The Ya Ya Sisterhood of the Towanda Traveling Manuscript, or how I got the most awesome book club ever without even knowing it

More Than You Think You Know by Cyndi Perkins Original Manuscript

Dog-eared, clothes pinned, well-circulated, well-read copy of my novel. I’m so humbled. It is my dearest wish that it has a full array of coffee stains, wine splashes and chocolate fingerprints on it before it’s done making the rounds of my Ya Ya Towanda Sisters. You rock!

A writer wants people to read and appreciate what the'y've written. Done!

This is Mary, my Book Club President De Facto, who agreed to be a beta reader and became so much more.  Hanging out on Carmelita’s patio in Calumet on a summer evening I received the compliment that every writer yearns for.

Hanging out on Carmelita’s patio in Calumet on a summer evening I received the compliment that every writer yearns for.

Laura, at left, hanging out with us on music night at Carmelita's in Calumet. I was amazed she'd read my novel.

Laura, at left, hanging out with us on music night at Carmelita’s in Calumet. I was amazed she’d read my novel.

“I really liked your book,” Laura said.

Me: Blank stare. Confusion morphing into pleasure. Wow. She liked my book.

Laura: “Mary let me read it.”

My friend Denise: “Then Rita had it. And when Wilma’s done, I’m getting it next.”

What?

As it turns out, the original manuscript for my novel has been making the rounds since I sent it to one of my beta readers a few years ago. And like the old Faberge Organics shampoo commercial she told a friend, and they told a friend, and so on and so on …

Denise called the next day to make sure it really was OK to read “the book.” And finished it in a week. And said more of those sweet words that every author craves

Here's Denise with her honey, Greg. She's looking foward to publishing her own book someday soon.

Here’s Denise with her honey, Greg. She’s looking foward to publishing her own book someday soon.

“I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want it to be over.”

Dang. I’ve got me a book club. Or what would you call this? None of them ever answered the thought-provoking reader questions I included on the thumb drive I sent Mary. They just read my book, liked it, and shared it.

No matter what else happens I have this happiness. A circle of really cool women who would never blow smoke up my ass have been reading and circulating my manuscript.

I have admired and cared for them for a long time. Loving who they are. How they are.

And they love me. Aside from anything I write.

But to know that these no BS no-holds-barred babes related to my characters rocks my world.

There is also something to be learned from this about beta readers. To riff on the title of my novel, they know more than you think they know. And may be doing more than you know behind the scenes.

Each of my nine betas received the manuscript on a thumb drive, with a synopsis and that list of Book Clubby questions. No one answered the questions. And I only received direct feedback from a couple of my betas, one a script writer and very savvy reader out in LA who honestly admitted the rape scene gave her the heebie jeebies but she liked the traveling parts. The other, an accomplished indie author in several genres and an English teacher, blessed me with a line edit that cleaned up a lot of continuity issues and blessed me with a well-deserved lecture about one tricky POV switch that I tried to pull off but secretly knew did not work.

I never heard back from the other beta readers. I figured they were too busy. I tried not to go negative as in, ‘they don’t want to hurt my feelings by telling me how boring the book is.” I didn’t press it. Who remembers that scene in Funny Farm where Chevy Chase’s wife starts crying when he asks her how his book is?

One of my betas admitted several months later that he’d lost the drive and was too embarrassed to tell me. Awwww. No biggie! But I didn’t send him another copy because by that time I’d incorporated radical changes. I made it through to critique rounds of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel of the Year competition. One of the vine judges spoke as if from my own bones, advising me to cut the first chapter and get to the chase. Like the clumsy POV experiment, I already knew that Chapter One had to go.

Hack. Whack. Slash.

I’m a good writer. So I did what good writers do. I kept polishing, refining, revising and submitting. Until I found a publisher. And began the work of taking the book to market.

More Than You Think You Know is nearly ready for publication. In the meantime, it feels safe and reassuring to let the old manuscript journey on. Nancy just finished it this weekend. Her message arrived today:

Nancy just finished my book. Aren't those kids adorable? It's really cool to know my three wild women traveling down the Heartland Rivers on a 44-foot yacht found an appreciative audience.

Nancy just finished my book. It’s really cool to know my three wild women traveling down the Heartland Rivers on a 44-foot yacht found an appreciative audience.

“Denise M. gave me a manuscript written by one Cyndi Perkins. After a marathon read yesterday … wow! What a great read! Miss the ladies and their travels already. Have missed your writing. This was worth the wait. I’ll wait patiently for the next one.”

It was the will of a very unconventional Mary that this circle of women, both known and unknown to me read my book.

So be it.

Do you think they’ll read the new version? Actually buy a copy of the book? Hell yeah. And want my autograph, too. I have no reason to believe otherwise. They’ve always supported me. And no matter what happens to this dream, this endeavor, this novel, I have this. I have this gift of knowing that even in its roughest form this work I’ve done pleased its intended audience.

I think I’ll have a special book club party at Carmelita’s next summer.

Margaritas on me, mamacitas! I love you.

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3 thoughts on “The Ya Ya Sisterhood of the Towanda Traveling Manuscript, or how I got the most awesome book club ever without even knowing it

  1. Cyndi – you are an amazing writer and I was indeed honored to be asked to be one of your beta readers. I so enjoyed the novel and loved that you thought enough of me to send it. I have to send a long overdue apology for not answering the questions you sent although I do recall telling you just how much I loved it at the time. Since I sometimes find writing Christmas cards and thank you notes challenging, I also recall not feeling knowledgeable enough to critique what I thought was an awesome accomplishment! I just knew I loved it so I passed it on to someone who I knew would also love it…..and so it began. I can’t wait to read the book again when it’s published – I felt somehow more connected to the storyline because they were YOUR characters and not some random faceless authors. Love you! Mary

    • Mary, thank you so much! And no need to be sorry about the questions. It wasn’t the right way to find out what I needed to know. Your way has revealed so much more – and it’s made all the difference. xxx

  2. Pingback: Cut to the Chase: Novel Coming Out June 28 | cyndiperkins

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