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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 04:18 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?
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.