Friday, December 7

Editing & Critiquing

Editing & Critiquing

NaNoWriMo is over and we're in the trenches again, this time editing our manuscripts.

For me, editing is EXCRUCIATING! I far prefer writing first drafts to editing.

That's probably why I loved Joanna Penn's blog post: Writing A Book: What Happens After The First Draft? You know what they say, misery loves company! (grin)

The Process of Editing: A Bird's Eye View

I wrote a post about this a few days ago (11 Steps To Edit Your Manuscript. Edit Ruthlessly & Kill Your Darlings) but here it is in a nutshell:

1) Write
2) Edit
3) Re-write
4) Repeat steps (2) and (3) until done.

By "done" I don't mean completely finished. No. At some point your manuscript will feel as though it's completed. You've told the story you wanted to tell to the best of your ability and now you need other folks to read it and give you feedback.

In other words, you need beta readers.

After your beta readers get back to you you'll then revise your manuscript and send it out to a line editor and there will be more rounds of revision (see: How To Find The Right Freelance Editor For You). But, now, I'd like to talk about beta readers and how to respond to critiques.

Beta Readers/Critique Groups

Beta Readers are wonderful people. They give up their precious free time to read material that may not be their preferred genre or style AND then they spend even more of their time formulating a thoughtful critique. And all for free. (Well, they'll probably want a critique from you at some point in the future.)

Dealing With Destructive Criticism

It's not always easy to receive criticism. Especially the first few times. And, occasionally, you may receive a critique that is an attack, not just of your work, but of you as a writer. When that happens--and I know this is easier said than done--ignore it. I guarantee you that by the time you've sold, say, 100,000 copies of your books you'll have at least one review so vitriolic it could scorch the hide off a dragon.

Receiving unreasonably harsh criticism of both yourself and your books is, unfortunately, inevitable. If you receive a critique like this now, look at it as practice. You can get used to dealing with this stuff now and be ahead of the curve, because you're going to have to get used to it eventually.

Dealing With Constructive Criticism

In some ways dealing with constructive criticism can be more difficult, especially when it's not phrased in terms of an opinion. (By the way, a fantastic article on how to give a critique is Andrew Burt's article The Diplomatic Critiquer.)

Here's what I try to do after I receive a critique:

1. Read the entire review first and make sure I understand it before I form an opinion about the worth of the advice. 

If I don't understand a particular point being made then I'll ask (politely!) for clarification.

2. Don't decide whether a certain point is worthwhile until you've heard from all your beta readers.

If two of your readers say exactly the same thing then pay special attention to it. If most of your beta readers say the same thing about anything, that's something you need to address, even if you don't agree with the criticism.

For instance, let's say you feel that your description of your main character isn't campy at all, or that a certain character doesn't have the sex appeal of a drunk sea slug. Whatever.

For you I'm sure that's true, but if a good percentage of your beta readers are saying your protagonist is 2-dimentional then that's probably what your readers will think too, but your readers won't tell you. They'll just drift away and never buy your work again.

Beta readers are doing you a huge favor so treat them like the treasure they are and, even if they hurt your feelings, look on it as an opportunity to develop a thick skin, because you'll need one as a professional writer!

Do you have any tips for how to accept criticism, constructive or otherwise? What have your experiences been like, either as a critiquer or as the critiqued?

Other articles you might like:

- Kristen Lamb: Don't Let Trolls Make You Crazy
- The Albee Agency: Writers Beware
- Short Story Structures: Several Ways Of Structuring Short Fiction

Photo credit: "Paradise" by Andréia under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. Good advice, Karen. It's funny, I'm the opposite--I grit my teeth through the first draft and once I get to rewriting I'm a happy girl!

    1. I'm envious! Joanna Penn says she enjoys (at least parts of) the revision process too, so you're in good company.

      Thanks for your kind words and your comment. :-)

  2. Karen, I absolutely agree with you about what comes after the first draft. It appears that in my world, to do the fun part of writing, the first draft, the storytelling, I must accept that is about 20% of my time into the manuscript. Then I move into the editing loop, which takes about three times as long, or just never ends, and to date has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about some editors. In theory, the remaining time is marketing-yet I must admit that is a real weak link in my process to date.

    Both you and Joanna Penn discuss the value of beta readers accurately. As everyday is a learning process for me in the Indie world, I struck out with a couple of editors, but gained back what I lost by the kindness and sincerity of some very unselfish beta readers who took the time to offer their comments on my 100k book, Operation Quiet Thunder. Real people, who take the time to review your work and actually construct valuable comments on how to improve the readability of the story, are truly exceptional people.

    In my limited experience, my beta readers, and a third party editor evaluation, provided progressive movement out of an editing loop that I felt would never end.

    Thank you for your exceptional blog; I look forward to it each day.

    1. Hi Doug! Great to hear from you again. It's wonderful to know I'm not the only one who spends most of their time rewriting!

      Sorry to hear you had a couple of bad experiences with editors. It's true though, I've found that some of the most valuable observations have come from readers sharing their impressions. After all, that's our market, readers not editors!

      Thanks for your kind words Doug, they mean a lot! :)


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