Thursday, March 27, 2008

Question for All the Writers Out There

I'm getting a little antsy and could use some advice.

I finished the first draft of my memoir in two and a half months, then spent the next couple months editing. I had a couple people critiquing for me and they made some suggestions that, in my opinion, strengthened the beginning. Problem is, one dropped out after a couple chapters and the other hasn't had as much free time.

I enlisted a new reader at the end of January, so now I'm back to two readers. I have another person lined up to edit once I incorporate the others' suggestions.

Here's the problem: it's taking forever to get my book back. I'm in more direct contact with one of the two but it still doesn't help me work on my book. I'm not criticizing or judging anyone for having a life and needing to focus on themselves. No one's getting paid for this so it's certainly understandable to step aside. Everyone has been honest with me and kept me somewhat in the loop about delays, but I can't help but get frustrated that it's been away from me for almost as long as it took me to write the thing.

Initially I'd hoped to start querying agents in the spring but it doesn't look like that's possible. I've thought about trying to find an additional reader but I don't know if that'll just make things more confusing.

To make sure I'm clear - I'm not mad at my readers and I try really hard not to pester them. I never asked how long this process would take and that's my fault. I've started my next project to keep myself moving forward, but I really want to get on with the query and synopsis.

My question(s) for you, dear reader, is what should I do? Am I just being a needy writer and need to calm down, or is there an understood amount of time that beta-ing should take?

Thank you in advance for your help.


Amy Mullis said...

Okay, I'm not going to be much help. I'm ADD AND a writer, so when I start to beta for somebody, it gives me ideas of new stuff to write and before I know it I'm three essays away from finishing their first paragraph. Maybe you should give it to 'em one chapter at a time!

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks Amy. I was sending it chapter by chapter but the second person requested the entire thing. Now my baby is out there and I don't know how it's doing!

Nadine said...

That's a tough one. Perhaps you can give it to some other beta readers? That way you can still get some feedback wihle waiting for the current readers to get back to you.

Turkey Lurkey said...

When I beta, I feel guilty having their ms in my possession. I try to get it back to them within 3 weeks. I really don't like to have any responsibilities hanging over me.

I understand how you feel. I agree with Nadine. You may want to send your ms out to a few more people. I like 5 as a beta amount. That way I can compare their notes and determine if it is just one person's opinion, or an actual issue with the story. And it may be a blessing in disguise. It gives you a little more time away from your WIP. :)

Melanie Avila said...

Great, so you're both saying I should find more readers...

Zoe said...

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” - Leonardo da Vinci

Leo was a smart dude.

I'll start off by confessing that I am not at all a fan of the common Beta process. I'm lucky enough to have one trusted reader, who has read everything I've written and has an innate (and possibly unfortunate) ability to lock into my own mindset and see my intent. I once made the mistake of sending her something I had not proofed, and 3 pages into it, she knew it was subpar and sent it back, saying, "I said I'll be happy to check this out, not rewrite it." Ever since then, I have sent only projects edited to the point where I feel ready to show it to an agent. Her turnaround quickens with each edit I've made. I last sent her a 120,000 word novel, and she returned it in less than a week, pointing out maybe a half-dozen typos that escaped spellcheck, and asking about the same number of sweeping questions regarding plotlines & themes & character development.

Once I took care of those, that was that & off I went. No more readers required, because ultimately, any work, even books already on the bestseller lists, can be hacked up by a Beta reader.

To answer your question... No, there is no set time for Beta reading, unless you & the Beta had come to a prearranged agreement. I sympathize with your desire to move forward and take the next step, but here's what I want you to truly consider.

Do not let your self-imposed wants for your project supersede the project's needs.

It goes without saying that because I'm so anti-Beta, I don't think you should enlist another. Without knowing the pre-existing relationship you have with your new reader, I have to caution you & say that just just because a Beta is willing does not mean they'll be good for you. I see this all the time in writers' forums - people post samples & all red-ink hell breaks loose. Writers who hate present tense eviscerate authors who write in such a narrative style. Literary types see through their own eyes and dissect prose intended for the YA audience. It is for sure a too-many-cooks scenario, and ultimately, you alone have to be the captain of your work. As you would want your Betas to be merciless, so too should you be allowed to pull the plug on their efforts should you decide it's time to move on. Just remember, you also empowered the readers to take on the task of reviewing, so this should also be a decision you might want to consider standing by if you've found their assistance valuable.

It's true, Mel... Patience is a virtue. Do you want a 4-Star book that's ready in August, or a 3-Star book you can have next week?

Melanie Avila said...

Z - you're right. It takes time and this isn't an industry known for its speed. That's partially why I asked. I don't want my readers to give up on me, nor have I changed my mind about their value to me.

Since posting this yesterday I was thinking how my dilemma is similar (in my head anyway) to those writers who have partials or fulls with agents but then don't hear back for awhile. I've heard them ask numerous times what's the proper protocol and how long should you wait before asking what's going on.

I'm worried I've already jeopardized one of those relationships, but only time will tell with that.

There are sections that I know need to be cut but because I'm so close to the story I've had a hard time determining that for myself. I've read it and thought it was all crap, then I'll go back and find it all quite amusing (my goal). I need an outsider who's not emotionally involved so they can be ruthless.

Ahhh... I'll do my best to give it more time. Thanks.

Jerry Waxler said...

I say forget the timeframe. Since they are working for free, they'll do it when they do it.

Here are 3 suggestions: more readers, cut it into sections and get feedback from more standard critique groups, or to get feedback about the overall organization of the book, write a synopsis and ask for feedback on that. I would consider volunteering for any of these 3 without any commitment to timeframe. By the way, I'm currently reading a memoir by one of your fellow mexican expat writers Native State by Tony Cohan, so I could sort of roll yours with his (in my mind anyway).

What's in it for me? Maybe I'll get some interesting material for my blog about memoir writing.

Someone suggested that finding a good group of readers is as hard as starting a band. It requires subtle chemistry that seems to have a mind of its own.

Memory Writers Network

Janna Qualman said...

I'm like Turkey; If I'm betaing, I turn it around as quickly as possible. I don't want the writer sitting on pins and needles, blaming ME for not being able to move forward. Maybe you should pester 'em... ;)


Melanie Avila said...

Jerry - I've decided to start working on my synopsis so I can possibly spot the holes myself and feel like I'm being productive. I had some wise advice over the weekend and I don't know why I was thinking this process should be any faster or easier for me than other writers.

I'll keep your offer in mind, thank you. :)

Melanie Avila said...

We haven't been there but I know Ibis would like to check it out. It sounds like you have quite a life there!