I’m currently in the editing stage of my third Ambeth book, Hills and Valleys. It’s already been out to beta readers and I’ve made several adjustments based on their suggestions, all very much in keeping with the spirit of the story. And I’ve just received editorial notes from my editor, Lucy, who is fantastic in that she really ‘gets’ the story, and therefore makes really useful suggestions when it comes to narrative flow and character development. One of the great things about being an independent author is that it’s then completely up to me as to which suggestions I run with, though, as I’ve said previously, I tend to agree with most points she raises.
I’ve been writing copy for other people for years, which I find quite different to writing my own work. By the time it’s published it’s been edited back and forth, shaped and reworked to fit their vision, not mine, so I usually feel quite detached once I see it in print. But seeing my own work printed, holding my own book in my hand, knowing that the words in there are OUT now, that strangers are reading it, is quite a different thing. And so I want it, therefore, to be the best version it can be. A professional edit is, to me, worth every penny. I’m not privy to endless streams of cash, so I do have to plan ahead and budget, but it’s well worth doing. And beta readers are invaluable for picking up plot holes and inconsistencies, things we are often blind to after staring at our work for so long.
So, all this is a long way of saying: YOU MUST SHOW YOUR WORK TO OTHER PEOPLE.
This may seem completely obvious – after all, we write so that others will read our work, don’t we? And yet, especially when it’s your first book, this is something that’s easier said than done. Sometimes it might seem easier to just press ‘Publish’ and let your story wander out into the world, at the mercy of whichever reader might pick it up, rather than subjecting yourself to the ordeal of feedback from people you actually know. When you’re writing about love or anger or s-e-x, you are drawing on the deeper emotional parts of yourself – to then share these things with people you know is a curiously intimate process and can feel quite confronting.
Yet you have to. You have to do this. I attended a seminar some time ago with several literary agents and one of them made this point very clearly. You have to get used to other people seeing your work. So you have to stamp down that little voice that says it’s not ready, it’s not good enough, no-one will like it. And you will, hopefully, be surprised.
I find it much easier to do now. This blog has helped a great deal in terms of confidence, as have all the comments I’ve had, and the positive reviews. Yet there is still that moment when I see the email come back from a beta reader or editor and think ‘Oh god, did they hate it?’ Which is ridiculous, of course. But nonetheless it is there. And if they do hate it, if several readers pick up on the same thing, then I need to take it on board and make changes. After all, this sort of feedback is kinder coming from people you know before the book is published, rather than anonymously in black and white, preserved for posterity in the reviews.
So, even though it may feel as though you are stripping your soul bare, you need to step back from those words, from the story that for so long has been just the two of you in a quiet room. Share it around, show off a little. After all, writing a book is an accomplishment in itself.