Last night was a dream come true for me: four people sat around my dining table and discussed my novel. I’d given them the finished draft to read—all 420 pages of it—six weeks earlier, and they’d agreed to make notes and come armed with ideas for how the story could be improved. I didn’t pick just anyone for this mission, of course. Two of the readers are the people who love me best: my husband and my best friend. The other two are good friends with whom I share a love of literature and a long-standing ambition to write.
Last night marks a turning point in the life of this book. It’s not just my private reverie, the world to which I retreat, a world over which I have absolute sovereignty and control, anymore. It’s not a fantasy anymore. Instead, it’s a novel read and enjoyed by readers. They’re rooting for its heroes and eager to see what happens in the story next. They have favorite scenes, preferences around romance vs. action elements, and strong opinions on the characters’ names.
The fact that it’s not alone in the world anymore also means that the book has a responsibility it didn’t have up till now. Suddenly, it’s got to follow through on all its promises. It can’t, for instance, set up a teacher as centrally important and then drop her forever, halfway through the book. It can’t suggest that the protagonist is infallible in battle and then expect readers to feel nervous, in the climactic fight scene, for her fate.
What a great way to begin the revision process! I have a clear set of decisions to make, now, and a clear sense of what effect each of those decisions will have on the story. I know what’s sacred in the book and can’t be messed with, what’s confusing and needs to go under the knife.
And I know it’s good. These first-ever readers might be fond of the author, but this fondness also forces them to tell me the truth. Knowing they each loved my book, and knowing why they loved it, is the biggest boost I could have hoped for before taking that deep breath and tossing my work out to the world.