Friday, July 2, 2010

Smile and Nod?

I find one of the great crevasses that we might fall into as writers is when to listen and when not to... (and deciding WRONG). When do we take it to heart and when do we ignore it. When do we REALLY LISTEN and when do we smile and nod, then go about our merry ways... There are actually several questions here, so I'm going to run them down AS I SEE IT. There is a recurring theme in this blog though, that you may as well take to heart now. I know some stuff, but what I KNOW is a microscopic ISLAND next to the continents of stuff I DON'T KNOW. It will make sense in a minute...

Who's On First?

I think the VERY first thing you want to consider is WHO is dishing advice. Is it a peer with LESS experience? A peer with the same or MORE experience? A published author? A published author IN YOUR GENRE? An AGENT? An EDITOR?

I think you want feedback from ALL these types of people, but CLEARLY you want to give a lot more credence to what an EDITOR or AGENT has to say. They are practiced not only at WRITING but at reading for what is publishable. I'm not saying never say NO to these people, but if they suggest a change, ALMOST ALWAYS you want to smile and nod and DO IT. When my agent has suggested changes with my cozy, I have accepted 95% of them, and another 4% I change to some DIFFERENT thing—a compromise, because I don't necessarily agree with the suggestion, but can see some middle ground is necessary (or that I haven't been clear, based on her suggested change)

Peers ahead of you obviously get more credence than peers at your level or behind in process, but there is another thing to keep in mind... the PEOPLE are ALWAYS RIGHT. Publishing may not be a democracy, but in some ways READING is, so if several readers spot the same problem, no matter HOW inexperienced they are, chances are you should listen to them.

What's on Second

What kind of advice ALSO really matters. If somebody is saying 'I don't like this character' then you might consider giving them an endearing vulnerability, or maybe you WANT them disliked for a while (character growth is a nice feature)--though be sure to make them interesting enough to surpass the repulsion impulse—few people want to read about someone they don't GET, and a few more, but still a small number, want to read about someone they can't root for in some way (and I am not using the Aussie iteration of root here, though that IS one way to get someone to root for them... make readers want to ROOT for them *cough*LuciusMalfoy*cough*)

If somebody is pointing to HOLES—probably listen. If somebody isn't FOLLOWING, consider their intelligence and attention span, but probably listen. If somebody makes broad sweeping suggestions... like... okay this happened to me: “I'd really like to know more about what they look like,”--look to your genre. What is the norm. Some genres DO THIS some DON'T (I write suspense and was being advised by a romance gal—her genre does it, mine doesn't... but I LOOKED. It was WORTH investigating).

If someone corrects grammar or spelling, make sure you publish in the same country. This sounds laughable but there are a number of differences between British and American English standards. The British fear of the letter Z and the American fear of the letter U are only the tip of the iceberg. There is the Oxford comma (of which I am a fan) but also a dozen other subtle things to do with verb tense and sentence structure.

There are ALSO a thousand things which can go different ways depending on the editor in charge, so it is not implausible you will put it one way, your agent will make you change it, and your editor will change it back. If we are talking commas, JUST ROLL WITH IT (even if you have a serious comma fetish, as I do).

Where the Heck?

It also depends where you are in process. I actively TELL my readers on first round DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE LITTLE THINGS! Chances are I will catch them, but it is EVEN highly likely everything will get reworded ANYWAY. Some people will insist on correcting (I think it is part of the editor persona, and if it helps them get in character, more power to them) but I usually only pay attention to the content and structure feedback on round one.

But THIS is one of those reasons you want to be so careful about listening to agents and editors. By the time something GETS THERE, it should be pretty darned close to RIGHT and it is THEIR JOB to perfect the work so readers will BUY it.

NORMALLY (well, normal for me)

I send first cleaned draft (I write, then I do my OWN correction for the annoying things that I CAN SPOT)--most often typos and LARGE plot holes—draft AFTER this) goes to 3 readers. “Please look for inconsistency, lack of clarity, are you pulled along, do you like it?” then I revise. Then it goes to 2 or 3 DIFFERENT people... pickier feedback—grammar, clarity... fix that... and FINALLY, I send it to someone asking for PACE... At least that's what I think I am doing... my first book got first read as I wrote CHAPTERS, so it didn't go this way, but for LEGACY, my second, that is my plan.

The Cozy has to, because of having a deadline and me wanting to be sure I am doing this right, has 3 people who will read chapters as I write, then three fresh people to read the whole thing... then ideally, my Cozy Mystery Writer friend ELIZABETH to read what I think is cleaned and tell me if I've got it, THEN it goes to my agent... So the order is different, but that is because I've never worked under deadline before and just want to make sure I don't muck it up.

So there you have it... decide on the expertise of the source, look at the size and agreement level of the voters... insert a good dose of 'gut' keeping in mind that 'you get you' but it is possible that your GREAT STORY may not quite be coming across, so listen to what HELPS YOU, not what the words may sound like.

In Other News: Two Things

Pitch Slapped is inviting people to be INTERVIEWED. She wants people PREpublished, PREagented, and she is amusing and entertaining in her process. I figure it can never hurt to get our name out there... improve our googlability, find some new readers... so if you are interested, head on over!

And it is TIME... For my Tartiversary I promised a CRITIQUE to a commenter (giving a few extra chances for a few different things... I am going to use a random number generator for the line in the Excel file where I have all the names... and the winner IS...  Okay... this spreadsheet is at work... give me until 9am Eastern time, US...

AND THE WINNER IS......  Alex Cavanaugh!!!!


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Your caption was the LOL Cats winner this week!

Cold As Heaven said...

Falling into crevasses as a writer may be undesired. Falling into crevasses as a skier may be really serious. You will possibly never be able to ski nor write again >:)))

Anyway; interesting post >:)

Cold As Heaven

Will Burke said...

When bouncing my ideas off one friend, he would suggest plenty, and virtually re-wrote it to be about his pet-subject. My writer friends are much more tactful.

Hart Johnson said...

LDW: YAY!! I love those cats!!!

CaH-Man, no kidding! Even falling into a tree well can be hazardous! It's been a long time since I skied, but I remember so moments that scared the bejeezus out of me!

Will *snort* Have you since told him if he wants to write a book, he should just WRITE his book already? I get suggestions from non-writers too. "you should do one on this!" I just smile and say, "what an interesting idea".

Old Kitty said...

Thank you for your advice on how to treat advice! :-)

Seriously though - these are wise words - whom to listen to and why. How to listen to and why! :-)

Take care

Wanda said...

Sounds like some great advice.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Great advice, Hart!!

KarenG said...

Congrats to Alex! And you're right, sometimes it's just best to smile and nod. Omigosh it can be hard though, especially when someone slams you. I always ask what did you like or not like about it.

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

As a beta you couldn't be more spot on. I am not a robot who can spot and pick out everything the market wants, each genre expects, the grammar rule guide to life...I love that Beat ends in Reader. I grab at content, and also if I am working with a limited word count (for my sanity) I will ask questions to get the author thinking, or if they know it clarifies itself further along then awesome but I still strike the question if I feel confused or a plothole is starting to develop.
It's really important to get all phases of the critique process but it's also so important to come to the point in your own process to RECEIVE a critique. Remaining objective can be hard, and if a person isn't ready it can derail there whole day...week..etc. Great post and congrats to Alex! Have a wonderful holiday weekend :D

The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Congrats Alex! Haha, do you not use 'root' in that sense in US? LOL

You've made some very great points, Hart. I think you are spot on.

You know it's been touch trying to make a decision as to whether to use UK or US English in my writing, because in Australia it's a mixture of both and both are deemed correct as long as you consistently use one or the other.

Most of the teaching material I write is in UK English, so I'm more familiar with that and it comes more naturally. But I eventuall decided on US, that way I can kill two countried with one book. :o) I think consistency is the key really, though, so it shouldn't matter which you choose, as long as you stick to it.

Hart Johnson said...

Hey, thank you everyone! I should have mentioned, but my mind left me--I write scientifically, so even if the WRITING is really different, I've developed some skill at smiling and nodding... Even to things like "this is very poorly organized" (OUCH!)

Erica-you've got a really unique perspective, doing as much beta stuff as you do. I found the Chimaera critiques though, so great because there were a number of things all three of you caught--gotta pay attention to that!

Jessica-I think you're right-that consistency is key. And it is a little tricky for you, I'm sure. The US is a BIGGER market, but it seems to me, if you write in BE and sell THERE and do well, then an EDITOR will convert it for here. Something sold HERE first, just gets printed in AE there (if I understand properly) rather than getting edited for the switch. I think publishers think Americans can't follow British English *snort* (sadly, there may be somethign to that though)

Jan Morrison said...

Hi tartlette - my only advice on getting advice is make sure you ask for what you want not just general comments. urgghh.
an award awaits you at Living the Complicated Simple Life!

February Grace said...

Great article and thanks so much for the mention!

Sorry to fly-by, my kid's computer just decided to crash with a major English assignment on it! ACK


Helena said...

Hart -- Great advice on taking advice. The most constructive criticism I've ever received has usually come from friends who give me great gut reactions -- change this, keep that kinda stuff. The worst advice? From a sister with a grudge. She hated everything and ripped the heart out of my work.
Beware of relatives in sheep's clothing...

Talli Roland said...

Great post Hart!

Advice can be such a tricky thing, because not all advice is equal for sure! You need to consider where it's coming from and what's best for your story.

Helen Ginger said...

Great post. You do have to look at the source as well as the advice. And remember that it is your book ultimately. I agree, though. Pay attention to your agent's or editor's advice. As well as your trusted readers.

One question that you touched on -- If you live in England, for example, and want to approach a U.S. agent, should you write American (embracing those Zs and deleting the extra Us that American's dropped along with the British flag)?

Straight From Hel

Hart Johnson said...

Jan-you're absolutely right about ASKING for what you want, feedback-wise. My writer's group has instituted just that. And THANK YOU for the award!

Bru--ASSIGNMENT? It's SUMMER! And BOOOOOO for crashing computers!

Helena-I have yet to trust a relative... actually, my aunt and mom have both gotten partials and I haven't heard boo from them... No point including them--I think my cousin's wife would be good--she likes the blog anyway, but she's got two small children, so her plate is full.

Talli absolutely! and thank you!

Helen-you are a person who probably is a FABULOUS source of advice on this... editing professionally and all, so I'm glad I'm not steering people wrong!

Cheeseboy said...

Wow, congrats to Alex. Well deserved!

What did he win again?

Hart - I thought I was following you. Why was I not following you? Well, I am following now.

Great advice, btw.

Hart Johnson said...

CB-Alex won a 'review'--either a broader review of a whole WiP or a detailed review of 50 pages... and no worried on that 'thought I was following' thing--I've done that fairly frequently myself! Thanks for following!

Lee said...

Oooh just thought I'd pop in and as always I'm rewarded with one of your delightfully crafted posts. I always love advice and advice about advice is doubly delicious.

I just so happened to write a post myself today on how to go about gathering advice, namely by joining critique groups. Come on over and take a look!


Lisa K. said...

It's such a difficult dilemma with feedback, how much of it to take, how much of it to discard. I tend to trust my intuition. When something feels right to me, I'll follow -- and I find that often happens when I'm reading a critique, and I find myself nodding at what's being said. Other times, the advice just doesn't resonate and then I'm not so quick to take it.

Another thing I always try to watch for it a beta reader whose suggestions make me feel that they're not trying to make my piece better, but just more to their personal preferences. I've had that happen a time or two, as well.

Great post on a very important subject for writers.