“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax. Of cabbages and kings.” – The Walrus and the Carpenter (quoted in Alice in Wonderland)
Though I was one of the children that found Alice in Wonderland a bit creepy, I still remember this quote (mostly...I only got a few words wrong, one of which was a synonym). I cannot think of "the time has come" without remembering this random line from a poem.
Anyway, today we will discuss something very helpful in your editing process. Without this step, you will likely spend more years editing your manuscript, driving yourself crazy, and writing in circles than making progress. And while those things are very scary, what I’m about to suggest may give you another panic attack.
Let Others Read It
If you are the writer who turned off spell check, wrote scenes out of order, song lyrics, recorded what you ate for lunch and why your character is driving you insane all within the confines of your novel, do not run away. I am not telling you to send that document to a reader to get their opinion. We don’t want your friends thinking you’re too crazy.
When you finish editing your draft, it will at least be semi-coherent, if not mostly that way. But there will be rough spots. It happens with a draft. Remember our talk about that? A draft means it’s not done.
Just like the post-NaNo glow, if you read over your newly edited draft, you will get a warm-fuzzy feeling. Aww! I did that! It’s even better than before! Yeah! And while editing improves what you have, you’re not done. :(
The next step, once your draft is at least decent, is to give your manuscript to a reader. Explain you need an honest opinion. Tell them what you want to do with the book.
Pick the Right Reader
Your family and the majority of your friends are most likely the wrong candidates for this mission. They know you, they love you, and anything you have done will only be seen through the eyes of “aww, you did that!” Like a child finger painting, you will receive praise and adoration for a job well done. These readers will not tell you that you colored outside the lines, that you used the wrong color order for your rainbow, or that they didn’t like your secondary character. They may not notice some things that desperately need attention. They’re just still amazed at your ability to write.
Find a fellow writer who understands what you are doing and why. Make sure they understand what your book is about, the kind of feedback you’re looking for (varying from “is the story any good?” to “how much much work does this need?”), and that you need honesty.
Now, don’t give your vampire novel to someone who hates that genre. Find a reader who is interested in your story, who you have interacted with before, and one you feel comfortable sharing your work with. I have sent my NaNo manuscripts to strangers I met on the forums, but the most valuable feedback I received came from ones who I already knew from the critique boards. They expressed interest in reading more, and I took them up on it. Their feedback was honest, nitpicky, and exactly what I needed to make my book better.
Give a Deadline
Set a reasonable time frame to get feedback. If they are in constant contact, respond honestly. Answer their questions. Though it hurts your pride every time, agree when they point out one of your mistakes that you swear made sense when it was penned in November.
Don’t nag, but don’t disappear from them. Check in if your time frame passes and you haven’t heard from them. Most will let you know if things are crazy and will say if they need more time.
Always ask questions from your readers. Let them give you their feedback, but ask questions that you’ve been sweating about in the mean time. Did you know that was the villain? Was her illness believable? Was the ending too convenient? Did I describe the alien architecture enough? Did that conversation with the uncle work?
If you aren’t specific in your questions, you are likely not to get specific answers.
Thank your reader often. They are taking time out of their lives to provide you with valuable feedback. Thank them. Thank them. Thank them.
You will likely not like all of what your reader has to say. I had a beta reader who hated my dream sequences and had issues with the way I ended the story. But because they were specific about why they felt that way, I was able to make the ending better.
Keep in mind that your beta reader’s word is not gospel. Opinions vary. Though it’s hard, I suggest finding at least two, preferably three readers. If all three have issues with the same section, chances are that needs work.
Being a writer means growing a tough skin. Next week we will talk about how to handle constructive criticism. This, too, is an essential skill if you wish to continue writing. But we’ll talk more about that later.