Baby steps to publication – goals and beta readers

In my ‘rebooting the blog’ post from a few months ago, I mentioned that one of my aims for 2019 is to try and establish myself as a writer. I’ve got quite a lot of ideas swimming around my head, a few of which I am starting to commit to paper/screen. I thought it might be useful to occasionally blog about where this is at, partly so that I can see my progress/give myself the required kick up the backside (delete as applicable), and partly to give my handful of readers an insight into the early days of trying to make a dream more of a reality.


One resource I’ve found super-helpful is the Bestseller Experiment podcast, a weekly podcast aimed at writers featuring interviews with authors and publishing industry insiders, and the two Marks’ drive to make their book Back to Reality a bestseller. One of the things they emphasise is the public declaration, as a way of encouraging people to commit to something concrete and work towards it. My goals for the first half of 2019 were:

1. Finish my children’s picture book text and get it in a good enough state to start hawking it around to agents/publishers – by end of Jan 2019.
2. Start the research and end up with an initial draft for a second children’s picture book – by end of June 2019.
3. Outline my ideas for an early reader’s chapter book – by end of June 2019.
4. Have first drafts of ten non-fiction essays – by end of June 2019.

Now that I’m beyond the first deadline, I think it’s worth taking a look at where I’m at, and what I’ve done so far.

1. I sent this out to beta readers in January (more about that in a minute) and am now working through the comments. So I’m now aiming to have it in a hawkable state by the end of this month.
2. I’m in two minds about this book. I’d still like to do it, but part of me thinks it’s a non-starter, so although I’ll keep it in mind it’ll be more on the back-burner. I think it will be a useful thing for those days when I can’t face any of my more pressing projects, to keep me still writing, and maybe a nugget of gold will emerge from it. But I’m not going to prioritise it, for now.
3. This is still possible – but at the moment I have lots of snippets of ideas, and no coherent story. I did though listen to a fantastic interview on Tim Clare’s podcast with one of my favourite authors, Melissa Harrison (show notes here), where she said of her first novel that she had a series of ideas, sent them randomly to her agent, who said ‘I think you’re writing a novel’, and then she burst into tears and had to try and fit them all together. That sounds very like where I feel this particular story is at – lots of random ideas that will need a lot of work to piece them together into something coherent (and which will possibly make me cry).
4. I’m doing well with this. I’ve got three essays finished or nearly finished – so far I’d say one is rubbish (but that’s OK – I can move on from it now), one has potential and one is pretty good (and those latter two might well be combinable into something even stronger). I’ve written a list of subjects that I could write about, and use a random number generator to come up with which one to write about next. I’m even kind of enjoying this!

Beta readers

So last month I sent out the children’s book to some very kind volunteers to take a look at it and offer their comments. It reminded me of sending my first tentative drafts of my PhD thesis to my supervisors – I knew it would need some work, and that it had flaws, but really hoped they wouldn’t be too brutal! I realised that, apart from at a creative writing workshop last year when I first mentioned the idea, this was actually the first time that it had any kind of audience beyond the inside of my head, and this felt really huge! So my grateful thanks to all my beta readers, who were unremittingly kind and constructive, positive even, with my little embryonic book, and who didn’t make me want to give up and never write again!

I’m going through their comments at the moment, and a few things have struck me. I had specifically asked them if they would comment on the ‘level’ of the book – it is aimed at 3 year olds and their parents, but my daughter is now 5, and although I could imagine reading it with her, I suspected I had written it at a 5 year old’s level rather than a bit simpler for a 3 year old. I had mixed comments about this – some agreed that the child in the story seemed older than 3, but others suggested additions which to my mind, whilst clarifying the concepts, seemed to me even older than 5! The trick, of course, will be to clarify the concepts whilst also simplifying the language, which is an interesting challenge!

Another thing which came up was a very definite UK/US divide around one particular word. I’ll be keeping the UK word, but if the book ever gets picked up by a major American publisher (I can dream!) I’ll definitely know to change it for a US audience, so that was a super-useful thing to learn!

I appreciated the many comments about how the book is a good idea. I thought so, obviously, but it was great to have that confirmed, and it gives me more confidence when pitching the book that there is a potential place in the market for it.

Finally, something mentioned by one of the beta readers led me to wonder about a slight layout change (adding in a separate page specifically aimed at parents), and that was then more specifically suggested by another. Hopefully this is a case of great minds thinking alike!

As a first experience of using beta readers, I’d say this was very positive. What I’ve learned in particular is that it’s really helpful to provide some guidance about specific questions you want to clarify (in my case whether or not the language was pitched at an appropriate level, as well as pointing out if anything is particularly clunky or awkward to read). It’s given me a lot of food for thought, and should make the book even better.

The next step will be researching where to pitch it. This is how I feel about that.

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