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