putting in a lot of hard work to fix it is the only way to produce a truly great story.
Read that last sentence as many times as you need to in order to be convinced.
The bad news is that sometimes those critiques are going to hurt. They’re going to force you to see weaknesses in your writing that you were completely oblivious to before. You might find out that your characters aren’t quite as lovable as you thought they were and your exciting plot might actually be slow and predictable. Frankly, it sucks to be told that your story isn’t working.
There is good news, though:
1. First and foremost, know that you can handle the truth about your writing. Yes, it will hurt, but you will get over it.
2. Stressing over getting critiqued is often worse than getting the actual review, even if the review isn’t great.
3. You only have to implement the changes that you really believe need to be made. Reviewers are human and they are prone to subjective views.
4. You will not believe how much better your manuscript becomes after revisions. After you get over the sting of the negative comments and you start revising, you’ll get excited at how much better your book is getting.
5. In the end, you’ll likely not even remember what was initially said about your manuscript after you’ve made lots of revisions. If you show trusted editors and reviewers your manuscript before finalizing the story, it simply doesn’t matter if they hated it at first. That was then. This is now. The final, vastly improved manuscript is all that matters in the end.
6. If you subject yourself to the scary process of inviting a few people to essentially tear apart your work, thus allowing yourself the chance to rebuild it again, you’ll feel much more confident when submitting the final product to agents, publishers, or when you publish the book yourself. Tastes vary and you won’t be immune to bad reader reviews, but you will greatly reduce the chances of getting negative reviews of your work. You will also vastly improve your chances of getting glowing reviews, which will make all the hurt and pain well worth it.
If you want to be considered a professional author, you must be brave enough to submit your work for honest and potentially brutal critiques. You’ve put a lot of heart and hard work into creating your story and characters, and you owe it to yourself to make your story the best it can possibly be.
Believe me. I’ve been there. It took me a long time, but I took Queen Henry from being a terrible story to being a writing contest finalist story. I loved my story and characters, and i refused to do anything less than my absolute best.
You can handle it.
I believe in you.
You’re stronger than you think.
– Linda Fausnet
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