Earlier this week in this space I contributed to the Internet shredding of a thieving editor (see below) so it’s time to balance things out with a happy story.
The short answer is, “Terrific.” The long answer is that we joke around. A lot. We have a lot of fun and have rarely disagreed. We are reasonable people. We’ve never met in person though we plan to some day (and almost made that work this summer.) We talk about projects on the phone on occasion, but mostly we email back and forth. We’re both incredibly busy people, so emails allow me to say something funny without intruding too much on her crazy schedule.
Of course, we have disagreed. Most of the time (98 percent of the time, not 51 percent) I figure out immediately or soon after that she was right. She’s held me back from saying a few things that, on sober second thought, were kind of out there. When I’ve stuck to my guns and presented a cogent argument, she has capitulated. A good editor is always trying to make the writing better (and occasionally has to protect the writer from himself.) As with dealing with any great person, when we’re finished talking or writing back and forth, I feel valued.
About My Readers:
I have two beta readers. The first is my wife. She has graded so many students during her time in academia, she’s the one with a sharp eye for my typos (many) and my obfuscations (less of those, I hope. Maybe. I dunno…) She’ll notice a construction that seems awkward, but she’s gentle about it.
The second reader is my oldest friend. He used to work in publishing and has edited a literary journal. Best of all, he’s a writer at heart. He is invaluable for broader editorial suggestions when my idea is almost there but not quite at the destination at which it will finally arrive in the last draft. He can be my biggest fan and, depending on his mood and my subject, my harshest critic.
When I wrote a short story that included a gay protagonist in a military environment, he disagreed with my take vehemently. I ignored him on that one and I thought the story fell apart for other reasons so I never tried to publish it and it’s tucked away on a thumb drive.
On another occasion I wrote a humour piece for a magazine. He’s funny. I’m funny. What could go wrong? He broke it down for me in detail and ended with this bon mot: “For a humour piece, it’s not all that funny.”
I picked myself up off the floor and took another run at it, made the humour more relevant and hit the piece out of the park. I took his criticism to heart and the next draft was so very much better for it. He’s got a great perspective on publishing and I usually end up considering about 60 to 70 percent of his suggestions.
I do not send everything I write through my readers first. Most of my magazine writing is of a kind that I don’t feel I need the extra feedback and it’s all between my editor and me. (She also has a light touch on my copy and I like that she works with me and consults on every change.)
If it’s fiction—especially long fiction—it goes through my beta readers.
When I develop marketing materials or write speeches, only the principles are involved. With short pieces, it’s easier to keep a handle on what’s to be achieved, anyway. Occasionally, with proprietary information, it wouldn’t be appropriate to bring in an outside reader. Also, if you work in a variety of niches as I do, it’s not fair to your beta readers to expect them to have an opinion on something outside their interests.
There are the kind of critiques you ask for. You get those opinions from people you trust, the ones with whom you have a history.
There are the kind of critiques that come at you. Sometimes those criticisms are thoughtful, have substance and bring up a new angle or experience. I love it when I pose a question in a piece and people come forward with interesting ideas and possible solutions. (That’s happening now with a column I wrote. We’re getting a lot of kind letters from people anxious to share their view on a question I posed.)
Occasionally, you get somebody who seems cranky and has an axe to grind. I find this type of critic tends to have their say about what they want to say and if it seems they didn’t really read what was written…well, they didn’t. They just want to be heard and recognized. That’s okay. Everyone gets to have an opinion.
But you don’t have to take everyone’s opinion so seriously. You get to choose who matters to you most and who you’ll go back to the next time you need a fresh set of eyes on your draft.
And you as the author? You get the final say on what appears under your name.
- The Sorry State of the Rejection Letter (themillions.com)
- If You Are A Writer When You SHOULD Contact The Editor (ronmedlin.com)
- Knopf Editor Makes Great Case for Editors in Poorly Written Post About Needing Editors [Fuckups] (gawker.com)
- Write that novel or not, but treat readers right (shannonturlington.com)
- Submitting Experimental Fiction to Magazines (teachstreet.com)
- Harper’s Magazine Names Zadie Smith as New Books Columnist (eon.businesswire.com)
- Salon Names New Editor (mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com)
- 4 Insights for Novelists (and One So-So Tip) (psychologytoday.com)