Finding value in a critique…

Every writer who puts their work out there will have to face critiques of all flavors: the good, the bad, and the outright mean. For the new writer, one just starting down the journey, sending that baby out for review can actually be a terrifying experience. “What if they don’t like it? What if I’m doing it all wrong? What if they tell me my writing is shit?”

Well… Not everyone is going to like what you write. Writing is like art — filled with subjective opinions. If you’re determined to have everyone in the world like your writing, then you might as well give up now. It’s never going to happen. The best you can ever hope for is that the fans of books you like to read, the stories that influenced your writing, also like your book.

In terms of doing it wrong… I’m sorry, but this is your writing. You are the only one who can judge if you are doing it wrong or not. What others can do is tell you why something didn’t work for them, potentially providing suggestions to make your writing stronger. Whether you take on board those suggestions is entirely up to you.

And telling you that your writing is shit? No one should ever say that to you, and if they do… Well… Never send anything to them ever again to read, because you just don’t need that kind of negative feedback.

But let’s think about that critique that tore your writing to shreds, poking holes at every turn. These critiques are the hardest ones to read; they play on our emotional heartstrings. We’ve poured everything into our writing, and it’s just been thrown to the lions and turned into a bloody mass.

2015-07-29 14.20.49 - CopyYou have three choices here: 1) break down in tears, throwing your manuscript away and never look at it again; 2) hit delete on that critique and treat is as a bunch of manure that is only worth fertilizing the garden with; or 3) step back and try to read between the lines for the value of the critique. Taking option #3 is incredibly difficult, but it is what you need to do. Every critique has something of value worth taking on board; the trick is finding it.

So you’ve gotten this negative critique. The first thing you should do is put it aside and don’t look at it. A contradiction to what I’ve just said above, but it’s for your own good. You need to distance yourself emotionally from that critique, give yourself a chance to build the wall around your heart so you can take on board any of the valuable points. Then you’re going to give those extremely negative comments to a trusted friend to read for you. Your friend won’t be as emotionally invested in your writing, and hence they will be able to filter through that review to the points actually worth looking at. You’ll do the edits needed — but you aren’t done with that critique yet.

After you have given yourself sufficient time to cool those initial anger flashes you felt during the first reading of that negative critique, you are going to pick it up again and read it for yourself. Remember that your friend helped you find something of value in that critique. That might in fact be the only point worth considering, but unless you take the time to dissect that critique yourself, you won’t know for sure.

Take your red pen to that critique; make it bleed in return. Cross out any statements that are just not productive (i.e. name calling, “magic doesn’t exist, so you should remove it from your fantasy novel”, “a woman would never react that way” comments made by a man to a female writer, etc.). Then look at each point not crossed out in turn. Is the point something that someone else has already brought up (but in a nicer way)? If so, then you might want to visit this. Is the point based on some technical issue, be it writing related or plot specific? Again, look at it, but it doesn’t mean you need to change it. Have you already addressed the comment during an interim edit? If so, brilliant… Red pen, here we come.

In truth, the critiques that tear your writing to shreds, even though they’re the hardest to read, are actually the best critiques to get. The critiques that do nothing but gush about how brilliant your writing is don’t provide you with anything to actually work with. If I wanted people to gush over my writing, I would give it to my friends who aren’t writers themselves. “It’s brilliant. It’s perfect. Publish now.” Meanwhile, there are glaring plot holes and fundamental writing flaws that will crucify any chances at decent sales.

No… Every writer needs a critique partner, a person not afraid to tear your writing apart, making it bleed, but the good critique partners, the ones you will cherish for years to come, are hard to find. I should know… Over the years, I have found many very good beta readers, but critique partners… To date, I have found only two, and one doesn’t write in my genre. It’s also the reason why I now tend to employ a developmental editor myself when my stories are at a certain point. (Yes, even editors need to hire editors.)

As an editor, it is not my job to like your writing. If I do, bonus. My job is to assess the writing and the story and give you my honest opinion, but in a palatable way.

In my time as an editor, I have dished out my fair share of heartbreaking critiques. I always try to be constructive, explaining exactly why something didn’t work for me and provide potential ways on how to deal with the issue. I have told clients that their manuscript, in my opinion, is not ready for publication. I have told clients that their writing style was so confusing that I struggled to read it. I have told clients that while the writing style was fantastic, there were ginormous plot holes that a whole army of dragons could fly through. But it has also been my joy to see writing flourish and that story just take my imagination away.

I have seen writing that had me so caught up in the story that I put the red pen down and just read. I have had the pleasure in hearing of the successes of my clients who have taken on board my critiques and obtain publication contacts.

While negative critiques might be hard to take, one should always remember that they are not intended as a personal attack. They are there to help you grow as a writer and to give you the precious feedback that you need to turn your story into a precious, polished gem.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Editing Reality Check

When writers have spent such a long time at writing, crafting their stories, many will happily turn their attention to editing. However, it saddens me to realize that many writers don’t fully understand what editing actually entails.

In a post earlier this year, I spoke about The Who, What and When of Editing. In that article, I mentioned that editing falls into four main categories: critique, developmental, line and copy-edit. Each stage is important for a manuscript’s development but for different reasons. Unfortunately, the number of writers that seem to miss the critique and developmental editing phases, going straight to line editing, is surprising.

I have yet to meet a writer that believes their writing is so perfect that they can go straight to copy-editing, publishing that manuscript straight from early drafts. No doubt there are a few out there, but they certainly don’t hang around for long. Everyone I know will acknowledge that there is always a need to tighten that sentence, improve that narrative, but there are a few who incorrectly believe that because they’ve hired an editor that their story will read beautifully and be adored by all. Time for those writers to face reality.

Not everyone is going to like your story.

Sorry, but that’s the truth. We all have our own tastes and your story might fall into the category of don’t like. Accept it. Move on.

You hired an editor. Good. Great. But what type of editor did you hire?

Not all editors are the same, something that I’ve spoken about a few times now, including in that The Who, What and When of Editing post.

Take a good look at the services that your chosen editor is offering. If they offer only copy-editing and/or proofreading services, then they’re not the type of editor that you need during the early stages of your manuscript. They’ll gladly take your money to correct your grammar and punctuation, but they won’t point out any plot holes in your story. They won’t highlight issues with your dialogue, be it unnatural speech or the dreaded he said/she said problem. They won’t take the time to explain to you about how the third-person, limited-perspective narrative works, and how you might be head bopping along the story tracks.

No… A copy-editor is the type of editor that you should be looking at hiring when you are getting ready for publication, not when you’ve only just finished that first (or second) draft.

The developmental editor is the one who you actually pay to tear your story apart, giving you guidance and the tools you need to help piece it back together again, and providing the healing balm needed for those editing scars. Developmental editing, in my opinion, is one of the most important stages of any manuscript’s editorial process. Don’t get me wrong… Punctuation and grammar are also important, but most readers will be willing to overlook that misplaced comma, or that odd sentence construction, in favor of the story and the characters. You could have the most grammatically correct piece of prose in existence but without the story and the characters, no one will read it.

I’ll come back to developmental editing in a moment, but I just wanted to finish with the issues with the belief that because you’ve hired an editor that your story is now beautiful.

You’ve hired the editor. It turns out they’re the exact type of editor that you needed. You get the report back. Did you actually do the suggested edits?

Some writers are under the impression that when you hire an editor that they’ll do the edits for you. WRONG!

They might make some corrections for you in your digital file (it’s the way of in-line editing within today’s technological world). However, if they repeatedly discover the same issue, they will highlight it in the report, correct it the first few instances, then ignore it for the remainder of the manuscript. The rest of the corrections for that particular issue will be entirely up to you.

And in the case of a developmental editor, they CAN’T do the corrections for you, because they CAN’T write your story. Only you have all the details needed to make a scene work. They can point out where the plot has gone off the rails, or where a character is not behaving the way that they should based on the characterizations throughout the rest of the manuscript, but exactly how you want to correct that particular issue is 100% up to you as the writer.

If you want your story to read beautifully, you have to be prepared to put in the work after the editor returns their notes to you.


Developmental editing: What really is it?

Developmental editing is an in-depth review of plot, characters, pacing, structure and narrative voice. Sometimes, it will delve into sentence and paragraph level, but for the most part, developmental editing looks at scenes and chapters, and how they progress from one point to the next, taking the reader along for the journey. Believe it or not, this is the same level that a reader looks at a story, the difference is, developmental editing is performed on those early rough drafts, when the story is still choppy and the characters might still appear flat.

Hiring a developmental editor might not be a viable option for some writers. Let’s face it, even my own fees can add up quickly for those larger manuscripts. But there are options that are cost effective, and I will gladly recommend all of them. (I have employed them myself within my own writing.)

Join a critique group.

This will be a matter of trial and error. Not all writers you meet will write in your genre, read your genre or even understand your writing process. Yes, all of these things are important. In some cases, the way in which a critique group works might not work for you, but you’ll never know unless you try.

Join an on-line critiquing site.

The advantage that a critiquing site has over a critique group is that they are literally thousands of writers on these sites that read/write your genre. Most operate on a karma-based system, such that to list works for critiquing, you must first critique the works of others. This is good for multiple reasons, one of which you can see how other writers work. If things work well between different writers, there is a potential of developing a long-term critique partnership that lasts beyond just the one manuscript. (This is where I obtained one of my personal critique partners.)

Downside of these sites is that many writers are not interested in sticking around for the long haul, hence, you don’t necessarily get a full chapter-by-chapter flow look at your story. Glaring plot holes can be missed. There will also be a range of feedback provided, depending on the writing skills of the critiquer. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but can be frustrating because you might not get the feedback that you actually need.

Interact with various writers on social media and advertise for critique partners.

Getting involved in the writing communities on social media is always fun anyway. However, when the chance comes around to swap writing, seriously consider it. I have found one of my best critique partners this way, and she and I are now writing partners on a completely unrelated project to our own projects (new genre and category, and it’s fun).

Advertise with your local writers’ guild.

I have found some of my best Beta readers this way. No critique partners, as of yet.

Put the manuscript aside and come back to it at a later date.

This is something worth doing anyway. As you develop your skills as a writer, you will also develop your editing skills. Sometimes, putting that manuscript aside was all you needed so you can see the flaws yourself.

Don’t be afraid to use Beta readers.

The purpose of your Beta readers is to read through that manuscript to ensure that it made sense. However, Beta readers have a habit of finding plot holes that everyone missed. If this happens to you, don’t be afraid to go back to your developmental editing process and fill in the gaps, starting the whole process again.

All of the above methods for getting insight into your manuscript’s weaknesses cost you only time. But it can be frustrating. Some people don’t return the comments in a timely fashion, if at all. Some people only read to a certain point, but say they ran out of time to read the rest. (This puts many questions in your head, and not good ones.) What about when you can’t get any feedback? What about when everyone is gushing with joy over your manuscript but you know in your heart that something is off, you just can’t figure on what? Desperation is sinking in. Unfortunately, you might be left with only the one option.

Contact a professional editor to do a manuscript critique.

If you decide that you really need to hire a developmental editor but are unable to afford their rates, see if your chosen editor offers a critique service as an alternative. This is often a fraction of the cost and won’t be as detailed as a full developmental edit, but it will at least give you the overall picture. (I offer a critique service myself for this very reason. More details can be found here.)

Whatever you do, don’t throw out any writing during your editing process. You never know, you may have written a scene for a future project.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Editing: The Who, What and When

When I tell people that I’m a freelance editor, it’s quite common for people to assume that I spend day in and day out just looking at spelling, grammar and punctuation. I don’t get this reaction from just the general public either. Many writers, especially new writers, also make this assumption. However, editing is so much more.

Editing falls into four main categories: critique, developmental, line and copy-edit. Each stage is necessary to the development of a manuscript. While the initial drafting of a story is a solitary practice, it’s vital for every writer to seek out those extra sets of eyes to provide objective input. The who and the when will depend entirely on what stage your manuscript is at. The stages of editing (depicted in the figure below) are the same for both traditional and self-publication, it’s just the players that may change.

The stages of editing

The stages of editing

Early Writing and Critiquing Partnerships

When writing and editing those early drafts, a critiquing partner can be invaluable, pointing out glaring plot holes that you may have missed. They can be other writers, or a technical adviser who is an expert in a given field. You can find the writing-type critique partner through writing groups, Facebook, or even writing contests. Many critiquing sites have noticeboards filled with people looking for critiquing partners, including Scribophile and Critique Circle. On Twitter, #CPMatch could be the way you find your perfect partner.

The types of critique that one obtains vary greatly, ranging from a full assessment of language and plot, through to characters, and general likes and dislikes. It depends entirely on the level and skill of the critiquer. Critiques are often on partial drafts, and can be at any stage of the writing. You can hire a professional editor to provide a critique, often at a discounted rate, or have a fellow writer provide feedback. You might even send your manuscript to a technical adviser on a given topic, to ensure that your manuscript is accurate and the plot ideas that you had are actually feasible. (Was the poison in my story deadly enough? Can the plane that I used really make that maneuver? Is that really how someone would have wielded a sword?)

Building a good critiquing relationship with other writers can do wonders for your own writing. Not only will you get feedback from objective eyes, but you can see how others go about the editing process. Even those with little-to-no experience in providing critiques can still provide valuable insight into what is not working in a given passage.

The Developmental and Line Edits

Developmental editing provides an in-depth review of the plot, characters, pace, structure and narrative voice. It is typically a big picture view, but does examine the nuances associated with individual chapters and the nitty-gritty of subplots. The story flow from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, generally is fully assessed. Occasionally, a developmental edit will include some line-edits.

Line editing examines a manuscript at a sentence and paragraph level, taking closer look language, structure and clarity. Manuscripts are often returned with in-line edits, comments and possible changes marked throughout. Often the line-edits from the first few chapters can be filtered through into the rest of a manuscript.

Both of these edits occur in the middle stages of a manuscript’s development, and it’s these services for a professional editor that tend to be the most expensive. It takes time to dissect prose, ensuring that everything that is meant to be there is actually there. (Is that really the right word? Is that description enough or is it over the top? Does this character make me want to fall in love, or run an iron over them because they’re so flat with the odd wrinkle?) Do keep in mind that a professional editor that advertises only copy-editing services is not a developmental or line editor.

Beta Readers

When you have edited your manuscript to death, and worked out all the plot and language kinks, new eyes become vital. That is the stage when you put your feelers out in every direction and ask if anyone is willing to read your manuscript and provide you with feedback. Beta readers can be other writers, avid readers, or even your family and friends. At this stage of editing, all you want is the reader’s perspective about your story. You want the answer to the question: did they like it and would they buy it if the opportunity presented itself?

For those on the traditional publication road, it is common for the query process to begin while beta readers are still reading your manuscript. Just ensure that you’re not querying with a manuscript that is still raw, requiring significant changes.

Copy-Editing and Proofreading

Copy-editing is the type of editing that checks spelling, grammar and punctuation. The idea is to ensure that the language used is accurate and consistent throughout the manuscript and that the prose flows. This is one of the last stages of editing, so developmental issues are not examine, but that shouldn’t matter—by the time you get to a copy-edit, there shouldn’t be any developmental issues.

Proofreading is the very last stage of editing before that book goes to the printer. The proofreader goes through the entire manuscript, picking up any mistakes that the copy-editor missed and checking for any errors in the typesetting. The proofreader is hired by the publisher (whether that is a publishing house or yourself) and is the last chance to catch anything before your story goes public.

For those on the traditional publishing road, the copy-editor will most likely be contracted by the publishing house. Regardless, the proofreader definitely is.

Do all writers need to hire an editor?

There is only one type of writer that doesn’t require any form of editing: the one who writes solely for personal pleasure with no intention to ever publish anything. Everyone else will need another set of eyes at some stage during a manuscript’s development, however, it need not be a professional editor. As mentioned above, critiquing partners and beta readers can be a valuable resource.

If you do hire a professional editor, be advised that not all editors are the same. Some will only offer developmental edits and critiques, while others will only offer copy-edit and proofreading services. Some offer a combination of both. When contracting an editor, do make sure that you look at the services they offer closely. Also look at the types of stories that an editor is willing to look at. Let’s face it, not everyone wants to read about guts being ripped out of the body, just like not everyone wants to read about how Harry met Sally.

Regardless, just remember that editing takes time and is one thing that you should never rush.

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P.S. I’d love to meet you on Twitter or Facebook.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ below. You can read other posts like it here.

© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016