Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ask O: Manners! Five Hints for Being Critiqued

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends!

“Will you read my manuscript?” Published authors often hear this plea from bright-eyed sapling writers. When it happens to me, two things stir. First, compassion. I remember what it was like to be new and hopeful/terrified. I want to offer a hug and say, “Yes, dear, of course I will.” The other thing is anxiety. I know my schedule. If this person is new, reading the manuscript could take hours of time I don’t have. This part of me wants to run and hide or pretend I didn’t hear the question.

If you’re longing for expert eyes to help your work in progress sparkle, here are a five hints on how to handle it.

1. Offer to Pay the Going Rate
If you know an author, don’t just assume they’d be thrilled to read your magnificent prose. Published writers have worked hard, long, years on very little dough to get where they are. Many edited professionally along the way to make ends meet. Even if it’s your best friend, she/he deserves to be compensated. And don’t expect a discount. She may offer one, and if so—woo hoo!—but don’t act like you’re owed it. If your best friend was a plumber, you wouldn’t expect him/her to fix your pipes for free (would you?).

I don’t need to mention that you should always offer to pay an author you just met at a writers’ conference, right?

2. Have Patience
If the benevolent author you approached grants permission to send something to read, send it and then wait quietly, patiently. Give her time to get to it. And please don’t send another updated one, saying, “Oh, I tweaked chapter one, can you read this one instead?” Maybe you can get away with that once if you are very humble and grateful, but don’t do it repeatedly.

3. Listen and Don’t Argue
If you are a new writer, you may still be in the “Look What I Can Do!” stage. That’s when newbie writers think their work shines like Pride and Prejudice. “My prose sings,” they boast, “My characters rock, and I will be the next Bodie Thoene.” Confession: At my first conference (Oregon Christian Writers—love it!), I thought I should be in the advanced class. I was that good—so I thought. It took one day to realize all the mistakes I made and twelve more years to get my first book published.

So, trust the published author who took time to give you advice. You don’t have to integrate every bit, but honor her years of hard work by truly considering it and not coming back with reasons why her idea won’t work.

4. Don’t Expect the Whole Shebang
It’s doubtful an author could muster the time to critique your whole manuscript, (unless you pay a lot and even then she may not have time). But she might be willing to look at your first chapter. “I’d love for you to look at my first chapter. How much would you charge for that?” Doesn’t that sound nice and reasonable?

5. Think Laterally
When you go to a writers conference or make friends online, you’re sure to find folks at the same stage as you. Start by trading crits with them. There’s nothing like that writer’s bond of struggling along the same path. Plus, you’ll learn together.

Along with this, don’t forget your audience. I like to have folks who delight in historical fiction read my manuscripts. They don’t give the same kind of feedback as other writers, but I always glean perspective I could easily have missed.

Happy writing and God bless!