So who had Smigs in the Which-Beta-Reader-Will-Finish-The-Murder-Plague-first pool?
Dave “Smigs” Smigelski, a former editor at a book publisher, former editor of a leftist alternative weekly urban newspaper, and currently a mid-level editor with an Oregon newspaper, is the first of my eight beta readers to report back in on my manuscript. He called me last night rather than send me a written book report. He gave me a couple of surprises.
First, he said he really liked it. I’ve known Smigs for almost 30 years, and he has never been one to sugar coat anything. His reputation for blunt honesty and cynicism, especially with friends, had me terrified of sending him a copy. When he says he likes something, that’s like Mikey liking Cheerios.
Second, based on his recommendations, I’ll be heading back to tear the manuscript apart to make some major changes. And gee, I’ve still got seven more betas out there.
Lesson one: a manuscript really isn’t finished until it’s gone through beta reads.
My apologies to all those agents whom I’ve already queried: you weren’t being offered a finished product after all. They don’t care, though. They’ve pretty much all turned it down based on my query, synopsis and maybe the first few pages, and those aren’t going to change based on Smigs’ assessment.
(Now Martha, Ann and Maggie all have sent me interim reports based on the first few chapters, and they have suggestions that would cause minor revisions in the first few pages, but nothing that means an agent got cheated with the earlier pages.)
Lesson two: if you’ve got thin skin, don’t seek beta readers.
No, don’t write.
I was so (naively) confident in the fundamental wholeness of my manuscript. I never expected to be so easily convinced that major revisions are in order. Especially, perhaps by Smigs. I can recall some very heated conversations with him that ended with each of staking out and firmly holding to the position that the other simply was full of crap.
But Smigs’ ideas last night were compelling, and I imagine the other betas’ will be too. They all have their own styles and strengths so I expect to come out of this with some widely differing perspectives.
Which is good, right?
Smigs wants more. More character development. More characters. More science. More suspense. More setbacks. We hashed over a few specific ideas on the phone and I think they’re all doable, but not without significant work.
Now I’ve got Mark, Donna, Sugs, Margaret, Martha, Ann and Maggie to prepare for.
Do I wait for most or all of them to report back before I start tearing apart the manuscript, or do I take each one as they come? The bottom line, I guess, is simply revising to make it better as I see fit, so I think I’ll dive in tonight.
Owe ya a beer, Smigs. But you have to come to Florida to collect.