Rather than respond directly to a series of tweets that were recently hurled at me about why I would need editors, critique partners or beta readers before selling my novel to unassuming readers, I’m going to explain why I do in great detail.
And to do this I have gotten up at 5am to trawl through notes made to me about my work over years of novels to show you all how badly I stuff things up. It’s enough to see that I made a mistake, and sometimes disagree with the advice and this is the beauty of advice and reviews; you can choose to take what you want from it. But it is never okay to attack readers for their opinions and its never okay to demand more from them, when they’ve already paid for your work, and taken the time to review it.
So I want to use a magnificent piece of feedback from someone very close to me for some of my earliest work and move through to samples of my later work.
I’ve put the actual text from my manuscript in italics and the feedback in bright red;
The Well of Youth – written in 2016 after 4 rounds of self editing, 1 round of professional editing;
‘Tomorrow come here. We need waste no time anymore. I bid you and the dean good afternoon.’ Andy didn’t react to the dismissal, he had already got more than this afternoon could have possibly had hoped for given where he started the day.
I think ive gotten a bit lost, has he actually accepted? cause I know he goes, but the commander doesn’t know that, maybe he should say be here by that time if you wish to participate and then scream TALLY-HO and run out the door. Or something.
This was not the first comment of that nature, nor would it be the last, and I loved the way this beta gave me feedback, it was always jovial and her other comments made me wet myself laughing in reactions. She doesn’t know it but she’s the reason I leave those sorts of comments when I give beta reading, because I think its important to note when you evoke a good response from a reader.
(Re-reading this old work for me is an absolute cringefest of mistakes and wording, BTW, I would totally rewrite that entire sentence if I could, but I promised it raw and that’s what you are getting).
Queen of Spades – written in 2016, betaread x 3, self edited x 3, edited, revised and rewrote whole book in 2019, x 4 rounds of self editing, x 2 beta reads (this book had a lot of work put into it!)
Six hours passed and he came and got her, and by then Ayla was ready for the sleep, passing out fully dressed on the bed still warm from his body.
Ayla woke up hours later, curled around his scent, breathing it in.
“The Nuria is here,” Leith said over the comm.
Ayla was quick to get up, put her clothes and weapons back on, and hurry to the bridge.
Ayla passes out fully dressed on the bed and then wakes up and gets dressed???
Just a simple series of actions that were completely wrong/out of context but it does point out a very easy and fixable flaw that I hadn’t noticed DESPITE READING THIS STUPID BOOK MORE TIMES THAN I CARE TO THINK ABOUT!!! ß this still makes me mad, in case you couldn’t tell, and I absolutely love that the beta reader in question picked this up, and couldn’t be more grateful.
Here is an example of something that was said to me that I haven’t got entirely in context but was something of this nature;
One With Rage – written in 2019 after 3 rounds of self editing only
Spray; I swear to god there are other words out there for water Eleanor
Repetition is not your friend and I am terrible at it and its one of the first things I have to address with editors (I am still so sorry to you all that I do this), but its ALSO one of the first things I pick up when beta reading work. Repetition is monotonous if not done with specific tact and it can pull the reader from the vision.
Running a comb through her hair, with a spritz of mousse, she was scoffing the pancakes at the briefing room, having been the first to arrive.
Is she doing her hair and then going to the meeting room and scoffing down pancakes, or is she sitting in the meeting room doing her hair WHILE scoffing down pancakes? It’s not clear which.
Another case of scene transition that did not work well and I pick this up when beta reading other people’s work a lot but also it occurs in my own work as well. I knew what I wanted to do with that scene, but I completely stuffed up the way about it. A quick fix of breaking it into a couple of sentences only took moments to fix what was otherwise a very awkward transition scene.
Having used these very upfront and glorious examples of how badly I have made mistakes I want to extend these mistakes on to greater overall feedback I have gotten from some of my stories and I’m going to start with the most painful one first.
The Last Prophecy Series novella
I wont go into detail as to what was said but I felt like I was being chided by a loving grandparent when an editor told me an ending of my novella needed a lot of work. This is the part where people think editors are some sort of villain there to change your idea into their own idea and its not.
The story in question had reunited characters far too early for the overall series (which is HUGE). The story itself and the ending was all over the place, and I hadn’t given the reader a sense of closure by the time they got to the end. He was kind, honest, and careful but he made it clear I wasn’t just doing a reader a disservice, I was doing it to myself.
That hurt a lot.
It was the BEST lesson to date I have had that I can do better, that someone knew I could do better, and was brave enough to tell me that. I took what it cost them to say that very seriously. I went back and rewrote the entire ending, pulled apart the start to add other characters and what it ended up doing was giving a much more fleshed out character for the following book, so much so that by the time I got to the book the editor was very happy with the story overall and had no major changes.
Why? Because I’d learned the lesson the first time, and used the novella to improve my writing craft so when I wrote the following book it had a far more solid plot.
Queen of Spades – Awakening & Darkening
I originally queried Awakening and I had my first full request from a New York agent and I was SO excited that he liked my overall story, but in the end he didn’t like the world building or the concept of Ayla’s power and it wasn’t enough.
Given this was my first foray into querying outside of Pitmad I was pretty upset – but I went back to beta readers to clarify and work on exactly that to make it better.
I also decided to fork out the money to get a professional editor and a wonderful CP, both who have been incredibly helpful.
But both found many mistakes even after all that, and when it came to book 2, my CP said to me that overall I spent too much time in Ayla’s head, and she was absolutely right and I will be working on fixing that.
I don’t wish to talk about one of the major changes I will be making to Behind the Veil but the editor recently got back to me and I want to sum up our conversation very succinctly over a series of emails;
Ed: I think this might need to be tweaked, and it’s a big tweak, what do you think?
Me: … actually that is dead on, you are absolutely right, I will fix all that, this is how I think I’ll fix it, what do you think?
Ed: Sounds good
They spend hours, many of them unpaid, to make your story the best it can be. At the end of the day few of them get a kick back unless you sell well, and you will not sell well without help.
I am often pulled between the self pub/indie author/trad press options before me because I want the freedom for some of my stories, but I also know they need improving, each and every one until the day I stop writing (which will be when I am dead).
I have chosen all three because I want people to love my stories as much as I do, but I am not going to expect random strangers to fork out $0.99 to $20+plus for a book I didn’t spend the time, money, and effort making it the best it could possibly be.
If you are struggling for editing money, ask for beta readers and look at traditionally publishing or trying with smaller presses. Get feedback on your work, learn how to best relay your story to your reader.
If you can afford it and want to take the financial risk, find a great series of people to work with and organise for professional editing and self-publish.
Because in the end no matter your lofty goals, these people aren’t here to tear your ideals down, to make huge changes to your story, they are helping you because they love those things about it, it’s the nitty gritty detail that needs smoothing out. That needs polishing.
It doesn’t matter how often you write, if you just want to get your stories out there post them for free via a website. But don’t attack readers after they aren’t happy with a book they paid for. You made money off their time, they read your whole work, and if they didn’t say something nice about it that might just not be their taste. But if many readers leave less than savoury reviews, don’t attack them.
Ask yourself this really fucking hard question; did you do your best?
And that isn’t about writing the damn thing, or self-editing, its about getting that outside opinion to make your book be the best it can be for everyone, not just for you, and especially not if you want people to hand over money for it.
Don’t do that to readers, its not fair, and you aren’t just cheating the reader, you are cheating yourself.
Excellent blog post, EJ.
I do a lot of beta reading & editing, so this strikes a real chord with me, only from the *other side*! It’s not always easy breaking the news that you think a writer needs to tweak a particular scene, or that a character hasn’t behaved consistently.
Glad you’ve gathered a strong team around you. Good luck with your writing. 🍀🙂🐢
Thank you! Its been motivated by someone who thinks they need none of those things to sell books which is unfortunate but I’m glad to be talking about the other side of it. I have a huge amount of respect and love for the people who have chosen to work with me.
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It’s true that they may well sell some books, if they’ve done a good enough job with marketing them. But the point is that those readers will have bought a substandard/flawed product and they’ll be unlikely to buy any subsequent stories.
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First off– *ow.* **Ow.** and ***OW!*** All I can say w/o messing up is: I freaking admire this.
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Thanks! A good friend just pointed out a sentence in the wrong spot and a sample writing not italicized and I feel like a moron but it is the WHOLE point of the post! Another good eye to polish never hurts!
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Right? UGH the feeling of it hurts but.. BUT.. Knowing we are NOT morons means half the battle is being won. Or something like that. Being able to take the good criticism is what I hope to do someday. Ugh rambling, sorry. You’re correct though– it never hurts to have good eyes to help polish!
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The best thing is to just go in and start getting it, it never doesn’t hurt, it just hurts less and goes away quicker the more used to it you become, and what you get out of it for that hurt is well and truly worth it once you learn what to take away
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Hahaha! Yes, I’d noticed too! Which just goes to show how much readers *do* see when they’re reading. And yes, that does reinforce your whole message! ((hugs)) 🙂🐢