I’m at the stage with my novel where I’m leaking chapters to a few trusted readers. Some are real-life friends and others are friends from my online forum. The forum has a rule that the only correct response to a critique is ‘thank you’. This is absolutely true. Another rule is that as writers we have to grow a hide as thick as a rhino’s because after the beta readers (if we hit the next stage), we will have to face critiques from agents and publishers. The idea is: get used to it!
Having kept this novel to myself for the past two years, it has been a swift growing-up process for me learning to put it out there in front of others. At times it’s felt like placing a baby in front of sharp-shooters and saying, ‘Duck, my darling.’ Baby grows a thick skin fast.
Even if the only correct response to a critique is thank you, and even if the critiquer is absolutely right, facing criticism is very much like the seven stages of grief:
How can he say that? That’s my carefully crafted sentence/paragraph/chapter! How can he just rip it apart like that?
Never heard such crap in my life. Deleting my adjective build-up? This person clearly has no idea.
Does he think he can write? Try spending 24 months slaving over one manuscript, fighting off children, the laundry pile, dinner dates and and, visits to the hairdresser! in order to do this. What does that writer do? Probably stay indoors and write for 12 hours a day, stopping only to order flat food that delivery boys slide under the door. I have a life! And I wrote this, and I won’t have it fixed.
Anger can go on for quite a long time. This is the moment where the writer should avoid pinging back an email by return post.
Email to the critiquer: I know you said xyz, but I really need to keep it there because of abc, you see. It’s crucial to the narrative. I know you think it should come later, but you’ll see, really you will, that this is the place for it.
I’m wasting their time. I’m boring them. I’ve presumed to ask them to be my beta reader and now they’re propping open their eyelids with matchsticks trying to get through my turgid prose.
I am awful. I am crap. I’m nothing.
I am so freaking bad that when I finally approach an agent all I’m going to hear is the sound of roaring laughter across the English Channel, through Belgium and down into south-western Germany. People will be looking at me saying, ‘She’s the one who caused the laughter.’ The whole of the Burg will be looking at me and laughing, and I’ll be … naked.
7. Acceptance and Hope
I think I just might move xyz. That will make the chapter stronger and more resonant. I am so lucky to have such great beta readers. My manuscript is improving. One day maybe, maybe an agent will read this and think, hmmm, not bad.
This is the point where the writer should ping her beta readers and say those two little words: thank you.
Thank you to my beta readers, near and far, present and future. Thank you for your time and patience. Thank you for helping me grow up and for making my manuscript into a much better read.