Appreciating My Writing Community

by woodleywonderworks on Flickr
by woodleywonderworks on Flickr

By the time I completed the final draft of my novel, Provenance, I had worn out my alpha readers. Specifically, my writing group, Janet, Kelly, Kristin and Molly, as well as my dear husband, Granville. They’d been with me through every word, page and chapter – revision after revision. They’d helped me work through plot points, story arcs, characters who were cut, revived, only to be cut again. They read through the 500+ pages that started out as one novel and then became two. I cannot thank them enough for their wisdom and patience, and they deserved a break from my writing.

I realized it was time to leave the safety of my writing family and let strangers read my novel. To help move my novel along to publication, I needed an unbiased reader – someone with fresh eyes, an open mind and no knowledge of me or what my book had been through. The best way to find out if I’d told my story in a credible and entertaining way was to test the book in the same way it will be tested when published – I needed a beta reader.

In the world of available beta readers there seems to be no dearth of readers and authors connecting over YA, fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers, paranormal and hardcore erotica manuscripts. Provenance is none of these. It is a work of literary/historical fiction that explores, through one man’s story, the role that race plays in the choices we make about who we are and what we lead others to believe about us. The novel begins in the early part of the Twentieth Century and spans four decades of the protagonist’s life, taking the reader from the segregated south, to Europe before World War II and ultimately to the New York in the early 1970s – more than 78,000 words or about 280 double-spaced pages.

I needed a beta reader with experience in life and in writing that was willing to make a commitment to read what I wrote and give me honest feedback in exchange for my promise to read their manuscript in the same way. After searching and not finding a good fit on Goodreads or LinkedIn writer groups,  I struck gold – literally California gold, on SheWrites.

A writer in Los Angeles that is in the perfect target group for my novel was  looking for exactly the same kind of beta reader that I was. Her story was similar in length to mine and also dealt with racial themes. She wanted a beta reader who would also commit to reading her manuscript and provide honest feedback. After a series of email introduction, we exchanged manuscripts and began, promising to return our respective manuscripts within two weeks. We both honored our commitments and I know my manuscript is the better for her input and, I did my best to give her the feedback she was looking for.

I’ve always been a little reluctant to put myself out there – I think writers by nature are a shy and solitary bunch. However, I learned through this process that powering through the discomfort can make me a better writer and a more valuable part of the writing community.

I believe that the Universe always conspires on our behalf and the only thing it asks in return is our gratitude. This post is a thank you for my Alfa and Beta readers and for the SheWrites community, with all three, the Universe outdid itself.

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