If you’ve been an author for more than five minutes, you know it takes an insane amount of courage. .
1) Writing what you really want to write takes courage
We all have insecurities. We all feel stupid sometimes. What lives inside our heads is rarely something we want to share with the world. Yet . . . if we’re being the best author possible, our opinions, emotions, and skewed view of the world should be spewed on a blank canvas. It takes courage to let our innermost thoughts fly onto that paper. We all want to pretend we’re better than we are, more mature, less petty, but realistically, we are who we are. We think what we think. The truth hurts.
But the best authors have courage to put it on paper anyway.
2) Letting someone read your book takes courage
I never really planned to write a book. I had a story stuck in my head and decided to write it down so I wouldn’t forget. Little did I know how much I would LOVE writing. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. But that didn’t mean I wanted anyone to read it.
You see, I was doing what I mentioned in #1. It was freeing! It was a blast! But once I realized it was turning into a full-scale novel, I knew I should probably tell my husband what I was up to for hours upon hours. Chances were, he might want to READ it, too.
It took me two weeks to get up the courage to tell him. Two weeks! We’d been blissfully married for 13 years and I was still terrified. I’ll never forget his reaction when I finally got up the nerve to tell him.
“You? You’re writing a book? As in a book book? Wait…you?”
Like I said, this whole writing thing came out of nowhere. Then he said what I kinda hoped he wouldn’t.
“Can I read it?”
To his credit, he reacted well after reading it, otherwise I would have never had the courage to give it to the next person. Or the next.
(He’s still my first reader on everything, and I ADORE him for it!)
But still . . . each time I hand my baby over to the next person, I sweat bullets, wring my hands, and pace the floor. (A little melodramatic, but you get the point.)
I’m tellin’ ya, being an author is tough.
3) Asking for honest feedback takes even more courage
After I got over the initial shock of letting people read my innermost thoughts, I realized if I was ever going to do something with this Sadie story, I’d need some honest feedback.
I vacillated between two feelings:
A) I’d written the most amazing book ever known to man. Producers in Hollywood were going to fight over who got to make my novel into a blockbuster movie.
B) I’d written the biggest piece of junk ever known to man. Anyone who read it would turn their heads in shame and never speak to me again.
Yeah, I have issues.
The first few people who read my manuscript were people who loved me more than I deserve. Simply because of who they were, I feared they’d swing towards the A side of things. “The novel is perfect!” “Unflawed! “Hollywood here you come!” (No one said any of that to me, but I worried they were being too nice.)
Once again, I went back to that inner pool of courage to see if I could scrape up anymore. I did and immediately started asking people for honest feedback.
Turns out, my novel was somewhere in between A and B. Call it A ½.
That’s where most authors fall, right? The more honest feedback I received, the more I could see where my book leaned towards the B spectrum. So I would take the suggestions and fix it. Still, those B insecurities hung tight and caused me to cringe every time I gave it to a new person.
But . . . enough people seemed to like my story, so I decided to go to the next step.
4) Sending your book to a professional is freaky and takes A LOT of courage
Whether you send your book to an agent, editor, or directly to a publisher, it’s extremely hard to push that SEND button.
Is it good enough? Polished enough? Funny enough? Edgy enough? Should I have added a vampire?
Even though I knew my awesome beta readers were giving me their honest feedback, it wasn’t until I sent it to a professional publisher that I felt like I could be truly crushed. Professionals get paid to sell books. They don’t have time to entertain a lousy author, no matter how nice, sweet, or perfect their mom thinks they are.
To me, this step was the ultimate test of courage. If there was a part of the book the publisher wanted cut, I’d have to listen. If they wanted a vampire, I’d have to listen.
Turns out, they wanted my book to be the best it could be. Turns out, I really loved this part of the process. But, man, it took a lot of courage.
Five years later and one published book under my belt, I still struggle with sending my books to professionals. I don’t know why. It’s not like they’re scary people. In my experience, they’re extremely nice people who love books as much as I do. In fact, they’re on the author’s side. Yet I still hold my breath every time I push that SEND button.
I have issues.
Once I had a contract and a book that both I and my publisher loved, I realized the next scary step.
“Oh my gosh! People are actually going to read my book!”
(Seeing the pattern here? I’m a huge chicken. )
5) Knowing people will spend money to read your innermost thoughts takes courage
I want people to like me. Call me crazy.
I received the first copies of Sadie a few weeks before it hit the stores. Talk about nerves. I was super excited, but I was also second-guessing every step of the process. I’d been on goodreads enough to know that readers can be brutal, even more than beta readers or publishers. I wanted readers to feel like they’d spent good money on my book. I wanted them to get the entertainment they paid for.
I’m happy to say that some readers love my book! Some even adore it! Yay!!! But some . . . eh . . .
Which leads me to the next point.
6) Reading bad reviews takes so much courage it hurts
I know many authors who don’t read their bad reviews. But I do.
I decided in the beginning that I wanted to be the best author I could be. I wanted to get closer to A than B, which means finding out where I can improve, right? But it took/takes courage to open those bad reviews and see what complete strangers don’t like. Usually, I wait until I’m in a great mood with a handful of chocolate to do this. Then I tell myself:
- My book is not for everyone
- Some readers are just in a bad mood–all the time!
- I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and people don’t have to always love me. :)
Then I read and do what I’ve done from the beginning: find the courage to take what I’ve learned and run with it.
7) Deciding to do it all over again takes courage
What fun would it be to write one book and never write again? Once you’ve been through the grueling process of becoming a published author, it takes courage to turn around and do it all over again. Some authors never do, and I can see why. But . . . I’m not one of them.
Seems crazy, doesn’t it? This whole author thing. But we write because we love it. We write because we can’t — or don’t want to — stop. Maybe the steps will get easier. Maybe. Then again, maybe not. But the best of us will do it anyway.
In the meantime, our courage muscles are getting a huge workout.
PS) For all you authors out there, THANK YOU for having the courage to see it through, to not quit when you’re down or feel like you are your only fan, because as much as I love to write, I also LOVE to read, and without you sticking it out, I wouldn’t be able to.
PPS) It’s all worth it. Being on this side of a published novel, I can tell you it’s totally worth it! The first time you get a fan letter in the mail, the first time you have a reviewer love your characters as much as you do, makes it all worth it. So stick it out. Keep going. Hit that SEND button and don’t quit because you’ll be glad you had the courage to keep going. (This advice is for me as much as anyone. I’m at step #4 again. Yikes!)
Where do you find the courage to keep going? Any tricks you’ve learned? Share below.
I hate saying my book is done. Why? Because I feel like my book is never done. When people say, “Hey, did you finish your book?” Instead of boring them with a long explanation about the writing/publishing process, I try to say, “Well…I finished another draft.”
Nonetheless, I finished Augustina right before Christmas–or at least, I finished another draft. :) And then I did the scariest thing known to all mankind (maybe not, but it felt like it.)
I gave my book to readers
I sent it to friends and family–i.e. the most supportive people in the world–who agreed to read this baby of mine and give me honest feedback. I even gave them permission to be brutal, because my motto is: I’d rather fix it while I can than read about issues later on goodreads when I can’t do anything about it.
Having beta readers (early readers) is a necessary, yet extremely painful process for most authors. Because let’s face it. Most of us think our books are either perfect, or pretty darn close. When we ask readers to find what’s wrong in our project, we’re usually thinking, “Yeah right. Like you’re going to find anything wrong with this masterpiece. It’s flawless, I’m tellin’ ya. Simply flawless. You’re gonna laugh, cry, and hug this book until it hurts. Pulitzer Prize here I come.”
I’ve felt that way in the past. I never felt that way with Augustina. Augustina was the hardest book I’ve written. To most of you, it looks like I’ve only written one book. Sadie. I’ve actually written six now. Augustina was by far the hardest to write.
It’s about a girl who’s battered, left for dead, and needing to put the pieces of her life back together. It didn’t come easy for her to crawl out of the hole I so unfeelingly wrote for her. Quite frankly, it wasn’t easy for me to write her out of it. (What was I thinking?) Plus, Augustina has a spiritual conversion in it which–yikes–was crazy hard to write.
By the time I finished, I loved the book. I truly, truly love it now. But I still wasn’t sure if I accomplished what I hoped to accomplish. Had I gone too far or not far enough? Was it too raw or just a soap opera?
That’s why I needed early readers.
Giving your baby to a beta reader is like saying, “Here. Take this little piece of my heart, analyze it, check it for errors, and then tell me every single minuscule thing wrong with it, crush it under your foot, and give me back the shards to see if I can put it back together with something slightly better.”
When I gave Augustina to friends and family, my fingernails went to my teeth, I paced the floor, and I tried to brace myself for the first honest feedback to come back.
If you’re an author, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I have amazingly supportive people in my life. I sent it to a dozen or so people before Christmas and they’re starting to get back to me. Being an author for five years has hardened me to the initial cringes that accompany honest feedback, so I was prepared for the worst (or at least, I told myself I was). But all the feedback I’ve been given is good. It’s great, actually!
Firstly, so far everyone has really liked the book.
Huge sigh of relief.
Secondly, the places they’ve said are weak really are weak. I can see it. My readers seriously help me spot places that need fixing. I love it. I’m not even angry at them for it. Haha. In fact, I’m so, so, so grateful I can make the manuscript stronger.
See. I’m growing up as an author. Yay me!
So that’s my Writing Tip #4:
Have beta readers.
1) Have a lot of them.
My husband saw one thing. My sister saw something completely different. My friend is a romance reader and saw issues there, while another family member was hoping I could tweak the action. They all read differently, so have several readers. Men, women, old, young.
2) Make sure you have readers that are your target audience
If you don’t know your target audience, then you have more problems you need to work on. Once you know your audience, get beta readers from that group. Not all your beta readers need to be your target audience, in fact, some shouldn’t be. But have a good chunk. And then give their insights the most weight.
3) It’s impossible to please all the readers.
In fact, don’t try.
In the end, you need to love your own book. But in all the feedback I’ve received so far, I can fix the concerns with simple tweaking to the story. It takes nothing away from the parts I love, but instead, helps enrich the story for others.
If I get feedback that’s contrary to what I think, I have a handful of people to run it by to see if they agree with my beta reader. If they do, I’ll have to let it go. And like I said, I give the most weight to comments from readers in my target audience.
(I’m going to repost what I wrote on this blog.)
4) Have a writing reader
You might need to read that again.
Try to have at least one reader who actually knows how to write. An author. Call them your writing partner or buddy or whatever—preferably something nice so they’ll keep reading—but their experience will be invaluable to you. Plus, they’ll see things in your manuscript others won’t.
I’ve been blessed with some great writing buddies the past few years. They’re insights and critiques have been invaluable to me. If you don’t know any writers, join a group. There are thousands of writer’s groups out there that meet in libraries and coffee shops all over the world. Most likely there’s one near you.
5) On the flip-side, have non-writer readers.
Before I sent Sadie to my publisher, I had around 25 people read it. And then as I worked with the editor, I had several more follow behind to see if what I changed worked. The huge majority of your readers in the future won’t be authors. Having non-writer readers will help make sure you aren’t overwriting your story.
6) When you get harsh criticism, take a deep breath.
Your job is to figure out if 1) They’re right, or 2) They’re not. It’s probably best to give it a day or two before you fully digest the comments.
With my first book, I had several comments I didn’t particularly like. As I go back now with more experience under my belt, plus some time that has given me perspective, I can see that most of the comments were right. Most, I say. Not all.
So figure out if the comment is right or not, and if you’re still not sure, ask someone you trust who has read your book.
Augustina is now with the publisher. I’m sure they’ll find even more that needs tweaking. I’ll go back to the drawing board and work this project a little bit more, which I’m happy to do. At the end of the day, it will be a better book because of all my early readers. If you’re one of them, THANK YOU! It helps a ton. (And if you haven’t given me feedback yet, it’s not too late. I’d still love to hear your thoughts. A book is never done until it’s on the shelf.)
Alright. That’s my thoughts on beta readers. Anything you want to add?
How have you used beta readers to help strengthen your writing? Where do you find beta readers? How do you deal with the feedback that hurts? Comment here.
Other writing tips:
- Writing Tip #1: Ending Chapters at Height of Scene, Not Resolution
- Writing Tip #2: Using Beats to Strengthen Characters and Settings
- Writing Tip #3: Know Your Writing Priorities
- Writing Tip #4: Beta Readers
- Writing Tip #5: Trim the Fat, Cutting the Easy Stuff