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Posts Tagged ‘critique’

I love my mother. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders (and marketers! :D) and a very good proofreader. She loves just about everything I write, which makes storytelling fun because I know someone will enjoy it. She’s also pretty good at giving me honest feed back, but let’s face it… she’s my mother. Of course she’s going to like what I write. She’s great for my ego, but not necessarily a good measuring tool when it comes to my WIPs being something anyone else would want to read.

On the other hand, my husband, who has read everything from the latest Star Wars series to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo to The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, has usually been ho hum about my stories. What I write isn’t what he’s interested in, though he’s kind enough to read it if I ask. I know the best I’m likely to get is a “surprisingly not bad,” which is basically the same as “don’t call us we’ll call you.”

Imagine my surprise when I let him read some of my unfinished, unedited WIP and he begged for the as-yet-unwritten next chapter. To me, that means I’ve got something worth pursuing.

When we look for beta readers, we often go after those who read our genre and ignore everyone else. However, by doing that we miss a fantastic way to measure our product’s appeal to a larger audience.

Sure, most of the time the response will be “surprisingly not bad” (unless the person doesn’t care about your feelings, then it might be a more… honest… response), but there is always the possibility that person will love what we’ve written. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask and even if they don’t enjoy the work, they may point out problems that could turn off readers we are targeting.

Knowing I have at least two people impatiently waiting for me to finish my current WIP makes me want to work harder because where there’s two there’s bound to be more.

What are some of your experiences with beta readers?

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As I work my way through Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, I decided to take on his earlier challenge to write a post with seven links. Since this post was originally going to be about critiquing or editing, I went with seven links on that subject. Without further ado, here they are:

  1. Critters Makes for Better WritingDon’t let the title fool you. It’s not about household pets. This post about finding someone to give you honest feedback on your fiction.

  2. Sandwich Critiquing this is perhaps my favorite post, giving you a helpful technique to use when you are asked to critique someone else’s not-so-perfect manuscript.

  3. Editing With or Without a Budgetmore helpful tips on how to use money to learn how to edit

  4. Blogosphere Trends + Handling High Word Counts this is a great guest post on Problogger by Kimberly Turner on how to trim the fat in your writing.

  5. When Editing & Critiquing, Check Your Personal Opinions At The Door the title says it all. A great post by April Hamilton of Indie Author.

  6. POD People Scares Me I love this title, but that’s not the only reason I chose it. Find out why editing is possibly the most important thing you can do before sending your manuscript to the publisher or POD (print-on-demand) company.

  7. The Art of Critiquing receiving criticism is difficult, especially when the person giving it doesn’t give you helpful details you can actually use to improve your work. This post will get you thinking of specifics to address when giving criticism to someone else.

Editing your work, giving and receiving criticism, it’s all part of the process. Knowing how to do it makes it all the easier to move on down The Road to Writing.

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Editing. Possibly one of the most loathed words in a writer’s vocabulary. It’s a necessary evil, but with the right tools and some help from people who understand what you’re doing you won’t need to put it under getting a root canal on your to-do list.

The first thing you need to do is to evaluate is your budget. That may seem like an odd thing to suggest, but there’s a good reason I have. If you can afford to pay a professional to help you in the editing process, then do it. They get paid because they know what they’re doing.

Once you’ve checked your budget and know what you can afford, decide who you need to hire. I recommend reading Joel Friedlander‘s post What Every Self-Publisher Ought to Know About Editing before actually hiring anyone because each part of the editing process calls for a different skill set. You want to hire the right person for the right job.

Once you know who you need it’s a matter of searching for the individual who can do the job within your budget limitations. Start with your POD or print house. They often have editing packages that easily fit into smaller budgets. If you don’t find what you need there, then ask around. Most self-published/Independent Authors will be happy to make referrals. It’s in our best interest to help other self-publishers/Independent Authors find people who will do a great job editing.

Perhaps you’ve looked at your finances and found you have a big fat ZERO in your budget for editing expenses. Let me just say, not having a budget for editing expenses does not excuse you from the process.

If you absolutely cannot afford to pay someone to edit your work, then you must be even more vigilant when you do your own first edits and re-writes. Invest in some good style and grammar books (you may find them in your local library or, better yet, second-hand on Amazon.com). I like Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and the most recent edition of the AP Stylebook. You can also find a lot of free editing information on the internet just by doing a quick search. Just remember that searching for an answer can be time-consuming (especially if you tend to get side-tracked) and sometimes confusing.

Once you’ve done plenty of editing on your own, it’s time to submit your work to a writers’ group like Critters or Absolute Write. Be sure you choose the right forum when you submit your work or you’ll be in for some nasty returns. Keli Gwyn of Romance Writers on the Journey: Resources for romance writers en route to publication suggests in her post “How to Find Critique Partners” that writers find a critique partner in their particular genre.

Another good idea is to let plenty of people read your work before sending it to your POD or print house. I particularly like getting the insights of my non-writer friends since they make up the largest part of my readership.

Whether you have money to burn or a wallet full of moths, there is no excuse for skipping the rigors of good editing on The Road to Writing.

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You’ve been asked to read a friend’s manuscript. After dutifully plowing through 100 pages of less-than-perfect, sometimes entertaining, but often difficult to understand prose you’re left with one question: how do you tell your friend her manuscript needs a lot of work?

Unless you really don’t care about hurting your friend’s feelings and possibly losing a friend, this can be a very tricky situation. I know several writers who refuse to read other people’s unpublished works for just that reason. Yet, it seems crueler to me to let a friend send an unpolished manuscript out knowing you could have helped.

Enter the sandwich method. I don’t know who first came up with the idea, but I say, “God bless ’em,” because it makes giving (and receiving) constructive criticism a lot easier on the old ego. Simply put, the sandwich method gives the criticism “sandwiched” between bits of praise.

I can hear my husband saying, “So I can say ‘I like your hair. Your characters stink, but those jeans are really slimming on you.'”

Uh, no. The praise has to come from something in the manuscript.

“But, Virginia,” you may be whining, “it’s nothing but sentimental drivel and inane cliches!”

That may be; however, as Brenda Ueland says in If You Want to Write, even in the worst writing there is something of value. You may have to look hard, but it is there.

As for the actual criticism, it’s always best to be specific. Telling someone their story didn’t hold your attention doesn’t cut it. Why didn’t it “hold your attention?” Was there too much description? Were the characters two-dimensional and uninteresting? Perhaps the sentences were too long and rambling. Be specific.

Last of all, be sure to end with some more praise. I like to point out something good in the work I didn’t mention before. Sometimes all you can do, though, is reiterate the praise (using different words, of course) that you already gave. Either way, I tell the manuscript’s author that it has potential because I honestly believe everything has potential. Some things just need a lot (and I’m talking about a whole overhaul) of work.

It’s the process of growing one’s work from potential to published through the use of helpful constructive criticism that makes it worthwhile to travel The Road to Writing.

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It’s come to my attention that there are a lot of us who don’t have a clue how to honestly critique. We can tell you we like your story (or hate it), but we leave out the most important part — the why.

Critiquing isn’t just about misspellings and bad punctuation. It’s about understandability, what makes a story something you just can’t put down. Or, as Kelly Hart put it in her post Critiquing, “[I]t is about trying to help the story creator reach the full potential for that story.” She goes on to remind us that each story is the writer’s “baby” and “[f]or this reason you should try to be as diplomatic as possible, nobody likes to be told bad things about their baby.” (And I can say that’s true from both the mother’s and writer’s POV)

One way to bone up on the hows of critiquing is to just do it. Receiving critiques and critiquing others’ works makes a writer a better writer because  it “improves your own editing eye,” according to blogger Penny in her post
The Art of Critiquing, Pt. 1. I have to agree with that. As I’ve read and edited others’ works, I’ve noticed problems in my own writing.

Of course, getting critiques (honest ones, especially) can be difficult. I’ve mentioned Critters as a place to find other authors willing to give good criticism, but I recently read about another called Absolute Write. After reading the Newbie section I think it sounds like a great place, so long as you can handle a little heat. Apparently there have been some, as the moderator put it, knock-down-drag-out arguments on things as silly as the appropriate use of serial commas.

Of course, my suggestion before putting your work out there for criticism, is to edit it at least once yourself. Track down as many of those niggly little misspellings and punctuation errors as you can. And don’t forget about grammar. While in some cases grammar rules can be bent, it’s best not to break them without at least knowing them. For that I would recommend a fantastic little book called Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

Regardless of where you find your critics (or where they find you ;)) try to keep in mind what you need to improve your writing, then reach out to your fellow traveler to give the same in return on The Road to Writing.

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My husband is a big Star Wars fan.  He watches all six movies often, though there’s a couple he watches more often than the rest.  He collects the action figures (never call them toys to a “true” collector).  He rushes to the video store that sells the comic books the same day they call him to let him know his comic is in.  And everytime a new SW novel appears in print he combs the bookstores (ranting about it being released in hard back first and having to wait a year or more for its release in paper back, but that’s another story for another blog).  All of this means that when he found his favorite SW author’s web site he, of course, emailed a link to the site to me.

Usually I look at these “helpful” links others send me with half-hearted attention, but the fact that he raves about this author’s writing made me curious.  My initial reaction to Karen Traviss’ web site was, if possible, even more curiousity because the first page link she has is to something called Critters.  (My husband, being the wonderfully oblivious man he is, assumed the author was talking about her pets or some such thing.)  After looking at her other page links, which all had to do with how to be a better writer, I figured it had to have something to do with writing.

I haven’t been so surprised at being right in a long time.  It turns out that Critters is a group of writers from novice to pro who critique each others’ work.  (Hence the clever name.)  It’s a great idea.  The only catch is that all members are required to submit a minimum of one critique per week.  The good news is that there are ways to get ahead in critiquing and ways to catch up.  The benefits of having your work honestly, and tactfully, critiqued before it hits the publishers desk or you’ve already submitted it to a POD (print-on-demand) company far outweigh the commitment in time and energy spent doing a critique a week.

The best part is that you can have your complete novel critiqued as well as smaller works.  There are special provisions for entire novels and a way to get your work bumped up to the top for critique if you just don’t have the time to wait an entire month.

While it would be nice to be able to write the perfect story from the first word, a good writer knows that editing and rewriting are a must in the craft.  Having your work critiqued by others who have no reason to stroke your ego, as family and friends do, makes the process that much better (though no less painful).  Thanks to authors like Karen Traviss, who are willing to give new and emerging writers advice, and to fellow writers like those on Critters, every would-be author has a better chance at success on The Road to Writing.

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