As I was lying in bed the other night thinking about life instead of actually sleeping (as you do), I realized how long it took me in my writing career to finally learn the importance of WHY a rough draft is not as Pretty and Shiny as you think it is.
I get it. It’s exciting, guys. You’ve slaved over this baby of yours for months, sometimes years, and finally it’s done. The sucker is DONE. You have 2, 3, 400 pages of utter brilliance, and your very first thought is going to be, “Who will I pitch this to?!”
The answer is no one. Not yet anyway.
For some writers (I am one of these writers) the temptation to throw it out there into the world days after I type The End is overwhelmingly strong. After all, it’s beautiful to us. Who really cares about a few silly spelling or grammar mistakes? Who cares if it looks like something a ten-year-old wrote in English class? Okay, I’ll tell you who.
EVERYONE does. Everyone cares, guys, especially the agents and/or editors you are so excited to pitch to.
Again, I get it. Your Pretty-Shiny is finally done and you’re proud and want people to see it, but I promise you . . . this is one of the worst decisions a writer can make.
Let’s look at it like this: instead of sending your Pretty-Shiny out to beta readers or friends for critique, you send it straight out to a whole bunch of agents who you happen to adore. One of two things will most likely happen:
1. If your query is decent, they’ll request a partial or a full, and end up passing because of the sloppiness that is your first draft.
2. They’ll truly like it, but won’t sign you because it needs revisions and edits. Maybe they’ll ask for an R&R. Maybe they won’t.
With either of these events, you may have lost your chance at signing with them simply because they found four or five minor spelling errors in the first chapter of your book. (Which, point being, is unacceptable.) Maybe it’s not even the minor stuff, maybe it’s the ginormous plot holes and nonsense crap you have tying this draft together, and you have no idea because you never got a second, third, and fourth opinion on this thing.)
FYI, it’s not an agent’s job to make your manuscript Pretty-Shiny. You are the writer, you are the artist, that is YOUR job. It’s their job to like it, and it’s your job to get them to like it.
It’s sucky, I know. A lot of agents I know really have no desire in seeing a manuscript they’ve already rejected once, so why on earth take that chance?
Beta readers. AKA Critique Partners: CP’s, Betas, No-Nonsense People, Badasses.
CP’s are glorious, people. They are GLORIOUS. Now when I say CP’s or Betas, I don’t mean your best friend since high school who adores your work because, well, let’s get real: they don’t know any better. I don’t mean your mother who has always stood behind you fawning over your work because you are her precious-wittle-writer-baby and she’s oh-so-proud-of-her-little-munchkin. They are not beta readers, and they will not help you. #sorrynotsorry
I repeat, THEY WILL NOT HELP YOU. Get it? Got it? Good.
Why? Because no mom and best friend are going to look at your Pretty-Shiny and say, “Jane, this is terrible. Why would you do this? Why, JANE, why?”
They won’t read about your main character and say, “John, this character is an annoying sonofabitch and I hate him. I hate him. Get rid of him, or make him less annoying.”
(I’ll just say, if your mummy or your BFF *does* say these things, I stand corrected.)
Up until about a year ago, I refused to send my Pretty Shiny out to anyone, because I thought it was perfect how it was. After all, *I* was perfectly capable of reading through my manuscript six or seven times . . . no one else had to do it for me. Who better to critique my work than, well, me?
I was wrong. I was so wrong it was idiotic.
It’s a scientific fact that it’s nearly impossible for a writer to catch errors in his or her own writing. Why? Because when you’re reading over the lines you wrote, you’re still reading them as they were INTENDED to be and not how they really are. Seriously.
So, after months of embarrassment when a close friend would point out silly mistakes I never caught (I was flabbergasted, I really was) I buckled down and found some beta readers to help me.
Here’s the thing, friends: it’s not all about minor spelling and/or grammar mistakes. A beta can (and should) catch things like plot holes, terrible characters, and literal nonsense things. A beta reader will point out things to you that you will look at, blush furiously, and think, “What the HELL?! HOW did I not see this obvious, in-your-face mistake?”
You will feel like an incompetent idiot. Yes, it’s humiliating, and yes, it’s necessary, because I guarantee you: better a beta reader catch it than an agent and/or editor.
If your beta reads your manuscript and the only advice they have is: “This was great, Amber, seriously!” Find a new CP. Find one now. I can only assume that if a CP sends 300 pages of my novel back with nothing but praise, they are either lying or completely incompetent. You don’t want that. As flattering as it is, it will do you NO good. That’s what your mom and BFF are for, okay? An ego boost. A good CP will hopefully send back suggestions and edits that make your eyes sting with tears of failure and your mouth pucker up in defeat.
Just keep in mind: they’re not doing it because they hate you and think you’re terrible, they’re doing it to make you BETTER. Take it in. Wallow in it. Cry about it. AND THEN FIX IT.
Granted, you might not like all the suggestions one CP has for you. In this case, I urge you to get a second opinion. Two or three betas for one book is a great idea for this reason exactly. Then you have three fresh eyes on it, and if something is over-the-top ridiculous, more than likely 2 out of the 3 betas will make it known to you. If there’s something you love and refuse to change, then fine. It is your book after all. Just keep in mind: if one person hates it, especially two, there’s a 98% chance others will, too.
I’ll wrap it up with this: I firmly believe that the harsher feedback is, the better it is for you. A good writer should always strive to be better, and sometimes harsh critique is exactly what is needed. If you don’t like it . . . get out of this business.
Until next time, my lovelies.