The editing process is taught in school and focuses on using correct punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. In my three previously published books, I was heavily concerned with not making grammatical mistakes. When writing my memoir, “From Metal to Rhinestones: A Quest for the Crown,” I discovered a powerful force stronger than knowing where a comma should appear.
My pageant experiences began over two decades ago. Numerous thoughts plague my mind as I began writing my life story at my husband’s request. He was supportive and helped me revise difficult passages of my manuscript; yet, I still wondered if my story was well written.
- Would anyone remember the heavy-metal fan look to appreciate my starting point?
- Did I describe butt-glue well?
- Would anyone know what it was like to have a proof sheet of photos from a photographer rather than a digital gallery with the word proof electronically stamped over the image?
- Can a reader understand the gown that became known as the bruise dress in my family?
- Did I clearly describe what ‘the pageant stance’ is?
Terms, jargon, and outdated technology pepper this story. Would a family member ten years from now understand what I’m talking about if I’m not around to explain?
Beyond explaining things for which a reader may not have a reference, I worried about particular parts of my storytelling.
- Would I be truthful but compassionate as I discussed some family struggles?
- Did I express the challenges I had with some individuals involved in my journey without slandering them?
Ultimately, I also wanted one crucial question answered:
Was my story boring?
A few family members and friends volunteered to read one or two chapters of my book. I also enlisted the aid of volunteers from Facebook and Google Plus communities. I asked each reader to focus on answering questions such as the ones listed above. If they spotted grammatical errors, I would welcome the feedback. However, the emphasis was on feedback. I discovered this process resulted in three benefits.
- Clarification – Many beta readers had never attended or watched a pageant. Thus, they were able to help me clarify terms so that a future book reader can stand on stage alongside me. They helped me clarify different scenes within a chapter. Each piece of feedback enabled me to bring into focus the messages I wrote.
- Suggestions – Many beta readers provided recommendations on how to help my story flow better. One sweet reviewer kindly but directly said, “These first two parents are pointless. Consider removing them and starting with the third paragraph which is much stronger.” After reading the suggestion, I could see the validity doing as directed. I gratefully deleted the paragraphs without a shedding tear.
- Encouragement – When I shared my story with my husband, I was nervous. When I shared my chapters with the beta readers, I was full of butterflies and vinegar in my stomach. Memoir writing is very personal and sharing our stories takes a lot of strength. As each review came back, I received calming encouragement. The best comment was from a reader who said they weren’t really into pageants, but the story was well written, and she couldn’t wait to read the rest of the book.
Beta readers are an electrifying force for memoir writing. Paid readers or volunteers empower individuals to craft their best stories. Without my amazing beta readers, I would not have the courage to share my memoir, From Metal to Rhinestones: A Quest for the Crown, with the public to walk along with me on my quest for a beauty pageant crown.