What Are They Going to Say?
We all want our stories to make a difference. At least I hope we all do. We want to make sure that our readers walk away with something, be it a small message of encouragement or a firm stance on an issue.
Jules and I were pondering this idea a few months ago. We were ranting about the contents in books and how it seemed a lot of stories only focused on being cute or funny or full of banter. We both wished that these books had more in them. A solid message. A purpose. During this conversation, I had a bit of a revelation and I thought I might share it with you here.
When considering whether your story has a theme or not, I thought that it would a be good idea to think about what the endorsements on the back of your book would say? More importantly, what do you want them to say.
Do you want your readers to say something like this:
"Such-and-such a book was a fast, adorable read... Perfect with a glass of lemonade."
Or something like this:
"So-and-so wove together a beautiful tale of friendship and courage. His/her focus on X topic will inspire you do something/see the world in a different light. Such-and-such a book will leave you thinking long after you read 'The End'..."
I don't know about you, but I'd rather have the second one. I want to know that my readers walk away changed, even if it's just a tiny thing.
But how can you find out what your reader's will think if you're not published? You certainly don't want to find out too late that your book doesn't have a message of any kind. That's where the eyes of your alphas/betas comes into play.
Funnily enough, I was in the middle of having The Dawn of a Hero beta read when I came up with this. The day after I had this revelation, I shot an email off to my betas with this question: "What message, if any, did you walk away with after you finished reading. If there weren't really any, what message do you think you could have walked away with had it been portrayed better?"
From their feedback, I was able to determine whether I had any sort of theme going through the book or not and where I could portray my messages better.
I encourage you to do something similar. Knowing what you hope your readers will say beforehand, while you're still in the revision stage, can give you a clear vision for your writing and a firm idea of what questions you can ask your readers when the time comes.
With the process of alpha and beta reading, you have the chance to know exactly what your readers will think/say. So ask them what they thought. Did they walk away with anything? What messages/themes did they pick out, if any?
When they come back with their answers, compare their feedback to what you hope your readers will say. Does it line up? If not, what can you do to change that? Use that to guide your revisions.
It's okay if the themes they picked up are different than what you were expecting. Maybe the book has a different message than what you originally thought and you just have to dive into that aspect a little more. Allow their feedback to help you deepen the impact of your book.
I know it's scary to ask. I shook as I sent that email. I didn't relish the idea of having to go back through and change everything if there wasn't a clear message.
But let me tell you, it's better to know now, while you're still able to make changes to your story, than to find out later once it's on someone's shelf and you can't do anything about it.
If you value your story and message, then you will be willing to do the hard work to make it clear. But don't settle for one-dimensional when you can make a difference. Respect your story. It will be worth it.
So now to y'all. What do you hope your readers will say about your book? What themes/messages are you hoping they take away after reading your story? Let me know down below!