Some of you will know that I spent much of 2008 and 2009 writing a novel. It’s a new genre for me and I loved every minute of the writing process. Like trying out a new exercise class, writing in an unfamiliar style can flex muscles you didn’t even know you had and reawaken some that had lain stiff and dormant for far too long.
I may have written 26 books and had them published. I may have written hundreds if not thousands of articles and had them published by magazines and papers worldwide. I may have edited three magazines. But as a novelist, I still feel like the new kid on the block. I’m unsure of myself, not sure if anyone will ‘get’ me or even like my style. So, I did what I advise all my students to do – I got some feedback. First I asked three of my friends to read the manuscript and tell me honestly what they thought. The friends had been handpicked because they represented my ideal reader and were interested in contemporary women’s fiction with a bit of a literary flavour. Like I tell my students, I made sure that some of my readers knew my subject area (my novel is set in Dubai) and some didn’t. They all loved it! I breathed out. They all made many suggestions for improvement, which I listened to carefully and then humbly acted upon. When I thought I was ready at last, with my heart in my mouth, I began to send my synopsis and first three chapters to some agents. For the first time in my life no one said ‘yes’ immediately to my proposal and I began to bake a large quantity of humble pie. Today I have eight rejection letters in my collection. So, a month ago, at the Book Promotion Seminar, I met up with my fellow presenter, Stephanie Hale of Oxford Writers and RichWriterPoorWriter fame. She runs a business with a range of services pretty similar to my own, only she does fiction and I don’t. We got to know each other over a plate of Arabic mezze one lunchtime and I decided I was brave enough to ask her to take a look at my work. Again, I was only doing what I tell my students to do – getting feedback, not from a friend, but from a professional.
I chose to send Stephanie exactly the same material that I had been sending to the agents.
Today, I heard her reply:
“Very engaging and interesting,” she wrote. “I stayed up late while I was reading this book and lost track of time – which is exactly the response you want from a reader!”
Stephanie loved my dialogue and my characters but she could see exactly where I went wrong with my cover letter and synopsis and indeed the holes in those first few chapters. She gave me sound advice and criticism along with the praise.
So, why am I telling you this? Why am I, a professional writer, sharing news that I am not brilliant and wonderful and marvellous? I am telling you this because I think we can all benefit not only from a wake up call from a professional, but that when we work in a new and unfamiliar environment we simply must get feedback in order to become confident and capable – and brilliant and wonderful and marvellous.
Self-confidence as a writer can be hard won. It can take a pile of published (and paid for) pieces and a mountain of good reviews and thank you letters before we truly start to believe in our writing ability. As a journalist and writer of non-fiction I have that paper proof and with it confidence in my ability. I have even taught and mentored others to achieve the same success for over a decade. But until I have proof in my ability as a novelist I shall continue to seek out feedback from ideal readers and professionals. And while I received valuable advice from those ideal readers, there is nothing quite like the advice of a professional. Thank you, Stephanie!
As you probably know, I offer a manuscript appraisal service too, just like Stephanie’s – only I focus on articles and non-fiction for now. One day, when I have a published novel under my belt, then I will offer that service too. But not yet. Until then I’ll leave that to the professionals!
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