Monday, 10 November 2008
Advice for a Writer
Our blogging sisterhood posted on groups for letters from people with problems. We don’t really care what the problem is—we’re up for any type of discussion. Since everyone knows we’re involved in the publishing industry, I suppose it makes sense our very first letter would be about writing.
I saw the offer of writing this letter on a group. I would bring it up on the group, but my problem may offend someone on there and make me look bad. It involves beta reading and critiquing.
I can’t bring myself to tell the truth when critiquing because first I’m afraid of hurting the writer’s feelings, and second because it would make me sound bad. I wouldn’t want to upset the writers because they have become my friends, but at the same time I think the writers need to be told certain things.
I’m a writer also, and while I don’t know everything, I know enough to gain an acceptance, though I am learning a lot through professional edits. I’m able to give advice on grammar etc. and be comfortable in what I’ve said, knowing I haven’t given the wrong advice. My problem is that I’m seeing mistakes that I feel I can’t comment on because they involve more than just me mentioning the basics.
How do I tell someone who has worked hard on their book that it needs too much work for it to be submitted in its present form? I worry that they’d think I’d gone weird since getting professional edits. It’s not just the basics, but bad writing. I read some things that are so bad that I know the writer will be rejected, but how do I tell them that without sounding horrible or that I think I’m better than them? The problem is also that the writers are getting rejections, and then I feel bad because if I’d said something and they could fix their errors, maybe they would have gotten an acceptance. Is keeping my mouth shut causing more hurt than me opening it?
I would never be downright nasty, but have yet to figure a way of making my criticism sound constructive rather than spiteful. However I try and word it, it sounds just wrong to me, so I delete what I’ve written and concentrate on punctuation and small plot holes.
I also feel bad because some people in my critique group just shouldn’t be writing, period. I keep those opinions to myself, but as I’m growing in the craft, I’m getting tired of reading things that have so much wrong with them. I’m in the situation where if I say I don’t want to beta read them anymore, I’ll have no one to beta read me. Then I feel bad for thinking on selfish terms.
I’ve stopped going to my critique group as often because every time I read something I think it’s awful. Am I just being a big head? I feel bad because I don’t want to waste my time and effort trying to explain what’s wrong for me to be ignored anyway, plus me coming off as a know-it-all bitch. I don’t know it all, I don’t pretend to. Sometimes I want to scream at them to try another hobby, because clearly they aren’t taking writing seriously. Even that sounded mean.
First of all, your problem is something a great many writers discuss. You’re not alone. We all feel that way sometimes. I agree you should not bring this up on group. I don’t suppose there is any perfect forum for this problem. However, it does deserve discussion and hopefully together we can find a solution or as close to one as possible. I’m sure the readers of this blog have many good ideas to help.
Personally, I think bringing it out in the open is a good way to start. You’ve expressed how you’d really like to help with constructive criticism. I applaud that. Where your critique group is concerned, it sounds as though you may have surpassed their level of expertise or understanding of the writing craft. It’s possible it’s time for you move on for the sake of your own career. It does no good by continuing with the group unless YOU get something from it. That may sound hard-nosed as hell, but it’s the truth.
The other thing you could do is to buy everyone in your critique group a wonderful Christmas gift. I highly recommend my bud, Faith Bicknell Brown’s series on How to Avoid Writer’s Hell. Yep, that’s a shameless promo for her, but!!! Big but here, lol, the books are worth it. They are written in such a way that no one will be bored and impart easy to understand lessons on writing—everything from grammar and punctuation to how to write a query. The publishing industry in general is discussed quite thoroughly. Your friends would definitely pick up some knowledge from reading these books. There are four of them available from Wild Child Publishing.
All at these books are very affordable at $3.25 each. Not too bad for the wealth of information Faith has shared. Now that is a practical solution. The books certainly won’t bestow talent on someone who doesn’t have it, but will indeed sharpen writing skills in general.
Another thing you could try is to speak privately with the writer/writers in question. Of course, you’d have to feel very comfortable with that person to do this and you are the only one who can judge that relationship. You seem to truly care about your critique group. I know for a fact that you can become quite close to your critique partners. I’m not sure I could do it, but it’s certainly worth consideration.
I’d also like to address this a bit further. First, are these authors published anywhere? I saw that you mentioned they kept getting rejections. If they are published, well, you have to remember something—not all publishing houses are equal. And I don’t mean that in a demeaning way. Whether you are working in the print world or the e pub world, edits are different. Some of that has to do with the editors themselves and just how savvy they are. A lot has to do with house style. Too often, I don’t think authors consider house style when submitting their work. It’s up to the writer to know the product each publisher sells. Some publishing houses have a more relaxed editing style than others. It’s a matter of determining where your work fits. Maybe your friends need to shop around and not target the same houses.
Second, and this may sound, again, hard-nosed as hell, but if your friends are getting nothing but rejections and are not published, sooner or later they will figure it out and dissolve into the scenery. Sad, but true.
You asked, “How do I tell someone who has worked hard on their book that it needs too much work for it to be submitted in its present form?” The answer to that question is quite simple. YOU DON’T. That is not your job. It’s the job of an acquisitions editor to do that. Your job as a critique partner/beta reader is to offer an overall opinion of the work. To help with minor grammar and punctuation. Maybe even point out a time line problem or a glaring plot hole, but not to decide if the work is worthy of publishing. When you do that, you step into the shoes of an editor.
I hope this discussion has helped put things into perspective for you. And I invite all the readers of this blog to please post your own concerns regarding this issue and any solutions you might have for it.
Keep the letters coming! We want to hear from everyone.
‘Til next time,