Thursday, November 10, 2011

Let Me Explain

You know how it goes, you purchase a book, settle down in your favorite reading spot, and then the doorbell rings. It's the author. She's come to explain any confusion you might have with her book, as a kind service mind.

What? No? This doesn't happen to you? Heh. Me either.

And yet how many times have I seen writers try to explain away confusion a criter has with his or her writing? Or query letter, for that matter.

Too many.

Here's the thing: if you have to explain yourself, then you have failed in your mission to communicate with that reader. Now we cannot reach everyone. Some people won't get your work regardless, but if a group of people are saying the same thing, it behooves the writer to shut up and listen. Not explain.

This may sound harsh. Indeed, feedback, and growth from said feedback, can be daunting. But feedback, learning how to accept a crit, what to take away from one, and what to ignore is as valuable task as plotting, or character crafting. Because if you do go the way of publishing, you'll be working with an editor at some point. Depending on your frame of mind, working with an editor can be hell or very helpful.

For me, crits can be divided into two categories: learning crits and editorial crits.

Learning Crits

With learning crits, you the writer are putting your work out there to be critiqued in an effort to improve your craft. So these crits should be more nitpicky. Is your sentence structure working? Are you focusing too much on one aspect, such as description, when you should be focusing on another, such as forward movement?

A learning crit can be hard to take because you're apt to feel like a boob at some point, and start to wonder if you're just a hack. My advice for receiving such crits is to look at the source. Is this a writer whose work you respect? If so, then listen to her. Put your ego aside and try to see what she's trying to tell you.

A caveat of this is to beware of the writer how wants you to erase every so called "no-no" of writing. Is she spouting Elmore Leonard's 10 writing rules as if it is canon? If so back away, that way lies the removal of your unique voice.

Editorial Crits

This is more involved as there are many types of editorial crits. In general, however, we are talking about the critique you are going to get when you've mastered basic craft and are looking to publish. This is where you're getting beta readers, editorial comments and the like.

So here's the thing, an editorial crit is not for feeding your ego. You are not getting it to hear how awesome your book is and how much the reader liked it. Yeah, it's great to get praise. Who doesn't want it? But really, you need to stop viewing a crit as the place for praise -that's reserved for reviews (g). An editor won't do it. She'll be looking at what doesn't work, not what does. Why? Because she already bought the book. It's a given that she likes your writing and your book. Now it's time to fix the bumps that's keeping it from greatness.

Therefore, you need to concentrate on what isn't working. This goes to offering a crit as well. Do the writer a favor, be honest and tell them what failed. :)

Remember, if a reader says, hey, I really didn't get why you went into all that backstory; it bored me and I skimmed. You need to drop the impulse to explain. If a reader skimmed or got popped out of the reading experience, that is a huge red flag. Know it. Respect it.

Conversely, if a reader says, "I don't like heroes who cry, don't make your man cry." This is a place to ponder. Because this is a preference. You aren't writing a book to cater to everyone's preference. This goes for editors too. My editor and I have differing opinions on certain things. Now, since she's my editor, I do explain why something is a certain way, and then I explain why I want to keep it. :)

All of this is really just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but what I want to impart is that a writer has to be able to put aside her ego when it comes to crits -either in receiving them or giving them.

A crit is not about how awesome a writer you are. It is about assessing what works and what doesn't so that you, the writer, can make your manuscript better. That's ALL it is. You put your work out for critique so that you can grow as a writer, because at some point, you can no longer judge where you are in the story. You need help and the crit is your tool to move forward.


  1. Thank you for this post. I have been feeling the same way about crits and writers recently. This is a tough lesson for writers to learn. Some never do.

  2. Great post Kristen. I think this is why I'm still attempting to go the traditional route. Call me old-fashioned, but I want someone 'higher' than me to validate my writing - as you said, to buy the book and still point out bits that might need editing.
    I wonder why the idea that readers liking it (if I self-published) isn't enough?