So what have I been up to recently? And why is my bunting covered in question marks?
Well, here’s the thing. Novel number three, Lucy’s Locket, was finished in July, after six months of intensive writing. It was, by that point, as good as I could get it without the benefit of a professional eye – or two. So off it went in three different directions (the fabulous NWS, an agent who had requested the full manuscript, and my beloved and much trusted beta reader). I eagerly awaited their feedback as I launched myself into book four. (Going fabulously – since you ask.)
Fast forward three months and like buses, all the feedback pulled into the bus stop together. I read the various reports and comments, expecting united cries pointing out my errors. Perhaps I had an unbelievable character? Or a plotline that didn’t work? Or issues with style? At this point I would be able to roll up the sleeves of my winter jumper and embark on a thorough edit. The book would then be brilliant and snapped up by a publisher, blah, blah, blah.
So here’s the funny thing and the reason I’m writing this short blog…
The feedback I got was largely, although not exclusively, contradictory. While one person loved that my protagonist was based in an office and found it a refreshing change from teashops and similar tropes, another found the setting boring. One person thought my hero was unlikeable (yes he’s rude and grumpy but Darcy and Poldark seem to get away with it), yet no-one else had a problem with him. A moment of dark humour was described as distasteful by one, and funny by another. And so it went on.
I was fully anticipating, and indeed welcoming, the inevitable constructive criticism. It is almost my favourite part of the writing process because I learn so much from it. But I was naively assuming my errors would be universally acknowledged. They would be forehead-slapping points I could then correct. Clearly not.
So what’s a girl to do? (Apart from turn to wine.)
This is a rhetorical question. I am fully aware reading a book is a personal and subjective thing. It’s why there are so many genres out there. While I love my happy but unrealistic endings, someone else will seek out a gritty story based on true events that leaves them sobbing into their chardonnay as they turn over the final page.
Having taken the time to fully digest the feedback, perhaps I should assume no unified cries of discontent is a good thing? Had all three readers insisted I’d got an element of my novel wrong, it would have been a sure sign that it needed changing. Perhaps ultimately I have to decide whose opinion I value the most, and trust my instincts to edit accordingly.
However, with words like humorous, lively and heart-warming being used by these three kind and very knowledgeable people, the end result is one delighted writer (especially as the agent has expressed interest in seeing a rewrite). But it has been a very interesting lesson: when three people read your book, you may receive three contrasting opinions on how to improve it. It is why aspiring writers are advised not to show their work to all and sundry, and why, when you are finally lucky enough to have an agent or an editor for your work, theirs really is the only opinion you should be seeking.
Footnote: if you want to see your publishing dreams come true, the RNA New Writers’ Scheme is an invaluable step along the way. I was delighted with my report and have started to implement the technical errors that were pointed out.