Friday, August 24, 2007

Dealing With Critiques

For a number of years now, I've taken advantage of friends, co-workers, and relatives in an effort to get more eyeballs looking at my novels before I do the final polish and call it done.  

Some of these people have been helping me for over a dozen novels.  I also have new people who are just starting this process.  Part of me likes having more critiques -- the more people checking, the fewer errors are left behind -- but some days I'm overwhelmed.

Africa is rushing at me, and I had this false hope that I could get the latest round of review copies back in and processed before I caught the plane.  I can tell now it's never going to happen.  The inputs on Golden Girl are all over the map.  I'm getting directly contradictory advice from people -- and the advice all makes sense!  

My workflow goes like this:  I reformat the manuscript into a dual-column layout like a magazine and make comb-bound copies to send out.  (My reviewers didn't like manuscript formatted pages.) I have a carefully cultivated list of people who have proved that they can read, and mark-up, the pages and get them back to me in a reasonable time frame.

After a couple of reminder emails, I generally get them all back and lay them out side by side.  Turning the pages in sync, I compare all the markups and make changes as appropriate to the manuscript on my laptop.

In general, I get several different types of corrections.

Typos are quick and easy, and disgustingly common.  Do you know how many times I type 'by' when I meant 'my'?  Novel after novel, I make the same mistake, and miss seeing it in my own self-reviews.  Amazingly, it takes the whole crew to find these.  One person will find some, but miss others.

One reviewer is a born copyeditor.  She's always taking me to task for using abbreviations without defining the terms, or questioning my use of a phrase.

Another reviewer is always correcting facts, or suggesting alternates.  He's been around and seen much.

And then, there are the plot points.  These are the hardest to deal with.

The best are the "Oh, wow!  Why didn't I see that?"  suggestions.  They might be sub-plots that can be fixed with a word or two, or a chapter or two -- but they make the novel so much better.

Harder are the "No. No. No.  You just don't get it." suggestions.  I wrote that scene that way on purpose.  But, I need these for two reasons.  One:  If the reviewer didn't understand, then many readers won't either.  I'll need to rework it, even if I don't change the plotting.  Or Two:  This is really a delayed 'Oh, wow.' and I need time for my subconscious to churn on it for a while.

There's also a voting issue.  I one person has trouble with a plot point, but every one else is happy, it's likely not as important.  But if multiple people have the same issue, then it has to be fixed, regardless of my opinion.

And finally, there's the final issue.  Do I offend a loyal helper by not taking the offered advice?  It's a hard one, because it is my story.  I have something I want to say, and characters who have come to life.

I have to be true to the tale.

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