If you don’t know the proper way to format you manuscript, head back to the article list and read How Do I Format a Document and read all about it. W’e’ll wait for you here while you’re reading.
Are you back? Okay! Then you know how to set up your document, you’re writing your book (yay for you!) and let’s say you just typed “The End.””
Congratulations!!! That is quite an accomplishment. Most writers who set out to write a book never complete one so you are already way ahead of those other people.
So let’s get that bad boy published, right?
Er. No. Unless you’re some kind of genius or prodigy, if this is your first book you are NO WHERE NEAR READY.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s true. The beauty and the curse of self-publishing is that you can write a book, type “the end” and slap it up on Amazon with your homemade cover. DON’T DO IT!!! At least not until you’ve had SCADS of people read your book and give you critique.
I hear you now. “But Denise, I’m scared to have someone read my book and tell me what they don’t like about my book.”
Sista, (or bro, if you’re a guy) you most DEFINITELY want to hear it now before you hit publish, because those readers out there are BRUTAL in their reviews. Now, even if you have hundreds of people beta read or critique your book and they all say it’s the best book ever written, you’re still going to get haters who give you one star. No one book is for everyone. So you might do everything right and still get a bad review. That doesn’t mean your book sucks. It means THAT READER didn’t connect with your book for whatever reason. But at the same time, if you’ve never had your book read for critique and you publish it, those reviews just might be right. Especially if they all repeat the same issue.
Do yourself–and your future readers–a favor and make sure your book is a shiny as possible before you hit publish.
So what kind of readers do you need?
There is no one right fit for everyone here so find what works best for you, but let me start off with this sobering advice:
It takes 10,000 hours doing something to become an expert at it.
When a new writer emails or messages or asks me for advice, the very first thing I say is WRITE, WRITE, WRITE. Write all the time. Every day. Writing well takes lots, and lots, and lots of practice.
I’ve been writing for YEARS. I stopped for a while, then started back up with my blog. I wrote several blog posts a week for a couple of years. I spent hours on a single blog post. Writing it, editing it, editing it some more. And guess what? Even after all those years, I still wasn’t great. (Some would argue I’m still not, to each their own.) But I was better. I was TONS better. I learned how to plot a story. I learned about pacing. I learned to “kill my darlings” I learned the art of storytelling, but my craft wasn’t complete. (and honestly, it never is) I didn’t know about passive verbs or showing versus telling. I was still working on dialogue. My description downright sucked.
Then I wrote my first book.
Many people have heard me say that first book is chained to my hard drive, and it’s there for a reason. It sucks. BAD. I spent a month and a half fast and furiously writing that 96,000 word book. Was it a waste of time? Not only no, but HELL NO. I learned so, so much with that first book. I learned so much that by the time I finished the book and let it sit for a few weeks, when I went back to read it I cringed. It was awful.
So I wrote another book. I wrote Chosen.
The Chosen I wrote is NOT the Chosen that is for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo. While the plot and the story stayed pretty much intact, the writing of that book went through MULTIPLE overhauls.
Did you get that?
How did I know my writing lacked finesse?
My critique partners. When I started writing, I spent a lot of time on Twitter and found some amazing critique partners. In fact, I found my BFF and fellow author Trisha Leigh on Twitter. We met when I was writing Chosen and Trisha was writing Whispers in Autumn, so we’ve been together since the very beginning of each other’s career. We fumbled with Track Changes and with our writing mistakes together. (Although Trisha’s writing has always out-shined mine.) We both tried in person critique groups, but we’re both too prolific to use those.
So what does a critique partner do? (This answer will vary from author to author. This is MY definition.)
A critique partner reads your manuscript and makes very detailed suggestions. Your critique partner reads every single line and points out passive writing, over use of adverbs, sentences that don’t make sense, or areas that need to be tightened. Every single word in your manuscript needs to have a reason to be there.
That bears repeating.
EVERY SINGLE WORD IN YOUR MANUSCRIPT NEEDS TO HAVE A REASON TO BE THERE.
New writers tend to overwrite. A book is a massive document that needs lots of words, and they think they need to throw words in there to fill it up. Redemption, the last book in The Chosen series had 105.576 words. But I still tried to make sure every single word was necessary.
Critique partners will also point out plot issues or character motivation issues. If your critique partner doesn’t find problems then you need to find a new one because this one isn’t doing you any good. We all want to hear how much people love our book, but critique partners need to tell you both the good and the bad. If your partner is only telling you the negative things, then you need to find another person. You critique partner’s job isn’t just to find problems, but to give you praise too. Their job is to tell you what’s wrong and also what’s RIGHT.
It’s tough being a writer. We’re naturally vulnerable and yet we have to take criticism over our babies. Our creations may not have emerged from our loins, but they emerged from our fingertips, carrying pieces of our souls. It’s really, really, REALLY hard to hear that your book needs work. Trust me. I know.
When I first hired a developmental editor, Alison read Sacrifice, the third book in The Chosen series. and told me to rewrite the entire first half. THE ENTIRE FIRST HALF. Let me tell you, I wasn’t grinning ear to ear, swinging my basket of posies through the meadow while singing with the birds.
Hell, no. I drowned my sorrows with Trisha and a bottle of Relax Riesling.
But guess what? Alison was right. Since I didn’t want to publish a bad book, I sucked it up and rewrote the first half (more if you think about the far reaching fingers of a brand new first half.)
Sacrifice is currently my highest rated book in The Chosen series.
This brings me to another point: You have to be able to TRUST your critique partner. Some people are just not a good fit for us, for whatever reason. If not, move on and find someone else. But above all, trust your instinct. Don’t be stubborn and refuse to change something because you think you’re God’s greatest gift to literature and how can mere mortals DARE to challenge you? But if someone suggests a change and your gut tells you it works, especially if no one else has an issue, trust yourself. At the same time, if you have several people who bring up the same issue, then YOU have a problem that needs addressing.
Critique partners make changes and suggestions using Track Changes in Word. (I’ll make #3 about using Track Changes.)
So what about beta readers?
For me, I use beta readers when the book is TOTALLY done. You’ve had critique partners read it. You’ve revised, edited, and tweaked the hell out of your book. But it’s STILL not ready. You need to send it to fresh eyes. You need to find beta readers.
Most authors use other authors for beta readers. I’ve always used a mixture of both writers and readers. I used to use a LOT of beta readers. For my first round with Chosen, I had twenty-five readers. I used close to that for Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. Now that I have professional editors, I use a lot less beta readers per book. Usually around five. When they finish reading, they are asked to answer questions about the book, usually concerns I have about character motivation or if some sections are unclear. With Chosen, I asked things like “Did you feel like Will and Emma’s relationship was too rushed?” Beta readers look at the big, overall picture of your book and tell you what’s broken. Sometimes, if they’re just readers, they may not know what’s broken, but they often recognize that something doesn’t work.
Beta readers are often your last line of defense. I always make some kind of changes to my book based on beta reader comments. Rhonda Cowsert is currently queen in my beta reader stable. She’s not afraid to tell me if she has issues with my manuscripts. She provided invaluable information with my last three books.
But she’s mine, so don’t steal her. 😉
I can hear you mumbling out there. You’re saying, “But Denise! You were the luckiest person alive to find Trisha on Twitter, and I’ll never be as lucky as you.”
To which I say, “I know I am!!! You may NOT be as lucky as me and find Trisha, but you’ll find your own people. You might have to go through quite a few to find some good fits, but don’t give up. They’re out there.”
You’re next question is: “WHERE do I find them?”
- Try hanging out on Twitter and making friends with the #amwriting hashtag. I’m pretty sure that’s how Trisha and I met.
- Go to Absolute Write. It’s a great place for writers to hang out and “meet” other authors.
- Or Nathan Brandord’s forums.
- Check out Savvy Author— and not just if you’re looking for critique partners! There’s LOTS of valuable information on that site.
- Try local writing groups, especially around November during NaNoWriMo. You may not even stick with the group, but you might find your own Trisha.
Whatever you do, please don’t ask me to be your critique partner or beta reader. I’ve got my hands full with all the reading I currently do. There’s just no way to fit someone else in, and I’ll be forced to tell you no. And then we’ll both be sad. 🙁
I’ve thrown a TON of information out here and I’m sure I’ve missed something. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comment section, and I’ll try my best to answer.
Copyright © 2013 Denise Grover Swank. All rights reserved.