Since I planned to share my so-called masterpiece with friends and knew I’d be copying it, I wanted to squeeze as much text on each page as I could. I shudder to think how many reams of paper it would have required had I used twelve-point Courier New, double-spaced with one-inch margins as I do now.
I carted my manuscripts to church one Sunday, filled with a mixture of excitement and trepidation at the thought of putting my firstborn into the hands of others. The poor people who’d offered to read my precious baby did an admirable job of hiding their shock when I reached in the bag and pulled out a matched set of one-and-a-half inch binders. I wonder how many of the six brave souls asked themselves, “What have I gotten myself into?”
Bless them, but these first readers were dears. Each one slogged though my monstrosity and said wonderful things about at afterward. Their compliments gave me a warm glow, but I soon realized friends probably aren’t the most objective readers. I needed feedback from those who knew the craft and could be more objective.
I’ve come up with six sources from whom we can get that all-important constructive criticism.
1) Contests – Some of the best feedback I’ve received has come from contest judges. They were the first to point out some of my glaring errors, such as head hopping, telling versus showing, and lack of sensory details. A contest final or placement is nice, but I find the feedback as important, if not more so. I think the entry fee is a small price to pay for what I receive in return.
2) Conference Critiques – Some conferences will accept short excerpts for critique by conference staff. If so, I encourage you to take advantage of this resource. I sent the first chapters of two separate works to the 2008 Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in advance. When I arrived, I picked up my two packets, which had been critiqued by multi-published authors. Robin Jones Gunn and Cindy Martinusen Coloma not only gave me excellent feedback, but each of these generous women took the time to go over their comments in person. The critiques were included in my conference fee, but even if they hadn’t been, such feedback would have been well worth the small fee some conferences charge for this service.
3) Critique Partners – After two and a half years of writing in isolation, I now have two awesome critique partners, Anne Barton and C.J. Redwine, both of whom I met online through the Golden Heart® contest and got to know in person at RWA® Nationals. I’d been hesitant to join a writers’ group, unsure if I really needed a CP. I’m sold. I learn so much from these remarkably talented writers.
There are many places to seek a critique partner. You can look for potential CPs within your local Romance Writers of America® chapter or your online writers’ loops. Your community may have a writers’ group in place. As far as choosing a partner, follow the link to a great series about selecting and working with critique partners on Camy Tang’s Story Sensei blog.
4) Teachers/Librarians – I asked a California history teacher and a high school librarian to read one of my manuscripts. The stories I’ve written are historicals set in the heart of the Mother Lode during the 1870s, so it was great to have the history teacher say my depiction of time and place are accurate. The librarian is a former English teacher, and I learned from her that I’m technically on track.
Getting this feedback helped me in another way, too. In lieu of a monetary payment, I bartered. I spoke to the teacher’s fourth grade class about writing. I had fun and had a positive influence on his pupils. After hearing that I’d revised portions of my manuscript seventeen times, the students didn’t balk about having to write a second draft the rest of that school year. I’ll be speaking to a high school creative writing class this year as repayment of the time the librarian spent reading my story. This helps me hone my speaking skills and get my name out in the community, both added bonuses.
5) Readers – Soliciting feedback from writers, authors and teachers is definitely helpful, but there’s value in having another group of people read your manuscript: the regular readers, those who enjoy your genre. They won’t necessarily be able to tell you if you delve into back story too early or if you could make better use of subtext in your dialogue, but they’re the ones most likely to catch things like sagging middles or time sequence errors. And they’ll be able to answer that all important question, “Is this a story you’d pay money to buy?”
A caution is to choose readers who will be impartial. Your close friend or mother probably isn’t the best choice. I read on another blog (wish I could remember which one) that you can ask a book store owner to suggest readers who devour novels in your genre and might be willing to serve in this capacity. Librarians could probably do the same. An avid reader might be willing to read your story simply for the sake of being the first to read a future bestseller.
6) Editing Services – There are many professional freelance editing services available. I’ve not availed myself of their services because I don’t feel I have a manuscript that’s ready at present. However, this option is one to consider if you have polished your work to a high sheen and want to do everything possible to make it marketable before you submit, bearing in mind that positive first impressions are critical in the publishing world.
Camy Tang has another great series on her blog, Story Sensei, about the when and how of working with a professional editor. If I were to hire one, I’d consider her freelance editing service, Story Sensei, as well as that of Meredith Efken called The Fiction Fix-it Shop. I’ve met both women briefly at conferences and know they have excellent reputations.
These are six suggestions about soliciting feedback for our work that I was able to come up with based upon my experience and research. I’d like to know which you’ve used and if the feedback proved helpful. Also, do you know of other ways for us to get our work critiqued, especially those that require little to no cash outlay?
All those who leave a comment between now and Saturday, September 20, at 8 p.m. Pacific time will be entered in a drawing for a set of eight note cards depicting that special substance that jump starts many a writer’s day: coffee.