Beta Readers, Editors, and the Craft of Revision

I started writing my YA novel, “The Deepest Blue”, nearly six years ago. I knew the story and was excited about tackling a story that was more of a challenge. The main character’s father dies and it is a shock to the main character and to the readers (or at least I hope so). Then, early into the first draft, my own dad died, and I just couldn’t go back to this book. It sat for several years until my friend and writing partner Jared urged me to pick it up again and finish it.  I did get it done, and started submitting, but all the rejections said the same thing: the market is too soft for a book like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I let the story languish on a thumb drive, figuring I’d get back to it eventually. I wrote another novel and began submitting it instead. Then a year and a half after rejecting it, my editor at Tanglewood asked about The Deepest Blue. “Where is it? Have you sold it?”

“No,” I told her, “it’s on my computer.”

“I want it,” she said. That was December of 2011. She said it would be a Fall of 2013 release, so we had lots of time to work on revisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book had already been through several revisions, and Jared had read it and given me his input. But my editor wanted to give it to a reader in the target audience and let him comment as well. We sent it off to him after the new year, then I waited for him to finish and give comments. Unfortunately, this kid dropped off the face of the earth.

Not to worry, though! My editor had another young man who was eager to be a reader for us. Early this summer, I got his comments (hand written on a sheet of yellow note paper!) and he offered some wonderful insights for me. I think I’m a pretty good writer, and I have a good ear for dialog and for shaping the plot of a novel. However, I have never been a 15-year-old boy, and that was clear in some of my passages.  I worked through the story again with this young man’s comments, and I also got Jared to go through it with me and offer his own masculine perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finished the revisions in August and sent the newly crafted story back to my editor.  She sent me wonderful, uplifting comments about the changes and the new strength in the story, and then told me she would get to work on her own revisions right away.

I got those revisions last night – and I am so grateful to have such an amazing editor! We talked about adjusting the tone in the beginning of the story, about deepening the emotional impact, and about pushing the envelope in ways that I hadn’t quite envisioned. And this is the benefit of a professional editor. My self-published friends will not like this, but the fact is that without a quality editor to work on your story, you may not see the things that take a story to the next level. Beta readers are also crucial to this process. My writing partner and the young man who read the story this spring both gave me needed insights into the male mind that I couldn’t have had on my own because, quite simply, I’m not a guy! They helped me to push the story to a more realistic level, giving it an authenticity that I couldn’t have achieved on my own. This, in turn, opened the door for my editor to dig even deeper and develop the story to a point that – in her own words – will allow her to submit this book for awards.  If that isn’t music to a writer’s ears, I’m not certain what is!

I don’t honestly know how many revisions this book has been through. I know it’s a lot – but that’s sort of the writing part of writing, if you ask me. Being willing to let others tear into your story and offer you suggestions is an important and valuable step in the whole process. I’m regularly stunned by writers who don’t want anyone to touch their work for fear it won’t remain true to their glorious original concept.  Frankly, I don’t know what I’d do without Jared and my many beta reader friends who offer insight into my work from a reader’s perspective. 

Someone asked me if I was sick of this story yet, and my answer is “yes and no.” Yes, I think I could recite the whole book front to back from memory, and that begins to wear on me. No, because each round of revision is a chance to look deeper into what I’ve created and to try to add meaning and depth to the story. I want to get better with each story I write, so if there are folks who want to help me achieve that, then I welcome their input. Hopefully, I can repay their kindnesses.

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5 thoughts on “Beta Readers, Editors, and the Craft of Revision

  1. Linda L. Bennett says:

    Another great blog with great advice for other up and coming writers. Kim, Do you think I could have a different Smiley Icon? Mine has such a scowly look on it’s face. LOL!

  2. Kim Justesen says:

    Linda – I don’t know how to do that! Heck, I can barely change my own! Thanks for reading!

  3. Jared Anderson says:

    Linda, your words override your scowl, so it’s all good, lol.
    Kim, a great blog that speaks volumes to writers everywhere who have written, re-written and re-re-re-written their stories. And I agree with you: editors are good and only want to make your work better. I don’t understand the “don’t touch my work!” attitude either.

  4. Linda L. Bennett says:

    Thank you kindly young man. LOL!

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