Tuesday, November 8, 2016

GUEST POST: Betas and Reviewers: How Readers Helped JUSTICE UNENDING Happen

Hey there! I'm Elizabeth Spencer, author of the brand-spanking-new YA fantasy Justice Unending, which was published last week by Evernight Teen! Justice is the story of Faye Whitlock, a teenager in a very Victorian-esque society, whose unladylike adventures take a dramatic turn when she's possessed by the immortal spirit of an assassin—and the country's most wanted criminal. (You can read an excerpt here!)

Sarai has graciously offered to let me chat with you guys today—not about Justice Unending, per se, but about how I wrote it!

You see, Justice was my first published novel, so I love reading about how other authors wrote theirs. So I thought… hey! Why not share my own experiences?

I've actually been posting a ton on my own blog about the publishing process, including how I found a small press, what I learned from my first professional edit, and the resources I found most useful when writing Justice. Today I thought I'd talk about the half dozen people who completely saved my butt: my beta readers and query readers.

Beta Readers Are the Absolute Best
When I first finished editing Justice Unending, I immediately started querying agents. Annnnnd… I got only one, half-hearted response.

I panicked. Clearly, the story was terrible. But I wasn't sure what was wrong with it, so I decided everything was. I started re-outlining it. I decided to change the characters. Do the plot differently! REWRITE EVERYTHING.

But before I launched my plan to burn Justice to the ground, I had someone new read it. And their feedback was shocking. They didn't think the story needed to be gutted. They thought most of it was fine, in fact. Most of their recommended changes were in the first few chapters of the story.

So I rewrote the first fourth of the story. And, just to make sure I wasn't crazy, I got other, different betas, who all loved the new draft.

Had I gone with my gut instinct, I would have destroyed most of Justice. But that's when I learned that you can't judge your own story half as well as your readers can. I needed that outside perspective.

But Query Letters Need Proofreaders, Too!
I queried agents with both my first draft and my second draft. The first one earned me a single partial request, but the second got me six full requests from agents and two contract offers from publishers.

And yes, the rewrite definitely might have helped. But I also overhauled my query letter.

I ran it by the Absolute Write Query Letter Hell Forums. I ran it by WriteOnCon (a competition that doesn't seem to exist anymore.) I used it in Pitch Wars. By the time I was done, I had gone through nine versions of it.

And I am completely sure that super-polished query was the difference between one half-hearted response and eight fully interested ones. I mean, yes. The story's important. But no one actually reads your story if they don't like your query. And that query is ultimately how I found Evernight Teen—the publisher who ultimately made Justice Unending a reality.

Basically: Beta Readers Are the Best
Justice Unending took a long time to reach where it is today—two major rewrites, nearly two years of work, and more than a hundred emails out to agents and publishers.

But it wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the brilliant, intuitive, clever, and creative people who helped me polish my story and ramp up my query. And if you're a writer, make sure you take advantage of your own betas. They're more valuable than you might know.

Elizabeth Spencer is the author of Justice Unending, a new YA fantasy released by Evernight Teen. You can read more about Justice, as well as her other stories, on her website, Elizabeth-Spencer.net.

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