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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 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.