Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Confessions of a Sophomore Author – Part 3 - To CP or not to CP


Welcome back to Confessions of a Sophomore Author! When I was choosing my topic for this month I was inspired by a wonderful thread going on over at Dear Author about beta readers and whether authors use or don’t use them. And since this topic is near and dear to my heart as I tried to nail the ending to my current manuscript this past week, I thought I’d give my thoughts.


The more writers I meet, the more I realise that every one of us has a different way to write. Some of us are pantsers, some of us are plotters, some of us interview our characters before we set pen to paper (me) and some of us simply let them enlighten us along the way. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa.

For me, critique partners and beta readers are essential to turning in my best work to my editor. I happen, however, to be lucky enough to have some amazing CPs and I know that isn’t easy to find. That’s the biggest challenge. A CP has to get your voice, appreciate your style, and they’ve got to understand what you’re writing. Acquire yourself a CP who strips your voice out of your work? Get rid of them. It’s the one essential thing you can’t mess with – it’s what makes you unique.

When you find a good CP, it’s like they’re heaven sent. With my current story, my fifth for Harlequin Presents, I knew I hadn’t nailed the ending. But I was too close to the book to see the wood from the trees. That’s when I handed it over to my CP. Usually I ask for a cold read. In this case, I did identify where I thought the problem was, but usually I’m looking for a totally objective opinion and I don’t ‘preload’ the feedback. Because sometimes a problem isn’t a problem.

In this case, my CP picked up on the issue right away. I’d let my internal conflict slip too soon. My book was over before it was over.  It isn’t the first time I’ve done this, but I couldn’t see it. Once I fixed it, I knew the story was right.

If my CPs are too swamped to read, I’ll often use a beta reader I trust. Beta readers are the perfect tool for sanity checking a story. Are my characters acting in character? Are their motivations clear? Are there WTF moments that pull a reader out of the story? I can’t see these things after a couple of months of writing and editing, but they can. What I think is on the page might actually not be. My editor will undoubtedly have additional insight to give me, but at least I’m working through some of the kinks first.


Some things I’ve learned along the way:

·      If you’re using a beta reader, you need to give them explicit instructions on what you want to get out of it. A cold read to point out inconsistencies/characterization issues isn’t the same as someone assuming you want an English grammar check. Be precise. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say
·      Limit the amount of voices you involve in your story. Too many will make your head spin and give you divergent opinions on what has to be your final work.
·      Follow your instincts with feedback, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t make the change. At the end of the day, it’s your story.

I feel very blessed to have such great CPs and beta readers in my life. I think my stories have been that much better for it. I’m curious, do you use a CP or a beta reader? Have you found it hard to find the ‘right’ one? 

If you leave a comment, I'll give away a signed, advance copy of my May release, the final book in my Delicious De Campos series, The Truth About De Campo



Cheers and have a great week!


JENNIFER HAYWARD has been a fan of romance since filching her sister’s novels to escape her teenaged angst.
Her career in journalism and PR, including years of working alongside powerful, charismatic CEOs and traveling the world, has provided perfect fodder for the fast-paced, sexy stories she likes to write, always with a touch of humour. You can find out more about Jennifer and her books at her website.




17 comments:

  1. I have a Beta reader and two critique partners. Other than writing workshops in college, this is my first go round with either and I may be "doing it wrong" if there is such a thing. I've always been shy about showing my work, so while I've written for most of my life, SYTYCW 2013 was my first time submitting a chapter to Harlequin. I knew I needed more practice having others critique my work before I would have the courage to submit.

    My beta reader is a coworker who is an avid romance reader. She isn't a writer. I like to get reader impressions from her--how do you feel about the characters? Does the story make sense? What are your feelings as a reader about the story?

    I found my CPs through a Facebook group for SYTYCW participants. We all write inspirational (and I dabble in other subgenres). I'm the grammar/word choice person in the group; they help me with things like if my hook is working, if I have an info dump, do I need to show this scene versus summarize, etc. I submitted my first manuscript in a pitch contest Valentine's Day, and while it was ultimately rejected, I know their critiques made it stronger. The editor loved some things I reworked because of them, and identified a problem a CP identified and I chose not to change (d'oh!). I take that to mean they know their stuff!

    P.S. I love your books and have enjoyed watching your journey. I received a review copy of The Divorce Party, but I bought one to give to my mom because I knew she'd love the story (and she did!). I'm so ready for the last De Campo brother's story. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi! So nice to have you here! :) And how wonderful you found your CP through SYTYCW. That was just such an amazing experience for me thru which I met lifelong friends I'm sure. And your beta reader is awesome too! There is nothing more valuable than a pure romance reader who knows what she likes. That's great that you submitted. Every step like that is a step toward your goal! And I'm smiling that you gave The Divorce Party to your mom and she loved it :) thanks for letting me know! Have a great day!

      Delete
  2. I'm a bit paranoid about having people read my stuff. I actually paid someone to critique one of my books and she was great but she hated my hero, #sleazeguy, and said no-one would want to read about him because he was not nice. Also they said the motivation of the heroine would make her unsympathetic. So I rewrote it and made him nicer and changed her motivation. The next person said similar things so I rewrote again and made them nicer. Then I did a writing seminar where they gave you a critique on your story as part of the process. She told me that I had two nice people who would be married at the end of chapter two. *runs screaming around in circles.* So I've gone back to my original vision and he is actually nastier and she's a total pain in the neck. But no-one gets to read my stuff now. But I like my story better and I love my hero to bits.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally get what you're saying Fiona! And at the end of the day you have to love your story. What's the point otherwise? Writing takes blood, sweat and tears. It's not an easy journey sometimes. And that's the reward. I am very picky about who reads my stuff. But it does help to get out of my own head. Awesome to have you here!

      Delete
  3. From MarcieR

    I don't have a CP or a beta reader. A NYT author told me that she never used a CP when she was beginning either.

    I wonder what it would be like, but I also believe I need to learn to trust my instincts because in the end I'm the one writing it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very true Marcie! Lots of times my CPs are just too swamped to read, and then you go with your gut. You have to trust your instincts as you say. I'd certainly go without if I didn't have someone I loved!

      Delete
  4. Hi Jennifer! I've had several CP's who have given great feedback, but because of circumstance, haven't been able to keep them for all my books. So on top of the hunt for one that you click with, there's the added complication of being able to stay together for any length of time. Beta readers are hard to come by too because it has to be someone who enjoys the kind of books you write as well as be willing to point out issues rather than just say they love it because they want to be supportive. Right now I have an awesome beta reader that I hope I never lose! As if writing and getting published isn't difficult enough, there's the added complication of finding someone who can give you feedback that improves your story. Writing and sharing what you've written takes a lot of guts!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does take guts to put your work out there, Robyn! It's true, when you have a wonderful CP you want to hang onto them and never let go! Glad you have your awesome beta reader :)

      Delete
  5. As someone who likes to read/critique and edit rather than to write i understand why this process would be invaluable to the Author. Your CP/beta reader and even editor are not as emotionally invested in your characters (yet!) so the objectivity is there. Having said that I agree that you must have trust in the people that you ask to do this and that they must "love" your writing style in order to be helpful and not just critical for the sake of it. Its useful for a CP/editor to point out what works and what they love as well as where they feel the problems are. Its essential to become immersed in the story as well as reading for technical difficulties when you critique/edit - not difficult when the writer is of your calibre Jen!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aww thanks Lesa! And I am so fortunate to have your amazing eye on my books! That's what you get when you meet wonderful writers in Tuscany!

      Delete
  6. I love my CP. She's an amazing author who writes awesome boardroom romances that I cannot get enough of. And she's cute too. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm I have a wonderful CP too Kat. She writes great characters and she gives amazing feedback! :) thanks for stopping by! x

      Delete
  7. Hi Jen. Must admit I didn't know what a beta reader was until I looked it up (I know... hopeless... too busy thinking about alpha males :)) but now I realise that I actually have one in my lovely, kind and patient daughter. Don't have a CP as yet, friends have offered but I wonder if that's a bit like your dad teaching you to drive, potentially putting too much strain on the relationship! In the meantime I agree with Fiona and Marcie and indeed your good self, that gut instinct is a very good critique tool. Just don't know why it takes at least three drafts before it fully reveals itself ;). Can't wait to read The Truth About De Campo. Already know it will be brilliant! Andie B x

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Andie! Considering it took me three tries to get this last ending right, I hear you! I think listening to our gut is the most important thing of all. I could never give my work to a CP unless I trusted them explicitly. Which I do. So any criticism/praise I take to heart. I don't always follow it absolutely, but most of the time I do. Thanks for dropping by!

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is an interesting blog post. Different authors appear to need different things from beta readers or CPs.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Has the winner of the giveaway been notified?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Apologies! I flew off on vacation. The winner of the giveaway is MarcieR! Marcie if you can email me your address at jennifer@jenniferhaywardromance.com I will get the book off! Cheers.

    ReplyDelete