I cannot keep my books a complete secret. I know of people who can, who won’t give me any more answers than whether the main character is a boy or a girl (well, it’s not quite that extreme, but pretty close).
And you know what? I thought it would be fun. I wrote my first book, Voice of the Ashes, with my sisters reading most of the chapters as they were finished. Sometimes, when I was really struggling with how to word something, they read after every other paragraph. It was fun; I’m glad I did it that way—though it made it difficult for them to give me feedback with a ‘first-impression’ view.
When I started my second novel, Judah’s Battle, I decided to keep it a secret. They knew the theme of the book, a few character names, the time period, but I didn’t let them read a single word. I thought maybe I’d let them read it when I finished the first half.
Well, I made it to the end of chapter five. And by then I was in a horrible case of Writer’s Doubt. I was afraid my characters’ actions were unrealistic, afraid my theme was nothing more than a few thoughts tacked to the side, afraid I would be wasting my time if I wrote any more. So I handed it to one of my sisters—who had given me the inspiration for it in the first place—and said, “I think this has major problems. I think I left the character behind in trying to write the historical details.”
When she gave it back to me the next day, I asked tremblingly, “So?”
Oh, she thought it was good. She really liked so-and-so, I had included interesting historical details, and the theme was not strong yet simply because the main character was still in his Normal World. (For those of you who know about the Three-Act-Structure, you get that. For those of you who don’t, the Normal World as opposed to some other world is not a reference to fantasy.)
So there. All my worry for nothing. And right that same day I sat back down and worked on it for the first time in weeks. Until you get feedback from someone else, don’t believe the doubts that march into your brain planning to stay the night.They are unwelcome guests that you should be prepared to turn away at the first knock.
That sets the stage for the …
ALPHA READER(S): a trusted friend—or friends—who walk beside you during the writing process encouraging you when you’re discouraged, critiquing when something’s not right, and helping you keep the right perspective.
Family members make the best Alpha Readers. They know you the best, and can help you clearly express your thoughts, because they understand your thinking patterns and convictions. And parents’ perspective is very important if you are a young writer like me—they have experience and wisdom that we don’t. One obvious area is parenting. When my dad read Voice of the Ashes, he told me he didn’t think the main character’s father would have responded the way he did in a certain scene. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I’m so thankful he pointed it out.
If you’re one of those secretive writers, your Alpha Readers may fall more in the Beta Readers category. I’m sure we’ve all heard of Beta readers before; you can find hundreds of articles online about them.
BETA READERS: friends and/or acquaintances who read your completed manuscript with an eye for major problems: plot holes, inconsistencies, etc.
I think it’s important to have multiple Beta Readers. (But please don’t coerce people into reading your manuscript; it takes a lot of time and if they aren’t invested, it won’t help much anyway.)Find some who are writers like you for more critical feedback, and some who aren’t. The latter will give you the readers’ perspective on things, which is the most important.
In my experience, other writers come with their own views on how a book should be written, and yours may not fit their category. If your non-writing readers think the book is great, take it to heart. It doesn’t have to match with every structural detail you’ve read about in writing books. But more on that later.
They may point out small issues, too, and those are important to fix. But it doesn’t have to be done right away. Get the larger issues dealt with and then work on your readability.
When you’ve edited your manuscript using whatever of your Beta Readers’ suggestions you can, then what? You find a professional editor—or you land a contract with a traditional publishing house, which most likely will have editors for you.
GAMMA READERS: Professional editors and other publishing personnel who put your book through another round of editing.
Tired of editing yet? Don’t be discouraged; your book will be so much better for it. And if you don’t do it now, you may look back in a few years and regret that you didn’t take the time …
A note for those planning to self-publish: you’re on your own when it comes to editing, unless you want to hire an editor. If you aren’t planning to invest in that (it does cost quite a lot), Beta Readers are essential. Rather than getting two or three, ask five or six people to read it and help you edit.
Well, you made it through all that editing. Congratulations! Your book has been published, it’s available in different bookstores and online, and it begins making its way into the hands of your …
DELTA READERS: The millions in this world who read—the very people for whom you wrote your book.
You’re going to get feedback, whether verbally or through the number of sales. So I want to cover the topic of criticism.
Criticism is good. That’s what the editing process is. People are criticising what you’ve written, saying, “I think you can do a little better in this area.”
But sometimes it can be difficult to handle, even when you know people are trying to help. I haven’t published a book yet, so I’ve not dealt with the public’s criticism. But I had one publisher I contacted who read through my whole manuscript, and when I first read their comments, I felt so discouraged. Among other things, they thought one of my characters (one of my favourite characters!) was unnecessary to the plot.
We do need to be willing to get rid of our ‘favourite’ parts sometimes. But only do so after thinking and praying through what you’ve been told. Your story is your story, and you do not have to accept every piece of advice you receive.
Not too long ago I was talking with one of my sisters about how nerve-wracking it was letting people read my projects. She told me, “You’d better get used to it, because you’re never going to write something everyone will like.”
That is so true. You can never please everyone, but there is One you should please. That’s what matters.
You’ve probably been wondering who the fifth reader is, or perhaps you figured it out earlier. Fifth in place, not because of least importance, but most importance. This is what I want you to take away from all that I’ve written.
ALPHA-OMEGA READER: Your Heavenly Father, Who sent His Son to die for you, and wants you to share with the world what He’s done.
His opinion is what matters. His glory is what matters. His message is what matters. Friends, acquaintances, editors, and strangers may criticise, but if God is pleased with what you’ve written, don’t be discouraged. He can use it for His glory.
On the other hand, others may praise—but if God is not pleased with it, lay it aside. Your writing journey is about Him.
Pray and seek His will for your manuscript. Ask Him to guide your thoughts and the words you write. Ask Him for courage to seek and accept criticism with an open mind. He loves you and wants to bless all that you do.
Write for Him.