My friend Kristin asked me to volunteer as a leader for a new writer’s group through the local public library she works at. I readily agreed, and we developed a plan for a workshop-style critique group. I would really like to find a bunch of writers in the area with whom I can talk to about books and the craft of stringing words into tales, poetry, and other forms of creative meaning. This groups seems like a perfect way to both find writer friends and to improve my own writing along the way. What I didn’t expect was to be sharing my work with the group so soon.
At the end of the first meeting no one had anything to volunteer. I imagined that a few months down the line I’d have my own unpublished novel manuscript in decent enough shape to feel comfortable sharing it. However, everyone seemed like they would be a lot more comfortable if they first critiqued one of the group leaders pieces. And so, I let myself be the sacrificial writer whose manuscript these readers will have their first stab (sharp and pointy stabs I’m sure) at.
Yes, I could have submitted any number of unpublished short stories I have moldering away in some inexplicably dusty digital folder. However, I want this group to give me feedback on my novel. I need feedback on my novel. So I sent them the first part of my WIP, and now I’m kind of thinking Oh god, what have I done?
While the piece certainly isn’t as polished as I’d like, that’s only because for most parts of my novel I am making structural edits. I’d really like to be at a line-editing phase right now, but there’s just too much story craft to attend to still. The varnishing stage of word working will have to come later. And these early Alpha Readers will help me test the strength of my structural edits.
I turned on my laptop, loaded up the prologue and first chapter of my novel, selecting a total of fifteen pages. And then I read that oh-so-familiar story. I read it with the intention of sharing it. In doing so, I realized just how fucking different it is than anything most of my Alpha Readers have probably ever read. I think what I’ve written is good. But I do some ballsy shit in those first fifteen pages. So I’m a little nervous because I have no idea how an unprepared reader will take this kind of prose. Of course, I’m not trying to say that I’ve done something so unique that no reader will have ever had an analogous experience to what these, my Alpha Readers, are about to experience. What I’m saying is, not all of my Alpha Readers will be expecting a book like this.
My bestie, Mike, is the one and only person in this group who I know for a fact is at all prepared for my WIP. Though I’m hoping even he’ll be a bit surprised. And maybe the other group members are equally versed in similar modern Literary Fiction. But after meeting the handful of local authors who attended, I strongly doubt that (and make no judgements about it either).
I simply don’t know how readers unfamiliar with books of the sort I’ve written are going to react. So it’s both a bit scary and a bit exciting to see varying levels of blindness when it comes to my Alpha Readers. My bestie is well-versed in the kind of tough books that you must learn how to read while you read it. My co-leader, Kristin, is aware of the potential difficult reading level I write at since she did read my last book (though that book’s difficulty was in its language rather than structure). My other readers, like I already mentioned, I can’t be sure what they’ve read. Though if what they said they write is indicative of their past reading experience, then they haven’t read anything like what I’ve written.
There is an upside and a downside to having Alpha Readers reading blind to the very genre of my book (categorized best, I think, as genre Literary Fiction, subgenre Systems Novel).
We’ll start with the negative.
My Alpha Readers may not give good feedback because the structure is too unfamiliar to their expectation. They may find my narrative approach so jarring that they can’t offer feedback (will my readers be too busy asking “What is it?” to suggest “This part here would be stronger if . . .”?).
There are plenty of potential positives.
My Alpha Readers may find the novel fresh and original. Being they may not have expectations about my genre, they might be more accepting of how it is different from other Lit Fic Systems Novels. No matter their reaction, I’ll come away with a small sample of ways that the regular reading public will react to my book. By the time I’ve shared my whole novel, I might have expanded the reading world for someone.
Our next meeting is on Thursday night, so I’ll have some initial reactions to report back on the day after this post goes live. Hopefully everyone who came to the first meeting also attends the second. And I hope we get more people in attendance even if they won’t be reading the first pages of my book.
All images in this post hold a Creative Common license and were sourced from Pixabay. The image of the husky tearing apart a ball was sourced from JockeEkroth on Pixabay.