By Chris Eboch
If you’ve been in many critique groups, you might recognize the following characters.
- The Grammarian. She doesn’t have a lot to say about the content of your work, but she’ll circle every typo in red pen and may insist you follow strict grammar rules that have long since gone out of date.
- The Mouse. You can’t tell whether or not she likes your work, because she never voices an opinion, preferring to hide behind the excuse that she’s not experienced enough to offer feedback.
- The Perpetual Beginner. This person truly isn’t experienced enough to offer feedback, and never seems to improve. This type can be divided into The Rut, who brings in the same manuscript over and over without ever making substantial changes (despite all your thoughtful advice) and The Hummingbird, who throws away a manuscript as soon as it’s gotten one negative comment, preferring to work on something else.
- Father Knows Best. He always has an opinion, which he voices clearly and often. He prefers to discuss how he would write the story if it were his own, not the author’s vision.
- The Bully. She or he (other characters are typically one gender or the other, but this one and the next can go either way) enjoys tearing apart your manuscript. No suggestions, just criticisms bordering on insults.
- The Cheerleader. She or he loves everything you do! This is gratifying, especially when you are doubting your talent, but not particularly helpful in identifying weak spots.
All these characters have one thing in common. They don’t really help you improve your work.
Critique groups can be great. At their best, they are both a source of emotional support and a way to get thoughtful, detailed suggestions about your writing. If you have one of those groups, remember to say thank you (perhaps with hugs and chocolates). But most writers aren’t that lucky. Beginners in particular may find it hard to join a serious, experienced critique group, as often the best writers want to work with other professionals, not spend their time teaching beginners for free.
This is when hiring an editor can help. You can work with an experienced professional who will prioritize your work because it’s a job. If someone is paying me $400 to critique a novel, I’m going to devote my time to getting it done well and quickly. I’ll dig deep and be as tough – but helpful – as I can be. For example, I’ve critiqued a couple of picture book manuscripts that seemed excellent on the first read. But because I was getting paid, I settled down for a second and third close read, analyzed the structure of the material, and came up with several suggestions that I – and the authors – thought would make the manuscripts even better.
My novel critique letters typically run five or six single-spaced pages, with comments broken down into categories such as Characters, Setting, Plot (Beginning, Middle, and End), Theme, and Style. As much as I love my critique group members, I don’t have that kind of time to spend on them.
It’s tempting to stick with trading manuscripts for free, and you may get some excellent feedback that way. But there comes a time when you need professional help. You might ask a friend to help you bandage a scraped knee, but if you have a bone sticking out of your leg, you’re going to the hospital. When it’s serious, professional experience counts, so if you are serious about your writing, find professional editors.
When is it time to hire a professional editor? First, keep in mind that most successful authors do a minimum of five major rewrites, and many say they do up to 20 revisions. Assuming you don’t want to hire an editor for each draft, do what you can on your own first. Use some of the many tools available for analyzing your work. I developed my Plot Outline Exercise to help authors analyze their work for everything from conflict to character arc to subplot balance. The Plot Outline Exercise is available on my Kris Bock website as a free download, and it’s also in my book Advanced Plotting with more explanation and resources.
Other options are the Complications Worksheet or the Goal, Motivation, Confict, Tension tips on the Adventures in YA & Children’s Publishing blog, and books such as Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon, and Novel Metamorphosis, by Darcy Pattison. Once you’ve dealt with the big picture and want to improve your style, I love Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
You can also get feedback from family and friends at this point. Don’t take their comments too seriously (family and friends can fall into the same categories as the critique group members mentioned above), but ask them to mark any place they were bored, confused, or disbelieving. Then if you have a critique group, let them tackle the work.
Your manuscript should have improved a lot, but still, consider getting a professional review before you send your work to editors or agents so you make the best possible impression. If you aren’t convinced you really need professional help, do a trial run, sending a half dozen queries out to see what kind of response you get. I’ve had several clients come to me after querying, getting requests for partial manuscripts, and then not having the editor or agent request the full. This is a good indicator that the idea may be strong, but the writing isn’t there yet.
And if you’re planning to self publish, hire an editor long before you start worrying about cover art and distribution. Start with a content editor who can help you shape the story. Finish up with a copy editor or proofreader who can make sure your work won’t annoy those readers who notice every misplaced comma. Indie publishing is great (I’ve explored it myself with my romantic suspense), but you’re on your own, so give yourself the same advantage that traditionally published authors have – get an editor.
If you’d like to know more about my editing work, stop by my website. I provide content editing for fiction and nonfiction for all ages. Novels are $1.50 per page, minimum $100. I write a 4-6 page editorial letter with advice on plot/character/flow/style, plus comments on the manuscript. Picture books, short stories or articles under 1200 words are $40.
Chris Eboch’s book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots and is available in print or e-book on Amazon or B&N. Learn about Chris’s children’s books at www.chriseboch.com or visit her Amazon page or B&N page. Check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog. Chris also writes romantic suspense for adults under the name Kris Bock. Visit her website or see Kris Bock’s books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.
Facebook: Kris Bock Author Page
Blog focused on the craft of writing: Write Like a Pro!
Chris Eboch’s profile photo by Sonia Sones.
I realize that not every editor/proofreader is perfect for every writer. This is why I am presenting the series, Editor Spotlight. If you know an editor or proofreader who would like to participate, ask them to contact me at karenselliott AT midco DOT net. The Editor Spotlight series will be presented throughout the next several months in between my regular blog posts and special theme weeks. – Karen S. Elliott