Putting it all out there (my book, that is)

June 17, 2009 · 0 comments

For the first time yesterday, someone other than me read Chapter Seven of my travel memoir.

Well, I guess it wasn’t really the first time. Before I sent the chapter to my critique group, I had a slight panic attack, realizing I was about to make myself vulnerable by throwing my work out into the world. I felt like I was preparing to stand on my front lawn, naked, as cars drove by taking stock.

So I enlisted my mother for a confidence boost. “Will you read this?” I asked, holding out 25 pages I had worked hard to produce.

She did. And like a good mother, she said she loved it.

A few friends have read pieces of my book, too, scenes here and there. But they all know me. They followed my travel blog, so they already have a sense of the deliciousness of my adventure through Africa, which taints (or enhances, perhaps?) their experience as a reader.

So it was a big step to sit at Panera Bread with my writing group, writers I met just a few months ago, while they critiqued Chapter Seven yesterday. (They had critiqued scenes before, but never an entire chapter.) I was out there, naked. And it actually felt good, in a nerve-wracking, freeing sort-of way.

Did they like the chapter? I think so. They offered awesome feedback about building more tension in certain scenes, eliminating a few characters so others can grow and turning French translations into more fluid dialogue. Now I’ve got to incorporate that advice.

Since I’ve written several consecutive chapters — albeit in the middle of the book — this same group will vet Chapter Eight at our next meeting three weeks from now. And at the following meeting, Chapter Nine.

Not long after that, I’ll be looking for a few brave souls to read my entire manuscript before I hire a professional editor. Because by the end of August, I’m hoping to finish a draft of the book!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Galen Kindley June 17, 2009 at 8:39 am

Having “strangers” read you work IS very exciting. Test readers are just really hard to find. You can’t simply drop in at Costco and pick some up.

One thought. Other writers are sometimes not the best test readers. They tend to look at the book from a technical aspect. Sometimes, too technical. Joe Doakes or Betty Smith the casual reader with no particular writing skills are a great test. After all, the majority of your readers—or at least mine—fall into that category. They don’t really care about all the technical stuff, they just like it, or don’t.

True, it maybe because of technical flaws that they don’t like it, but on a gut visceral level, most readers are unaware of the technical things. They just want to be entertained with a fascinating read. My unsolicited two cents.

Best Regards, Galen
GalenKindley.com

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Alexis Grant June 17, 2009 at 8:44 am

Galen — Thanks for this. It’s a really good point. My hope is to hand the manuscript over to a few non-writer friends to read when it’s complete, before working with an editor. Good advice!

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Karen Walker June 17, 2009 at 8:57 am

I agree with Galen. And I especially recommend getting someone who doesn’t know you at all. Good luck with your goal. I know you’ll do it.
Karen Walker

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Elizabeth S. Craig June 17, 2009 at 2:11 pm

It’s really tough to hand your book to someone else to read for the first time. I remember feeling like it was ME on every page, even though it was fiction. I can’t imagine how it would feel with non-fiction.

Now editors slash and cut my stuff and reviewers are nice (or snide) and I’m really, really tough—which I originally equated with ‘professional.’ I can completely handle criticism or poor reviews, but wonder if I’ve lost some of myself in the process?

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

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Patricia Stoltey June 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Alexis, you’re not alone. I’ve been starting new critique groups and find most first-timers are really nervous about having someone review their work. Once you realize how much qualified critiques can help you polish your manuscript, you’ll relax. And it’s great to have a lot of the work done before a professional editor gets hold of it.

Do you know about Dani’s editing blog, The Blood-Red Pencil? Lots of good information there.

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Mindy June 17, 2009 at 3:45 pm

I can’t wait to read your book, whether it is an early version or one I pick up at the bookstore. Feel free to send it my way if you’d like.

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Jane Kennedy Sutton June 17, 2009 at 8:22 pm

The first time is the hardest! Remember that it is okay not to agree with all the suggestions and changes from critque members. It’s your manuscript, your story and you have to go with what feels right to you.

JaneKennedySutton

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Enid Wilson June 18, 2009 at 6:27 am

I agree with Galen, having non-writers to read your book are great. But try strangers, they are more objective than friends. I think there are some online critique blogs. Maybe you can try those. Good luck.

Bargain with the Devil

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Marvin D Wilson June 18, 2009 at 9:31 am

Always a good idea to have your ms read by one or two what I call a DHR’s – “designated honest reader” – someone who is well read, knows good writing from bad, someone who is NOT afraid to tell you their honest and candid impression of the work. Stephen King, my self-appointed writing mentor in many ways, recommends this in his book, “On Writing,” and I’ve subscribed to that practice ever since.

The Old Silly From Free Spirit Blog

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morticai June 18, 2009 at 7:15 pm

I’m about to put my book out there for a group to read and offer feedback, and it’s kinda scary. No, wait – it’s VERY SCARY! You work on something for so long and, if you’re like me, you stress about every little detail and you hope that people will ‘get it’, understand what you were trying to do.

My brain tells me it’s silly to stress over it, but I still do.

I haven’t had a good group critique experience but it could just be the groups I’ve gone to before. For this round, I am seeking out people I know who will be honest with me instead of strangers.

Do you think one way is better over another?

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NA Sharpe June 18, 2009 at 7:34 pm

There are so many emotions when you put “your baby” out there to be judged by others. That is a major step. Kudos.

Nancy, from Just a Thought…

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Ami June 18, 2009 at 8:11 pm

I love critique groups for just this purpose. It’s exciting to have someone else read my work and it’s helpful to get honest feedback that will help me improve my writing.

Good for you for putting your stuff out there. I can’t wait to read the manuscript!

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Karen Brees June 19, 2009 at 10:49 am

Critique groups are generally all about the critique. They’re determined to find their pet peeves in your ms, so frequently you end up feeling a bit testy. Your first response is to defend to the death the honor of your brainchild.

Indie readers are the best. Select knowledgeable ones who are likely candidates to buy your book. They’ll give you what you need to know.

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Eve Brown-Waite June 20, 2009 at 10:01 am

Thanks for mentioning FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA. I hope reading it is helpful to you as you shape your own African memoir. Of course, there are as many memoir styles as their are travel memoirs. Some of my favorites are Kristy Holloway-Bidwell’s, Monique and the Mango Rains, Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, and pretty much anything by Bill Bryson. Lots of different styles out there (earnest, funny, “look how hard our life is hear in Provence!”, etc.) I’m sure you’ll find your own.

You know that you’ll need to sell your book NOT with a full manuscript, but with a proposal, right? Just checking, ’cause I didn’t. And after you go through all that work to perfect your ms. an agent and (hopefully) an editor, will only want to see your proposal!

Good luck.

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