First of all, today I got my hands on a freshly minted copy of ‘The Shadow’. It was a bit exciting for a first-time author. While all of the distribution channels are not yet operational, many are, including Amazon, Kindle, Kobo and Smashwords. So if you are after a copy, you can get one. Unfortunately, the purchase links on the website are not yet operational so best to go directly to Amazon for now. In Au, I know that copies are being delivered within 48 hours from Amazon.
So back to this week’s blog.
It was a special day at the end of September 2022. I had just finished a final re-read of the electronic copy of my book (my first version was done in Google Docs) and I was feeling really good about the prospects for my work. I’d convinced myself that I had a compelling story worth telling that would be interesting to others. That said, despite those positive vibes, I couldn’t shake a near-overwhelming fear that what I had spent years trying to achieve, had simply been an exercise in ego-massaging so that I could say to myself that I had done what I’d set out to do. Or maybe I just liked the isolation of my study, where I could wrap myself in my thoughts for hours on end, thinking that I was doing something worthwhile ….. Or was I? I was no longer sure and I went to bed that night questioning whether I was kidding myself and wondering how I would test that without causing embarrassment to myself and my family.
The mind works in interesting ways. That night, my subconscious must have been in overdrive. By the following morning, I had a plan on how to test my story without it being exposed to the harsh lights of broad public or publisher opinions. I decided to print a few copies and task my adult children with doing a first read. I had confidence that while they would cut me some slack, they wouldn’t allow me to go down a path that might lead to a bad outcome. This theory did have some holes though. I recall giving my wife the first chapter (18 pages) some years before and asking for a critique to help me form an opinion of whether it was worth the effort. Was the story portrayed in that first chapter even remotely interesting? As far as I know, she never read it but if she did, she didn’t think it was worthy of feedback. Maybe she was protecting me from myself and what might have been a path to failure. Maybe she just doubted that I could do this. I didn’t know. So yes, I was still unsure but lacking a better plan, I printed copies for distribution.
It was exciting when those first hard copies were delivered. Finally, I could see something tangible from what had been an effort of several years. I handed them out and waited for feedback. Day after day I had to curb my enthusiasm to ask what the reviewers’ initial thoughts were. I had to give them the space to get to the end before poking for feedback. I didn’t want to be judged on a subset of wherever they were up to at the time. One read it in a week or so while another took close to a month. I thought that was a bad sign, but held course and tried to be patient.
Feedback was mixed. I thought I had more or less cleaned up my type, spelling and grammar issues. Far from it. My kids pointed out plenty that I’d missed. Elements of the story were pointed out that just sort of hung there without a conclusion or connection with other storylines. There were storylines that some thought added no value. One daughter made the blunt assessment that ‘that stuff about XX might be interesting to you Dad, but no one else would care and it doesn’t connect with anything else in the story’. There was also positive feedback. On one occasion a daughter came to me in tears and asked me if what she’d read had really happened, knowing that the core of the story was based on actual events. I explained a little more about something I had observed as a teenager, which was the basis for that part of the story. She cried some more and we hugged and cried together. Another family reviewer told me that she was up until the early hours of the morning, unable to put the book down, wondering how a scene or chapter or storyline played out. That reviewer also found elements of the story emotionally taxing; not in a way that made her want to turn away, but in a way that made her want to turn the page.
I deliberately stood back from making any changes for a month. I wanted all of the feedback before I decided on my next steps. I issued a questionnaire to my family reviewers to make sure that I unemotionally captured the good, bad and ugly. Analysis proved inciteful. Some loved pieces of the story that others found uneventful. some liked particular characters that others disliked. I guess that’s why we all prefer different types of books. Different things appeal to different people.
I collected the marked-up hard copies and over a few weeks, consolidated the feedback. I was both encouraged and disillusioned. To make my dream a reality, I had a severe amount of work to do, however, there was enough positive feedback to encourage me to push on. I spent the next month or so reviewing and rewriting. I found tracking the chronology of story events very challenging. As I changed something in one area of the book, I was inadvertently overlooking the impact of the change elsewhere. I misfired a lot on this point. I was constantly frustrated by little errors of commas or spaces or capitals or general punctuation or tense that I thought I’d addressed in my final read-through. The exercise helped me to appreciate the benefit of others reviewing my work because clearly, I had been reading what I meant to write and not always what I’d written. When satisfied that I’d addressed all of the issues called out, I printed another 6 copies.
I didn’t want to have the same people or any family look at my rework, but I knew that I needed another round of reviews before I decided how far I wanted to go with this. I wanted people from different demographics that would have no trouble giving me very direct feedback. I wanted people who were avid readers and would be able to provide me with a firm opinion on whether I was wasting my time. One of the 7 people that I invited turned me down, preferring to wait for the final version, which was fine. The others were enthusiastic and promised blunt assessments.
While I waited for that round of feedback, I asked myself what success looked like. I arrived at a comfortable place, deciding that I had done a substantial piece of work that at least my family found interesting and perhaps even compelling. I had tested myself in a completely new arena and had at least survived. I had met the goal that I had set myself to write a book that had substance, at least from my family’s point of view. I decided that irrespective of the outcome of round 2 of reviews, I was comfortable if this was where it all ended.
Well, it didn’t end there. More on what happened next soon.
If you enjoyed this post, please share your thoughts with me. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking.