Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pour Some Sugar on Me

When I first started allowing people to read my work I expected words of praise, pats on the back, bottles of champagne popping open because I'd written the next Great American Novel....and for the most part that's what I got....because I'd sent it to people I know--friends, family...people who would tell me what I wanted to hear. Then I found a critique partner, whom I'll call "Andy", who had no qualms about telling me how bad a writer I was. After cleaning up the wounds he gave me, I did more revisions and then sent my book to an editor at Avon....who told me what she really thought. Now, the critque the editor gave my manuscript wasn't in any way mean like "Andy" (unless you consider post-it notes with Yuk and Double Yuk taped to the pages mean)...and she was very helpful. I wasn't where I needed to be with the craft if I wanted to be published. So, being the damned determined kind of person I am, I studied, joined RWA (Romance Writers of America for those who don't know) and found a critique group.

It's been four years since that editor's critique....and the novel has improved even garnered me an agent and interest from another editor....but that's another (horrible) story. Anyway....because I've been learning so much over the years---mainly thanks to the wonderful writer friends I've made--I feel confident in passing along my *wisdom* to new writers. So, for the last few months I've been a part of a forum where writers are encouraged to post chapters for feedback. Now, I've made it a point not to read or comment unless specifically asked because most consider my feedback a bit....harsh. Not that I do it that just comes out that way online.

For the most part, I've gotten great thanks from some of the people...but there are still several there who just don't want to hear what they're doing "wrong" and will argue till they're purple that I just didn't get it! Especially since others (their friends) are giving them those pats on the back they so desperately want. How is that helping??

So...why bother giving critiques to writers who only want me to pour some sugar on them? Call me a because eventually they're going to see that it isn't just me.

And if these writer's can't take a critique from me, how are they ever going to handle rejection from an agent or editor??

Which reminds me....the Avon editor had asked to see the manuscript again if I cleaned it up...she's not at Avon anymore but with another major house. I wonder if I should consider resending to her??


Anonymous said...

Terri, I hope you've kept up with her over the years, a note here and there, and a card. I'd definitely remind her that she said she'd like to see it again and then re-submit.

The critique thing is hard -- the point is to offer constructive criticism so the writer can move forward.

As a reader (a paid reader for several companies), it gets really tough when writers submit for publication a manuscript that's a total structural mess and doesn't have the basic education of a third grader. Even if the ideas are good, it's tough not to come down harshly on something like that, because it's kind of appalling for a writer to send it out in that shape (can you tell I just finished one of those gigs?) ;)

As a writer, I'm careful in my choice of Trusted Readers (I absolutely LOATHE the term "beta reader") I want a reader who's going to catch my bad habits, honestly tell me where things go off the rails, but also understand that I have knowledge of basic genre and story craft, so that when I deviate it's on purpose.
I don't mind them telling me it doesn't work and WHY it doesn't work, but to say, "it's not done that way" isn't helpful.

Nor is rewriting my work helpful. IE, if I ask someone to critique a query letter, having them REWRITE it doesn't help me. Having them tell me that a paragraph doesn't work because it's awkward or gives too much or too little information does help me, because it makes me learn by doing.

Also, if you're not careful in your Trusted Readers, people shove their way in bearing their own personal agendas, and those are the ones to avoid. The readers need to be those with only your best interests at stake -- which means telling you what doesn't work and why as much as what does work and why.

Happy New Year, by the way!

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri. I met you first on gather. Sorry to hear you're leaving there. But major congratulations on your first sale. I'll be keeping an eye on your site to hear when it's coming out. It sounds like you've done lots of work and deserve your success. Good luck and best wishes.

Lynn Sinclair said...

Great critique partners are hard to find, but once you do find them, don't ever let them go. Any writer who depends on family and friends is doomed. As far as harsh (though constructive) criticism goes, I'd much rather hear it before the ms goes out.

Anonymous said...

The point of having someone read an unpublished manuscript is to help. Praising, while nice when warranted, is simply not as helpful as honesty, integrity, and constructive criticism. Perhaps it's sometimes difficult to hear but the ONLY way to fix something that's inherently wrong is to actually know it's wrong...if you, as the writer, don't notice, you absolutely need someone who does helping you.

Of course, it helps if you're writing something that the reader actually wants to read...unlike say, for instance, a book about rape or something, that would just be rude :)

The Romance Reviews

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