Monday, August 30, 2010

What Do You Expect of Readers (Pre-Submission)?

I'm always intrigued when I read a novelist's Author Note and see that they've thanked scads of people who read the work and offered them feedback. (I'm not talking about research experts who know a lot about a particular area: the Spanish language, for example, or police procedure, or Peruvian 18th-century art, or whatever, and are simply reading the manuscript with an eye for research errors. I'm talking about general readers who are reading to give feedback on the story itself.)
My own experience with this is mixed. Sometimes, critiques can be invaluable. When I know something is wrong but I'm just not quite sure what it is, or how to fix it, readers can often put their finger on it and help define the problem. It's that unenviable feeling -- "Something's not working, but I don't know what" -- that trips me up. Once I know exactly what the problem is, I usually know how to fix it.
On the other hand, sometimes critique partners can muddy the waters more. I can't count the number of times I've given the same work to a couple of different partners, only to discover that one loved it, and the other hated it. Or one complained about a particular aspect of the story, and another singled it out for praise. Sometimes I wind up seeing the readers' point and make changes accordingly; other times, no matter how open-minded I strive to be to constructive criticism, I just wind up thinking that their take is off-base.
How do you approach critique readers? Do you ask them to look for something in particular, like too much showing versus telling, or whether a particular character is sympathetic? Or do you just give them the manuscript, tell them to have at it, and then ask their impressions later?


Mary Ricksen said...

You have to be very careful choosing crit partners. I once had a new writer tell me to change a story that was already contracted. I have had others say they loved something while others tore it apart. It is a difficult situation for sure!
But they are out there~

sue fineman said...

Critique partners or groups can be helpful or hurtful. If things aren't working out with your group/partner, end the relationship. It's your voice, your story, your characters, and you have to trust your instincts.

Joanne Stewart said...

I find critique partners invaluable. Mine, I've worked with them enough that I can take or leave their comments. I think it's a matter of finding the right balance. Of knowing that their comments aren't the end, be all. I don't HAVE to change anything. Like Sue said, it's my story, my characters. I usually end up changing things where my partners stab on something I myself had noticed bu was uncertain of. But if I absolutely don't agree, I don't change them.

I've had those though, where one loved something and another hated it, and when I come against things like that I just don't change anything. I wait until I have more than two or more people spotting the same problem before I'll take a good hard look at what's wrong with it. Sometimes just the fact that two people have such differing opinions gets me to take a good hard look at that particular passage.

AJ Nuest said...

I am sooooo glad someone else out there feels the way I do about using critique partners. Its a shot in the dark, for sure. I've had several over the past few years, some around for one chapter, others for a complete novel. I try to keep up relationships with a few because each has their own strengths and weaknesses. I know I can send my MS to one critiquer and she'll give me emotional feedback. I can send it to another, and she'll catch all of my grammatical errors. I keep in mind who I'm working with while reading the comments, and that usually provides me with a good filter.

Margaret Tanner said...

Great blog Linda,
For me, I think critique partners do have their place, but reading manuscripts is very subjective. I think we need to be open minded, take what what advice we think is useful and ignore the rest.



P.L. Parker said...

My wonderful sisters are my critique partners. After they've read the manuscript and give me suggestions, then I have several friends who are anxious to read the manuscript and give their input. My first critique partner is my husband, who waits anxiously for the next chapter each week.

Becca Dale said...

I can't imagine submitting without a critique partner. I have had a few through the years who have had conflicting opinions based on various levels of experience. I use what I need from each partner and watch for red flags. I tried submitting once without a partner's eyes and regretted it. CP's are essential in my opinion.

Post a Comment

Blogger Templates by