Writer’s Groups, Pre-Readers and Mommy

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary.
It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body.It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
~ Winston Churchill

Blame Mandy DeGeit for this. No really, feel free to go over to her blog and blame her. Loudly. And if you’re a new writer, thank her while you’re there. Tossing her under the bus for the greater good is hard to do, but reality gives this a better punch—and she can take it.

While the hard lessons of the publishing world were crashing down around her, exploding her blog and facebook and twitter accounts with the likes of Neil Gaiman and Ramsey Campbell, she was sitting on my couch learning. She was learning those little things that never seem to be written down in any book on writing.

One of her lessons, and today’s tidbit, was editing. Because of the edits done to her, because she then wanted to put it up for sale and I thought maybe we should look at it first, and because there were too many errors when I did look (at something she had submitted), we had a little chit-chat about what I tend to refer to as “mommy likes it.” Because what she had submitted did need editing. It didn’t need publisher level editing, it needed author level. It was submitted and accepted as such, but it shouldn’t have been submitted in that state.

“Mommy likes it” refers to the rule guideline no one will tell you. GET PRE-READERS. And your mother doesn’t count, unless she’s an English professor or writer herself. She’s your mother. She’s supposed to like you. Supposed to support you. Supposed to pat your head and tell you everything you do is golden. Guess what? It’s not. And if you don’t believe me, ask MY mother—the meanest critic on the planet (I’ve actually been trying to convince her to join goodreads, but I think she’d just make every author cry rather than just me). So who do you get? The reason this is a guideline rather than a rule is because of the fine details—it’s up to you to decide the final tally and logic to each of them, and it’s up to you and your needs how and who you pick. I’ll use my own past and current situation as an example.

Once upon a time I was a pre-reader for several well-known authors. I got the position after harshly reviewing all of them for several years (in retrospect, I wonder if it was to keep my opinions to pre-press). I was their nazi* pre-reader. I fine-toothed their manuscripts. I pointed out storyline issues, consistency problems, POV, tense,  grammar, punctuation, spelling, anything I could find. I beat up Brian Keene for years regarding his abuse of the semi-colon and I had the balls to tell very tall and very scary duo Wrath James White and James Moore, as well as the quiet but deadly JF Gonzalez, when something sucked. I was mean, but it was all in the name of making their words the best they could be, and done with a smile.  And THAT is the key to a good pre-reader.

Where I was once the nazi for others, I now have my own in Dave Thomas (dt not meteornotes, to clarify, because there are too many Dave’s in my life!) But I have other pre-readers, and this is where the guideline of what you need and how many you need comes into play.

1. The above mentioned “nazi.”

2. “The reader” who tells me straight fan opinion and let’s me know when I write over his head—e.g. “I didn’t know this word” means change it so I don’t lose or offend any readers.

3. “The fan” who has read everything I’ve ever written, right down to grocery lists, and can give me not only an opinion on where the current story rates, but will understand the little jumps around my universe with characters and nods that I tend to do and find things if I screw up.

4. “The writer” another writer will see things no reader ever will. And more importantly, editing me will help them edit themselves. I learned that while I was doing it, and I gladly pass it forward. It’s invaluable… unfortunately, this will always be the one that gets fired and sent off into the world to concentrate on their own work.

Those are mine. You may want more, less, or for different reasons, but I find this combination works really well. And I would be lost without them, which is why they are always in the acknowledgements. I may create the world and write the words, but they tell me when it’s bad, ugly, stupid or otherwise requires attention.

And they make sure what I submit is ready to be submitted.

Which is the point of this blog. When we write we become what we’re writing. There are non-writing spouses that will tell you horror stories of living with the characters rather than the writer. I can’t say they’d be wrong. We become so immersed in what we’re doing, we can get too close to it. Close enough to not see our own mistakes. Close enough not to be able to judge it right out the gate as ready or not for the world. Get pre-readers.

At one point during the lesson she asked about writers’ groups as a form of pre-readers. While some people join them, enjoy them, and find what they need from them, I have never had that kind of success with them. I won’t exactly go into any kind of argument against you joining them, but I would implore you to maybe use both a group and a set of pre-readers and look at the difference in the feedback. Then decide what you think of them and whether or not they are helpful to you.

Now then, call your mother and tell her you love her but she’s fired. Then look at those around you and pick the ones you feel have the ability to be completely honest with you even if it hurts (and brace yourself for emails that start “I love you but…” when they send back their edits). Pick your pre-readers, send them something, and get back to writing.

Me? It’s Memorial Day, it’s 85 degrees, and the pool in the yard is flirting with me from across the driveway in ways that would totally get me to go home with it if it were a boy in a bar. You… go write. Me… going to muse in the water so I can write later.

*nazi — please take no offense at this, none is meant. I use that word all the time as a generalization for strict dictatorship. My own boss calls me the Office Nazi =)

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