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Posts tagged ‘beta readers’

Be careful when asking for opinions about stories you haven’t started writing

“Hold off asking for opinion. The earlier you ask for feedback, the more likely you are to get deterred from what might be your best writing. The best judge of a good idea is you, but only after you’ve mulled it over for a long while, or tested it by writing a draft, or rewritten it three or four times. After you’ve read similar works to compare. After you’ve honed your writing skills to develop the chops to even write the concept.” C. Hope Clark

I can’t find the quotation now, but Hemingway once warned writers against talking their ideas away. That is, telling others the plots of stories they were about to write. After all was said and done, possibly at a table with several bottles of wine, the author would realize that in all the give and take about his or her prospective project, s/he had lost it.

In this week’s Funds for Writers newsletter, Hope Clark expressed similar reservations about rushing out and telling friends, fans, and other writers what you’re thinking about writing–all in hopes of getting feedback about its viability.

Personally, I don’t understand this at all unless, perhaps, you’re floating an idea with your publisher or agent about what you want to write next. Otherwise, early on, what the hell kind of feedback could anyone possibly offer? So, telling–let’s say–your usual beta readers that you’re starting a new series may elicit a lot of pats on the back with little useful feedback.

The more you say, the more likely it is that their comments and questions will derail the project or somehow change it into something outside the scope of what you want to do.

Personally, I don’t like or understand the concept of beta readers unless I’m writing nonfiction and am looking for an unofficial peer review of my approach before devoting too much time researching the project. So I never ask anybody what they think of a prospective story idea because any input I get is doing to be detrimental to what my muse and I are considering.

If you feel better asking for feedback, my suggestion is to wait until you have the first draft. At that point, you have enough of a story for others to understand your plot, theme, characters, and style. When you wait, you’re more sure of yourself and your story, including its focus and ending, and distracting and negative comments are less likely to derail you. Now, quality beta readers may, in fact, find holes in the story, inconsistencies, and other issues that fall far short of destroying your work in progress.

Malcolm

 

 

 

I have no idea why I can’t proofread worth a darn

“Nothing can affect my voice, it’s so bad.” – Bob Dylan

Likewise, nothing will help my proofreading because it’s so bad. Fortunately, an Internet program called Grammarly has weeded out most of the typos from my Facebook posts. But, I’m cheap and have a free version. That one doesn’t seem to help much with Word files.

So, today I’m going through the manuscript for an upcoming short story collection for the 5th time looking for typos. I keep finding them. After I go through the manuscript, I always think, “Finally, it’s now error free.”

Except it isn’t. If I go through it again, I find more typos. I don’t know I miss them. My publisher sends my books to an editor and she always finds more.

I feel slightly better about the situation when I read that many experts think the worst person to proofread a manuscript is the person who wrote it. S/he always starts reading for a sense of the story and misses the same errors that got missed the first time.  Typos are a big problem with many self-published books because authors try to proofread them and miss a lot of mistakes. They’re advised to hire editors, but many editors charge more than the authors think the books will earn.

My editor has been doing her job for a long time, so I’m pleased to say that she catches what I miss. Thank goodness. My publisher relies on our editor as well. When I send her a new story, she’s reading it to see what happens in the story and whether that story will be a reasonable addition to the catalogue. So, she misses some of the same stuff I miss. She grumbles at this because she’s also a writer and thinks, as I do, that at some point our proofreading will be worth a darn.

Some authors have a team of beta readers who go through manuscripts in progress and make suggestions. Naturally, these readers will catch a lot of the errors. However, I dislike the concept. I never know where my stories are going when I start writing them, so the last thing I want is a committee making suggestions about what’s happening and what ought to happen next. That would totally screw up my chaotic writing process.

My wife is a big help, though. She worked for a daily newspaper and has also done a lot of writing. She finds many of the errors in my work that I don’t see. Sometimes she catches continuity problems such as “Hey, didn’t Bart die in chapter three? If so, what’s he doing sneaking around in chapter eight?” Oops.

In my Florida Folk Magic trilogy, my conjure woman Eulalie claims she’s older than dirt. I’m not that old yet, but I’m getting close. That means that I’ve been writing long enough to have figured out how to be a better proofreader. What I think happened is this: James Patterson and Nora Roberts started worrying that I’d knock their books off the bestseller list. So they put a hex on me. That’s the only reasonable excuse I can think of.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “At Sea” which is free on Kindle for a few more hours.