Okay. I had a different post planned for today, but I’m in a mood now, so I’m going to rant a little bit. And maybe when I’m done ranting we’ll get to what I actually planned, which was different from what I originally planned. Muahaha, the nefarious twistiness!
Here’s the thing. A critique partner or beta reader will do different things for everyone. I personally think that the better we get and the more confident we get, the less we actually need critique and the more we just need a second pair of eyes; this is something I’ll be discussing later.
There’s another name for this beta reader person, once you’re published. That name is EDITOR.
See, when I write a book, and make it as shiny and perfect and clean as I can–and yes, I am the judge of that–I send it to this person who works at my publisher. That person is called an “editor,” and that “editor” will actually read my book, every single page, and will then point out things that perhaps aren’t clear, the occasional pacing issue, or simply an area my “editor” would like to see expanded or feels was expanded too much. Maybe she (my editors so far have all been women) feels I didn’t hit a certain emotional place hard enough. Maybe she feels I hit it a little too hard, and the scene has become a bit depressing–or rather, more depressing than usual, ha.
What’s my point? My point is that A) Working with beta readers or critique partners is a good way for some of us to get used to dealing with editing suggestions (I never had a problem doing so, and I love edits, but some do); B) Every single book on the shelves–every decent book–has been through this process and has thus had at least one other person making suggestions to the author, suggestions we usually take; C) That that extra pair of eyes is necessary to make a book the absolute best it can be; and most importantly D.
D is that it is my job to make my editor’s job as easy as possible.
How do I do that? By turning in the cleanest, tightest manuscript I possibly can. I accomplish this by working hard. By writing and rewriting, editing and editing, by thinking of hardly anything else for weeks on end. I accomplish this by neglecting my family so I can write, reread, edit, change, rip out, add in, polish polish and polish some more.
And I accomplish it, when I’m done with all of that, by sending the ms out to a few people I trust, to see if they spot anything my editor might spot. Anything I can fix before I turn that book in. Any slow spots or areas where I know the story so well I forgot I was writing for people who don’t, and so have neglected to fully explain a character’s reasoning or whatever.
My book is one of dozens my editor may be working on at any given time. I want to make her job easier. If I may, I’m going to tell you something one of my editors once said to me: That she was looking forward to my ms because she knew my work would be clean and tight, that it wouldn’t require a lot of heavy lifting.
That’s the kind of shit I live for, people. And that’s why I have beta readers–aside from the simple fact that it’s FUN to share your work with your friends, and that often in exchange you actually get to read their mss too! I love my friends and I love their work. Why wouldn’t I want people I trust and admire to read my books? Why wouldn’t I want to read theirs? Do you have any idea how good it feels to actually be able to discuss your work with someone? And if all that reading fun means I also get to have a reputation with my editors for turning in clean work? (Which I would have anyway, as I generally change very little based on my betas’ comments?) So much the fucking better.
Once you’re contracted, one you’re published, it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about the people who depend on you, too. It’s not “asking a committee” or wimping out. It’s the business of professional publishing. Period.
But that does bring me to an interesting point, the one I originally planned for today, which is, who the hell is giving you such crap advice?
Here’s the thing. Finding people willing to crit you is good. And a lot of this is covered when you see theirs; you get an idea of their skill level and thus how reliable they actually are.
But some people post work online, like in the Share Your Work forum on AW or any number of other places. And those are great places, they are. But watch who you listen to.
Not everyone who offers you comments will know what they’re talking about. Some people get bugs up their asses about silly things that don’t matter. Some people will argue based on nothing. (Years ago I posted an excerpt from a historical. I got excellent feedback, and really appreciated it, except the one or two people who insisted my years of meticulous research were incorrect. This also happened in a nightmarish way later and elsewhere, at a place that no longer exists, but that’s not really a story I can share here.)
My point is, yes, you need to trust yourself, and you need to be careful who you listen to. Just because someone sounds like they know what they’re talking about doesn’t mean they do. Just because they have several people who agree with them doesn’t mean any of them know what they’re talking about. Check their credentials. Are they published? In your genre? By whom? For how long? Do they normally make sense? Step away from the work and the crit for a while and come back to it.
Does it still seem unreasonable? Forget it. Don’t take every bit of advice you’re offered. Learn to pick and choose; it’s part of the process.