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  • The Mindsets that Keep You From Starting (and Finishing) Your Book: Part III
The Mindsets that Keep You From Starting (and Finishing) Your Book: Part III
Written by
Alissa Johnson
October 2014
Written by
Alissa Johnson
October 2014

You've written your book. You made it through the first few chapters and all the way to the end. You read and revised it, and now you're ready for someone to read it. This is a big moment—your book is no longer an idea in your head; it's a story that someone can read and experience. Talk about a moment that's thrilling and vulnerable!

An early reader has the power to help you transform your book into something better, or drive you to hide it in a drawer (as you'll read below, I've seen it happen). And unfortunately, the third mindset that keeps writers stuck and struggling comes into play just as you're choosing your readers. It’s based on the belief that you're protecting your work by sharing it with friends, family members, or someone who knows you.

It seems logical. These people care about you. Surely they will care about your book, too. The trouble is that the people closest to us are often inexperienced when it comes to giving feedback about our books. They might see room for improvement but have no idea how to communicate that in a respectful, encouraging way.

Take one of my clients. Before we started working together, she shared the first draft of her memoir with a neighbor who had expertise in one of the book's subjects. Her neighbor read the first three chapters and then—without finishing it—told my client that it wasn’t very good and she should write it as a how-to book.

Determined to be an author, my client took her advice and rewrote the whole thing. But the how-to book didn’t feel right, and she tucked both versions in a drawer for a year. Her confidence had been shaken, and it took that long to realize that she was going to finish her book no matter what her neighbor thought (which, by the way, is a beautiful, heartfelt memoir that is transforming her writing and her life. Imagine if she'd left it in that drawer!).

Of course, some friends and family are terrific when it comes to supporting our dreams—yet even that can go awry when it comes to our books. I once mentored a graduate student working on a memoir. She showed it to family members early in the process, and refreshingly, they loved it. They told her she'd captured everyone and every scene perfectly. Pretty great feedback, right?

The difficulty came in trying to help her understand that as an outsider I loved the characters, but I couldn't get into the story. Key details were missing—the very details that she and her family probably filled in as they read. She had a hard time grasping the need for changes when her family had loved it so much, and as a result, she missed opportunities to make her book better.

To avoid both scenarios, let go of the need to protect your work. Honor your book by carefully selecting your readers.

The time will come to share your book with friends and family, but for now take the time time to find someone whose expertise lies in giving feedback rather than your background and personality. Take the time to talk to them. Do they speak your language? Do they understand what you're trying to do? What kind of feedback will they give you?

It might feel vulnerable to share your work with someone outside of your inner circle. It might even take longer to find a reader. But you've poured your heart and soul into your book—why risk your book, your confidence, and your dreams? Let your choice honor how far you've come.

How do you choose a reader for your work? I'd love to hear your tips below!

Curious about the other mindsets that can keep you from starting and finishing your book? Check out Part I and Part II

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  • Jill G. Hall

    Joining a read and critique group, facilitated by a published author, really helped me with the first draft of my novel.  I was able to receive feedback from several perspectives, learned a lot from reading others writing and began to hone my craft. I didn't even let my husband read my manuscript until I was on the fifth draft. However, on my first draft I did tell him whenever something exciting happened to one of my characters!  He was very supportive.

  • Suzy Soro

    My friends and family read my first screenplay and thought it was FABULOUS. I found it very irritating that no one could find one thing that didn't make sense or ring true or anything? Then a friend sent it to an old MGM reader who'd read hundreds and hundred of sps. She lambasted my ending, said it was a cheap cop out and diminished the entire sp. The friend who gave it to her called me to say it had been decimated and she was sooooooooo sorry. I got the sp back, read the reader's notes and did exactly what she'd noted. She was right. My fiends and family knew nothing about sp arcs or character development. I entered it into one contest and it placed in the top 20. Ever since then, 18 years ago, I don't give anything I write to people who I think are going to go easy on me for fear of "hurting my feelings." Forget that, I need help. My feelings will survive.

  • Alissa Johnson

    Great advice, to let it percolate and then see if it hits home in your heart. Thanks!

  • Pamela Olson

    What's helped me is to sit on beta reader feedback for a while rather than rushing to change anything. Let the feedback -- good or bad -- percolate in your head for a while. After a few days, return to the work and see if what they say makes sense to you, deep in your heart. If it resonates (albeit sometimes painfully) or if it feels like a bad note that just doesn't fit in the chord of your story. Readers are VERY subjective. What doesn't at all work for five people may be deeply moving for five thousand.

    But I've been very grateful for many beta readers who have woken me up to issues my stories that did, in fact, need improvement. And I'd rather hear it from a Facebook friend than from a reviewer on Amazon!

  • Alissa Johnson

    I love that you have such an optimistic view of readers. It's refreshing compared to that idea I run so often that no one reads! But you're right--readers are interested in the world, and that's where it all begins!

  • I think a reader is interested in the world, loves to read a variety of books, magazines, newspapers, journals,etc., is honest and doesn't try to flatter the writer.  Just give a review of the book that is truthful and honest. Readers must also not go overboard with their review by trying to control the writer or rewrite the book. Relatives and/or friends present a conflict of interest, because they're invested in remaining on your good side, more or less. That's my experience, anyway.