?

Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Sending drafts to readers/editors

seanan_mcquire asked a question in post about first/second/third readers.

I'm always fascinated by the way different people approach the editing process. I know authors who don't let anyone see anything until the book is finished for the first time. ... What are your feelings on editing? How much is too much -- and how mean is too mean?


I am one of a few writers I know who did not come to craft through workshopping. I didn't come up through fanfic critiques, which are often the same thing; I wrote -- badly -- and I put things in drawers (literally, although these were file drawers) for a very long time. I had no experience with the paradigm of improvement through critique until I ventured into workshop-style classes.

Those classes were useful, although I wrote poetry and vignettes for the most part because SF was not something that was encouraged. But what I found -- possibly because of the lack of experience combined with the usual writer's insecurities -- was that I had a very hard time paring away the non-useful critiques from the essential ones, and I would try to do everything that anyone suggested needed changing, and then give up, promising myself I would not make the same mistakes the next time around.

And, yes, I put things in drawers then as well. My husband was my first reader for a long time; my editor was my second reader. andpuff had to read my whole first manuscript, though. I learned a lot about revisions from Veronica Chapman, then at Del Rey; I absorbed what she said, internalizing the external editor. I learned a lot from Sheila Gilbert at DAW, and I also internalized, over a few books, her external editing style and critiques.

(As an example and a mild digression because I can't make a post without digressions: I had started a chapter of House Name, and realized as I wrote that I had to go back and add another eight thousand words of Rath. For reasons which I'll make clear later. The reason I did this? I paused at a scene break, and I heard Sheila saying "You can't leave Rath there. You need to write those scenes." I told her "No, I don't; I think I've done enough that people will figure out what did happen." And then, the silence before the real argument. After which, I went to my first readers (this would be Thomas and Terry) and asked them if they agreed with Sheila's little nagging voice -- and to be clear, she hasn't read it yet -- and they said, "no, she's right. You can't do that.")

Fast forward a number of years. I have internalized two external editors, I now have two first readers (they read the books a chapter at a time as I finish them). When I'm stuck or uncertain about something I'm writing -- often something new -- I will call in the cavalry, and send chunks of book to kateelliott and andpuff, and I will also bend the ear of cszego at bakkaphoenix. Cast in Shadow's first five chapters went through all of them because it was something substantially different. If I'm not having trouble, I stay with the two readers, and I send the book to my editor for her revisions, making notes of things I'll pick up on that last pass.

But at all stages of these alpha-readings, I'm looking for something substantive (i.e. I skimmed all of this, or you lost me here, or you need to speed up/slow down because of pacing issues). I'm not really looking for grammar, or fiddly things because I think I'll catch those on my own when I do my line edit pass. (This is demonstrably not always true =/).

So, this is what I do as part of my process between raw first draft, in which I have two readers, and published book, but I admit I'm also curious about how other writers handle the process of input during/after the writing.

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
msagara
May. 27th, 2008 03:19 am (UTC)
Training first readers is, I think, key to the process -- and that's a whole other post. But Rhi has a really good eye. I think one advantage is they know you well enough, and are probably familiar with some things, but it's also easier to couch criticism and suggestions in 'family' language, which I think makes it easier to get at.
(Deleted comment)
msagara
May. 27th, 2008 03:35 am (UTC)
That poor girl could be an editor if she ever wanted to.

given that editors have to deal with the likes of us, I think 'poor' is completely accurate as an adjective :D.
arouraleona
May. 27th, 2008 03:02 am (UTC)
This is really interesting. Can I ask how you choose your readers? Those two primary people you mentioned? I always see authors talking about those people they get to read their stuff as its being written, but I've never seen anyone discuss how those people are chosen... unless they're hired readers, which I have actually spoken to, but I'm not sure if that's the norm...
msagara
May. 27th, 2008 03:12 am (UTC)
This is really interesting. Can I ask how you choose your readers? Those two primary people you mentioned? I always see authors talking about those people they get to read their stuff as its being written, but I've never seen anyone discuss how those people are chosen... unless they're hired readers, which I have actually spoken to, but I'm not sure if that's the norm...

My husband, my first first reader, was a given because we're moved by ridiculously similar things, and he has a slightly different take on the way those things are expressed; I would talk with him about world-building things long before I started a book, and he'd point out possible issues with balance and power, and answer military questions (he's an old, die-hard, wargamer).

My second first reader, Terry, I started corresponding with on-line just after Hunter's Death, and I read a lot of what he wrote about that book, and the books that followed; what he got out of those books was what I'd hoped I'd put into them, if that makes sense.

Some readers will get things that I didn't consciously do; some will love the book for reasons that I would never have dreamed of while writing it. But in the case of Terry, he picked up a lot of what I (hoped I had) laid down, and he was moved by the things that moved me. So at some point, when the kids were only a bit older and it was much harder for both my husband and I to find the time, I asked Terry if he'd be willing to read things and give me some sense of what was, or was not, missing.

He has a couple of interesting ways at looking at pacing -- as a reader, he notices it in ways that I don't -- and one thing about his reading that's always been painful is that he's pretty much always right when he argues with me about length (i.e. he generally tells me when I have no hope at all of reaching the end in the page count I'm trying desperately to reach it in).

But in both cases, they had a feel for the work and what I was trying to do with it -- and I knew that if it didn't work for them, it was going to work for no one at all. It helps that they really like my writing, and I probably wouldn't have first readers who didn't (although this might work for writers who have a different temperament). This is probably not the ideal, because ideal would be a broader reader-base -- but if I try for broader, I often end up mired in things that don't work for the book itself, and that's paralyzing for me as a writer.
(Deleted comment)
arouraleona
May. 27th, 2008 09:14 am (UTC)
All of that makes good sense. Thank you very much for replying and sharing that information!
domynoe
May. 27th, 2008 04:07 am (UTC)
Right now, unpublished as I am, I have the time to take one draft through a workshop -- I doubt I'll have that kind of time if/when I publish, so I'll have to come up with a new method for all this then.

I can't really say how I pick which advice to follow except that I look for stuff that shows the reader "gets" what I'm aiming for and the story and that seems to help make the story more of what I see it being. I do pay more attention to comments that are left by 2 or more people (the more comments on the same thing, the more seriously I take it -- I mean, if EVERYONE is confused about why character A would thank Character B except me, then it obviously needs to be cleared up for the reader). I do my revisions based on those comments, then revisions based on any major changes I realize will need to be made (I don't go back and start the current revision over or I'd NEVER get it done).

The next read is beta readers, which I have yet to figure out how to select. I want people both who are familiar with the story and people who can come in with a fresh perspective. I also want a few readers who aren't writers since writers seem to notice things that the average reader would never even think of. My hope is to have the version the betas read close enough to done that all it needs is some tweaks. But we'll see since I've never gotten that far yet. I hope to have A.C. ready for betas this fall.

Once I get published, I have no idea what I'm going to do. The chapter by chapter method of the workshop will definitely be too slow. I am trying to rely more on my own instincts -- not showing every draft to someone/anyone for validation that I'm on the right track, but I have no idea how what I'm learning now will translate into revising the next book without the workshop to help, if that makes sense.
ciage
May. 27th, 2008 04:18 am (UTC)
Glad to hear another person doesn't usually get much out of table-talk group edits. If you don't mind a question in regards, when you have done the group edits/discussion of a piece, was there ever a way to tell whose advice to take, or did that really come from people who are better experienced already in the craft?
msagara
May. 27th, 2008 04:26 am (UTC)
If you don't mind a question in regards, when you have done the group edits/discussion of a piece, was there ever a way to tell whose advice to take, or did that really come from people who are better experienced already in the craft?

The best thing to do is to be objective enough to evaluate the critiques that come in. I know writers who are fabulous about this: they listen to and read over all the crits on a piece, and then they collate, examining them for partial consensus, and also for comprehension. If only one of eight people is making a strong complaint about a story element, they would look at the complaint structurally, and make decisions based on that; if everyone complained, they would take it very seriously.

If the reader didn't get the story at all, they would read for pacing, etc., but they would minimize their revision reaction to that particular crit for that particular piece.

I was not good at this, although I understand it in theory. But because I wasn't, for whatever reason, capable of building that while working on a piece, in the end, I chose to write in a more isolated fashion.

I think I would be much, much better at it now, because I have a much better understanding of my own process, and a more solid grasp of structure. So I think I'd get a lot more out of a workshop process now than I could before.
desperance
May. 27th, 2008 12:22 pm (UTC)
Like you, I have no background of critiquing; it's quite a recent development, I think, and didn't noticeably exist (like creative writing as a college course) when I was a baby writer. My habits now are the habits I formed then: I write the book (or story, or whatever) and read it through, rewrite as much as I think it needs to make it work for me; then I send it to agents and editors. Until very recently, nobody else saw it at all until it was approved for publication, and even then most people had to wait for the book itself. These days, one friend gets everything at more or less the same time as the agents do, but that's not really for critiquing, it's only because she asks. Others also get stuff if they ask, but only if I'm tolerably happy with it.
adickinson
May. 27th, 2008 12:33 pm (UTC)
This is fascinating. I was just beginning to think about who to ask for feedback once I am (finally) satisfied that I have told a relatively coherent story (without bits that vanish in the middle, which is somehow still managing to happen. Ahem).

I asked my father the other day if he would read it and he said "Is this like asking me to critique your first born child?", which is a fairly accurate way of putting it (except, unlike story, first born perfect in every way, so no critique necessary).
msagara
May. 27th, 2008 06:25 pm (UTC)
I asked my father the other day if he would read it and he said "Is this like asking me to critique your first born child?", which is a fairly accurate way of putting it (except, unlike story, first born perfect in every way, so no critique necessary).

LOL!!! Yes, to the child :).

But more seriously, the knowledge that you're critiquing something that is like "your first born child" is very helpful.

I think, as the years have passed, I've become a lot more objective about what does, and doesn't, work, and I can take what I've asked for (honest opinion) in stride and work with it.

But you want to avoid people who are offended if you don't listen to their opinion, or whose investment is in some ways a controlling aspect, and that's harder to suss out when you first start.
greenmtnboy18
May. 30th, 2008 11:44 pm (UTC)
The idea of writing workshops fills me with horror. Not fear... horror. I just don't work that way. I've never been the least tempted to try one.

In fact, for better or worse, it was very unusual for anyone to see ANYthing I was working on until it was completely finished.

Now, Debbie sees everything in the process. But I still have odd feelings about letting people read something that is unfinished. This could be because I revise constantly as I write, and I know it's not going to be the same. Or it could just be fear that the image in my head won't get out if too many voices chime in before it manages to leap to the page.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )