After I finished my final edit in May 2020, I quoted professionals at Reedsy. I chose a copy-editor and walked away from the book for several weeks. I visited family and hung out with Finley, my golden retriever puppy. While waiting for feedback from Cindy, I approached several beta readers and asked them if they were interested in reading the book and then reviewing it at a future date.
After two months, beta readers finished reading, and I scheduled a thirty-minute Zoom call. I began with open-ended questions, asking for general feedback about the book. I then asked specific questions about the three main characters.
Overall, the Cornerstone beta readers liked it. They liked that each chapter moved the story forward, and they wanted to keep reading to find out what happened next with the main plot or subplot. In a dispassionate tone, one reader said the ending was satisfactory. I took this feedback, and over the ensuing weeks, I added more action and more emotion to the ending.
The beta group liked the writing, felt they were in the scenes, and thought the book was complex yet engaging. They loved the characters, particularly Queen Rachel and Jameela. After the Zoom call, I remember talking with Courtney and having an overwhelming feeling of joy because of the positive feedback. I didn’t cry, but it felt like a victory—a win after having been through so many defeats in the previous year. This was the second feeling of vindication, a sign that the leap of faith I took to leave my job and pursue a dream was the correct decision.
I had worked very hard and fought through difficult and intense mental health battles. Writing book one was a labor of love as emotions and events from the past exploded and flowed into the manuscript. I didn’t intend for this to happen but placing myself in different characters’ shoes and their past and my past stirred up unresolved feelings and emotions. Plus, I was learning how to write a novel. Each time I learned a new writing lesson, I revised much of the manuscript to incorporate that specific lesson. I’m a perfectionist, and I wanted to get each detail correct.
When I returned to Cornerstone, I thought through changing my approach to planning book two. The same major plot points from that first napkin sketch remained for the entire Cornerstone story, but I committed to outlining more details. I borrowed an approach I read somewhere online about writing a film script. I printed several pages of 11×17 size pieces of paper and drew six large boxes. On the pages’ left margin, I listed the important elements of a scene. I noted that each action should lead to an emotional reaction by a character, then to a decision, and onto the next action.
Having written the first detailed draft of book two, no plot points caused me to change anything to book one. I then wrote a second draft of book two and waited for the editor’s feedback. After several months, Cindy returned the 146,000-word count manuscript. She initially advised having the manuscript assessed for its plot, but I declined. I was ready for a copy-edit. When I saw her heavy copy-editing changes and suggestions for minor plot changes, I became very grateful. Cindy highlighted some holes in the plot and wrote a style sheet with writing tips.
During the fall of 2020, I updated the manuscript and tightened the story. I didn’t quote additional editors at Reedsy for proofreading. Instead, I chose an editor I had initially quoted for copy-editing. Like the first editor, Lynn provided excellent light copy-editing and proofreading services.
The manuscript was finished—a vast improvement from the summer 2018 version to the one I had in December 2020. By this final manuscript, I had written over thirty different drafts with significant enough changes to be considered separate versions. Of those drafts, I don’t know an estimated time, but I spent a considerable number of hours writing and rewriting the prologue and first three chapters. I wrote a short prologue that invited the reader to continue reading. Next, I ensured the first two chapters set the stage and introduced a compelling protagonist the reader would want to follow. Lastly, I ended the third chapter on a good cliffhanger.
At this point in the writing journey, I didn’t feel the exuberance like I had felt after hearing beta reader reviews, nor did I feel the sense of surprise and accomplishment after finishing the first draft and thinking that writing could be more than a hobby. The accomplishment felt professional, a complete opposite of emotions I had a year prior in October of 2019.
I was dealt a professional as well as a personal blow when I learned my friend and writing coach had unexpectedly passed away. My lungs completely deflated, and I gasped for air when I heard the sad news about her death. Childhood memories of having the wind knocked out of me after falling off the top of a playground set came to mind. I grieved her death for a long time.
With the final manuscript, without my friend and teacher to help guide me, I didn’t know what to do. Should I pursue traditional or independent publishing?