Monday, August 18, 2008


Being a writer means dealing with readers. Some of them are reading a completed books you've written. Others are critique partners, reading what you're working on. Others are editors, both for acquired manuscripts, or those you're trying to sell.

The challenge is remembering how to interpret all the comments. "Loved your book" is an easy one. And now that I've entered some contests with published books, it takes a moment to switch from the mindset of reading a judge's feedback on an unsold manuscript. I can change the latter, but there's not much I can do about the former. Recently, I got the kind of feedback that makes me think the reader was in a hurry (understandable; I had something like 8 books to read for that same contest). When I worked with a former critique group, I'd always want to know if I wrote it wrong or they read it wrong. I remind myself that one book isn't going to resonate the same way for all readers, and I try to move on.

Working with editors for books on their way to printing is another aspect of feedback interpretation. The obvious fixes: typos, grammar, etc., are no-brainers. But sometimes their suggested corrections don't work for me. And, although there are critique partners who would probably be surprised, I do manage to seek out compromises and gently explain my reasoning.

I've worked with quite a few critique partners since I started writing, and I've learned what special insights each of them brings to the work. Some have been able to zero in on characters; others find important plot holes; some can spot all my overused words and grammar glitches (queen of the dangling modifier, I am).

One member of my on line groups is an Aussie, and male. He's helping me a lot with my Aussie hero. Another is a computer programmer, British, and also male. How can he possibly critique my romantic suspense? He's my technical wizard, and also has a super-keen eye for things I can't see on my screen, like extra spaces or periods (although he calls them full stops). He also loves to check up on me, and will research facts if I spring something new at him. Given the differences between US and British technology, there are often quite a few. He recently learned something we take for granted here: cars in different states have different and easily identifiable license tags. Apparently not in Britain. He loves following my mystery threads and doing his damnedest to find holes, and I love him for it. Does he nit pick? Yes. Do I care? No. Every little thing that makes me think about the flow of the story helps make it better. Sometim
es we get a good laugh over the comments. Here's a recent one:

I wrote:
He dropped to the ground, flipped over and scooted himself under the car. She tried not to move, even held her breath, as if it would make her lighter, envisioning him crushed if she so much as shifted her weight on the seat.

He responded:
[Picky – holding her breath would make her fractionally heavier, though you’d need a very expensive set of scales to tell the difference. A lungful of air at sea level weighs about 5 grammes, or just under two-fifths of an ounce. If she breathed out, most of the air would stay within the car, so the total weight of her plus the car would hardly change. I’m completely missing the point, aren’t I?]

And then there are the dreaded rejection letters. Now that I have an agent, they go to her first, but she forwards them to me. They seem to come faster when they're sent via an agent, and they're a lot friendlier, too. Now, if there would only be consensus, maybe I could think about revisions before she sends it elsewhere, but aside from the "no thanks" commonality, they've all picked on different reasons for passing. They all do say I'm a good writer, and a strong writer, so that's encouraging. And having ARCs of my next book in hand encourages me to keep working on the next book. So do the 'finalist' certificates.


Joan Reeves said...

The "picky" comment isn't just picky; it's of little value. You were relating how a character feels and thinks about something so it wouldn't have mattered, except from the standpoint of the character's intelligence, if she had thought: She held her breath and it made her feel like an elephant. *g*

Terry Odell said...

Joan,true, but he doesn't really expect me to make changes based on those kinds of comments. He just loves being 'accurate'. He writes science fiction, and his current WIP uses a lot of physics. I give him "heck" for his attempts at emotional scenes. We did have some great fun discussing sex at zero-G