Where should my novel go from here?

stumpedI’ve received comments back from four of my second-round beta readers, and I’m still awaiting to hear from two more.

Of the four received, two raved about the book, one said I needed to do a lot more work to lift it from a first draft status to a publishable novel, and the fourth, whom I heard from this week, basically told me to start over, that it’s a poorly written mess with parts that make no sense at all.

Years ago I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In it she has a chapter about the creative U-turn. Ever since reading about U-turns I’ve been avoiding them ( as I wrote here). I haven’t allowed negative reviews or feedback to make me come to a full stop and do an about face. However, this time it feels different. I’ve worked so long and hard on this novel and written about how I’ve avoided the creative U-turn so many times before, that the thought of starting over or doing almost a total rewrite just seems too hard.

You probably wonder what this latest reviewer said to make me feel this way. So even though I risk losing you all as possible readers of my novel, here goes:

I just finished your novel. I have to honestly tell you that I had to drag myself through the telling of the story.  Your narrative descriptions and your dialogue were so undeveloped, poorly written and repetetive (his misspelling) I wanted to stop reading and toss the whole manuscript out.  But I promised you I would give you a read and sadly I did.

And though he gave me a long list of comments that could be helpful if I choose to do a rewrite, his last comment was the killer:

Finally, the story of Jews immigrating to America has been told so many times by so many bad, good, and great novelists, why would you even want to go there again?

Obviously he missed my whole point. And if he missed it, wouldn’t other readers miss it as well?

So now I have several choices:

  • Just lick my wounds and move on
  • Wait for comments from my other two beta readers before doing anything
  • Do a total rewrite, taking into account my latest reader’s suggestions and those of reader number three who also gave me some good rewrite notes
  • Give up novel writing completely and stick to non-fiction and poetry
  • Never let this latest reader read anything else I’ve written. However, he later admitted that he hasn’t even read a lot of novels. That’s my first clue that he may not know what’s he’s talking about. Maybe I shouldn’t take his devastating words so seriously.
  • Go back to The Artist’s Way and listed to Julia Cameron. As she wisely says:  Very gently, very gently, consider whether any aborted, abandoned, savaged, or sabotaged brainchildren can be rescued…
  • In other words, give the book another chance.


Okay, now that I’ve exposed you to all my dirty laundry, I need your advice. Please lay it on me, and don’t hold back. Many thanks in advance.





  1. After reading about the comments about your novel. I say, remember it ain’t over until its over baby! As was the case with da Vinci.


  2. I was a dancer for over 40 years before taking up writing as a profession. The best shows I was in got the greatest reviews and the worst reviews… and this didn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual content. Mediocre shows got practically no reviews at all. I’ve kind of translated this phenomenon into the writing profession: It seems that only the really good books get these critiques that are diametrically opposed to one another. Also: although I danced in houses with up to 5000 people sitting in the public and all of them were very enthusiastic and appreciative of what I did, I always seemed to find that one person in the front row who was chewing gum and talking to his friend during the whole performance. I think as artists we become more sensitive to both the positive and negative reactions of people. And in the end, it’s just their opinions. It has little to do with who I am as an artist. Knowing that, I just fish out the best opinion from my beta readers, and also the worst, and throw them both away. I think it’s the audience in the middle domain, metaphorically speaking, that counts. Sorry this was so long, but I also know how confusing other’s people opinions of my work can be.

  3. Madeline, I suspect the answer lies in between the “I love it” and the “needs work to lift it to publishable.” Toss the last guy (after thanking him for his time) – he seems like an outlier, especially given his comment that he doesn’t read a lot of novels. I’m not sure how you chose your beta readers, or how much you had self-edited before you handed it over, but it sounds like you just need to keep working at it. We all know that writing is re-writing, yes? And if this is a story YOU enjoy, with characters YOU love, then I think you should put in the work to show us (your potential readers) what you see in it.

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Thanks, Gayle, I think you are right on. He does seem like an outlier. And I do LOVE my characters. All best too you, M.

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