I’m in the process of wrapping up my third story submission for the year.
When I write a story for submission, I try to get a full first draft together. I’ll let it sit for a day or two. Then I try to edit for my common sins-run on sentences, irrelevant tangents, and working on being more concise. I read my story aloud to look for awkward phrasing, or a missed word (you’d be surprised how you can forget to type the word and or what have you, and when reading it, your brain often adds it in).
Next comes the beta reading and response stage.
I am a good writer, but what takes my stories from “okay” to “publishable” is taking advice from beta readers.
Some of my beta readers give me grammatical feedback. However, this has more to do with the fact that I know a few serious grammar nerds than with what beta readers most frequently do.
The majority of beta reader feedback is content specific. Their feedback helps me understand when I’m giving too much set-up (or not enough), what darlings I need to kill (those details in the story that you love, but may be irrelevant to the actual plot), and what improvements I need to make.
I’ll listen to their advice and edit.
I try to get multiple perspectives. Every reader has a different world view and different experiences they bring to the reading experience. Those various perspectives help you get a wider view of your story and the strengths and weaknesses.
The story I’m currently working on takes place at the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum (a former workplace of mine). My beta readers who are also from the Boston area all picked up on the Tea Party references (which were minimal in the first version). It’s a huge part of our social studies curriculum growing up, so they didn’t have a lot of feedback on that. My friend in Seattle was able to figure out the reference because she knew I’d worked there. Otherwise she wouldn’t have picked up on those same references because the Tea Party isn’t emphasized as much outside our part of the US. I realized that I needed to go back and do some edits to be more specific/show my setting in a different way because of her feedback.
I’ll repeat these steps as necessary until I think I have the best version of the story possible.
Do I give my beta readers every single fix they ask for? No, I don’t. At the end of the day, I’m the one with the vision of the story, and I have to listen to my own instincts about the story. Sometimes I disagree with my reader about a character’s personality or motivation, or what have you.
When you submit a story to an editor, you have to send your absolute best work. In my experience with anthologies, you are submitting the story you want published. The editors are not beta readers-they don’t ask you to make a change, or fix something-they accept or reject the story. I’ve gotten feedback about liking a detail in an acceptance, but I know that when I send in the story, that’s the final draft.
Thanks to my beta readers, I’m far more confident about the quality of the stories I submit.