I entered into Pitch Wars. Since, I’ve been trying (<— read, failing) not to just stalk all my potential mentors’ feeds and see if they say anything that resembles my book at all; trying (<— read, still failing) not to refresh my email every ten seconds in hopes that a request for a partial or a full might come through; trying (<— read, forever failing) not to get lost in the feed while glancing at my calendar and wondering why it isn’t August 25th yet. Those nervous, contest butterflies fueled by fragile threads and hope and anxiety are in full swing and it’s only been two days.
So, this morning, I thought, Hey. Instead of obsessing over a book you can’t do anything with at the moment, perhaps you should work on polishing up another novel? Hmm?
When I made a call for beta readers for ARTEMIS last year, I also asked for betas for the only science fiction novel I’ve written, THE RESISTANCE, so that when I was done editing one, I could go straight into editing the other. I hadn’t looked at that feedback yet (because I wanted to look at it when I actually had time to implement it), so I figured that was as good a place to start as any. Look at the feedback, see how people felt about the novel, make an editing game plan, maybe start getting into the actual manuscript next week.
And then I read the feedback.
The consensus was clear.
The book sucked.
That was…hard to swallow, especially right now, when I’m pillaging through the teasers from the contest and that nefarious doubt is in the back of my mind, whispering lies like, You know your book isn’t good enough, why even hope at all? I didn’t read through the feedback in-depth, yet, just glanced through the general summations they gave, but the trend was the same: my main character was annoying and didn’t have enough to work for, the pacing was slow/off, the world-building was confusing, none of the characters had enough depth and the ending was disappointing, if not downright depressing.
Cool premise, though.
Seeing that kind of response, I immediately felt deflated. My stomach twisted in knots, an overwhelming wave of disappointment washing over me. My mind panicked, thinking about the other manuscript I’d just entered into Pitch Wars, one of the most prestigious and well-known Twitter contests you can enter. Had I just made a huge mistake? Is ARTEMIS truly as bad as RESISTANCE? Have I bitten off more than I can chew?
Before I let myself completely give into despair and woeful lies, I had to pause and recognize another emotion in the mix, buried beneath all of those questions and sick feelings of shame.
Though I hadn’t glanced at that feedback before today, in the back of my mind, I knew it wasn’t going to be positive, in the sense that there would be a lot more constructive criticism than there would be praise. It’s not that the feedback itself is negative or that receiving only criticism is a negative thing (quite the opposite, in fact; how can we improve if we only experience praise?). It’s just that I knew RESISTANCE was not going to receive glowing reviews from my beta readers.
I knew without admitting it that book wasn’t ready for the eyes of others yet. That was only the first draft I’d written. Hell, I haven’t even read it more than once. I hadn’t edited anything yet, hadn’t done anything to it beside try and get the ideas I had in my head down on paper in some sort of comprehensible fashion. In every sense, what I sent out to my beta readers was the worst possible draft I could have sent them. Yet I was putting out a call for my other book, so in my brain, I was like, Hey, why not get feedback on two books at once?
That was a mistake.
Because both of those books were at different stages.
With ARTEMIS, I had written a draft and then went back through and edited it once myself. I know that may not seem like a lot, but trust me, that second read through makes a huge difference. I’d already worked out a lot of kinks that typically result from a first draft attempt before I sent it out to betas, whereas with RESISTANCE, all of those problems were still present. I hadn’t given RESISTANCE the time it needed and deserved to make it at least resemble a story, not just being the bare, confusing bones of one like all my first drafts are.
So of course my betas had tons of problems with every aspect of the book.
Similar to how I wasn’t surprised when there were more aspects betas liked about ARTEMIS than they found to critique about it.* And what they did critique was exactly what I needed, locating the places I was blind to, things I hadn’t even considered would need improving because I was at a loss as to how to make the story better, hence looking for an outside opinion.
With RESISTANCE, if I would have paused to really think, I could point out many of the same weaknesses my betas did. I was just so excited about the idea of someone else reading my work and offering feedback that I didn’t stop to consider whether my novel was ready for that kind of attention.
And for that mistake, my RESISTANCE betas, I apologize profusely. It was not my intention to waste your time and your feedback is valued to me. I will read through everything, thoroughly, and incorporate your thoughts into my next round of edits.
I learned a couple different things this morning, I think. The most important lesson was figuring out how to know when my book is ready for beta feedback–not only so I never waste anyone else’s time again, but also so that my book has the chance to benefit the most from another pair of eyes, i.e., if the obvious, glaring issues that I would have caught aren’t there, my betas can actually look for more complex, complicated issues to help elevate the story.
I have been reminding myself (and seeing the reminder in the Pitch Wars feed) that so many writers who entered are in different stages of their career, so I should stop comparing myself to them. Similarly to how, if I don’t become a mentee or, if I did become a mentee and didn’t become agented afterwards, I can’t consider that a failure when I look at those who did win or did become agented; because every journey is different and we’re all at different stages. Yet I was also reminded that I’m at different stages across my own works.
I know that probably seems obvious. One book that has been undergone twelve drafts is obviously different than a book that’s only been written once. Yet, for a moment, I assumed that because RESISTANCE is still in such a bad shape, that obviously that means ARTEMIS sucks just as much. And that’s simply not the case, because I’ve put so much more work into ARTEMIS. Multiple rounds of revision, including a round implementing beta feedback. Not to mention that I understand that story so much more and feel so much more confident about it. My writing reflects that, whereas my writing in RESISTANCE shows my hesitancy and uncertainty I have for that narrative.
This is a really long post to basically say this: recognize the various stages your writing and your career are in and then respect them. Take the time to work on a novel to get it ready for betas. Rewrite as many drafts as you need to, to make it work. Don’t forget that your first draft usually sucks and that’s okay. It’s also okay if your tenth draft sucks. Every book is different. Every career is different. Focus on yours and doing everything you can to make it the best of your ability. Recognize your mistakes, admit them and then keep pushing forward.
And never give up. Our world needs your stories.
* When I say this, I’m not trying to come off as conceited and say that I assumed my book was so great, all my betas would love it. What I meant was that my gut was telling me ARTEMIS was ready for their eyes, whereas RESISTANCE was not.