Beta Reading Challenge

My writers group just started a new program called Beta Readers Round Table

Five of our members submitted their completed manuscripts to be reviewed by Beta Readers (myself included). Each Beta Reader critiques 2 manuscripts based on content (not line editing). Searching for plot holes, characterization errors, point of view switching, change of tenses, the bigger stuff (not grammar, punctuation, etc). And it’s a challenge.

This is what critique groups are for, in my opinion. Our meeting sessions normally focus on 10 pages at a time. The online critique sessions can be anywhere from a chapter to 5-6 chapters long. This is the first time we’re doing entire manuscripts in one swoop. And two manuscripts at that. This seems like a great opportunity to capture big plot holes and voice, flow, all the big stuff all writers want to know about their unfinished babies. A great opportunity, and a big responsibility.

When all of the beta readers are finished critiquing their ‘assignments,’ we’ll get together in a round table forum and go over everyone’s work. I’m sure this session will take well more than an hour, but it should be with gold-level content. Writers are supposed to walk away from the session feeling good about themselves and their stories. And feel like they’ve carried away a massive ruby or emerald in their pocket of exceptional critiques.

How many opportunities do these manuscripts get before a writer submits them to an agent or editor?

I’ve just finished the first of two, and I’m really impressed with the stories our members create. Truly original and completely new perspectives. But at the same time I’m also hesitant to be too critical. I’m not published, yet. I don’t have an agent, and no experience in what editors look for in submissions. But I’m an avid reader. I know what I like to see. I know the difference between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ and I’m much more entertained by ‘showing.’ I love the emotion in stories. So those are the kinds of things I look for in manuscripts. When I give critiques, I try to give ideas on how to make something better (not just, ‘I don’t like this scene. Not realistic.”) I give a suggestion on how to make it more realistic, or better for the reader.

Don’t close a door for someone without giving a them a window they can open.

I hope the other Beta Readers do the same for my manuscript.

It’s challenging. Seeing a potentially brilliant story with vibrant and genuine characters in its most raw form- I want to help the writer make it better. I don’t want to ruin it with my suggestions that may not be the best ideas. Its challenging trying to help someone. But if it’s the right idea, I’m proud to say I helped make their story better.

Critique Groups are Supposed to Help, Not Hurt

I recently read another author’s blog that made me think about critique groups.

First of all, I love my writers group. And I’m not just saying that because I’m the President. My writers group and the fabulous other writers who’ve critiqued my work have been one of the best assets of my entire experience.

But the author’s blog I read claimed that her writers group ‘critiqued the voice out of her novel.’ I can only imagine session after session of sitting with her critique members and them offering suggestions of how to improve her language, grammar, and characterization efforts backfired. So when she finally read the ‘revised’ version of her manuscript, she couldn’t even recognize it as her own. Maybe it felt flat to her because she didn’t recognize her words. But her voice was gone.

How frustrating!

But then I thought about it further. She had the right to refuse those suggestions. They were just there to help, not to be vicious and purposely make her spicy work become vanilla. Why didn’t she speak up for her own writing? Why did she cave?

Perhaps she thought the other members were more experienced than she. Therefore, her opinions (while mattered) weren’t as crucial as the others.

Perhaps she believed her fellow writers were experts in the genre she wrote. Or if not experts, at least liked the genre and had read a lot of books to be knowledgeable of it.

Very possible. Even plausible.

But bottom line, its her writing. At some point in every writer’s career, they will receive critiques and ‘friendly suggestions’ from friends, other writers, editors, and agents that may not be in the best interest of the story.  I’ve had several. But I at least recognize it’s meant to help. Everyone’s critique is his or her own opinion. It’s up to the writer to determine what they’re comfortable with accepting. To determine how open minded they want to be. To find out what kind of suggestions they are getting and how credible the sources are.

I know that’s a tremendous hodge-podge of what-ifs, and can scare the crap out of any aspiring author. It still scares me from time to time.

I think it all comes down to 3 things.

First, the writers group you belong to. What kind of people are involved? Are you comfortable reading in front of them and sharing your thoughts? Are they supportive, open, and constructive? Do you feel comfortable not accepting a crit?

Second, how open-minded are you? Meaning, do you defend every tiny detail of your manuscript when someone tries to make a suggestion on a character, setting, or plot line? Or do you cave at every suggestion without getting second opinions or really thinking it through?

Lastly, and most importantly, you gotta love to keep writing. Even after all the crits, suggestions, revisions, rewrites, and gut wrenching rejections from agents or editors (if you’ve submitted), you have to love the story. The characters. Everything about it. Because if you don’t, there’s no way anyone else will. You are your story’s greatest fan and biggest cheerleader. If you don’t love it, go back and ask yourself why. Don’t let someone else talk you out of your own voice.

All that being said, I feel very lucky. I’ve found a writers group I’m comfortable with.  They’ve made fabulous suggestions for me that I’ve loved and have only made my writing stronger. But I also don’t feel threatened when I don’t take one of their suggestions. If you don’t have the same feeling about your ‘helpers,’ find new ones. Stand up for your voice.

 

Cartwheels over Finished Rough Draft

Cartwheels, electric slide, general happy dance inspired by Steve Carrell, once again.

I finished my rough draft on Friday this week. While my husband and son went to sleep early, I pounded at the keyboard for another 3 hours to finish it. I had to keep up the roll I was on earlier in the week and it paid off. (I wish literally, but for now just figuratively). Don’t ask me how long it took me to complete the first draft. It’s embarrassing. But that doesn’t matter. What counts is that I finished it.

I’m under no illusions that this is ready to submit. Far from it. I have an ungodly amount of revisions to complete that I kept track of during the first crash course, and obviously I have to pass it through my writers group, trusty critique partner Kim, and a few others. Then revise. Then do it all over again. Then revise. And all over again once more. Then maybe… maybe,  I’ll be ready to submit to agencies again in January. That’s my goal, anyway.

And hopefully avoid the pesky slushpile. 

 

 

 

So for now, as the weekend winds down and I gear up for my writers meeting later today, I shall do the happy dance.

Commence Celebrate music…

“Ce-le-brate good times, come on! Duh, nuh-nuh-nuh, nuh, nuh-nuh-nuh, Weehoo!”

Doesn’t that just make you smile?

Romance Manuscript Woes – Final Swan Song

Another bird portrait. The white swan from Aub...

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I had to sit on this thought for the last week. I didn’t want to make any rash decisions on this, considering that I’ve worked five years (off and on) on my first manuscript. But last weekend I received another rejection on my full manuscript submission to a literary agent. I appreciated her thoughts on my work, and that she actually spent the time to personalize her rejection, inform why it didn’t work for her and gave me specific examples on what didn’t jive.

But it still hurt. A lot. No one likes to hear their first baby (granted, just a piece of literature) is unliked. The unpopular manuscript in class. But as I sit back and reread her rejection email over and over like a deranged mother, I realize it has a lot in common with another personalized rejection letter I received a few months ago from another agent. Both reference issues with voice and style (in one form or another). And any writer, or aspiring writer can tell you that’s not something that can be fixed overnight. Not even over a weekend or month. It can take some writers years to develop their voice. And that thought crushed my motivation.

After spending five years on my first manuscript, and now I’m halfway through my second story, having to spend MORE years trying to develop my style and voice before acquiring an agent is the epitome of frustrating. So I’ve stewed over this for the last week, discussed it with my husband and perused the blog tours for more insight. And I believe I’ve come to a heart-breaking decision.

I need to shove my first baby in a drawer and let it alone. It has sung its final swan song.

Maybe down the road when I’m more experienced and have a more developed voice I can go back and rewrite it *gasping and sobbing at the thought of starting from a blank slate*.  Maybe I’ll have a better chance with this second story I’m writing. I’m not too far into this manuscript that I can’t go back and fix some things relating to my voice.

I’m not being overly dramatic in my decision. Just two rejection notices and I give up on it? Absolutely not. This is after probably 40 rejections on this thing over the years (between publishers and agencies). I’ve given this manuscript a good run. The story is great, the plot is well-developed and I really like the characters. It was all about voice. Probably just sheer lack of experience in putting words onto a page. And that’s what hurts the most. That’s what a writer does. Puts words on a page. And if I’m having the biggest problems with that aspect, then what does that say about me as a writer?

My motto has always been to keep writing forward. And I will. But it’s been a little harder this week. After all, practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. And if I’m practicing bad writing, that’s exactly what I’ll be: a bad writer. And I don’t handle failure well.

So here I go: keep pushing forward, no matter how much muck and sludge I have to plow through. Keep writing forward.

Day in the Life of an Aspiring Author

Querying and submitting to agents is a long, arduous, and nerve-wracking process.  I finished my first manuscript (contemporary romantic suspense) a few months ago after years of writing, and another year of revising, editing, cutting, splicing, and crying.  (Emotions run rampant around these pieces of my soul on paper).

Then I started the massive undertaking of finding a literary agent.  I’ve read so many self-help books and tips on publishing that I believe I have the basics down.  Now its down to the nitty-gritty in getting my query letter noticed among the thousand of queries agents read every day.

Most agents aren’t looking for new authors to sign right now.  “Our agency is currently occupied by catering to our current list of clients.  Please check back with us next year.”  I’ve read this tag line on so many agency websites.

For those agents who are considering signing new talent, the competition is brutal!

I’ve sent out 45 queries over the last several months, and have received back 15 rejections.  However, I did receive one agent’s interest, and he asked for my first 3 chapters.  I was physched! Made my Thanksgiving complete!  After a month, I received a devastating blow- another rejection from my most promising prospect.

Granted, this industry requires an extremely thick layer of skin.  But that was hard to swallow.  I appreciated that he responded with a few tidbits as to why he passed on my baby- excuse me, manuscript.  I’ll try to learn from them.  But really the only way I can keep moving forward is just to keep writing.  Not only that, but keep writing what I love.

I’m looking forward to my first Writer’s Conference in February.  I hear that is an excellent way to learn, network, and potentially find at least an intro to an agent.  Its intimidating, but I’m anxious for it.

Needless to say, I also entered a bajillion contests over the last few months as well.  I’m waiting to hear back from several.  Including 1 contest in which I won a consolation prize of a critique of my first chapter.  That was back in October and I’m still waiting.  But that’s normal for this industry.

Pain, anguish, and infinite waiting is normal for this industry.