Thursday, December 22, 2016

Advance Readers

The goal was to hit page 50, reach about 10,000 words, and then share the work with advance readers who would offer feedback. That happened last weekend.

It’s been a long road. Since July, I’ve written the first 50 pages of the work-in-progress maybe four different ways. Same plot. Same characters. But different points of view, narrators, and even tenses. About a month ago, I got things where I wanted them, and last weekend I hit page 50. So I shared the Google doc with my current agent, who is exceptional and never fails to call my bluff; a librarian, who catches even the smallest typo; and two people very familiar with the setting of the novel.

Some people wait until the novel is finished before offering it up for criticism. I can understand why –– new ideas coming at you while you work might nudge you off the road you’re traveling. And certainly when I finished three years of workshopping in my MFA program, the last thing I wanted was additional critiquing. As I wrote my first six novels, the process was simple: I composed the book, sent it off to my former agent (who offered very little feedback), and he submitted it. In fact, the submission process was my main form of critique –– many vague rejections and a few acceptances. When I have worked on multi-book contracts, my agent rarely read the sequels, only that original book. Often, the draft –– usually written on deadline –– went from me to the editor, then out into the world to face reviewers. The terror of that experience is well described by poet Anne Bradstreet in her work “The Author To Her Book”:
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain/
… In critic’s hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;

Maybe it’s age (I’m hesitant to call it wisdom), but I now want feedback as I write. It’s probably easier to receive critiques as I write the book now because I’m not flying by the seat of my pants. Typically, I have no outline. However, this time I have the plot roughly sketched out in a reasonably cohesive manner. Maybe that knowledge makes it easier to seek (and receive) feedback.

I’d love to hear how other members of the Type M community approach this. Are my colleagues in writer’s groups? Do they prefer to work alone? And why? Do they rely on an agent for feedback?

Fifty pages certainly don’t make a novel. But it’s a start, and I’m eager to hear if my advance readers think it’s a good one.

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