In the beginning, Xander Fife was a 35-year-old woman named Kat Walsh. I wrote her story with flashbacks of abuse and escape.
The manuscript didn’t work, so I rewrote it as a YA novel, with a 17-year-old guy living through that abuse and escape in present day. I loved him and his friends. I wanted to protect them and keep them safe. They belonged to me, in the way only characters invented by a writer can belong to someone.
I let go of Xander a little when I first shared my manuscript with beta readers, who critiqued and molded the book. I also let go of [one particular description that was so cringe-worthy I cannot mention it here], character names, and plot points. Little bits of my manuscript no longer belonged to me; we owned it collectively.
Already, it was miles from the book I had envisioned originally, but together we had improved it immeasurably. I started sharing it with people I didn’t know: agents and editors.
My editor had some great suggestions when she bought my manuscript. (Chapter thirty-five. Jeepers!) We removed some certainty and put my protagonist in peril. I strengthened the writing, and it went to press. It was still mine, but very, very different than my initial story.
And then, as soon as we sent out the first ARCs, the book belonged to a lot of people. The Xander in my head is merely one version of the dozens that now exist among ARC readers. They have their own ideas about what happens after the last page. My characters now live in their brains.
My book releases officially tomorrow, but many people received it from Amazon nearly two weeks ago. I’ve been talking to booksellers and teachers about it for several weeks.
(This is the hardest part, by the way. As much as the book is not me and I am not the book, most readers have never met me. They’re judging me based on the book. That’s hard.)
I feel like it’s not mine at all.
Readers want to change it: they want it to be a thriller, or they want a different ending, or they wish Xander’s best friend was male.
And here’s the thing: they can wish whatever they want, because the book is not mine anymore; it’s theirs. Where Life Before is concerned, we now are all the same. I have lost my author’s privilege of tweaking characters and adding scenes. The book is finished and we all have the same text. I have a copy, you have a copy, and it belongs to all of us equally.
I have let go.
Michele Bacon is the author of Life Before, which will be released June 6, 2016. She lives in Seattle with her husband and three children. For more information, follow her on Twitter or head to her website.