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?