Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Getting Feedback

It's writing post time again, and I had a reader question about getting feedback on your work.

Whether or not you need some kind of feedback or editing depends on your skills and what you plan to do with your work. If you're a fairly advanced writer who's a good editor and you're submitting to agents or editors, you may not need to get someone else to look at your work before you submit it. Keep in mind, though, that today's editors are less likely to be willing to edit. Unless your concept is so absolutely brilliant that they think it's worth the work, if a book isn't close to being ready for publication, it may get rejected. An editor won't read too many paragraphs of awkward sentences or poor grammar to find out that the story itself is wonderful. If you're planning to self-publish, you absolutely need additional eyes on your work before you go public, and preferably at the professional level (someone you hire who does it for a living). While there are authors who have sold novels that no one other than the author looked at before they were submitted, you generally can benefit from getting feedback along the way.

There are different levels of feedback that come at different times in a book's development. You can get feedback at the concept level -- brainstorming the idea itself and its viability and originality.

There's developmental editing, which generally happens at the first draft stage, where you get feedback on the story, the structure, the characters and the overall tone of the piece, without even getting into stuff like grammar or sentence structure. Would the story work better if you moved events around? Is there a character who just doesn't work? Are there plot holes? Are there too many scenes that are too similar? Is there some untapped potential in the story -- something readers might want more of? Getting this feedback can help you structure your revisions to create a stronger book.

Line editing helps with the actual words -- are you using the best, most vivid words? Are you being too wordy? Do you really need that sentence? This is the wordsmithing part of the process, though it may also address some plot, character and continuity issues.

Copy editing is the nitpicking part of the process -- checking grammar, spelling and punctuation, making sure you don't use the same word too many times, making sure terms are consistent. It shouldn't change the story, tone or voice of the book.

Proofreading checks for typos or errors that may have arisen while inserting changes from copy editing or during typesetting. Changes should only be made if something is incorrect.

You can get each of these done on a variety of levels, depending on your own skill and the resources you have available to you. There are critique groups or partners, where the feedback is mutual -- you read their work, they read your work -- or there are beta readers -- it's a one-way street where they read your work. These mostly work at the concept or developmental level, possibly up to line editing. You can also find professionals who specialize in concept coaching and developmental or line editing. Copy editing and proofreading are part of the publication process. If you're dealing with a publisher, the publisher will take care of it (though the manuscript you submit should be as clean as possible). If you're self publishing, you need to get someone to do this for you to create a quality product.

If you're hiring a professional, make sure you make clear the kind of edit you want. There's no point in line editing or copy editing a book that needs significant rewriting at the story level, and it's a waste of money and the editor's time to try to fix the words when the story doesn't work. Whether you're working with professionals or with friends, you need to check your ego to get the benefit of feedback. If all you want is praise, you're wasting their time. The idea is to do what it takes to make your book better. That doesn't mean you have to accept all feedback, even when you're dealing with a publisher. It's ultimately your book. But you do need to thoughtfully consider suggestions. Even the best writer benefits from feedback at some point in the process because it's hard to objectively judge your own work.

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