Writing is like running through the grocery store naked. You bare yourself to anyone standing in the produce section at the time. There’s no hiding behind the watermelons —your imperfections are there for all to see. The same is true for the written word. It’s literally in black and white. But if you want to get noticed, you need to commit to selling yourself.
That's been the biggest challenge for me since I started this journey, networking. I've rather enjoyed being a wallflower for most of my life. So telling people I've written a book feels awkward. In my experiences, there are three categorically-able reactions. The blank stare followed by “Oh that’s nice” move on to the next subject response. The “I have six other friends who wrote books too” response, and the “That’s wonderful! Can I read it?” response. (My favorite. :)
I knew that having someone else read my work was imperative. However, I quickly found it’s helpful to let them know what you’re looking for prior to them picking it up. Sure grammar and punctuation errors are important. But if they really want to help, ask them to mark passages that were especially touching, funny, intense… In the same rite, to let you know areas when they suddenly have the urge to take out the garbage.Character development, items that are unbelievable, repeat words, awkward dialogue, adjective overload, inane dialogue tags… If you find someone who provides this type of feedback, keep them close!
I was very fortunate to have met my first Beta Reader (crash dummy for writers) on the Absolute Writer Forums. She read through my first novel line by line. She was so patient with me and absolutely amazing at providing guidance in a positive and encouraging manner. Of course, since then, my novel has changed significantly. But I contribute the growth of this book, and that of my writing skills, to people like her.
With this being said, I think it’s also equally important to trust yourself. If you submit your finished novel for a critique, or to an agent or publisher, and the first person who sees it tells you to change it from third person to first, DO NOT DO IT unless you truly agree with them. Taste in writing styles vary as much as they do in food. And it’s not necessarily that the person giving you feedback is wrong. But maybe as much as they feel one way about it, another person will feel the opposite.
Now, if you’ve received the same suggestion from several persons, then ask yourself what your end goal is.If you want to get published, and several persons within the industry are all telling you the same thing, you’d be foolish not to make the changes. But if your goal is to self-publish and obtain a few books to give to your family and friends. Keep it as is. It’s your story after all.
Several years ago, I received a critique on my first novel from an extremely talented and gifted author who, still to this day, I respect very highly. But being such a newbie, when a suggestion was made to cut the first seven chapters and fill the information in later in small tidbits of backstory, I did it. I was working over fifty hours a week at the time so the change took a year. Once the overhaul was complete, the next four persons to see it -- including two other amazing, talented authors and a senior editor at a huge publishing house, suggested I add the chapters back on. I was horrified.