Today I'm going to look at what could have been done better (on the assumption that I can actually change these things in the future; in the business we call this "wishful thinking"). But first, an overview of the process:
|STAGE||TIME (months)||TIME (hours)||WORD COUNT||DESCRIPTION|
|Thinking||4 years||n/a||0||Ideas that came to me while I was writing Travelers.|
|First Draft||19 months||n/a||100,000||I talked about this part of the process here.|
|1st Edit||2 months||95 hours||94,000||My own edit and plot fixes before anyone else saw it.|
|1st Beta||3 months||14 beta readers. 4.6 critiques returned from 6 people (some critiqued only part of it). Meanwhile I wrote "Pawn's Gambit" and outlined The Cunning.|
|2nd Edit||1.8 months||79 hours||86,000||Based on critiques from the betas.|
|2nd Beta||1.5 months||2 beta readers; while I worked on the query, synopsis, and wrote the beginning of The Cunning.|
|3rd Edit||1.5 months||58 hours||91,000||Based on critiques of 2nd Beta. Added about 200 words per chapter (mostly description).|
That's sort of a broad view. For one thing, each edit consisted of me going over the draft like 3-6 times looking at different things. Now to identify what went wrong.
1) TOO MANY BETAS
I think this is the most obvious flaw from the table above: 14 betas, 4.6 critiques.
Okay, first of all, please know that I'm not judging any of my betas. None of them. Beta reading a whole novel is a LOT of work, and many of my betas were non-writer friends and family who maybe didn't know that. But -- and this is important -- just the fact that they offered made me feel really, really good. It showed me a special level of support, and I'm grateful for everyone who asked to help.
That said, a lot of this is outside of my control. For one thing, sometimes beta readers DO stop reading partway through and then tell the author why. One of my most important and valued betas did exactly that, and Air Pirates is way, way better for her input. My most important changes were directly due to that partial critique, so: The purpose of beta readers is not to catch every typo and misplaced comma, but to get you thinking about your manuscript in a different way. That can be done even if they don't finish it.
But what about the folks who didn't give me any feedback? As much as I love them (and I do), I can't fix something if nobody tells me what's broken. I think the fact that I announced an open beta may have had something to do with it; my betas knew there were lots of other betas. It's a psychology thing: people are more likely to fulfill commitments if they know they are the only ones responsible for them. So in the future, I will ask about 2 people per beta phase, and I will ask them directly. It's far from a guarantee, but it's fixing what is in my control to fix.
2) SLOW FIRST DRAFT
I try really hard not to stress about how fast or slow I write. Really, really hard. At the same time, I'm thinking about doing this long term, and finishing a novel every 2 to 2.5 years just doesn't seem like a maintainable speed for a career, you know?
So what can I do about it? Not stress about it, first of all. I know from experience that speed at anything is gained with practice. I trust that I will get faster as I get better. Also I know that towards the end of the draft I was pushing out over 10,000 words per month, which is a lot better if I can maintain it.
So my goal here, in addition to not stressing, is to focus on self-discipline and daily, weekly, or monthly word count goals. They don't have to be huge, but they should stretch me a little. Or at least keep me from getting distracted.
3) LAZY ABOUT FIXING PROBLEMS I WAS AWARE OF
If you think something might be a problem with your manuscript, chances are good someone else will too. That means if you're aware of a problem, you should fix it before someone else sees it, rather than hoping nobody will notice.
I did this with description, among other things, and both readers in the 2nd beta phase called me on it. Repeatedly. I knew I was lazy with descriptions, but I was more interested in getting the manuscript out then in sitting down and thinking, "What IS in this room? What DOES that rug look like?" (and so on). It's a problem I could've fixed on my own, but I didn't.
Why is that a problem? Because if I had fixed it, those two beta readers could've spent their time identifying problems I WASN'T aware of, instead of telling me things I already knew. Beta reading is really hard. If the novel you're critiquing is full of plot holes and annoying characters, you're not going to notice all the little things that are wrong with it too. On the other hand, if the novel is near-perfect, you're going to get really nit-picky, catching things you would otherwise have glazed right by.
Put simply: beta readers can't catch everything. If you remove problems you're aware of before they read your work, they'll thank you by catching things you didn't know about.
You still with me? That's amazing. I would've quit reading right around when I started pretending I knew anything about psychology.*
* That's not true. I would've stopped reading at the table because I'd still be looking at it. Statistics ENTHRALL me.