Beta Readers

Apologies for my silence, to those of you who are kind enough to follow my novel writing exploits. As well as drying out my soggy soul in sunny Italy for a few days, I have spent weeks immersed in major editing of my WIP Pictures of Love.

It seems the nearer I get to pressing save on my final draft, before sending it to my lovely beta readers, the more I feel compelled to rewrite the whole bloomin’ thing from the first page.

I understand the need for my novel to be the best it can be before going out into the world at large. But how polished does it need to be for beta readers? I mean, what if I spend hours filling in all the extra bits of back-story for a secondary character only to be told she adds nothing to the plot?

Or – my biggest fear, certainly in my academic days – what if I remove something, only to have someone suggest it’s exactly the thing that is missing for them? Do I take out the long words – as has been suggested – when I know most of my readers will understand and expect them? Most importantly, do I take out the sex?

I have one sex scene, right at the beginning, to show my main character’s relationship is based only on lust. There is no more sex after that, well none shown explicitly. What if I set the expectation that it’s an erotic novel when it’s nothing of the sort?


I knew writing novels was going to be hard but, like parenting, it’s hard in all different places to the ones I expected.


I received my first rejection letter today. I feel a bit empty. Not because I care, really. Despite wild delusions that any agent would, of course, immediately demand to see the full manuscript (and who doesn’t have those?), I didn’t really expect to be accepted that quickly or easily. I anticipate many rejections before I find success (assuming I ever find it). I didn’t even expect a personalised letter detailing why my novel was rejected.

Which is lucky.

In fact, I think the real reason I feel flat is because I got a response so quickly. My Mills and Boon submission disappeared into the ether, regardless of assurances that a response would be received inside six months, and despite several attempts to elicit said response from them. Somehow that not knowing gave me hope, at least for a while. (I can safely assume that, after nine months, I am not a Mills & Boon writer!)

Maybe hope is what it is all about. Possibly that is why I have only recently sent my first submission to an agent, despite having written four novels in the last three years. Until it has been rejected, there is still the hope that your novel is the next big thing.

But here’s the rub. My novel could still be the next big thing. One rejection is just one person’s opinion. As my rejection letter was signed ‘Bryony’ rather than the name of the agent I sent my submission to, I assume my novel was perused by a reader. So that one opinion wasn’t even the agent’s.

I think the bit that leaves me feeling insecure is not knowing how far into my first three chapters the reader got before they hit the ‘no thanks’ button and moved on. What if they hated it after the first paragraph? I’ll never know.

My rejection letter recommended the services of a literary consultant. I admit I have considered getting a professional view of my work. I just can’t quite bring myself to pay someone – it makes me nervous, with hints of vanity press and the like.

Does anyone have any experience of literary consultants?

In the meantime, I shall plough on with novel #5 and eventually, after another few months, I might find the courage to send some chapters of one of my growing stack of novels to another agent.

Until then, I have hope.