by LuAnn Staheli
Sometime in junior high, I decided to be a writer. I wrote poetry and short stories, but I looked forward to the day when I would grow up and write novels. It took me several years to get there. Only eleven years ago I completed my first, the story of my mother’s childhood. My second novel was born three years later from a random idea. It was followed two years ago by a book based on my own teenage years, then last year I completed a historical set in the time of the Aztecs that I had been working on for nearly twelve years.
So, four complete novels reside on my computer hard drive. All have been through my critique group, revised, and prepared for publication. And that’s where the problem lies. Despite the fact that I’ve queried several editors and agents, I’ve not yet sold one of these manuscripts. Like many want-to-be authors, I could just give up and set my dreams aside, but after all these years and the amount of work I’ve already put into them, I don’t want to.
I decided to face my audience. All four of my books are meant to be read by teenagers, and every day I see over one-hundred teens in my Honors English classrooms. Copies in hand, I approached several of my best editors. “Would you be willing to read and critique this for me?” The response has been overwhelmingly positive. At last, the chance for the student to tell the teacher what they need to fix.
With delicious glee, the students were off, taking their task seriously. I’ll admit, I was nervous. Sending my babies off to faceless readers was one thing, but knowing I would see my new editors face-to-face every day for the rest of the school year was frightening. “What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m a terrible writer? Will I be able to fix anything they don’t understand?”
As manuscripts started to come back to me, I discovered that sending them home with kids was the best thing I could do. The responses have been positive; the comments specific and helpful. As I’ve started revision based on my target reader’s input, I feel my manuscripts will be better than ever.
Writers need feedback to improve their work, and no response is as constructive as that from a real audience. Sure, agents and editors may hone my work, but the kids—they are the ones who will really matter when the books finally get published.