Version 2 copies were distributed and I waited with great anticipation as to what I might learn. Had the work I’d done post the early feedback made the book better or worse? Would the feedback be consistent enough for me to make a call on progressing to publication? While I hadn’t always agreed with perspectives offered from round 1, where there were multiple observations on the same point, I swallowed my ego and made changes. I didn’t find that difficult, thinking that it would improve my storytelling in one way or another.
I was much more nervous about what I might learn from the round two assessors. This group had both males and females aged from relatively young, to a couple in their 70s. There were several members of book clubs that were friends of friends and people that preferred different genres of books. From the backgrounding that I’d done, I was confident that they were people that would give me blunt assessments. I gave them a slightly updated set of questions to answer to help me assess strengths and weaknesses. I intended that at the end of this review cycle, based on the collective feedback, I would make one of two decisions. I would put to bed, forever, the idea of pursuing publication, or I would jump in and try to give ‘The Shadow’ a life beyond my family. The thought of making the latter decision scared me. That would mean making a leap of faith into the unknown and putting myself out there for examination by the masses. Or at least I hope it would be the masses. Of course, the masses are a good thing for an author, but taking that step does mean that all of my friends would be making judgements on my work.
The first feedback arrived in less than a week in the form of an email. I knew that this lady was an avid reader, but I was surprised that she’d read it and responded to my questionnaire in such a short period. Her message was that the start of the book, especially the first few pages, was slow, but then it found real rhythm and purpose. She commented that ‘this was a story that needed to be told,’ which encouraged me enormously. She also commented on my writing style and thought that I did a good job of describing the complexities of life in rural Australia and the small communities upon which rural life is based. This reviewer has family and friends in the US and thought that this type of book, that time-capsuled drama of the 1960s and 70s, was in vogue and that she would have no hesitation in recommending it to her family and friends. It was an encouraging start, but I was determined not to get ahead of myself. Five more reviews came in over the next 2 months. I was impatient to get it all in but forced myself to not make any decisions until I had perspectives from the entire cohort.
The other reviews were also mostly positive, although I learned a lot about different perspectives from different readers. In contradiction to the first reviewer, others called out how strong the opening was, commenting that it boldly set up the book and characters. That feedback served to reinforce the point that there are not many authors, even amongst the very best (which I am certainly not comparing myself to) that appeal to all readers. There were more grammatical issues called out, which surprised me, however, I was glad to have them unearthed. There were a few character issues identified where there was a lack of continuity and or value, but nothing that stood out to me as a big red flag. One reviewer made the point that I used the word ‘however,’ way too much and cited a chapter where I’d almost worn out the word. After review, I concluded that I tended to use ‘however’ where most might use ‘but’ or other substitutes to change context. It was an insight that only this lady picked up but it resulted in me re-examining everywhere that I used that word. Most comments were overtly encouraging. I was particularly pleased when one reviewer, let’s call him Stuart, told me that he was normally an early-to-bed type but that he’d stayed up more than one night to turn pages. He subsequently questioned me on some scenes and how such injustice could have been allowed. He was also troubled by the levels of physiological violence and its impact on key characters. I talked him through some of those events and assured him that these things did happen. Life wasn’t easy on the land with the fishbowl pressures of small rural communities in the 60s and 70s.
Based on round 2 feedback, I eliminated several storylines and characters that didn’t add depth, colour or interest. This reduced the length of the book by almost 30 pages. That was a good thing because the book was becoming so long that its length had become an issue. I consolidated the feedback and sat with my family for one last sanity check before deciding on the future of ‘The Shadow’. Option 1 was to stop now and be satisfied (to a degree) that I was done. I’d told the story that had burned within for so long and my family were now aware of things that I observed as a teenager that I’d never before shared with them. Could I be satisfied with that? Or decide to try to get this thing published, knowing that would mean another deep round of closing out the issues and markups called out in round two of evaluation.
We agreed to push ahead to see if we could get ‘The Shadow’ published. I had no idea how ignorant I was about the implications of that decision. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The next little while was to be a steep learning curve.