Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Writer Wednesday: Others Smell Your Stink More Than You Do

You know the saying. "The one who smelt it dealt it." In my experience that is rarely true of a person's malodorous behind. And when applied to the world of writing, I boldly assert that it's never accurate.

When it comes to our writing, we can rarely appreciate the full extent to which our prose reeks. While it is certainly true that we need to be our own first editors (and the better you become at editing, the more exceptional your writing will be), we cannot rely on our own eyes and minds to be the sole arbiters of the strengths and weaknesses of our work.
So let us be clear and establish Law #1: Every manuscript we produce MUST be read and commented upon by someone other than the writer.
Having accepted this law, we then must seek out a person or persons to critique our work. I recall clearly that at my first writer's conference back in 2009, I heard ad nauseam of the need to be in a critique group. The sounds like sound advice given Law #1 and many newbie writers run around with their hair on fire seeking out the perfect critique group.

The truth is that finding a critique group can be difficult. Many are closed to accepting new members. Still others are not a good fit. Many writers have never been in a critique group, and their writing has not suffered for it (possibly due to the constraints of a critique group/partner that I'll point out below). 

If you are in a critique group and it works for you, great. But I urge writers also to consider getting an "outside" opinion. Pushing yourself to receive feedback from a completely unbiased and skilled freelance editor may help you kick your writing up a notch.

Time for another bold assertion. Your critique group partner(s) and beta reader(s) are only slightly more able to parse out the true extent of the rotten parts of your manuscript than you are.

Why? Because they are not disinterested. Anyone that is in a relationship with you will be unable to provide an unbiased opinion.

You're not going to accept my bold assertion without argument, are you? Good. You shouldn't. I submit two pieces of anecdotal evidence for you to consider.

First, people in a relationship with one another consistently hold back the whole truth in order to preserve the relationship. This is human nature. When you ask your partner, "Do these jeans make your butt look fat?" how many would say yes even if said jeans make your ass looks like a hippo's butt stuffed into denim? The answer is very few. Any partner that said your ass looks like a hippo's butt would be considered an asshole and thus be putting the relationship in danger (whether he/she knows that or not).

We lie to the ones we love and care about to preserve their feelings, especially when we value the relationship. I submit that this is an aspect of human nature that we cannot escape, even in a critique group.

Second, people abhor conflict. Especially women people. I know this because I worked as a divorce lawyer and mediator for nearly twenty years. Time and time again, I saw people (especially women people) in relationships that did not work for them; agreeing to terms that were not in their best interest; and otherwise doing and saying things that went against their own truth simply to avoid conflict. And we doubly especially want to avoid conflict with people who we are in a relationship with. Thus, it is highly likely that your critique partner will hold back on pointing out just how smelly your MS is in order to safeguard your feelings so that, 1) You won't hate them and thus continue to be their critique partner; 2)To avoid conflict with you; so 3)The preserve the quid pro quo relationship that you've established to trade critiques of each other's work.

Now if you're okay with getting feedback that points out perhaps 50% of the smelliness factor in your MS but holds back a bit in order to guard against bruising your ego or perhaps ending the quid pro quo, then disregard this post entirely.

BUT, if you have the sense that maybe at least some of what I'm saying is true, then I suggest you do the following with your current manuscript:


Paid editors are not in a relationship with you. They are not your friends, family, co-workers, critique buddies or avid readers of your work. They are interested only in the words on the page (and being paid) not your vivacious personality or quid pro quo.

I have had critique buddies, beta readers and paid editors. Without question, even the worst paid content editor delved deeper into my MS and pointed out more funk than the best critique partner or beta reader. And good content editors have helped me elevate my writing to new levels with their laser sharp focus that doesn't let me get away with anything.

Another thing I should mention that is a factor here deals with paying people for work. If you rely on free advice (even if it's quid pro quo), the fact is that people are busy with things other than your manuscript. Your MS is of the highest priority to you but no one else. 

When you hire a paid editor, your MS becomes her priority for a time because it's her job. You got moved up the priority list for her, and you're top. That means that the paid editor has more energy, time and focus to devote to your MS.

As I said, I've hired quite a few freelancers over the years. Some have been very expensive and frankly not worth the money. Others have been very expensive and worth the money but, well, very expensive and thus not affordable to use over and over again for each new work.

But one company stands out and I'm going to give them an unsolicited plug here: Red Adept. I've used Red Adept three times now and each time I've been placed with a different content editor. All three have exceeded my expectations and I've always felt that the service was worth more than what I paid. How often does that happen in life?

I recently hired Red Adept for a content edit of my current manuscript, H.A.L.F. The content edit took about two weeks, and I received back nearly 2000 comments on my manuscript plus a 21 page, single-spaced letter with feedback. The editor pointed out things that I've done well and my strengths to build on. But she did not hold back in pointing out issues with plot, sub-plot, pacing and characters (as well as other issues).

I'll be honest. When I get the content editor's notes back, I often feel despair. After all, when I sent the MS I felt happy with it and thought it was nearly good to go. But when I get it back and see a comment in nearly every sentence? Well, it induces a desire for chocolate and wine (not necessarily in that order and hopefully both together).

But I let it sit for a day or two. When I go back to it, I realize that nearly everything the editor pointed out is something that I had already considered, but perhaps wasn't sure if it really needed changing. Or I was stuck in my old way of thinking about it and thus unable to see how to change it. The content editor's suggestions spark my creativity, and I'm off and running, my excitement for the story invigorated as I rework the problem areas.

To be clear, a content editor will NOT rewrite your manuscript for you. She will not take your pile of poo and rework it into a masterpiece. But she WILL point out the obvious and not-so-obvious flaws in your work and often make suggestions for how you can rid your manuscript of its stink and make it smell lovely.

Another Note: Do NOT hire a content editor to critique your first draft. That is a waste of your money and their time. DO work on the MS until you feel that you've gone as far as you can go. DO run it through Grammarly so that it's as free of typos, misspellings and grammar issues as you can make it so that your content editor can focus on the big picture. If you do this, you'll get more out of your content edit.

Finally, if you're not yet ready for a content editor but would like the assistance of a second pair of eyes, you may also consider a paid beta read. I provide affordable beta read services to writers (see my page about it here). This is NOT A CONTENT EDIT but it will be an unbiased read and critique of your MS.

Do you hire freelance content editor(s) for your work? If so and you can recommend them,  leave the name and website address in the comments for others to consider.

Next Wednesday: What to do with your content edit/paid beta read when you get it back.

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