First will be answers to questions about critiques asked by a FtQ reader—be sure to send me your questions, anything on writing craft or self-publishing is welcome.
Second, if you would be so kind as to scroll down that far, is a report of the feedback on cover blurbs for Finding Magic, my response (final (?) copy, and a new look for the cover.
tmso asked: When faced with differing opinions about how to fix your writing or plot or story or whatever, how do you decide which advice to take?
How do you choose?
How many beta readers are too much?
Are beta readers necessary if I hire an editor?
I answered the first two questions for my monthly Writer Unboxed post, and am repeating that here. But I’m adding answers to the last three.
Dealing with critique feedback
First, it depends on the source. I’m sure my questioner meant feedback from other writers or readers of their manuscripts, but even then the source matters.
1. Feedback from a pro such as an agent or editor
I take this seriously. They’ve seen, read, experienced, and sold far more than I. I say follow the feedback and see where it takes you. In this day of computers and “save-as” to create a revised version of a manuscript, you can’t lose anything.
This includes feedback you’ve paid for from an editor such as me. As I’ve reported here before, I wanted my We the Enemy novel to be as good as it could be, and I paid $2500 for a critique from a top editor and publisher. You bet I took his advice, and rewrote massively to create a much better novel. It’s getting some good reader reviews on Amazon.
Question for you published authors: Have you disregarded feedback from your agent or editor?
2. Feedback from a critique partner
Assuming this is a critique partner or partner that you have experience with and value their insight, weigh it carefully. Do a save-as and give it a try. And don’t decide immediately if your first reaction is to disagree. Let it simmer. On one of my novels, coming out soon, a critique group partner, upon reaching the third chapter, said, “Your story starts here.”
I instantly disagreed—what about all that set-up stuff in chapters 1 and 2 that the reader needs? But three months later, when polishing the manuscript, his advice sank in and I did a rewrite that started with chapter 3. Much better.
3. Feedback from a “changer,” no matter what the source
Recently I requested feedback from FtQ readers regarding promotional materials for the upcoming paperback version of my novel Finding Magic,. I received many helpful insights and have made revisions accordingly (see the report below). But one tidbit was from a “changer.” I’m sure you’ve encountered those folks, the ones whose suggestions are really the way they would write it.
In this case, I invented a word to stand for casting an illusion using means that seem magical. I did my research, and there is a word that means that: “glamour.” I had invented a word to mean the same thing: glamére. The critiquer wrote that I should change my made-up word to be the same as the known one. Why, they wondered, change it?
I appreciated the reader’s effort to be helpful, but I felt there were two reasons for doing what I did. While I know that “glamour” can mean a magical deception, I wasn’t sure that an “ordinary” reader wouldn’t instead take the other meaning of the word, the one that has to do with being glamorous, which is the second meaning of “glamour” in my dictionary. More than that, I wanted my word to be one that had evolved from “glamour” over the centuries in its usage by the Hidden Clans in the novel that used that word and others to describe their seemingly magical abilities.
How to decide
We all have our own techniques, but here are mine. When a suggestion clearly just doesn’t fit, as in the one just cited, the answer is quick and sure.
Then there are the suggested rewrites from changers that turn my voice into their voice. If the suggestion doesn’t sound like the way I write a narrative, then I can’t use it, and it really isn’t all that helpful.
The ability to “hear” your voice and that of other writers is, I think, a talent that separates editors from writers. I know that in my editing work a primary goal is to respect the voice of the writer. My task is to help them clarify and strengthen their natural voice, not to change it to mine.
Finally, I think you listen to your gut. Does the feedback resonate with you and your story in a way that fits? That makes you say, yeah, that could work? It’s that inner sense, that “feel” of the words, that is an artist’s final guide to reacting to critical feedback.
At least that’s the way it works for me. How about you? Any stories about “changers” you’ve met?
How many beta readers are too much or too little?
Again, it depends on “quality.” I think two types of beta readers can be very helpful. For the first round, I like to get the feedback of writers who are into creating novels, such as folks here on FtQ and those I reach with my newsletter. While they can be hypercritical, they also understand what I’m going for. And if they’re swept up by the story and forget to be critical, then that’s good info!
The second valuable reader to get is an articulate non-writer/novelist reader whose judgment you trust. The one who, if they say you ought to read something, you know it will be good. Good readers give you a window into what the “public” will see and feel without any filters added on by knowledge of writing and storytelling craft.
How many? One isn’t enough—the subjective factor could really skew things. Two, maybe. But I think three or four of each kind would be best. That’s enough to allow multiple mentions of a shortcoming to help you and enough to allow disregarding a single objection that you don’t agree with if it’s not mentioned by others.
Are beta readers necessary if I hire an editor?
I think beta readers come before hiring an editor. However, I also think a couple of pairs of good fresh eyes after the rewrite based on the editor’s guidance is a good idea. While an editor can bring an objective and fresh eye to your story, his/her view is still subjective, and it would be good to get an opinion on the result.
The paperback edition is “proof out,” and, after a writer-friend and I have gone through it, it’s going to POD press. You see here the new look for the cover sparked by an insight given by FtQ readers. They thought the full-color original was too “rom com” and didn’t reflect the nature of the cover blurb. I think turning it blue adds mystery and drama and takes out much of the “lightness” they were reacting to. What do you think?
Here are the results for the two cover blurbs I posted and the response to whether or not it made the reader interested in more.
1st blurb: 5 interested in more, 14 not interested.
2nd blurb: 17 interested in more, 6 not interested.
Below is a refined version of number two. Your comments will be appreciated.
Annie is a gifted healer in the Hidden Clans, descendents of a Celtic ancestress with a genetic inheritance of mental abilities that enable them to do magical things. She can slow aging, cure disease, heal a heart from the inside . . . or crush an enemy’s as it beats.
They hide to escape persecution that has haunted them through the ages, and they’ve moved safely among us since the Salem witch trials. But a Homeland Security agent penetrates Annie’s disguise, and she’s forced to flee. On the run as a suspected terrorist, Annie is desperate to protect her kin from discovery.
Then a greater threat arises when a clansman bent on avenging the murder of his son uses “magic” to create an unstoppable killer plague. Annie is the only hope for billions of people . . . if she can evade capture.
With high-stakes conflict and human drama, Finding Magic explores loss, prejudice, family, and the human magic within each of us.
Be sure to send questions via email or in the comments section.
And thanks for all your help.
© 2011 Ray Rhamey