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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 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).
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.