On Constructive Criticism, Beta Readers, and Being An Accidental Fraud

Constructive Criticism

Last week I found a great new (to me) website called Lit Reactor. You may have already heard of it, but if you haven’t, it’s a tremendous resource for writers looking to better their craft (and aren’t we all?). The site is a spinoff of sorts from The Cult, official website of author Chuck Palahniuk, and features pretty much everything a writer could possibly imagine. From essays on the craft of writing to articles on how to write a query letter and get an agent, all the advice given here is from people in the field – published authors (many of which you’ve probably heard of), agents, publishers, etc.

Along with reading Mr. Palahniuk’s essays on writing, which already have my head spinning with good advice, the best thing about the site in my opinion is the writers workshop. Here, members of the site can submit their work for their fellow writers to critique and review. After reading a few of the stories other people had submitted and the (extremely detailed) critiques people wrote back, I was ready to submit one of my own and see what people thought. So that’s what I did.

Hoo boy.

By the next morning, two people had offered up reviews/critiques suggesting what may need to be fixed. I wasn’t surprised that they were offering ways to fix my story. I expected it. What I didn’t expect was that they would offer so many ways to fix it. One person even included a line by line review, where words and sentences were underlined and suggestions made as to what to change or take out altogether. I guess I just thought the story was more polished than it really is. Reading the multitude  of things wrong with my story that morning, I got a little dejected. Until, that is, I got to work.

Beta Readers

I have two people who serve as my beta readers. They don’t realize that’s what they are, but they are. I sent them each of my novellas and they would tell me what they did or didn’t like about them. The thing is, since I know them pretty well they won’t give me any honest feedback about anything they don’t like. For the most part. So if they both give me the same piece feedback, I’m tempted to think there’s something to that.

My second beta reader emailed me Friday to let me know he finished novella #2. He said he really liked it for the most part, which cheered me up some after the critiquing beatdown I’d gotten earlier, but he thought the ending was very abrupt and there should have been more resolution. I liked the abrupt ending, but having two different people tell me it ended too soon made me think. Since the story had been left open, I had thoughts not of a sequel per se, but more of a spinoff. Now I’m thinking about combining the two into one story, which would turn novella #2 into novel #1.

Here’s the thing: the protagonist is basically written off at the end of the first half, and the second half would follow the antagonist with a new protagonist. Is that crazy? I can tie in the first protagonist easily enough (they are actually ex-husband and wife), but it isn’t something I’ve seen done before, which is both scary and exciting. I hope to start the rough draft for the second half in the next day or two.

Being an Accidental Fraud

I’m turning red just at the thought of typing this, but when it comes to anything writing related I will share anything with you guys, even if it is a bit awkward, uncomfortable, and embarrassing.

Fellow writer and blogger Darius Jones sent out a quick blog post Friday announcing he had a short story being published on the Fiction Vortex website. This is the first work of his accepted for publication, and that’s a big deal, worthy of celebrating. I wanted to do my part to help spread the word and get people to read his story, so I decided to reblog his post.

I forgot/didn’t realize one tiny detail.

Via the Publicize feature on WordPress, my blog posts are also sent out on Facebook and Twitter. Even posts that I reblog. Do you see where this is headed?

I was at work when I reblogged Darius’s good news, and when I got home later I saw the post had shown up on Facebook, and one of my relatives ‘liked’ it. Surely they don’t think it was me who got published…do they? Nah… I went back about my business and tried to unwind after a long week. Read a little, played some games on the iPad, that sort of thing. A couple hours later I went back on Facebook and now had 8 ‘likes.’

Oh God, everyone thinks I got published.

I put a comment on the post trying to explain what had happened, and that I appreciated everyone’s showing of well wishes, blah blah blah. There, that should take care of it.

Then, another hour later, the death blow.

A text from my Dad: So how does it feel to be a published author?

Jesus.

So, in short, don’t worry everybody. I’m still in search of that first publication. But to right this wrong, please check out Darius’s blog, and click here to read his short story!

Now, for anyone willing to comment, a couple of questions:

Have you read/written a story that shifted the POV from one protagonist to another as the story progressed? How did you like it?

Before writing this post I took a quick look around Chuck Palahniuk’s website, and realized he’s on a book tour and will be stopping in my town! I’ve never actually been to an author event before, what’s it like? Do the authors read excerpts, or just sit there and sign books as a line files by? What authors have you met/seen in person, and how was it?

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11 thoughts on “On Constructive Criticism, Beta Readers, and Being An Accidental Fraud

  1. Good luck with turning your novella #2 into novel #1! I’m not familiar with that kind of twist, so I can’t really give you any tips. But I think it might work out pretty nice 😉 I can imagine it’s a bit scary, but just try it out, and if it doesn’t work, you can always choose another option (splitting the two up or rewrite the ending of your novella)…

    To be honest, I also thought at first you got published, but then I read the rest of your blog. I’m happy for your friend, and I hope you’ll soon get published too!

    All the best ~

  2. Wow…Couldn’t helping laughing over your “accidental fraud” adventures. That was errrr… fantastically unfortunate. Especially the bit about your Dad. “Jesus!” is right.

    I tell you what, to partially make this up to you…If I ever can…When YOU get published the first time I will reblog YOUR post on MY blog. Deal?

    Good luck with the novella/novel. Can’t wait to see where you go with it.

    Best,

    Darius

  3. Hi^^
    A bit new here, but to answer you first question, I’ve read several books that have shifted POV during the course of a story. Some were well done (Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson is a good example) and some were less so. I personally think it depends on your protagonists; if both are equally good, strong characters then it works. Also, I think it works better if the readers are familier with the “new” protagonist. Good luck!

    • I appreciate your reply! It’s good to know at least some have been successful doing that sort of thing. I planned on starting by now, but find myself still thinking about the second protagonist. Thanks for reading!

  4. I’m not sure I’ve read anything that switches POV from one protagonist to another. It sounds intriguing, though. I say go for it! I also recommend telling your Beta readers you want their honest critiques even if they think it’s negative. I’m a Beta reader for an author friend and she wants us to point out inconsistencies, mistakes, etc., but she also tells us to point out exactly when we get irritated (or even bored) with the story and want to put the book down, and why. It’s more helpful than the pats on the back, although the pats on the back feel better (ha).
    That’s funny about the reblog. But now you can look forward to reciprocation from your friend when you get published!

    • It’s hard for people to understand sometimes that you really don’t just want to hear compliments when you’re asking for their opinion, but it really is for the best. And you’re right, my buddy Darius will return the favor when I get published for sure. 🙂

  5. I was told very early on, while writing my second novel, to never switch POV. I felt my story HAD to have that happen though, or else my readers would miss key pieces that there was really no other way to bring up. So I shelved book 2, didn’t work on it for several months and finally just said “To Hell With Them!”. The fact is, if it doesn’t disturb the flow, and you are clear about whose POV you’re talking from when you’re talking from them, then I say go for it. The voice in my head that told me publishers want to see something new and different was louder than the one that told me not to.

    • In my case, I could do it all through one POV, but it would be selling the story short in my opinion. It’s sure a good feeling to know others hear multiple voices in their heads, too, lol.

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