Last week I talked about whether or not you should share first drafts. This week I’m going to expand on that, in a way, and give you some tips for how to effectively share your work in a way that’s beneficial to you and easy for the readers you’re sharing with. And this applies to any stage of the writing process (until you’re published, of course), not just first drafts.
0.5. Know Why You’re Sharing
This is the first step. Are you sharing so you can see what people think of your writing? Are you looking for feedback? If so, how specific? Figure out why you’re sharing and that will help you figure out how best to approach someone to read your work.
1. Be Clear About What You’re Looking For
I learned this lesson the hard way. Always communicate with your reader. When I got an editor for House of Mages, I was looking for a developmental editor, but when my friend’s aunt volunteered I took it without talking about what kind of editing I was looking for or what kind of editing she was offering, and I ended up with a line editor instead of a developmental editor. (Someone who fixes grammar, spelling, etc. instead of someone who fixes plot and characters.) Line editors are great, and she caught some really embarrassing typos I’d managed to miss, but it wasn’t what I was looking for at that point in the process.
Be clear with whoever you’re getting to read (or edit) your work about what you want them to do. If you just want someone to read and let you know what they think like a mini-fandom (Hi Allegra and Siberia!), tell them that so they don’t give you a ton of unsolicited critique. (But don’t get mad if they do point things out here and there. It’s actually really helpful to get feedback from someone who’s just looking at it as a reader. They can, for instance, point out inconsistencies like the fact that your character who can only sit still as a raven for a few minutes before her wings start to itch and burn couldn’t sit with another character for a whole hour.) If you’re looking for someone to critique the characters or the plot or the worldbuilding or the pacing, tell them that’s what you’re looking for. Again, if they comment on a few things outside of what you asked them for, take it as another chance to improve your writing. I’d only say that if they start to do that regularly you might have the wrong person or you might want to get someone (the current reader or someone else) to look over the aspects they keep commenting on.
Learn from my mistakes. Communicate.
2. Know Your Work
This is mostly for those of you sharing for critiques (which I’d guess is likely the majority of you, though I could be wrong). Know your work so that you know what proposed edits would enhance it and what would change it to something it’s not. Be informed when you’re looking at critique suggestions.
Sometimes this is subconscious, too. For instance, when my mom was editing my short story While I Was Sleeping before I submitted it to the Brave New Girls anthology late last year, she noticed I’d described the broken stairs when the character went up but not when she came down (the second time she interacted with the stairs, but not the first time). When she pointed that out, I realized that that added to the sort of detached feel of the first scene, which I realized then was what I wanted. So the stairs remained un-described when she went down. When the main character was more awake in the second scene, the stairs were described.
So know your writing, and know what will add and what will detract from the feel you want in a certain scene or for the story as a whole.
3. Know Your Non-Negotiables
When you know your writing, as described above, you know what pieces are critical for it to be what it is and what you want it to be. These are your non-negotiables, the pieces you’re not going to change if people suggest you do. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t thoughtfully consider the feedback given regarding them – particularly if more than one person shows concern with them – but these are the pieces you’re going to want to most heavily consider before changing.
4. Understand That Everyone Won’t Love Your Book
Your book is not going to be for everyone, so don’t try to please everyone. If one person says they hate a character and four others say they love him, you’ll probably want to listen to the majority. The same is true of most critiques. It’s okay if someone doesn’t like someone you wrote, and there will always be something that’s not quite right for someone. That’s okay. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try. Just make the story as good as you can.
5. Be gracious
Perhaps the most important tip for sharing your writing is to be gracious. If someone suggests an edit, don’t get defensive about why you did what you did there and why they’re wrong to suggest you change it. Recognize that these proposed edits aren’t attacks on you or your writing, they’re suggestions for how you can make your writing better. You won’t grow and improve your writing by defending it to your last breath and insisting it’s perfect just the way it is. Spoiler alert: It’s not.
Consider proposed edits thoughtfully and decide whether or not they fit your story. Thank the people who proposed them. If you decide to explain why you didn’t take an edit (which I personally wouldn’t recommend, but it’s up to you), be gracious about it and make clear that it’s because it’s not a good fit for the story, not because of the person who proposed it or because you’re being defensive of your writing.