Monday, January 24, 2011

How Do You Read?

What I'm reading: RITA Contest entries, #4 of 8

Only a day apart, the UPS man delivered the eight books I'm supposed to judge for the Romance Writers of America RITA contest, and the ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of WHERE DANGER HIDES. I've got a lot of reading to do.

I'm a first round judge. While it's required that I read the entire book, I can read these as a reader—an educated reader, but still, I read them to see if I think the authors have created believable characters, plots that aren't forced, have met the expectations of the sub-genre, and if the author's voice shines through. These are all published romances, so one assumes there's a basic level of quality that got the book past the editorial gatekeeper to begin with. However, there's no denying that there's a vast range of quality in published books, and that the same book will be a great read for someone, and a chore to get through for someone else.

My bottom line, when assigning my score, will be influenced by how I felt about the characters. Was I glad to reach the last page, or did I want the book to keep going. Even more, did I want to spend more time with the characters. Will I be looking for them at the checkout line at the grocery store?

It's also a commitment to read books that I might not have picked up on my own. Sometimes, I'm pleasantly surprised to find a new to me author, in a genre I don't normally read. Sometimes I have to remind myself that there's obviously a market for these books, and take a deep breath to find the objectivity I promised to use when reading. These books, I read as quickly as I can, keeping the story in mind. I can usually finish a shorter book in under a day, so I'm starting with those, saving the meatier ones for my final reads.



On the other hand, I have three weeks to report to my editor about any errors in WHERE DANGER HIDES. When I'm doing this kind of a read, I find that I don't want to do too much in one sitting. Unlike reading the RITA entries, here I have to read like an editor. These ARCs are the publisher's version of final page proofs. It's too late to decide that a scene might be stronger if rewritten, or if the POV seems shaky. It's reading virtually sentence by sentence, word by word, letter by letter. Yes, the manuscript has been through several rounds of edits already. One would hope there aren't any errors. But there always are things that sneak by.



I'm using pink stickies to mark places that need attention. I've given a copy to the Hubster to read, along with a stack of little yellow stickies. He hasn't read the book in its entirety, so he's not as likely to see things that aren't there. He's usually got a good eye for typos, so it's a matter of him remembering that's the kind of read he should be doing. When he reads my daily pages (which he wasn't doing when I wrote this book), he tends to read more for pace, flow, and logic than look for typos. He's also not going to be bothered by some of the things that I find myself questioning. Should Dalton reach "into" or "onto" the backseat for the envelope? Shouldn't Horace Blackthorne refer to Ryan Harper as "Mister" Harper, to be consistent with his speech patterns. These little things all got through the edits, but then, in WHEN DANGER CALLS, I'd written Blackstone instead of Blackthorne, and nobody caught it until I saw the ARCs.

It's too easy to get distracted by the story and stop seeing the words—and punctuation. I found one sentence that didn't have the period at the end. But, since Nature abhors a vacuum, a few pages later, there was a sentence with two periods at the end. It's a challenge to remember to read slowly enough to check for things like quotation marks and apostrophes.

When you read, do you go quickly, just to get the gist of the story, or do you pay attention to each and every word? Do errors jump off the page at you? And what's your feeling when you do spot one? Because even though I'm being as diligent as possible, I'm sure there will be a glitch or two that sneak by.

And make sure you come back tomorrow – a great post about happiness from author Grace Elliot, and a chance to win a prize!

13 comments:

Caridad Pineiro said...

Since I started writing, it's changed reading for me. I'm much more conscious of word choices and plot issues, etc. That spoils the reading for fun unfortunately. Having said that, when I get a book that makes me say, "Wow, what a great sentence", it really challenges me to improve and also appreciate the writer more.

Terry Odell said...

Caridad - how true. You can't read the same once you start writing--before I started, it would have been, "Wow, what a great story." But now, I have to agree, it's often, "What a great word choice!" Thanks for stopping by.

Carol Kilgore said...

As a reader, I read every word and sometimes think how I would've written something...until I get caught up in the story and characters. Then the technical part slips away. I don't pay attention to minor typographical type errors unless there are a lot of them.

Terry Odell said...

Carol - good writing 'wins' although there's always that bit of my brain that seems to spot errors. Or I start thinking about how I might have written that paragraph.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

If the characters are real, I read on. If I don't care about them, I stop. I think reading books differently is one of the prices we pay for being a writer.

Marsha A. Moore said...

I definitely agree with Caridad. Now as a published author, my eye catches repetitive words, POV shifts, awkward dialog tags. I'm always pleased to find a book that doesn't distract me that way; few are in that category.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

When someone asks me to read their work, I usually ask ahead of time if they want me to read for typos or for content. If it's content, I won't get too hung up on the typos (as long as the content is good!) :)

Hart Johnson said...

For my OWN stuff, ideally I let it sit when done, then do a FAST read to identify plot hole and big problems... then i try to fix THOSE, then edit more systematically. The first readers get it. Then I address THEIR comments and I do an 'out loud' for the polish...

I haven't done the page proof thing for fiction yet, but I DO do it in my day job (I publish scientifically)--it's slow, tedious going and ideal to be able to spread it out... 10 minutes at a time maybe 3 times a day for several days.

Terry Odell said...

Elspeth - yes, being a writer changes the way you can enjoy books.

Marsha - that internal editor is one strong entity!

Elizabeth - very true - there are different ways to read (although even when asked to do content reads, I usually note the typos--every one that's caught is one less to deal with on the final-final.)

Hart - Hubster is a scientist, which is why I asked him to read the ARC. And definitely--when I'm doing those kinds of edits, it's a 'little at a time'. Otherwise, I start reading the story. For the contest books, I try to find large blocks of time to concentrate on the story.

Alison H. said...

I've just finished reading the entries I volunteered to judge for the Golden Heart this year and found it very difficult to turn off the "editor", now that I've been through the process twice with my own editor. I don't want to say being published has spoiled reading for pleasure for me, but it's definitely altered it.

Terry Odell said...

Alison - at least with the Golden Heart, you're reading unpublished manuscripts, so it's all right to let the editor sneak through.

Thanks for stopping by.

Jemi Fraser said...

I can usually separate the reading part of my brain from the writing part - unless something throws me out of the story - they I get hyper critical! :)

Terry Odell said...

Jemi - that sounds like a good skill to have.