Outside These Walls – The story behind Julia and Madalyn

Who? If you are a reader of my book, you may have noticed I dedicated it to three people in my life, past and present. First my wife, Aimee, who was part of its inspiration. The second is Julia, a woman I employed as a developmental editor for my second manuscript. The third is a young woman, Madalyn, one of the very first readers of Outside These Walls. Without Julia and Madalyn, it’s highly likely that Outside These Walls would never have been written and published. But the real story here is that both women and I parted ways under … how shall I put it? Let me just say the circumstances were less than ideal.

From Julia, I received some fairly harsh criticism and this coming from the woman I’d employed to help me. But in a backwards sort of way, she did. Before we parted ways, Julia called upon a colleague to see if she (Julia) was missing something. So her colleague is the “she and her” referred to in Julia’s comments below.

“She and I enjoyed discussing your themes of transparency. It’s a valid, timely, and interesting point. However, her primary difficulty with your book, which again I was hesitant on, having read it so many times, is that the cyclical nature of the story makes it feel somewhat pointless (I know that’s a harsh word.) in terms of living through the story to reach a conclusion.” Julia then went on to criticize my character arc for three paragraphs before saying, “Now, if you’re wondering just what point I want you to make, I must stress as deeply as I can that I don’t know. That’s the author’s job. Having said all this, I want to assure you that I am convinced in the value of your book, but you need to keep working with it, and I’m not sure how interested you are in that. Once you deal with the wordiness and clarity to a point where you’re satisfied, perhaps that’s all you want from this first novel.” (Second actually) “Perhaps you will still feel driven to work on it.

“Let me say here that she and I also discussed what changes and improvements you have made since you’ve been working on the manuscript with me. She and I are both impressed by the lengths you’ve crossed and the insights into the process you’ve had. I can only see that continuing as long as you keep seeking that.”

To that, I responded with some criticism of my own and we part on semi-amicable terms. But I also thanked her for the challenge and some of the things I learned from her in the process. After parting ways, I went on to make some changes and set it aside. After reading most of it recently, I saw that it still needed heavy editing and clarification. Ultimately, I don’t know that I would have pursued writing Outside These Walls if not for her comments and challenge. After some soul-searching, learning more about writing, and about a year later, I started over with a different approach.

Now Madalyn, she’s a different story altogether. She still won’t communicate with me, and I suppose I don’t blame her. I did come down pretty hard on her. But before I get deeper into that, I want to present why she gets the distinction of a dedication. She wrote the following:

“I would like to be brutally honest with you, even though it points out that I am a bit unnecessary here. Your manuscript was done by the time I looked at it. I am absolutely thrilled that I got to experience being a beta reader for this book, but if I was in your shoes, I would have been hiring a literary agent by now, not beta readers. I have reviewed at least a hundred manuscripts through work at a literary agency and edited a handful of books on this site.” (Fiverr) “And I’ve always recommended 2-3 rounds of developmental editing, line editing, and then following up with proofreading, before I even entertain a conversation about publishing. Besides the one or two changes I suggested, your book needs nothing. I don’t want you to take this as flattery or empty compliments; I am shocked that I’m saying this personally. At the agency I’ve been assigned the tough clients with previous publishing experience, since I have a harsher style and will really pick apart a book if I need to. I’ll admit that I laughed aloud when I saw that you thought it “too positive”, because that’s never been a phrase applied to my edits/suggestions. But truly, I think your book is ready to hit the shelves. I assume if you’ve hired a cover designer that you’re going the self-publishing route. That’s a fantastic option, but have you thought about traditional publishing? I think your book has the “it factor” to become successful. I whole-heartedly believe that if you hired a literary agent to represent that you could traditionally publish this book. The agency I work at is not the right fit for you … again let me be perfectly clear, this is not flattery or a Pollyanna act; I am the type of person who will and has told authors to scrap a project and come back to the publishing topic in a few years. This book has just captured my interest in a way that few have, and I know it is exactly what so many editors, publishers, and readers are looking for right now.”

Without her affirmation, I doubt I would have gone to the extent I did to see it shine. Despite her comment that it was ready for the shelves, I disagreed and went to work on it. Meanwhile, we’d struck a deal to use her as a resource and a proofreader when my MS was complete. That’s where things fell apart. Without going into the gory details, she did some things that made me livid, and I blew up in a scathing response. I have since apologized for my behavior, not my criticism, but she’s ignored me, so far. After I cleaned up her mess, I again received confirmation that it was “agent worthy” from a respectable source. I pursued that avenue and gave up, arguably too soon, but the subject of agents is reserved for another post.

My experience with Madalyn was quite paradoxical, if that is even possible. It was her encouraging words that kept me with it, but she was wrong about so many things. It certainly wasn’t ready for the shelves. She confirmed this by her “proofread,” which is what caused me to boil over. She took it as a license to edit, and I agreed to no such thing. She changed things in error, introducing more error than she fixed. An editor she was not. It took me some time to clean it up and another round of readers.

Still, in reflection, she was an important part of getting me to this point. So why this post? No doubt, every writer who ever wrote had some self-doubt at some point in time. And I imagine every writer has also had to endure some harsh criticism. In that same round of readers Madalyn was part of, one found no redeeming value in it. That’s probably why Madalyn’s words were so encouraging. But through persistence to make it the best it could be, I learned her opinion was part of a very small minority. To any writer who can identify, keep your chin up and plow on.


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