The beta comments on my latest draft of Summer at the Crossroads have arrived. My readers did a stellar job, as I expected. They read the manuscript thoroughly, enjoyed the concept, liked my writing style, and gave me great feedback.
Once the beta comments come in, a writer must decide which of them hit the mark and which can be ignored. The book is the writer’s vision and story, no one else’s. This is a good time to again ask the question, “Who am I writing for?”
I say “again” because we should ask ourselves this question throughout the writing and revising process. At one level, the question refers to our potential audience, and we answer with readers of sci-fi, mysteries, women’s issues, or spy thrillers, for example. Keeping this in mind keeps us on track. After all, we don’t want what’s meant to be a hard-core thriller to read like a romantic comedy.
A writer’s first answer, though, should always be—for myself.
If we try to write “to the market,” we risk chasing fads, missing the wave, and attracting no one. If our main goal is monetary success rather than enjoyment of the writing process, most of us will fail. In reality, we’ll be happier and stay saner if we write for ourselves. Commercially successful publishing, whether traditionally represented or independent, is a rare bonus. The most important thing is to be true to ourselves and our stories as we see them.
It’s clear from my readers’ comments that Summer at the Crossroads isn’t working as is. The story as I’ve told it isn’t compelling enough for today’s audience. It offers too little tension and conflict. Several plot lines struck readers as implausible. The concept isn’t a simple one, and many of my subtle “points” didn’t come across. My betas made excellent suggestions for ways to raise the stakes, mix things up, and keep readers on the edge of their seats. I’ve thought long and hard about their comments and those of earlier readers. And I’ve come to realize the revisions would turn the story into something different from the one in my head.
I have two choices. I can be stubborn and stick with my version or change the story and try again. What do I, the most important audience, want to do? It comes down to a simple question:
Is publishing a book more important than writing the story I want to tell?
The answer came quickly. My heart wouldn’t be in the new story, and most readers would see that in the writing.
I won’t release a story that falls short of an agent’s or press’s standards or a reader’s expectations just because I can. And I don’t believe the story as I’ve written it would pass muster. The overwhelming similarity in my betas’ comments (and those from earlier readers) shows that.
As I said to my betas, a “good” review might read, “I really liked the idea, but I wish the author would have made the stories and characters more interesting.” But a “bad” review might be, “It’s hard to ruin pancakes, but some people manage to do it. That’s what I thought about this book. Somehow the author took a great idea and made it boring. Don’t waste your time.”
So, at least for now, Summer at the Crossroads will be my “bottom drawer” novel—one I love dearly but one that would be unsatisfying to most readers, no matter how much they liked the concept. It’s time to move forward and concentrate my efforts on Death Out of Time. Maybe another novel idea will come to me soon. Or Meghan will share more details about another story. She’s dropping some hints.
I want to be clear about this—my beta readers did exactly what they should. They offered insightful, objective comments about the story and how it worked, and didn’t work, for them. Each said their comments were simply one reader’s impressions, and I should take them as suggestions but follow my instincts for the story. And that’s what I’m doing. Their comments haven’t led me to give up. When a new story develops, I’ll enjoy writing it. And when the next one is finished, I’ll go back to them for their insights. They are that good.