Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bitter or Misunderstood?

I've just had a disappointing experience. I'd joined a big writers' network in my state, hoping to find some community but also because they offer a critiquing service. "The Network’s roster of critiquers is selected in accordance with the highest standards of excellence, including publication requirements and extensive mentoring and editing experience."

Yeah.

Well, I chose my critiquer and also began following her on Facebook. (She has an author's page.) Hours before I was going to send the manuscript to the administrator, who would then forward the Word doc. on to the critiquer, I needed a break from reading my novel for the 77th time and went on Facebook. A post from my chosen critiquer just happened to pop into my news feed: New ms for me to critique coming from the ... Writer's Network. Oh boy. My favorite job.
about an hour ago · Like · [Comment]

I did not hit "Like." That's my ms she's complaining about! Now, I know a lot of this work is f@#%ing tiresome. I'm not a professional writer, but I've taken a LOT of classes and reading bad writing is painful. But, then again, I SIGNED up for the class. If the woman, a published author, a teacher (for Gawd's sakes) doesn't want to participate in the critiquing service, why in blazes is she doing it? Why is this industry filled with so many damn bitter people? And I've read plenty of agents' and writers' blogs to know it to be true. (Not Bookends, of course.)

I guess my question, after the whinefest, is how does an unpublished author find someone to edit or critique their manuscript who will approach it with the best intentions, not already pissed off that they HAVE to read another novice's manuscript? How do we find someone who can help us improve? Who will not make us feel as though we're some stray dog showing up at the backdoor, begging for scraps.

I could sign up for another class, but, for one thing, I want my entire novel read, not just the first thirty pages. Also, I'd rather have a one-on-one with someone with skills, not, this time, participate in a big class.




I think this is one of the big problems with social networking. We all think every Tweet could be or is about us and we all read Tweets, blogs, statuses, etc., with our own anxieties in place. In other words, I can't even begin to tell you how many times a blog I've written has been misinterpreted by someone who came to it with their own experience and interpreted what I said in their own way, and in a way I never intended.

I'm sure everyone will have their own impression, but I did not read this in the same way you did. I read this as the status from someone who is enthusiastic about the critique she's about to be doing. I didn't see it as complaining at all.

I suppose it's easy to say that this industry is filled with bitter people, but I guess that also depends on how you see things. When I read the blogs, websites, Tweets and statuses of my colleagues I mostly see enthusiasm and excitement. Of course I'm in the mix too so I know that often the complaints aren't necessarily bitterness, just something to talk about since, honestly, most of us feel that about 80% of our actual day can't be talked about. I can't Tweet when I'm in the middle of contract negotiations. I can't Tweet about the specifics of phone calls I'm having daily with authors and editors, I can't Tweet about the painful revisions I just sent back to a client, etc. I think, based on the comments I see on my own blog, there's bitterness everywhere and, trust me, I know, it's easy for the negative to overpower the positive, but when I take a step back and really look at what people are saying I'll quickly realize that most people are happy and positive.

If you don't feel the person critiquing your book did a good job you can certainly look for someone new, and I suspect the best way to do that is to ask others who they've used or to form a group of your own. Honestly, I think some of the best learning experiences come not from the critiques we receive on our own work, but on what we see or don't see in the work of others. I would skip the classes and find a critique group and/or some beta readers.

Jessica

29 comments:

Bonnee Crawford said...

The problem I find with social networking is that you can never be 100% sure how anything was intended. There is no tone of voice, and it isn't a book with a narrator to inform you. I didn't read the comment as bitter or enthusiastic, but more sarcastic. Who knows? One of us could be right, we could all be wrong. Maybe she was just having an off day? Maybe there was more than one manuscript? Maybe she has too many manuscripts to get through to be receiving more? An explanation mark or a smiley face could have made the intended tone more clear, but social networking, you never know... I'm hearing what you're saying about just making something to talk about, and that could be correct as well. I guess the bottom line is that we all have some good and bad in us, and the only way for this client to tell which one the critic is more of is how good of a job she does.

Laura Maylene said...

To the letter writer: Honestly, this is something a lot of writers might say in a grouchy moment to their friends (in private, not in public!) because they've probably seen a lot of rough manuscripts. Even so, this doesn't mean the writer doesn't actually want to critique your work or anyone else's. Think about what might have been behind her motivations for making such a post. She could have been posturing for her FB feed, acting like she's so experienced and so busy handling all these critiques for newer writers, etc.

This is certainly no excuse for her. What she said on FB was incredibly unprofessional and not very bright. Frankly, I wouldn't have been able to resist a friendly, "Oh, you must be referring to my manuscript!" comment on her post. She deserved to be called out on it so she wises up and never does it again. Most writers and editors who seek out critique work actually want to help, so don't let this get you down.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hell, send me your ms. My editing schedule is open after next week.

Rachel said...

I've been to a few of these sites and gotten little help on my own work. The best help I've ever recieved actually came from someone I met during an online writers conference. That isn't to say the help I've recieved from my two critique groups hasn't been EXTREMELY helpful.
These people are not published authors, but that doesn't mean they don't see things and after a while of working together we have all learned a ton.

green_knight said...

OP,
firstly, you haven't said how useful (or not) the critique itself was; you're reacting to the critiquer's privately expressed attitude. If a grudgingly given critique nails your problems, it's worth more than gladly-given one that doesn't.

But secondly, I'd like you to think about what you are asking. I work as a freelance editor. I work with self-publishing writers, and I will spend ten, fifteen, twenty hours of my time (and sometimes considerably more) reading through a piece and commenting on it. I might be writing 10-15K of editorial comments on it, all designed to improve the writer's skills.
I cannot do this without recompense. Either I get paid for that time, or I am exchanging critiques with other people who will work just as hard (and even then I have to admit that as a private critter we often _cannot_ invest the same amount of time and effort into this, so the critiques are less thorough.) [That doesn't necessarily mean anything: some people can spot your problems by reading 500 words and send you home scribbling.)

You appear to _expect_ people to donate their time and skills so you can grow as a writer. What are you willing to invest?
The answer to your question is 'you can find people willing to work with you either by paying them or by being supportive and helpful in return'.

Anonymous said...

green_knight: A quick Google shows that the site charges both a membership fee plus a fee for each critique.

--Zoe

Sarah said...

There are tons of opportunities on different websites. Personally, I'm a fan of Absolute Write. There are share your work forums to get feedback on small bits, but also beta reader forums to hook up with someone who will read your entire manuscript and help you along with everything from a line-by-line edit to plot tweaks. It may take some time to find the right fit, but it's totally worth it when you do! You can also find mentors and critique partners. The Backspace Forums are full of published authors and advice from agents. They also have forums to share your work and look for mentors. I suggest you try out something like that.

Colin Smith said...

My take-away from this person's experience is to be absolutely sure, whenever you post anything on Twitter, Facebook, your blog, or a blog comment, to read, re-read, and re-re-read what you say before you hit Send or Post. Make sure your intention is clear, since those reading it can't see your face, and more often than not, don't know you well enough to just know whether you're being sarky, serious, or just funny with no malicious intent.

Nova Scotia Country Girl said...

The old-fashioned way still works best: a phone conversation with a prospective editor can tell you whether she suits you. I found my editor online but we made an appointment to chat about my expectations. Not even halfway through that conversation, I knew we clicked. She talked about writing the way I do so I knew she'd read my manuscript in the right mind frame.

Writer Artist said...

Another great, informative post. I made the decision to find a professional who I pay for services, including rereading it the 78th time. Reading blog posts are fabulous for advice and I have benefited from almost every blog I read. But when it comes to having someone read my work and comment on it, that's frightening enough without exposing myself to the social networking sites. It must be my age (61).

Elissa M said...

Maybe it's just me, but I also saw the comment as positive: "Oh boy. My favorite job." Would it have been better with exclamation points? "Oh boy! My favorite job!"

Personally, all I would care about is if the critique I got was helpful. By helpful, I do NOT mean gushing enthusiastically about what a marvelous writer I am and what a great novel I've written.

There are lots of places where a writer can get good feedback, online and off. Even better, when you participate in critique groups, you build relationships with other writers. I've learned as much (or more) about writing by giving critiques as I have from getting them.

Eileen said...

Like pretty much any other job people like to grumble. My day job pre-publishing was in counselling and trust me there was black humour. I have family who are nurses and the things they say might curl your hair. It doesn't mean they don't love their job and do it well- but that they grumble about it.

The issue is social networking which encourages us to grumble in public. Imagine that you checked out of the hospital and you saw your nurse's Facebook page where she said something like "If I have to take care of one more person I'm going to stick a needle in my own eye!" It doesn't mean someone is bitter, but that they're letting off steam.

Writing is hard because it is an occupation so many people want to do. I was at a conference and another writer was grumbling about a tour, the long hours, little sleep and disruption for her family. Someone nearby turned around and blasted her- how dare she complain when they would KILL to be in her shoes. They were never going to buy her books again! The thing is- as much as writing is the best job in the world (imho), once you publish it is a job with ups and downs. And with any job people will gripe- about deadlines, copy edits, reviews they hated, travel, a class they taught etc.

If you get back a great critique take it and run. If it is not what you were expecting you might speak to the program coordinator and express concern that your editor is burned out (reference the Facebook page) and that you would like consideration of another editor. Hang in there.

Emily said...

For anyone looking for good critques from fellow writers (allbeit most are unpublished), check out critiquecircle.com. It has helped improve my writing so much and the site offers fantastic support and great ways to crit another's work!

Plus, it's free! :)

j.a. kazimer said...

I hate to say it, but if this is the writer's response to some inane comment made by a critiquer, this business will likely kill him/her. My advice is to thicken your skin now. For that comment was tame in comparison to some of the things I've had said to me by critiquers, agents, and editors.

Not to mention PW reviewers...

Nicole Pyles said...

Some people were saying in the comments how for their day job, everyone likes to grumble. Okay, true...and I have worked in customer service which is not always easy with nice customers...but if I PUBLICLY complained either on Twtter or Facebook about a customer, I would most assuredly get fired. We need to be careful what we say online, because it can impact the company we work for or our own business. Not to mention there are news reports about people who have gotten for criticizing and complaining about clientele. And no, a tweet or public Facebook post Or blog post are not private. Sorry.

I think the complainer was tasteless and in the wrong and if it were me, I would seek critiquing elsewhere. When I know right off the bat that someone is looking at my work with, "Oh god another crap wanna be..." attitude, that tells me that I can't trust them. Trust Your instincts on this...you will be glad you did.

Nicole Pyles said...

Typo...who have gotten FIRED for criticizing and complaining...

Beth said...

I agree with Nicole. Don't critique if you don't want, especially if you're accepting money for it. It's better to say no than take your frustration out on the ms, and even if the critiquer is still able to be professional about it with that attitude, as a writer it would be hard for me to trust anything they said. I might think they weren't harsh enough b/c they rushed through, or I might think their critiques were just tearing me apart b/c they didn't want to read it.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I'm reading the comment as sarcastic, and if that is the case, it's pretty unprofessional for the author to post such a thing on her public Facebook page. Exclamation marks, an emoticon, or a few extra words may have eliminated any confusion over tone.

That said, I do agree with the commenter who said that any real criticism may break this writer if she/he is this upset over such a small comment before the manuscript had even been read. In truth, it's unrealistic to expect anyone to be excited over your manuscript before they've read a word of it. It's likely these critiquers do read a lot of bad writing, and as noted, that is tiresome.

Laura W. said...

Frankly, I read the comment as sarcastic. If she was actually enthusiastic, she wouldn't have included the "Oh boy. My favorite job." I get where the author is coming from, but...Facebook is way too public to be sharing something like that. Especially for a professional. I think that's a thought she should have kept to herself. It shows a judgment on the MS even before she reads it.

Now, I wouldn't say the industry is full of bitter people, but I do think that FB status was inappropriate. If she doesn't want to critique, she shouldn't have signed up for it, and she sure as heck shouldn't have complained about it on FB.

Heather Marsten said...

I didn't see anything snide in that - and if this person critiques for a living it is quite possible that the person has more than one MS to critique. And it could be that she loves to critique and it is her favorite job.

I think when we put our stuff out there for others to look at it is possible to be very sensitive - we've sweated and worked on our MS and just the word "critique" is enough to send jitters - who wants to be told that words we've struggled with are not the best choices

I've had bad critiques with people saying why are you even writing to others who pointed out (correctly) that certain passages were off point. Granted, at first I didn't see it, but in retrospect they were correct. I guess the best thing that can be done is see how the person does with your MS, and if you like it use them again, if not, find a different person.

I'm reading Norman Mailer's book - The Spooky Art - and even he has had his share of tough and good crits - some spiraled him into depression, but he persisted. Good luck with your crit.

John the librarian said...

Jessica, skip the critique step and submit directly to a publisher. From your post it is obvious you have at a minimum basic writing skills. You have taken courses and written various works. It is time to market the product. Beware of vanity presses. If you do not know how to submit to publishers go to your nearest library and read how to do it or contact a publisher(s) of your genre and ask them what format et cetera they want. You are serious, diciplined and well educated and I bet a good writer too. So get out there and get published. Good luck !

JulieJ. said...

Seriously, I'm having a hellava time trying to find an agent/editor/ANYTHING to even look at me and go crosseyed thinkin' "Oh god, not another one!"
If you can find ANYONE at all that is reliable, please tell me. I'm at the cross roads of WTF and WTH....

sarah said...

I agree that being a willing critiquer of other people's work is a great way of building a list of people who are willing to read your stories. It's also best if you can connect with several people, because different readers have different strengths; some are great at looking at plot, others are better at catching technical errors, etc. The more the merrier when it comes to book critiques. Just, as another poster mentioned, be willing to help others out too.

And to be honest, so what if your critiquer isn't looking forward to reading your book? If you believe your book is awesome and has potential, it'll win her over. I can't imagine agents and editors always open their inboxes with joyous anticipation, but that doesn't mean they aren't happy when they find some spectacular query in there. :)

Danielle La Paglia said...

I found my critique partners through my favorite author's forum (Kelley Armstrong's Online Writing Group) and through my local NaNoWriMo group. I also participate in #fridayflash on Twitter and many of us now exchange manuscripts as well. It's all about finding places to network with other writers and agreeing to exchange critiques. Not everyone is a great match for each other, but if you get yourself out there, you will find people that mesh well with your style and that can push you to become better.

Good luck!

Nancy Thompson said...

If you really want to become a better writer, become a critique PARTNER. That means you exchange mss with other writers just like you. Critiquing others' work & having them critique yours simultaneously will improve your skills more than you dreamed possible. Do it over & over. Don't pay someone. That'll teach you squat. You have to give back as you're receiving. To find CPs, use Internet sites like AbsoluteWrite, Ladies Who Critique, and best if all, use Nathan Bransford's forums. These folks are all serious writers who are looking for the exact same thing you are. But you have to be willing to critique, as well. And most important of all, you better thicken up that skin of yours. This business is brutal. You won't survive if you don't toughen up.

green_knight said...

Zoe: you might have better google-fu than me; what I found was a site that was free to join and where writers could earn 'points' for critting.

Nancy:
Don't pay someone. That'll teach you squat.

I can think of three people offhand that I would pay to critique manuscripts for me - because paying them would give them the opportunity to do more than a brief critique on a very short piece.
A learning experience takes two: a critter to make insightful comments and a writer to understand the critique and apply the insights henceforth.
This isn't always a smooth process. Sometimes you need to ask, hear the same thing in different forms from separate people, drill down past the apparent problem to the root cause...

It could be argued that you're _more_ likely to get help from experienced editors (who want payment) than from fellow writers with equally limited experience. It can also be argued that articulate fellow writers who want you to succeed will be a better bet than editors who only see you as one more client and who wish to process the mss as quickly as possible.
In short, whether paying for a critique will be useful depends entirely on the writer, the mss, and the editor.

I'd reccommend negotiating a [paid] sample edit if you're not certain that you click with the editor - fiction isn't about 'right' it's about developing the story in the direction you want to take it... and paying someone won't, and can't, guarantee you publication.

Jess Haines said...

I'm a little late to the party, but I also want to second Absolute Write as a resource. You can find beta readers there, and also get some excellent critique in the Share Your Work section (once you have reached 50 posts as a member).

Good luck with your manuscript.

<3,
-J

magolla said...

Don't pay for a critique.

And take a total chill pill about the comment. If you are that upset about a prospective 'diss', then are you really ready to get a crit? By the time you publish, you will need a thick skin to prepare you for the 1* reviews you get when you know the reviewer hadn't even bothered to read your story. It happens . . . often.

Remember, you think you have the prettiest baby in the room, so how will you react when you find out it's a big-headed, one-eyed troll with emotional issues? We all think our babies are pretty, but we have to be open to see their flaws and to fix them.

Paying for a crit is such a crapshoot. You might get a line editor when you really need info on overall character/plot arcs, even if you specificially ask for a particular type of crit, the person might not be able to provide what YOU need.

Try to get a mentor for a month or two. I know there are quite a few available for Brenda Novak's For the Cure auction next month.

Or find a critique group in YOUR genre. If you are an RWA member, check out your local chapter. If you don't have a local chapter, check online. Even if it's a bunch of newbie writers getting together you can help each other by spotting problems in each other's work.

There are tons of RWA chapters that offer contests. Most of the time, the judges LOVE finding new and upcoming writers, otherwise we wouldn't do the job (trust me!). And when we get the newbies, we try very hard to offer helpful suggestions. And yes, no matter how hard we try, judges get dissed publically on loops about how they 'didn't understand the story'. Well, if they didn't understand the story, then maybe there was a problem with how the story was written.

I'll get off my soapbox now, and yes, I will say critiquecircle.com is a wonderful place to start for crits!

Nicole said...

This is where the death of the exclamation mark hits hardest. True they can be overused, but these days where things can be so easily taken out of context, a little extra help doesn't hurt.

Personally, I read it as sarcastic. Which is unprofessional. And I also think there's a difference between having a thick skin when it comes to critiquing and just wanting someone who isn't going going to have this attitude to read your work. If they have this attitude, they may very well half-ass their job. Especially if they have more than one ms to read. The problem is that none of us knows any of this for sure, just as the OP doesn't.

I would also like to third Absolute Write. You can also try places like Critters.org or see if there are any critique groups you by using Meetup.com. You can use these any time - during or after your class - and they're all free. (Meetup depends on who's running the group and their needs, but it shouldn't be that expensive if anyone does require money).