(And since I was in the mood to talk about beta reading…)
A letter to all the people whose manuscripts I critique.
(Bear with me, it gets kinda long.)
I do not claim to be an expert in writing or grammar. Everything I say comes from my own experiences, and what I’ve learned. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m right. And if I’ve read one story of yours already, I’m gonna skip the disclaimer because you know the final decision comes down to you anyways.
And I know I sometimes mark things that are more a style issue,
but you know… I can’t help it. Feel free to ignore my comments.
And sometimes I get lazy. Do you know how many times I’m writing a comment, and then I have to go back and change a period to a question mark? A lot. I don’t know why I forget the question mark, because I know I’m writing a question, but it happens. A lot. So from now on, I’m not going to waste time going back and inserting that question mark. I will assume you can deduce it is a question even though it ends in a period.
And other punctuation. In my comments, I’m probably gonna forget to add the comma before the conjunction of 2 independent clauses. But in your ms, I’m probably going to add too many commas, even when it COULD fall under the exception rule and even though it seems like everybody’s doing it. But hey, I like commas.
And echoes. I used to mark them all—you know, highlight them so you could see them. But not anymore. I’m just gonna highlight one and make you find the rest. But… if I see several, I’ll let you know that. Otherwise you can assume it’s just one. And just cause I mark it doesn’t mean I think you should change it. But I want to bring it to your attention, in case you want to change it.
And I’m sorry that when I insert a suggestion into your sentence, I have started NOT crossing out the stuff I think doesn’t belong. But again, I think you are smart enough to figure that out.
And I used to say stuff like, show, don’t tell. But now I’ve been writing: telling. Or even telly. Cause I think that’s kinda funny.
And I like to make up new words. (Well someone else probably used them, but I didn’t until now.) Info-dumpy is my latest. It also makes me laugh.
And I think comma splice is much cooler than run-on. So to anyone I beta-ed for last fall or before, I’m now using comma splice instead of run-on. (And technically, they’re not the same thing, but the fix is just the same.) And hopefully I’ll remember to tell you that I changed what I called it. (Oh, I guess I just did right there.)
And I use way too many smiley faces.
And ‘clunky’ means the same thing as ‘awkward’ which means the same thing as ‘I stumbled over this’ which means the same thing as ‘um… huh?’ I bounce back and forth on what I use.
And I hope you don’t mind personal comments that have nothing to do with your story. But it just crossed my mind at that moment, and I thought it was important to mention it. Although we both know it wasn’t.
And sometimes I think I’m funny, when I’m not. I hope you don’t take it personally. If I feel comfortable doing so, I will probably insert more ‘funny’ comments. If I don’t know you so well, I won’t.
And sometimes I way over-explain stuff. But that might be because I tend to ramble,
or…I’m figuring it out as I’m typing. And instead of going back and editing my comment, I’ll just leave it be.
And sometimes I’m not clear on my explanation. I will admit in my comment if I don’t really know why I don’t like something. Sometimes things just don’t feel good, but I can’t say why. But please ask me if you don’t know what I’m talking about, because I know I’m not always clear on what I write. (Like this paragraph.)
And sometimes I’ll make suggestions on how to fix something. But other times I don’t because a.) I’m sure you can figure it out, or b.) I’m lazy, or
C.) I have no clue what to do, I just know it needs fixing.
And feel free to tell me if I told you something wrong. (I’ll just need proof and then we’ll move on. And feel free to tell me if you’re on a deadline, and I need to work faster. I’ll try.
And this is going way too long, although I could probably write more. So in closing… I love critiquing stories and have learned so much. Thank you to: Stacy, Liz, Theresa, Jo, Jade, Kim, Lynne, Cassie Mae & Lara for allowing me to be a part of your novel’s journey. Because although publishing my own story rates as the coolest thing ever, being a part of someone else’s novel is right up there too. And I would read any of your other stories in a heartbeat.
And I promise to do the best job I can.
Okay. So today I’m going to post my IWSG-like post. Even though I don’t belong to the group. But I have a question that I’m curious about too, what other writers do.
Just lately I’ve critiqued a lot of stories. (A lot for me = 3 in just over a month) It’s funny how it goes like that. Nothing for a while, the Boom! Lots to do. But I love critiquing, so I’m not complaining. Besides, they were all good stories, and I’m glad I got to read them.
One thing I worry about with critiquing is if I overdo it with the comments. I know that the author has final say. They can take my advice or ignore it. And I’d rather present them with something and let them figure out if they want to change it, rather than not bring it up at all and then worry that I should have.
And something I worry about is if I get it wrong. You know, like the grammar rules. I’m no expert, and I’d feel bad if I say something wrong.
For instance, I just discovered an exception to a rule. See my Sloppy Writing post from Friday about this if you’re curious, cause I don’t want to take up the space here. Anyways, I finally discovered there is an exception to the comma, conjunction rule with SO. And then I went back in all 3 manuscripts I was working on and changed them back when I’d mistakenly added a comma.
And so I wonder, how many others did I mark wrong earlier this summer. Or how many other grammar things do I incorrectly mark. If I’m not sure about something, I’ll usually say that or go find the answer myself on the internet, but a lot of times I feel sure, and am still wrong. (Maybe it’s time to page through Strunk and White again.)
And then there’s times when I mark something like ‘suddenly.’ That’s a word we’re supposed to avoid. And sometimes you might need it, but most of the time you don’t. But these multi-published authors use it. No, not twice a chapter. So they key is moderation. But my point is, do you mark stuff like that so they are aware? Or should you stay away from those voice things?
Comma splices are another thing. Sometimes I look at a sentence with a comma splice and think, yeah, that feels right. (Probably more so with dialogue) But it’s grammatically wrong. But maybe the author just missed that conjunction. Maybe they don’t want it. But maybe they do.
Or maybe super long sentences. If they’re using them consistently, okay, it’s easy to see that it is their style. But what if halfway in they have a super long sentence, grammatically correct, but LONG. Do you point it out just to bring attention to it?
Maybe I should add a standard note to my comment lingo: JPO, which means I’m just pointing out. Doesn’t mean it’s good or bad. Then it could differentiate between things I heavily suggest changing as opposed to things I think they should be aware of. (I might have to do that.)
So long way to get to my question. What do you do? Do you feel like you over-comment? Do you comment on things that fall into the voice/style category?
Have you ever gotten something wrong with a comment on somebody’s novel?
Just wondering if I’m the only one who worries about this.
I’m jealous. And I shouldn’t be, but I am.
See, my (un-published) novel gets to go all these fun places that I don’t. And I hate it. Why should she get to travel the world while I’m stuck at home. In the oft-repeated words of my 5-yr old, “It’s not fair.”
The Proper Way to Say Goodbye just got the opportunity to fly to England.
And she’s been to New Zealand.
And New York City.
And Alaska. (It was summer then, if it’d been winter, I might not’ve been so jealous.)
And where have I been?
Not any of those places. And that sucks. (The only place my ms has been that I have visited is Chicago.)
One day I hope she’ll travel to every state in the US and all around the globe. Maybe even learn some languages other than English. Wouldn’t that cool?
So how about you. Where has your novel gone?
I’m working up to my last rounds of edits for The Proper Way to Say Goodbye. At least I think I’m close to the end. But I’ve said that before. And thanks to the help of the amazing Jolene Perry, I am going to do some major cutting because she’s helping me to recognize some of those scenes I don’t need.
And why I didn’t see that before, I don’t know. But that’s what happens with all my beta readers. They point out stuff I don’t see. They help guide me when I get off track or do something silly. I’m very lucky to have all the beta readers I’ve had–they’ve all been a terrific help.
I’m pretty sure my manuscript will be better once I do my cutting, but it sucks because I’ve got some stuff in there I love. Certain bits of dialogue that make me laugh. (And hopefully would make others laugh.) But I understand now that these scenes are either:
1. Redundant. Whatever I’m showing, I’ve done it before, just a different way.
2. Unnecessary. It isn’t moving forward the story of my main character; it’s more about a supporting character.
I haven’t done it yet, but I estimate I’ll cut up to 6,000 to 8,000 words. Which is okay because I’m at 74,000 words and may pad in some more. I’m actually excited to get this wrapped up, so I can start querying. But I don’t want to rush it either.
So is it easy for you to recognize these scenes that need to go? Or do others usually have to point it out?
So I experienced something new recently. I’ve been waffling over making major changes to The Proper Way to Say Goodbye. Now granted, I’ve only queried one novel, so that means I’ve only edited heavily one novel, but I’ve never changed anything big in my stories during the editing process. Little details, yes. But major things like POV shifts or Tense for instance? No.
You may have seen the other posts. My concern is this:
Chloe is an 18 year old freshman in college. Technically, that is not young adult, although you do see other books marketed as YA but with main characters in college.
Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Psyche Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson
Love Story by Jennifer Echols
Hushed by Kelley York
My concern is that I may get an automatic rejection on my queries based on the setting alone.
As of now, self-publishing (as new adult possibly) is not an option. I’m not ready for that.
So what I’ve been waffling on is… should I change Chloe to a high school senior? I’ve read all sorts of blogs about this issue and have talked to other writers for differing opinions.
Then I analyzed my story to see the parts I’d have to change. Chloe would have to attend a few classes at the local college, but could still be in high school. No problem there. And most of the changes could easily be dealt with. Minor things.
But, it wouldn’t be the same. And I have one big issue. Chloe has a relationship with her graduate teaching assistant. Yes, ethically that is wrong and breaks school rules. But I can forgive that for my story, because the TA is a positive character in Chloe’s life, and Chloe is a consenting adult.
But if I changed Chloe to a high school senior, I couldn’t be as forgiving of the TA having that relationship, even if technically Chloe is an adult. To me, that’s a bigger line to cross.
Which is why I’ve been waffling. Going back and forth between thinking I should change. Then back. Then forth. Then back.
But I think I’m done. I’ve decided to stick with it. And when I query, I will keep my fingers crossed that an agent who is interested, but rejects because of the setting, lets me know that. Because that would at least leave options open to change and possibly resubmit.
I love my story the way it is, so I’m going to take a chance and leave it and see what happens.
Have you ever waffled over major story decisions?
Editing sucks, you know. Writing is the easy part, the fun part. The way the words flow out of your fingers. Editing is slow and tedious. And repetitive. It’s not so bad after the first read, maybe the second. But by the 6th or 7th, it gets a little old.
I’m not keeping track, but I’ve spent way more time editing Frosty than I did writing. (which took about a month.) Reading Frosty straight through might take 3-4 hours. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but I’d guess at least 6-8 times. And when I read for editing, it goes much slower of course.
It’s also a good idea to read the novel aloud. Hearing your words spoken helps you catch mistakes and shows you where things might be choppy. But of course, reading it aloud is a very slow process and can give you a sore throat if you try getting it done in one or two sittings.
Every week I seem to learn something new in my editing—which is why I started Sloppy Writing 101. There are so many words you don’t want to use/overuse. Therefore, the easiest way to find them is using search/replace. THAT is one of my overused/unnecessary words. With Frosty, I spent 3 hours searching for and fixing the THATs.
Yes, that’s 3 hours for just one word. (The lesson here is that in when I’m writing, I should not overuse THAT.) But I had to do it because I ended up killing about 500 THATs.
Of course, in the editing process, you hopefully delete more than you add. I did with Frosty. A critiquer told me Frosty was moving too slowly and that I was in my mc’s head too much. I deleted lots, including about ¾ of one chapter. In a few weeks I went from 64,000 words to 52,000. That is huge.
This ability to cut the words down with Frosty gives me hope with the first young adult story I wrote. It clocks in at about 95,000 words, which is high for young adult, especially considering that I’m an unpublished author. That is the reason I decided to pursue an agent with Frosty instead. And now I’ve seen how much I’ve cut from Frosty, I will get to editing on my other novel too, in addition to When the Mist Clears.
I’d much rather be writing, but if you want to get published, you have to edit, edit, edit. I have several ideas for new stories, but I don’t know when I can get around to them. As things sit right now, I have written enough novels to keep me busy editing/revising for fifteen years. Therefore, I have to choose which I like best and hope that might be the one.
At least now I’ll know what things to avoid when I’m writing, so that in the future, editing will not take so long.
Every writer has crutch words—ones they use too often.
When I gave a manuscript to my friend Liz, she pointed out that I had a lot of justs and a lot of wells. So I went through my 95,000 word document and found almost 260 justs. I cut out 2/3 of them. I didn’t have as many wells, but I got rid of quite a few too.
You can search you Word document and find how many numbers of a certain word you have, but you might not know what those problem words are. For that, now you can go to the internet to use programs that create word clouds (or tag clouds–I’ve found several names).
An example of a word cloud is on the right side of this blog. It is a visual representation of text—or in my case blog tags (categories). On these websites you can upload your text (or blog page) and it will find the most used words and put them in a fancy design. If the word is bigger, it’s been used more often.
This is a really great application because it pulls out your most used words. I went back into Frosty and did this and here are my results of the top twenty used words—the one at the top being the most used.
don’t, going, Lana, looked, wasn’t
Mom, couldn’t, wasn’t
Asked, room, school, Sydney, wanted, Jim, door, eyes
So with this, now I will go back and look for a few of these words and try use different ones. So far I’ve done looked. I went from 183 to 38. And with going, I went from 195 to 61.
I’m glad that just and well didn’t show up, even in the top fifty. That’s a good thing, but I will search some of the others in this list to using better more descriptive words.
If you want to do one of these fun clouds, just search word cloud or tag cloud and you’ll come up with a number of sites. It’s fun.
I’m a beta, he’s a beta, she’s a beta, we’re a beta, wouldn’t you like to be a beta too. Be a beta. Be be a beta. Okay, the tune popped into my head when I started this post. Dr. Pepper is my 2nd favorite pop after Coke, so it fits because I’m now a beta reader now.
I belong to a site called AgentQuery Connect, a forum for writers and aspiring writers. It’s huge—contains all sorts of information/advice. They have it split up into all different areas; query help, info on agents, publishing/networking, groups on different genres… it’s a lot to wade through and I could easily spend hours looking though everything.
Anyway, a woman posted that she was looking for beta readers for her young adult novel. She gave the description and I thought it looked interesting so I replied back and said I would do it. It’s good timing because right now I’m letting When the Mist Clears sit a bit before I pick it up and start editing.
I read through it the first time, only making small notes. Now I’m going through a second time, making my comments and proofreading. (I’m no expert proofreader, but I can help a little.)
It’s actually kind of fun. I like the story and her writing style is easy to read.
One interesting thing to see is the different words she uses, that I attribute to being in a different region. On AgentQuery Connect, your profile states the part of the country you live in—Midwest for me.
Know what nalgene is? I didn’t, until I googled it. Another one was a booshie restaurant. So either I’m not hip anymore or it’s a regional thing. Of course I live in a state that is known for a lot of things—hipness not being one of them. By the way, a nalgene is a plastic bottle and booshie means uppity/fancy.
But back to the beta reading. I hope that by analyzing someone else’s work this closely, it will help me with mine. I’d definitely do the whole beta reader thing again. It would cool to be a part of someone else’s publishing experience. And when her book comes out, I can say I was a part of it.
I’d never heard of the term beta reader until just recently, even though I guess I had them. They are people who read a manuscript to offer comments before publishing. So anyone who has read any of my work and has offered comments and/or proofread, would be a beta reader.
Of the people who have read my work… Some just read. Some offer basic comments. Some have helped immensely with suggestions on how to make it better. Like I said in the previous post, it’s great to have those people who are willing to spend their time editing and proofing.
Anyways, that’s the stage I’m at with one of my stories. Soon I will be checking with some people to see if they’d be interested and available to read and offer comments. After going through the editing with Frosty, I have specific questions to ask. But any comments/suggestions are welcome.
Look to the menus at the top for the tab for Stranded. It’s young adult, but is a little less heavy than Frosty. A little cleaner too, so could easily go into a younger audience.
This is the status of everything else.
Frosty: I had been doing some more editing and am almost finished. In a few weeks, I will start querying again with a much improved manuscript and query letter.
I am also writing another story, a paranormal ya. I wasn’t trying to jump from contemporary to paranormal, but the idea came. And really I consider it light paranormal because the focus is not that the main character is a ghost, but the changes she goes through after becoming one.
So check out the tab for Stranded to see what it’s about. And if you’re really good an analyzing books and you’re interested in helping, let me know.
In September, I stopped querying new literary agents for Frosty. As you remember, it might take agents up to 2 months to respond, or not respond, and there are still some I haven’t heard back from.
I’d had a few people offer to help with either proofing/editing, so I thought I’d take advantage. I figured it would be a few quick changes, but it’s ended up being more.
It’s just like earlier in the summer. I thought I was ready for querying and I started the process. Most of the rejections were form rejections. But I got one back from a well established literary agency and it said they liked the story, but it was not “polished” enough.
About that time, I had some questions about publishing I went to an old friend of the
family, Ella, to see if she had any advice. Between her and her husband, they have published many books including non-fiction, poetry and other books. (Look up Alan and Ella Cvancara on Amazon.com if interested.) She offered to review my manuscript. I’d always thought I was a decent writer. English was probably one of my favorite classes and I always did well, but…
When I got Ella’s review back, it was a kick in the butt. Lots and lots of red. It wasn’t all grammatical errors and such, but included suggestions on content and structure too. I made a lot of changes. It was very helpful.
So just recently I had a few others edit my story and they gave additional suggestions. Now I have added about 10,000 words and I hope it’s much better. I’m waiting for my one last friend to do her proofreading. She had edited it first, before proofreading.
I had to look up the difference, so I now know. Editing is more for content/style/structure. Proofreading is more for grammar. (I’m not an English major, so I always just assumed editing and proofreading were the same thing).
After I make those last changes, I will be sending out queries again with a much better story.
One of the great things about this blog is that it’s brought these people to me. People who are interested and want to help. One is an old classmate from high school. Another is a friend from around here that I don’t get to see much because of kids and life and such. If I hadn’t started the blog (and put my postings on Facebook), they might never have known what I was doing and therefore I couldn’t have gotten their help. I’m lucky to have those people in my life.
So that’s where I’m at with Frosty.