About a month ago, I hung out at a restaurant after work with my friend Tom. It had been a long week, and we both needed to relax. But we also needed a bit of encouragement to keep up with our double life. See, not only do Tom and I both have day jobs, but we're both writers, hoping to someday make a name for ourselves in print. Anyone who writes knows that sometimes it's the most fun ever (you can make up anything you want!) and sometimes...well, sometimes it's just pure torture. Especially when you're faced with a blank page that refuses to fill up with words. Or even worse: There are words on the page, but you aren't sure if they're the right ones.
As it happens, I had both problems. The outline for the second book in the YOUR LIFE, BUT BETTER series was due (past due, actually) and I was hopelessly blocked. At the same time, I had completed the revised draft of the first book, and while my editor assured me it was good, how could I be sure? What if she was just being nice? Tom told me that what I needed were impartial judges. Readers who fit the profile of my potential audience but had never even met me and wouldn't be worried about sparing my feelings--people like four of his nieces, all of whom are avid readers and are 12 or 13 years old. The idea both intrigued and terrified me. Although Tom told me they were all really sweet and smart, he also described them as straight shooters who would be brutally honest--especially 12-year-old Hannah, who had once quizzed her older sister's boyfriend for close to an hour in order to assess his worthiness, giving him actual letter grades based on his answers and her personal observations. Yikes. These girls were no pushovers. I'd have to brace myself for the possibility that they'd all hate the book...and would tell me so. But I knew it would be a good idea, as long as they were up for it.
Well, before I even made it home that night, I got a text from Tom telling me that all four girls couldn't wait to read the book and let me know what they thought. No turning back now! So a couple of weeks later, while Tom was visiting his family, I packed up an early version of YOUR LIFE, BUT BETTER and sent it on it's merry way to Tom's parents' house in Wisconsin, so he could hand it off to my first four reviewers.
Since then, I've been sitting on pins and needles, wondering what the four girls thought, wondering if they had all gotten bored and decided to not even finish reading it. I pictured them making little origami birds or paper airplanes out of the manuscript pages. Or worse: sitting around together, writing a joint scathing review, the likes of which I haven't seen since I got my first English composition paper back as a freshman in college. (I got a C---, which I didn't even know was possible! In bright red ink, no less.)
I'm pleased to report that I couldn't have been more wrong.
Two of the reviews are in! The first came from Megan, who wrote:
In my opinion, I thought this book was good. It must have been difficult making all the different chapters and paths for everyone's own personality! I was able to relate to the story being a 13-year-old girl; any of that could have happened to me because it's all very realistic. The only thing that I did not like as much was that there were so many different choices for people that the story itself was not that long. Besides that I liked it a lot. One thing that I thought was cool and unique was the quizzes at the end of each chapter. I have never seen anything like that and it made the reading fun. Sometimes when you think of the books you choose your own path to you may think of little kid books, but this was different. I agree that this book is suitable for kids around my age. While I was reading this book, I never got bored, it was interesting to read all the way through finding out what would happen in the end. The book helped me personally. I did not realize that I would actually do some of the things that happened in the book. It helped me realize what type of person I am and can be when I am in a certain mood. Well I enjoyed reading this book and I hope my opinion helps you!!!
Wow! I was truly blown away by her well-written response. It is clear to me that she really gave this some thought, telling me both what she liked and what she didn't like, and how she related to the story as a teenage girl. The fact that she felt the book had helped her personally...well, that made my day. It seems I had passed muster with at least one of Tom's nieces. I immediately emailed her back, thanking her for giving my work so much of her attention, and I promised an autographed copy when the book finally comes out.
Having gotten one rave review, I felt a lot better. But I had yet to hear from Hannah, who I'd begun to think of as tough as nails. Well, today my wait came to an end. Here is review #2!
'Your life, but better' is a wonderful book that will change the way you think about happy endings. Maybe it will end up good or maybe it will end up bad. But you get to decide the path. Will it end up as a fairy tale after all? Or will it end up that you didn't get the thing that you always wanted, but still got the person that you always loved. With every chapter you discover more about yourself by taking a quiz that really makes you think about what kind of choices best suit your personality. By the end of the book I really felt like the path was "my life, but better."
Score!!! Hannah likes the book! And again, I find myself astonished and impressed with her maturity level. I'd like to think I was this composed at her age, but I doubt it. Winning her over definitely feels like a victory. And it seems like both she and Megan really got the point of the book, which is to help young girls figure out the kind of person they are and the kind of person they hope to be. Hannah and Megan: You rock!
I'm still awaiting two more reviews though. I'll keep you posted--even if the next two aren't raves. Keep your fingers crossed for me!