My client Patty recently sent me the following note: “You know I get what agents and editors have to say. They want to make sure any book they take on has a fighting chance, an audience, and is going to make them money. But do you ever think they get it wrong? I hope so. I think what counts are your readers and from what I’ve received so far they love the book.”
Despite all the veils of mystery and weirdness that can surround the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, editors and agents are still just people. Sometimes they do get it wrong. I remember several coworkers at Simon & Schuster who passed on a project, only to kick themselves later when it hit a bestseller list.
Sometimes it isn’t so much getting it wrong as saying, “This isn’t right for me.” Agents and editors have to really love a project to take it on, and sometimes they say no to projects they like and see potential in but just don’t love enough, or don’t think is marketable enough. Agents and editors may also be carefully curating their lists and have specific slots to fill, and if your book doesn’t meet their needs, they’ll keep looking for one that does. Sometimes a project is too small for a publisher to take on because the audience is very specific and the numbers just don’t work out for the accounting department. None of these things mean your book isn’t any good.
It’s great to get wonderful feedback from your beta readers, and getting them on your team early can mean more mouths talking about your book when it’s out. This is especially important for self-publishers. At the very least, they can post reviews on Amazon.com and other sites, which will help you sell books. Do keep in mind, however, that a discrepancy between your beta readers’ reactions and professional reactions doesn’t mean the readers are right and the editors/agents are wrong. There are other factors at work here.
For example, no matter what they say to the contrary, the fact is that the large majority of beta readers you send your manuscript to won’t feel it’s their job or place to criticize your book—that doesn’t mean they’re lying when they say they enjoyed it, but it’s human nature to be kind and polite when you’re doing a favor for someone. They may not be 100% honest about their impressions or they may choose to comment only on what they liked, leaving out mention of what they didn’t like. They may also not be capable of identifying problems or weaknesses: A pro will be much more critical and analytical about your plot and characters. You may ask, “Well, who cares if the average reader thinks it’s fine?” But the weaknesses experienced industry folk identify can mean the difference between a good read and a great read, even if the average reader can’t identify or articulate the difference more specifically than that.
Do you use beta readers? How do you choose them? I’d love to know! Please comment below and share your thoughts.
Founder of The Writer’s Ally, Ally E. Machate is a bestselling book collaborator, award-winning editor, and expert publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge and experience with the publishing industry to lead serious authors toward success. She and her team live to help make great books happen, whether that means showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish; or coaching an author on growing her platform to sell more books. Since 1999, she has supported hundreds of authors on their publishing journey and takes pride in serving as their books’ best ally.
Subscribe and get your free checklist!
- Learn the nine steps every successful book project goes through and get tips on how to check crucial items off your list.