top of page

Writing, Revisions, Beta Readers, and Beyond

We all know that any good book went through a process. There is no such thing as writing a magical first draft that's perfect and ready to print. I'm currently working on two novels in various stages of the editing process. From conception to competition, the editing process is different for everyone.

It took me five years and three full revisions before I let anyone outside of school read my first novel. I started writing it the summer after graduating college. I had been rejected from grad school and didn't know what I was supposed to do with a bachelor's in creative writing other than teach high school English. I didn't want to let my degree go to waste, so I decided to work on some short stories, try to get a few publications, and reapply to grad school. It was supposed to just be a short story, but the more I worked on it, the longer it became, and eventually I had a full manuscript.

I wrote my first book in my childhood bedroom in 2015. It took me about three months to get the first draft down and I knew it was an absolute mess, but I didn't care. I had finished it. One of my undergrad professors told us that every day someone picks up a pen, or opens a blank document and starts to write a story, but only a fraction of those people actually finish them. Of course you have to go through the revision process, but time and time again, successful writers will tell you that you have to finish the story before you can start editing.

It's understandable though, the people who never get to finish. Sometimes life just gets in the way. In the old days, men were able to lock themselves away and write all day while their wives or housekeepers took care of them. Then there's the trope of the starving artist, so dedicated to their work that they forgo a comfortable living to pursue it. I guess you could say I was closer to the latter. Living at home after college, my mother asked me every day "Have you done your writing?" Sure, I worked part-time, but she took care of my meals, I didn't pay rent, and it was easy to finish a draft in three months when the rest of my needs were being met.

When I finished the first draft, I walked out to the living room where my mom was watching TV and I hugged her.

"Thank you for allowing me to do this," I told her. I knew so many people whose parents weren't supportive of them getting a liberal arts degree, hell, my dad wasn't wild about it at first and my stepdad didn't really understand it, but my mom... she championed me. So I hugged her, and I thanked her, and then I called her a dumb whore because she is wildly uncomfortable with sincerity and we have a weird sense of humor.

Even though it had only been three months of working on the book, I decided to put it away and not look at it for a while before going back and revising. This is another one of those pieces of advice constantly floating around writer's circles. You have to get some distance– some perspective before you can jump right into edits. Let the work get a little less precious in your mind. I didn't pull it out again until two years later when I decided I wanted to use it for my MFA thesis. While in school it went through two full revisions– changing major plot points, points of view, and the setting. Each of these changes made the story more personal and therefore a little scarier to share with the people in my life.

There comes a point in the revision process when you can't be an objective editor anymore. You've put too much time and effort into the manuscript and you have to get a different set of eyes on it to give you a fresh perspective on what needs to change. In late 2020, I finally felt like the book was ready for some beta readers and feedback. Up to that point I had been very secretive about my book. It was so personal and, while fiction, pulled a lot from my real life and the people around me. Finding beta readers was a hard process because I wanted people who knew something about writing and could give me good edits, but also people who knew something about the content of the book and could give feedback on that.

I decided on five people I thought would give me thoughtful, detailed feedback (one of them being my mom). I didn't know anything about professional services and I wasn't really a part of any writing community yet. I picked people who were fellow teachers, or avid readers. People I thought I could count on. Of those five readers, only three returned the full manuscript. One returned the first 120 pages with feedback, but then nothing after that. One completely ghosted me. The three that gave me revisions varied wildly in the amount of feedback they gave. My mom was incredibly thoughtful and detailed. One gave me some grammar notes and the other some content notes, but nothing that really helped propel the story into its next phase. I'm still sorting through those revisions three years later and trying to find the places where I can bring more life to this story before I start the querying process for an agent. I started this book in 2015 and am just now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

After that experience, I learned about paid beta readers. There is a whole network of people who are making a living, or at least an income, from reading other people's work and giving feedback. When it comes to deciding on beta readers there are a few factors to consider. The upside to hiring one of these people of services is that you will most likely get someone who takes it seriously, who doesn't know you, and therefore won't go easy on you. The downside of course is that you need to do some research to find people who are reputable and qualified. When using a service like this, you're sending your precious manuscript out to a stranger who might just completely not get it, charge you a bunch of money, and tell you they hate it. It's a risk vs reward system. One thing to take into consideration is where your book is in the editing process. If it's a very first draft, you might still have a long road before it's ready for a service like this. You might pay someone for feedback and then end up changing the book substantially even without their guidance. You need to think about what you're hoping to get out of this process.

As soon as I sent my first book out to my "beta readers" I started on my second novel. This one had been rolling around in my mind for a few years so I knew mostly where it was going and what I wanted to do with it. I only did two drafts in about two years before sending it out to readers. I looked into various editing services and mutuals on writer Twitter, but ultimately I decided to make the same choice as before and look to friends and family to be my first readers. This book is still so new, and it probably isn't ready for serious editing. I mostly want to know if I even have something worth reading right now.

When I send out my manuscripts to these beta readers I also send them a questionnaire to help guide them when reading. It's nothing serious, but I always ask pointed questions– things I'm worried about or think might need a little extra attention. This last round of beta readers were people in my writing community (now that I had one) and of course, my mom. I think it's important to have that one person in your life who you always turn to for your writing. Someone who knows your voice, who knows what you're aiming for, and who can help you work it out. It's so important to have outside opinions who won't just tell you it's great, but it's also really important to have a champion.

Writing a book is hard. There is so much time between conception and completion; it's going to vary for each writer and each project. My two books are only steps away from each other, but one's been in the works for nearly eight years and the other is only two years old. One thing I've learned over and over again on this writing journey is that there isn't a set timeline when it comes to the drafting process. As for what comes after that, I'm hoping to find out soon. My first novel is nearly ready to dig into the query trenches as I try to find an agent and hopefully publish. Keep following along and I'll try to drop any nuggets of wisdom I pick up along the way.

Editing chapter placement with my first reader

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page