A Good Review is Hard to Find – Part 4

In Part 3, I discussed in excruciating detail some of the steps you can take to find alpha readers for your manuscript. The last step I wrote about was sending your edited and polished Chapter 1 to a large group of people for critiquing. My suggestions were to keep busy on your next project, continuing with your critique groups, and I did mention reading groups back in Part 2, in case you’ve forgotten.

Even if this is your first novel it’s doubtful that you’ve come this far without some types of reviews, critiques or feedback. You might feel more anxious about these critiques than previous experiences. It might be your second or third book and you might feel as anxious as you did with your first book. That’s common.

It’s important to prepare yourself for the critiques and have plans for coping. One thing to keep in mind is that the critiques are not about you. They are about something you wrote. Negative criticism may not “feel” good but that is the feedback that is most likely to help you improve your writing. It doesn’t feel good to more experienced writers but they have learned its value.

I have another suggestion for people with less experience in having their writing critiqued. When you begin to receive your critiques, don’t read them. First, write a very nice email to the sender telling them you haven’t read it yet and express your gratitude. Print it out, making sure the name of the person that wrote the critique is on the page and put all of them in a folder.

If some of the people have not returned their critiques by the deadline, send them a gentle reminder. Ask if they will be able to send it within the next few days? If they can’t, be understanding and let them off the hook. Life happens. Just move on. If others don’t respond to your gentle reminder, send them an email that says that you’ll miss their valuable input but you understand that sometimes other things come up. You might receive a critique from them after that, or not. Again, just move on.

Critiquers can be divided into four categories and I’m going to describe each in a moment. There is a 5th group of people that I won’t call critiquers. I call them people you will never ask for another critique.

The first time you read your critiques you will be determining which of the 4 categories each critiquer best fits. This is important for identifying critiquers best suited for being alpha readers. A happy byproduct is a list of potential beta readers for the future.

Being involved in the process of categorizing the critiques engages the analytical part of the brain. Having that happening during the first reading of the critiques can help mitigate the effects of emotion and ego.

The 4 different types of critiquers:

  1. The Big Picture Critiquer- focuses on the big picture items like opening, hook, plot, pace, character, theme etc. They will give you the most in-depth answers to the seven topics that you sent with your chapter and they will add more big picture items to that like Point of View (POV), dialogue, point out information dumps and places where you could improve in terms of Show versus Tell. They will probably point out other issues but their main focus is on those big picture items. In this process, as with all good critiquers, they will point out areas where they think you did well as well as provide suggestions where you could improve.
  2. The Lover (aka this is Amazing) Critiquer –Their critiques are full of comments on how much they love this line or how that plot twist was amazing. Their critiques are usually full of happy faces. If they are any good, they will also point out lots of places where you could improve, maybe just as many as the other types of critiquers but they focus heavily on the compliments for all the places where they think you did well. They boost your spirits and help you keep going.
  3. The Detail Critiquer – Their critiques focus mainly on tense changes, typos, places where you typed hear instead of here. They will point out things like you used the same adjective 10 times in your book, filler words you missed when editing, and places in the narrative where a sentence should be changed because a passive verb was used. They also critique other aspects as well and like all other good critiquers, they will combine positive feedback with suggestions where to improve. None of the other types of critiquers will give you the same amount of feedback on the sentence level as the Detail Critiquer. They are invaluable in helping you polish your manuscript on this level.
  4. The B.S. Detective Critiquer – They will sniff out any place in your manuscript where you got lazy. If you got lazy and used a tired cliché instead of thinking of a creative way to say something in the narrative, they’ll find it. If you tried to bluff your way through something instead of doing your research, they will find it. If you have a character in a certain time using technology that hadn’t been invented yet, they’ll call you on that. Anything in your manuscript that doesn’t make sense because you didn’t take the time and effort to think through it logically will be found by this type of critiquer. The things these critiquers catch are things a reader would notice. Their input keeps readers from throwing your book down and saying, “This book is B.S.”

 

There are people you might get responses from but I certainly wouldn’t call them critiquers. The first, in spite of your questions, send a response along the lines of I read it and loved it. They’re not helpful but, it happens. The second set of people send responses along the lines of, “This story is just one big schizophrenic cluster of chaos with no plot and no dominant central motif and is just one major context flaw. Hope this helps.” Both of these responses go in the circular file and their names go on the list with a heading that says: “Never request critique from.”

 

After reading those descriptions, it may sound like an easy task to separate your critiquers into  4  categories, but as I said each one will do some things that will fall into each category. You have to study them to determine in which area each one spent most of their time and energy. You can’t get distracted, emotional or defensive by what the critiques say while doing this work.

If you begin to feel that way, put the critiques down and walk away until you can come back with a clear objective view. You need to be objective and use your analytical skills to perform this task. If walking away for a break isn’t helping, remind yourself why you’re doing this. Write it down by hand. Don’t type it.

 

I want to be a published author. Or maybe yours is, I want to publish my 3rd novel. I want my novel to be the best it can be. I’m going through this critiquing process because I know it can help me be a better writer. Am I strong enough to deal with some discomfort to reach that goal? This is not pain. It is discomfort. Am I willing to experience discomfort to achieve my goal?

Put that where you can read it every day, several times a day, or however often you need to read it. Answer that question every time until you don’t have to read it anymore.

 

All these critiquers serve a unique and valuable purpose. You want a balanced mix of all of them as beta readers. For alpha readers, what you need are Big Picture Critiquers. You need to get all the big picture items straightened out and nailed down through input from your alpha readers and rewrites. Only then is it time to get your manuscript ready to benefit from the other types of critiquers.

 

After you identify your Big Picture Critiquers, rank them according to how thorough they were in their critiques. (Not based on whether you liked what they said). Start at the top of the list and try to get 3-5 of them to agree to be alpha readers for your manuscript. Go through the same process you did when they critiqued your chapter1: timetable, your list of concerns, and make sure they know ahead of receiving your manuscript, that you have not performed a line edit.

When you send the manuscript, make certain that you include all of that in your email. Reiterate that you haven’t done a line edit so there will still be typos, rhythm/flow problems at the sentence level, tense changes, grammatical errors, and punctuation errors but you don’t want them to focus on those. You would like them to focus on:

Opening/Hook

Did the book grab your attention soon enough?

Setting

Is there enough description of the time and place to make it seem real to the reader? Is there so much that it slows the pace?

Plot

Is the main plot clear and believable? Was the main conflict clear? Was it introduced at the right point in the story? Are there major gaps in the plot? Are there scenes that don’t move the story forward?Are there too many subplots?

Conflict

Are there enough conflicts? Is there enough conflict between the characters besides the main conflict? Is there too much conflict? Is there an additional conflict that could be added to the story that might improve the story?

Style/Voice

Was there too much telling instead of showing? Was the writing tight enough? Did you notice any information dumps? Was the narrative clear?

Pace

Did the pace match the type of story? Were there any spots where the pace was too fast or too slow for a particular scene?

Theme

Was the theme fresh and original? Was it clear? Did it overwhelm the story?

Character

Was/Were the main character(s) well developed. Were enough facets of the characters revealed to make then well rounded? Were the main characters likable or inspire respect or admiration? Did the reader feel connected to the characters to care what happened to them? Did them seem real enough?

Point of View

Was the POV that was used appropriate for the story? Did it detract from the story? Were there any places in the story where the POV changed in the middle of a scene?

Dialogue

Was there too much or too little dialogue? Did the dialogue seem easy to speak? Was it too much like normal speech? Did each character’s speech match their personalities?

 

If you have specific concerns or questions about anything regarding your manuscript, put them here under the proper heading. If you want to know if they connected with your protagonist, or if your antagonist was believable or seemed more like a caricature put those types of questions under character. If you’re concerned that a scene was too drawn out, put that under plot.

I know one of my weaknesses is descriptions. I’m so involved in getting the story down in the first draft and I see the scenes in my head so I write very little of the descriptions. I know I have to add that in my first rewrite but I may miss some. So one of my questions would be about places where I need to add more descriptions.

You should adjust the questions if needed to fit your manuscript. Add any and all additional questions about points in your manuscript that concern you. Make sure your alpha readers know that you welcome any and all feedback they can provide in their critique.

Send your manuscript to your little band of alpha readers. Enough time has passed that you can open your manuscript and read it with a fresh perspective. Don’t edit it. Take notes in a notebook or a separate computer file while you read it.

 

Thanks to everyone that has been following my series on reviews and critiques. I’d especially like to thank Charles F. French and K.D. Dowdall for reblogging my posts.

If anyone has thoughts on additional questions for alpha readers, I’d love to hear them. Any and all comments are welcome!