"People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise." Somerset Maugham

I don't know what I was thinking. Swept up in the auction atmosphere, some months ago I bid on and won, a critique by an author I admire, Stuart Kaminsky. One month passed, then two, then I shelved the book I was writing and took my series character on an adventure closer to home. I had just started that book when I got a friendly reminder from the folks at Sleuthfest about my critique. Now, I don't belong to a writing group, I don't have that one trusted soul who sees my scribblings long before anyone else does (every time I show anything to my husband, he tells me I'm great. Good for the ego, but not especially helpful.)

Stuart Kaminsky is not my husband, and chances are, he's not going to tell me I'm great. How do you handle criticism in the early stages of a book?

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In my experience, it's best not to share anything until the second draft. You end up chasing your tail and second-guessing yourself and, worst-case scenario, never even finishing the book.

I can't speak for Stuart, but I bet he would tell you the same thing. Finish the book, and then send him the first fifty pages (if that was the deal). How you handle the critique after that is up to you, but since you already have a contract I would pay more attention to the editor you're working with. Stuart's a great writer, but he's not the one who will ultimately guide your book into print.

My two cents.
I don't send my novels out until after the first rewrite (I write a draft/outline before that). When I get feedback, I keep in my mind what Stephen King said in his ON WRITING book: "The editor is always right."
I love a great, honest critique! This is a business and must be treated as such. We get reviews of our work every year at other jobs.
Having a published author crit your work after you won it is not the same as entrusting it to random groups or people. I strongly doubt he'll trash your work... which is not the same as being honest. Honest is telling you what he likes and what he doesn't like and maybe some pointers on how to fix it.

I do have readers, and I don't rely on them for very much because they're all busy, but I try to take what I learn from them on my short stories and apply them to the novel(s). I can trust them because I know they like what I write, but they're not going to stroke my ego... they're going to tell me how to make it better. Which is, I would bet, the reason why Stuart agreed to provide a critique to the winner - to see the winner succeed in an increasingly difficult-to-break-into business. (Not to mention, a bad crit could alienate a reader or more!)

I like Jude's advice. At least polish however many pages Stuart agreed to critique and send it off. If he's tough, give yourself time to get mad and don't be ashamed of it. Then after a few days, review it again and start thinking about how to fix it. I often find that "He has no idea what he's talking about!" turns into "Damn, he's right," and the work invariably becomes better.
Just double-check that there's no time limit on the deal. I just realized that someone who bid and won on a critique from me about 8 months ago still hasn't sent the manuscript. If they send it in when I'm pressing up on a deadline they're going to be waiting a looooong time to get that feedback. And I think that if you haven't followed up within a year or so you might not be able to hold them to it, simply because people can't project schedules a year down the road.

In fact, if I'm ever asked to do that again, I'm going to insist on a time limit, because I've completely forgotten who this person is, how to contact her... It should be on whoever did the auction but there's been no follow-up from them on my end either. Hmmm.

As for handling criticism, all that matters is that it's constructive. You'll either rise to it or fall because of it. Sounds cold, I know, but the thing is, if you get a deal and an editor they aren't going to go gentle on you because it's your first book. With the understanding that the person's intent is the make the book as strong as possible, you can learn to take the personal out of it. And it's something you have to do when you start reading your amazon reviews and other reviews anyway. As to the when, it's different for everyone. Just make sure you aren't up against a time limit. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes six months to get the notes back (when I paid for a critique it took three months to get notes on five chapters) and by then you may have already rewritten it yourself.
There was a time limit on the deal. I had 6 months to get it to him, with no guarantees on how long it would take to hear back from him, so good point. Still, he pushed me to send it sooner rather than later, .. who knows what his schedule is.
I got almost no feedback on my first book, - and I'm sure it wasn't because it was perfect - so I don't know what to expect. When book comes out in Feb. some people will like it and some will hate it..nothing I can do about that. I wrote the best book I could at the time. I don't think I'm going to take it personally...I'm still thrilled that I finished the damn thing!
Thanks for your comment.
PS Three years from now you'll get a mysterious 1,200 page manuscript in the mail....doo, do, doo, do...
God, yeah, I'm scared of that 1200 word manuscript!

And the feedback thing... It's horrid. One thing I'll say, even if I read an ARC if I've been asked to review it or blurb it, I don't offer feedback, even if I have an issue with something. Now, I separate issues in my head. Some you need to address in reviews. Some are issues of taste. But I have learned that if an author doesn't ask for feedback, they will not thank you for it 9 times out of 10. (We've had writers sub to Spinetingler and refuse to do edits on their stories, even correct typos. And I don't 'ban' them for that, but it goes in my head that next time they submit, the story has to be letter perfect, because I won't ask an editor to go over it with notes if I know the writer will refuse. Of course, now we reserve the right to 'unselect' the story for publication if that's an issue as well.)

My only advice is to remember most things are an opinion. If something is a technical error, you'll be slapping your own forehead and completely agreeing. Someone spent 12 hours on msn going over SC with me and it was painful, because there was work to do, but I threw the door open wide and said to let me have it. And I learned more about writing in that one day than probably up to that point in my life. Of course, it was a fantastic writer...
PS: With my publisher, I had three pages of typos/minor things to address from the editor. That was it. With the above, it worked out to 23 pages, some major work to do, whole characters were cut out of the book, as well as about 14,000 words.
You're a lucky man, Jon.

Sandra seems to support my conviction that troublesome grammar errors in a published novel are the author's fault for not making the changes recommended by the copy-editor. I find a surprising number of these in some best-selling writers' works. This is not to say that a copy-editor is always right, just that an author ought to take the trouble to consider each change before countermanding it.

In general, all criticism should be considered carefully for its usefulness. However, ARCs and printed books are really past the point where they can take advantage of it. At that point it's best not to say anything negative.
To some degree, yes, it's on the authors. But then, I can also say that my editor completely missed MANY typos/grammatical mistakes and even a consistency issue. In the case of SC I attribute it to the lack of professionalism of the publisher (and thank God I had others go over it to help me as much as possible, but even then, they aren't pros), and this is something I've heard as a growing complaint against some very very small presses, such as the one I was with - they don't edit. If you get an experienced writer, someone who has critique partners and knows to comb over their stuff, you go over it yourself and consider all feedback. If you're an inexperienced writer you think, "Wow, I only got three pages of quick corrections." (I am not talking about bigger publishers here - I am very specifically talking about very small publishers with a shell staff who basically slap books out and do nothing with them.)

I feel certain there are a few typos that snuck through to final copy on me, and part of the reason for that is that when you're going over your own work it becomes like white noise. You know what it's supposed to say, so you often don't literally read what it does say. You mentally substitute. Alexandra Sokoloff had a great idea for how to get around that, and that's to print you ms off in different fonts for your re-reads. It visually changes it in such a way that it makes it easier to pick up on things.

As to what's happening with bestselling books that are typo-ridden, I don't know how much of it is author ego or what. I've definitely seen authors refuse to do book edits - in one program I watched on an author they literally said, "The mortgage is paid" and that was the end of the discussion of the suggested changes to the book. I just know that for the most part, my own experience has been not to mention critique points unless you're specifically asked.

And then you get the authors who take red pen to the published book...
Well, to give my copy-editors (I have had different ones for all the books) their due, they generally don't let one page pass without red-pencilling a good portion of it. I usually go into a state of shock when I first see the ms. Then I reach for the dictionaries and handbooks and my "stet" stamp. :)

Please don't jump to conclusions here. I turn in a very clean ms to my editor. It's just that copy-editors don't seem to credit writers with knowing much about English. (And they hate British English).
Well, I've already gone on record elsewhere declaring that the copyeditor who went through my first manuscript was a genius. Of course, I thought I was going to hear that my manuscript was near flawless - at least regarding punctuation - I was shocked when I saw all the red (mostly due to the fact that I have an unnatural affection for commas.) CE was spot on about just about everything, but I was surprised to see notes along the lines of "would she order iced coffee?..three pages ago you said it was cold." Since I drink iced coffee and eat hot oatmeal all year long, I didn't think anything of it, but it was a good point.
At this very early stage (critique of book two) I think Kaminsky will be generous enough to find some positive things to say, but hopefully I'll get some good advice on how to make it better.


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