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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.


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.
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May. 27th, 2008 09:14 am (UTC)
All of that makes good sense. Thank you very much for replying and sharing that information!