Revising With Julie, Part Three: Getting Eyes On Your Work
Hello! I am doing a series that is all about revising books and I hope you'll check out the other posts.
Welcome back! Today I'm going to be talking about how to get eyes on your work. To lead in, I'd like to share some realities of getting published:
Your book no longer belongs to you.
Almost anyone in the world can go online or into a store and buy it.
Readers will bring their opinions, baggage, and life experiences to your book.
Some may even read your book with the sole intention of not being happy with it, no matter what. This is what I believe the kids call "hate-reading."
Can you do anything about this? No. The definition of traditional publishing is to lose control.
However, you do have one thing you can control, and that is to write the best possible book you can. I tell you with complete frankness that my debut, FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS, was the best book I could have written at that point in my life and career. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. But knowing that I did the best I could made it easier to let go of the things I couldn't control.
Revising and giving the world your best book is the only thing you can control.
In order to do that, you need to get other people's eyes on your book. Here are a few different types of readers you may decide to seek:
Critique partners (CPs): These are fellow writers with whom you exchange manuscripts. You read each other’s drafts and help each other out, and this will hopefully be a long-term relationship.
Beta read: This is a person who reads your work, but an exchange isn’t necessarily expected. Generally, I think of these as readers you bring on when your book is VERY close to querying and/or submission.
Expert read: This is an expert you hire (and pay a fee) if you’re writing about an experience that is not your own. For me, this is both mandatory and worthwhile. I don't think anyone would dare write about a complicated medical procedure without getting a medical professional to read it for accuracy and authenticity, and it's the same exact idea for someone else’s lived experience or culture.
I'm going to talk about CPs. To me, they are people who are going to hopefully stick around for the long term. I have had mine since my pre-agent days all the way up to now, with soon-to-be three published books under my belt, and these folks have truly helped me become a stronger writer.
What kind of CP should you get, you ask? Here is my take:
This depends on your personality and experience level
Find a CP you trust who knows you, your personality, and your preferences
Some writers are more sensitive and need people who will point out what they did well and VERY gently tell them what they could do better
Some writers have dragon skin and want the absolute brutally honest truth
I fall somewhere in the middle. I want my CPs to be completely honest with me when something is not working, but I feel it's important for them to do it in a constructive way. Constructive criticism is given with an eye to helping you and your book get better, while destructive criticism is meant to tear you down, whether it's jealousy or competition or something else. I have had many CPs over the course of my writing life, and have experienced both types.
Finding a CP is like making friends or falling in love; you want someone with whom you are compatible, someone who makes you better and builds you up. And as with friendship or love, this process can take time, and you will find some relationships that just don't work. This is normal and okay.
Here are some basic guidelines for finding a CP:
They should be at about the same experience level as you. It can be frustrating to swap manuscripts if you’re an advanced writer and your CP is just learning the basics of grammar. Likewise, it can be stressful if you’re just starting out as a writer and your CP is far ahead of you.
They should have about the same ambition level as you. Some people just want to write and swap manuscripts for fun, with no serious eye on publishing. This is totally valid and okay! But there can be a disconnect if YOU are serious about getting an agent and a traditional book deal, because you’re looking for higher-level edits and someone to commiserate with. A CP who is on the same leg of the journey and understands what you're going through is invaluable.
They should be someone you trust. This comes with time. I’ve heard horror stories of CPs stealing stories, telling other people your secrets, and so on. I advise swapping a few chapters at most when starting out with a new person. Give them a trial before you commit fully.
They should respect your preferences, whether you want kindness, brutal honesty, or something in between. Keep in mind how I differentiated constructive criticism from destructive. Your CPs and writer friends should always seek to help and build you up. There are people in whom publishing brings out the absolute worst, so be cautious. This takes time to find out, so take care who you entrust with your stories, your time, and your mental and emotional energy.
Now that we've covered all that, where might you find a CP or beta reader? You could try a number of different places:
Social media: I've met so many of my closest writer friends and CPs on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and blogs. If you chat with someone and find yourselves to be like-minded, it could be the start of a great CP relationship! Exchange a few pages or chapters and see what happens.
Online writing contests: I found a lot of my CPs through communities and contests like Pitch Wars and #PitMad. If you're involved with either of those contests, look for folks who write in your age category and see if they're up for swapping a few pages to start.
Local writers’ and readers’ groups in your community: Check your local newspaper or the bulletin board at your local library or university for literary events. Attend them and meet fellow bookish people. There is sure to be at least a couple of other writers you might be able to swap projects with!
Similarly, go to book festivals: Check out SCBWI, which has chapters in different parts of the U.S., and local book festivals. For Boston, off the top of my head, I can think of the Boston Book Festival and the Boston Teen Author Festival. See if there's anything like that in your area and meet people when you're in line for the same author or attending the same panel.
I hope this post helped shed insight onto the importance of finding CPs who can help you take your book to the next level!
This is the third post of a five-part series on revisions. Here's the schedule for the remaining posts:
Friday, November 22: Making Edits Manageable - I'll discuss what to do when you get your edit letter (and how that sense of fear and dread when you get it is NORMAL) and how to break it and your book up into chunks, to make the whole process a little bit more enjoyable for yourself in addition to being productive.
Monday, December 16: In the Public Eye - I'm going to talk about handling feedback and reviews as an author and a public figure, and how to deal with your book being out there and all the opinions/viewpoints that ensue!
Hope to see you in November!