You wrote a novel! Now what? This January and February, we’ll be helping you guide your novel through the revision and publishing process. Today, author Dan Koboldt shares his tips for finding or forming the best group to help you through your editing process:
It’s been a few months since the writing-insanity that is NaNoWriMo. With luck, you’ve already made a pass at that crazy 50,000-word beast you wrote back in November. Maybe two passes.
If you’re wondering how to take your book to the next level, I have a fantastic suggestion: get feedback on it from someone else. Not your mom or your spouse, but from one of your writing peers. This may help uncover issues in your work that you haven’t considered. Plot holes, under-developed characters, and flawed world-building are just a few examples of things that authors don’t recognize because they’re so close to the work. External feedback can help.
How Critique Makes the Difference
When I landed an agent for my first novel, The Rogue Retrieval, I felt confident that a book deal was nearly within reach. I rode that wave of optimism as the manuscript went out to the first round of publishers. Then the rejections poured in, one after another. The last one was the crushing blow: the editor really liked the book, and was on the fence, but ultimately decided it needed too much editing. My agent suggested that I either hire a freelance editor or ask a few of my writing friends to give it a hard-nosed critique.
That was a dark time for me, but I swallowed my pride and asked three people to give it a tough critique. They found all kinds of ways for me to improve the tension, characterization, and dialogue. I worked very hard to revise it with this feedback in mind. The whole process took months, but ultimately resulted in a much stronger manuscript. We sent it out on a second round of submissions, and got the offer from HarperCollins about a month later.
Where To Get Critiques
Hopefully, that little story has illustrated the value of critique for improving a manuscript. But how do you go about getting external critiques? You can hire a freelance editor, of course, but that can be quite expensive. Instead, many authors find one or more people who are willing to swap manuscripts. The best place to start is your circle of friends in the writing community. If you don’t have writing friends, go out and make some pronto. Reach out to them and ask if anyone’s willing to swap critiques.
Ideally, you’ll find someone who writes in your manuscript’s age category and genre. They’ll understand the conventions, tropes, and reader expectations. However, there’s also some merit to having at least one critique partner who writes outside of your preferred categories. Their feedback can be very educational, and reading their work will broaden your horizons as both a reader and writer.
How Critique Partners Work
Once you find some willing participants, the rest is pretty straightforward. You send them your manuscript. They read it in full, and provide detailed feedback to you. This can be done in person, but most often happens by e-mail. At a minimum, the feedback should comprise at least a few pages of comments about the characters, world, and plot: what worked, and what didn’t work. Many critique partners will fix typos make other line edits on your manuscript as well. Cherish them if they do.
You might be wondering, why in the world would someone provide such a wonderful service? That brings us to the word “partner” in critique partner. You can provide the exact same service in return, for one of their manuscripts. It doesn’t need to be at the same time, though often that’s how CPs begin their relationship. You simply trade manuscripts back and forth as needed, and try to be fair with one another.
Your Turn: Offering Critique
When it’s your turn to do the critiquing, try to keep two things in mind. First, constructive criticism is best. In other words, it’s not a book review, and your feedback should be aimed at finding ways to make the manuscript stronger. Second, I highly recommend the ‘compliment sandwich’ approach: begin with praise about the manuscript’s strengths, offer your critique, and then end with more praise. It’s a fairly obvious trick, but also very effective. Try it.
There’s bound to be some trial and error in finding critique partners. Not everyone will turn out to be the right match for your work. But once you do find a critique partner who gets you, hang on tight. Their feedback may be what takes your writing to the next level.
Dan Koboldt is the author Gateways to Alissia, a fantasy trilogy about a Las Vegas magician who’s hired by a mysterious corporation to infiltrate a secret medieval world. The Rogue Retrieval, (January 2016), The Island Deception (April 2017), and The World Awakening (February 2018) are published by Harper Voyager. You can find Dan on Twitter (@DanKoboldt) and at his website, dankoboldt.com.
Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Comunidade dos Pequenos Profetas on Flickr.