Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

And the (Initial) Verdict Is . . .

by Stephanie Black

Considering that I told my editor I was planning to submit my manuscript in mid-October and, according to my calendar (which I hope is wrong), October is one week gone, and I’ve still got an entire draft to do, I think I’d better make this a short blog. I hereby predict that next week’s blog will be even shorter—possibly consisting of one run-on sentence, which may or may not include a Halloween joke, or maybe just an emoticon, if I can figure out how to create a writer screaming in panic out of parentheses, zeroes, and colons.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t belong to a critique group. I think critique groups are wonderful, but the need to bring a chapter or other portion of my work to show a group (or e-mail to a group) each week wouldn’t work well for my writing method. I want a complete manuscript before I let anyone else look at it—a complete, coherent manuscript, which rules out the chance of my letting anyone see my first draft. I desperately need feedback, but while I’m in the process of creating a story, I don’t want anyone else in my head. I don't want anyone watching me fumble and muddle around as I create the story. It would waste their time and it would embarrass me and make it hard for me to write. Julie Wright blogged about writing with the door closed versus the door open. Until I’ve got a coherent draft, I want that door shut, and I confess I felt vindicated when I read in Julie's blog that Stephen King recommends writing the first draft with the door closed. I'm not alone! He talked about opening the door on the second draft for feedback; with me, it seems that the third draft is the magic number where I feel the manuscript is ready for some eyeballs that aren't mine.

So last weekend, I threw the door open and sent the third draft of my manuscript out to some test readers. Because I don’t get critiques along the way, the first test read is a Giant Step Into The Unknown. The manuscript is, at this point, completely untried. No one has seen it but me. What will my test readers think???

And happily, the news so far is good. With five test reads down, none of the readers have pointed out anything as being catastrophically wrong with the book. There are some problems, naturally, but no one has said, “Ick. Start over." So far so good. It's a relief to know that overall, the story worked, and very helpful to see what problems I need to tweak to make the book better.

Then there was the feedback my daughter gave me after reading the manuscript: “You need some kind of therapy.” Good to know I can give my family the creeps.

So a huge thank you to my test readers, especially considering that I, um, might have possibly sent them a 101K manuscript and asked them to have their comments to me in four days. Brutal, I know, and bless them for being so willing to read it so quickly. Good test readers do so much to improve a manuscript, and it's helpful to have multiple readers because different readers notice different issues.

At what point do you seek feedback on your work? Are you a chapter-by-chapter person? A first-draft person? A later draft person? What works best for your writing style?


At 10/07/2009 3:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously the system you use works great for you, Stephanie, so please don't change. I’m a member of American Night Writers Association, Moonwriting chapter, which is an online chapter, but I don’t post anything for critiquing anymore. I found out quickly when I asked a dozen women for their opinion on a chapter, I got a dozen different opinions on how to write that body of work. Each one unintentionally giving me the impression I didn’t know what I was doing.

Granted, I’m fairly new to the world of writing, and I still have a truck load to learn, but I’m far from a novice any longer. I know there are six different ways to write a single sentence, and they all can be correct. Now I share a private blog where I post chapters as I finish them where only two other writers have access. I get three advantages from this blog. One: I get to read them in a slightly different format and can catch mistakes more readily. Two: I get the (mostly biased) feedback from my fellow writers about the chapter. Three: I have another place in which to retrieve my manuscript should my computer decide to take a sudden nose dive.

Good luck with your next book, and stop looking at the calendar.


At 10/07/2009 3:16 PM, Blogger David J. West said...

I have let a couple people in my writing group read advance stuff. I like the feedback that what I am doing isn't too far out there for saleability's sake.
In general though I have almost the entire piece done before anyone see's it, its the revisions that I start doleing out.

At 10/07/2009 3:22 PM, Blogger Janice said...

I do several drafts, send it to a reader, do another draft, send it to another reader, and so on until I run out of readers. I've learned a lot that way. Then I move on to short stories so I can forget most of what I wrote and go back a few months later with a new perspective. Then again, I might just be too chicken to send it to a publisher. I do hate those rejections.

At 10/07/2009 3:37 PM, Blogger Traci Hunter Abramson said...

Stephanie, I'm a lot like you. I prefer to have an entire first (or second) draft finished before I let anyone see it. The benefit I have is that I normally only have to let one "someone" see it before I submit (except for the CIA, but that's another story.)

Usually my sister-in-law that helps me is so quick to edit things that I can often go from that second draft stage to submission in a relatively short period of time.

The key is really finding someone (or several someones) that you can trust to give you helpful, usable feedback in a timely manner.

At 10/07/2009 3:37 PM, Blogger TJandMaryBronley said...

I like chapter by chapter. I've got 2 main readers and a few others that have read the entire work. Now if I could just fine tune it for an agent, that's the hard thing. I don't have the money to pay an editing service, although I was very pleased with the free work that one had done for me. The feedback was excellent.

At 10/07/2009 4:05 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

Hooray on the great feedback! Congratulations, Stephanie!

I can do either. I like a full manuscript feedback because you deal with major issues but chapter by chapter can be fun too.

At 10/07/2009 6:25 PM, Anonymous Jordan McCollum said...

Woot for good feedback! Good luck with your edits!

So far, I've always been one to complete a manuscript before letting anyone see it. I adjust the first chapter so many times, especially once I've written the ending. In my WIP, I've changed the villain in chapter one back and forth. I strongly believe in finishing first, since no one else will know your story like you do (unless you let other people take control of it). However, once I do get critiques, I try to be open to changes--if they fit with the vision for my story.

I'm in a couple critique groups, and it's a little frustrating to have a whole manuscript ready for critiquing and have to go through a chapter or two at a time. On the plus side, I'm not on a deadline.

Although if I ever write by the seat of my pants again, I might bring the first few chapters to a crit group for ideas.

At 10/07/2009 6:36 PM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...

My experience has been that the feedback you get from a weekly critique group is MUCH different from the type of feedback you get from a full manuscript read--especially if the reader is rushing through your entire work. Readers who go through a full manuscript are typically looking at the big picture--does the plot work, is the hero believable, did I figure out the ending, etc.

A weekly critique group can do a full ms read, but they tend to be more focused on the quality of the writing itself. I've read many LDS and national books where I think the author could really have used a good critique group. Overuse of words like that and back, unclear action, rushed scenes, etc.

A weekly feedback group is far less likely to catch that you put the red herring in the wrong place. But they will be much better at the details that a full reader doesn't really have time to comment on.

I know an editor is supposed to catch a lot of that. But the truth is that, especially in the LDS market, editors only have so much time to work on a manuscript, so they do what they can to make sure there are no major flaws or typos.

At 10/07/2009 10:08 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Thanks, everyone, for the comments--it's interesting to see how other writers work, and it's nice to know that there's no one "right" way to write.

J. Scott, excellent point on the difference between weekly critiques and full reads, and I can certainly see the benefit of having someone look closely at the writing itself.

At 10/08/2009 12:12 AM, Blogger J Scott Savage said...


It may not work for everyone, but it really is nice for me. It's kind of like having a workout buddy to keep you on your toes. Of course, you are such a dang good writer you might not need it!

At 10/08/2009 1:24 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Aww, thanks, Jeff. You're so sweet. But I'm sure I'd benefit from that kind of feedback. It just takes me so long to produce something "finished" enough to be worthy of a critique that I'd end up sitting out for a year, then showing up needing feedback right now! No group's gonna want me :)

At 10/08/2009 5:02 AM, Blogger Anna Buttimore said...

Stephanie, your book was brilliant. I am now thinking that I need to have test readers for my next effort. Where do I go about finding such unfortunate individuals?

At 10/08/2009 9:39 AM, Blogger Me again said...

My sister is nearing the end of her novel.

What she has been doing is writing a chapter, editing the heck out of it and then letting her family read it.

We span all ages from the proud parents, siblings, and grandkids from college to babies (although I'm pretty sure anyone under the age of 8 or so hasn't).

It seems to work for her. We all give her our feedback on voice, story, characters, etc by chapter.

She's down to last few chapters and has us all in suspense.

I hope she can find a publisher.

At 10/08/2009 3:06 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

When I'm about 50 pages into a book, I'll start taking the early chapters to critique. Those are the most important as far as creating the setting, defining the character, and developing the strong hook, so those pages have to be rock solid and are not interdependent on the reader having read the entire book to make a good judgement call.

At 10/08/2009 5:11 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Thank you so much, Anna, and thank you for your help! When I started out seeking test reads on my first novel, my test readers were exclusively family members, because I was too shy to show the book to anyone else! Some people might feel that family members can't be unbiased enough to give good reads, but (like Me Again in the comments above) I've found my family extremely helpful at helping me improve my work. Other test readers I've used are writer friends, published and unpublished.

As Jeff pointed out, a test read targets different things than a line-by-line critique, so I don't think a test reader needs to be a writing expert--they just need to be someone who loves reading, who preferably enjoys the genre you write in, and who is willing to point out when something in your book didn't work for them.

Me Again, good luck to your sister! That's exciting!

Heather, great point about the first 50 pages.

At 10/13/2009 5:37 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

I'm like you. Keep the door closed til it's done! I love the comment that you need some kinda therapy. Great feedback if I've ever heard it. You are awesome.


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