Why You Need Feedback From Someone Who Isn't Your Editor
And the UK Luminaries cover is on the way!
1. Latest News from the Desk of Sooz
I recently saw Everything Everywhere All at Once, and I absolutely loved it. I loved it so much, I was just happy sobbing on the couch at the end (full disclosure: I am a movie crier. It’s embarrassing on airplanes).
Let me know if you’ve seen it and what you thought in the comments!
SIDE NOTE: Just a reminder that these monthly emails will always be free!
So if you don’t want to receive all the other emails I’ve been sending out, you can easily toggle that setting on/off. Just click “unsubscribe” at the bottom of this email, and it will take you to the different lists!
I understand not everyone wants their inbox filled. So be sure to check out your current subscription settings!
P.S. Recent Stuff You Might Have Missed:
Ask Me Anything (paid)
Finding Your Social Media Spot + My Tips for Newsletters (partly paid)
2. Writing Prompts
A person wakes up one morning to find every time they try to speak, butterflies come out. And flowers. And lightning bugs. And more butterflies.
What is an unexpected kindness someone did for you recently? And what is an unexpected kindness you did for someone—or can do for someone?
3. For the DenNerds: UK Cover Coming!
Less than two months before The Luminaries hits stores! Have you met #UghJay yet…?
Also, THE UK COVER REVEAL IS ON MONDAY EXCLUSIVELY TO LUMINERDS! So be sure you’re subscribed over there if you want to be the first to see it. 😌
And of course, here’s my obligatory reminder TO PRE-ORDER! (I know, I know: you’re sick of hearing me say this and I am just as sick of saying it!)
4. For the Daydreamers: Why You Need Feedback From Someone Who Isn't Your Editor
I am back in the zone with Luminaries 2—writing those final scenes I didn’t write when I turned it in and revising based on my editor’s notes.
Yay! No structural changes! Just general smoothing and expansion of some world bits.
But also…boo because surely there is more wrong? I trust my editor (she’s great), but she’s also only one person. Which leads me to today’s subject: why other readers are so important.
First, let’s define a few terms:
Critique Partner: this person reads pages for you in exchange for you reading for them. The amount of pages could be small (chapter by chapter) or large (the whole book).
Beta Reader: this person reads the whole book (or large chunks) and offers feedback.
Alpha Reader: this person reads as you write, chapter by chapter, and offers notes or general cheerleading.
Authenticity Reader: this is someone you hire to who read your book to ensure your representation of characters who aren’t like you are written with care and accuracy. You should pay this person and pay them well!
Other Readers for Accuracy: this could be anyone you use for research, i.e. if you’re writing a military world but know nothing about the military. Again, I always think payment is important!
Freelance Editor: this is someone you hire to read your book just as a publishing house editor would. I am seeing more and more traditional authors hire outside editors to help supplement in-house feedback. This person can do broad developmental edits or more focused line edits—or often both.
When I was first writing with the hope of getting published, I studied craft like a woman possessed. Any and every resource I could find, I devoured. At first, I was in that learning stage of Conscious Incompetence.
Basically, I knew enough to realize I knew absolutely nothing.
I am naturally inclined to self-teach. Mostly because I lack the funds to pay someone else to do things for me….But also because I love learning new things.
Story has always been something I’ve been interested in, and after getting my ego pummeled by science for years, I felt tough enough to finally look at my fiction with critical eyes and learn how to improve.
I wrote a book. It was bad. I shelved it. (More like stabbed it with a wooden stake, buried it beneath the earth, and prayed it would never wake up again because it was really, really bad.)
Then I wrote another book, taking everything I’d learned from that first one. Now, to be fair, I had started many projects in my life. But these were the first I finished.
(Finishing is important if you actually want to get published. Just throwin’ that out there.)
The second book I finished was still bad. I was still in the Conscious Incompetence stage, though I was also on the precipice of Conscious Competence…and I knew I needed some outside help.
Finding Critique Partners
Now, this was thirteen years ago, okay? And the internet was a VERY different place from today. People were nice, if you can believe it! And there was an active Twitter community for aspiring authors.
So I started tweeting and connecting, and soon enough, I made friends with some people and we began sharing pages. What I quickly learned is that finding a critique partner is a lot like dating: it cantake a while before you find someone you jibe with.
I will repeat that in bold because it’s REALLY important: finding a critique partner is a lot like dating!!! Very rarely will the first person you exchange pages with be The One.
So take it slow: share only a chapter or two at first. See how you feel about their writing, see how you feel about the feedback they provide.
I learned this the hard way! I got stuck slogging through an entire book that was just NOT for me—and then I got notes back from that reader, they basically hated everything in my book too. Lol. We were not a good fit!
I think I worked with three different critique partners before I found Kat Brauer in 2010. Love at first sight! I adore her writing, and she had the most insightful, helpful notes for me that really took my writing to the next level.
And of course, she and I are still friends today and run the Mighty Pens every NaNoWriMo! (You can learn more about the MP below!)
With Kat’s help, I managed to get an agent and eventually sell Something Strange & Deadly to HarperTeen. But of course, that was only the beginning of my “outside reader” journey! I formed new friendships over on Let the Words Flow, a now defunct group blog, and those writers became new readers for my books—and I, of course, read for them in return!
But one thing that started to change for me as I continued publishing, was a loss of time. I could no longer critique for someone while they critiqued for me. Instead, I started asking for friends to read a book (the whole thing, usually, or else act by act), with the assumption that when they needed feedback, I’d be there for them.
This still happens today! I am so lucky to have amazing author friends, and they have helped me improve my books and my craft immensely by reading for me over the years.
And I hope that I help them in turn!
Non-Writer Beta Readers
This type of reader is something I added to my list when I wrote Windwitch and was DOWN TO THE LINE on time. I wanted as many outside eyes as I could get because I was so scared that book was a disaster.
I thought: who would be the best reader in this situation? A PERSON WHO LOVED THE FIRST BOOK. If they hated the sequel, I had a real problem. So I found some lovely Witchlanders to read for me and give me their gut reactions as readers.
It was so helpful that I actually made this a tradition moving forward! For every book since, I have asked a handful of readers to read my books. They just give me broad thoughts—like if they didn’t enjoy something or if something confused them.
THANK YOU TO ALL MY EARLY READERS LIKE THIS, if you are reading this newsletter! You’re the best! 🥰
This is actually a type of reader I have never benefited from and feel genuinely ill trying to utilize. But that’s because the story morphs SO MUCH as I draft, that usually what I wrote in the beginning no longer works by the time I hit the end.
In other words, the book doesn't become a book until I’ve finished and revised at least once entirely on my own. (Here’s a guide to how I do that!)
But for people who love to write and get instant feedback, alpha readers can be so helpful! Write a chapter, send it your buddy, get their input, write more!
Sometimes an alpha reader is just there to say, Omg this is SO good! Keep going! Other times, they might offer actual feedback that can help a writer figure out what they want to write next.
These readers are so important, and I cannot stress that enough. This is someone you hire (HIRE! PAY THEM! A FAIR WAGE!) to read your book for authenticity regarding any character who is unlike you.
I don’t mean unlike you in general terms (they like ginger candies; you hate them), but rather if the character is from a marginalized group that you are not a part of. This could be someone with a different race, different ethnicity, different religion, different gender identity, different sexuality, or someone with a disability (visible or invisible) that you don’t have.
Why is this so important? Because you cannot possibly understand the lived experience of someone with a totally different history from yours. You don’t know the micro/macro aggressions they experience, the daily challenges, the societal challenges, the cultural challenges, etc.
And never, ever hire only one reader. No group is a monolith; no group can be represented by one person. I made this mistake with Windwitch—I only hired one authenticity reader for a character, and I made a very, very harmful mistake with some language at the end of the book. (And this was NOT in any way my reader’s fault. This was 100% my fault for relying on one person. The language didn’t bother the authenticity reader because of their personal history, but I know it has bothered at least one person who has since read the book. That is not okay. And yes, I did change the language for future printings.)
The more eyes you can get on a particular book, the more nuance you can bring into your story—and the more likely you are to catch harmful mistakes before they make it to print.
Side note: If you hire an authenticity reader, ACTUALLY LISTEN TO THEM. For god’s sake, I can’t repeat this enough. I see so many authenticity readers get used as shields so the author can say, “I did the thing!” Then they still leave in all the harmful language or characterizations.
Also, pay your authenticity readers fairly. They are doing you a huge service, so pay them accordingly.
Other Sorts of Accuracy Readers
A friend of mine wrote a book with a veteran, and I remember she spoke on our tour together about how much care she took with that tale—and how closely she worked with an actual veteran to craft the story.
The same can hold true for any profession, setting, trauma, etc. with which you might not be familiar. Research, research, research!
While you’re usually (but not always) less likely to do active harm in these instances, you’re definitely risking losing a certain segment of the population who “knows better.” (Nothing annoys me more than the way scientists are usually portrayed on TV.)
And of course, in the instance of certain professions or backgrounds, you do risk doing harm. So find people who can help you!
These are the people you pay to edit your book. If you’re an indie author, then you’ve got loads of experience with these helpful souls. If you’re traditional, it might be new for you.
But I’ll be straight with you: more and more of my traditional author friends are hiring secondary editors. Part of this is because their own editors are so badly overworked that the authors want supplemental feedback to make sure all bases are covered. (We don’t blame our editors for this. We blame a system that doesn’t treat them well. Just look at the recent DOJ vs PRH trial.)
Other times I’m seeing friends hire an editor to improve the odds of selling their book since the competition for book deals is SO fierce right now. Again, look at that trial coverage to understand why.
I myself have worked with an outside editor on The Executioners Three in an attempt to improve its odds of selling. So far, no luck…but I shall not give up hope! 💪
And of course, much like the dating comparison that I used with critique partners, the same holds true here—but now you’re paying them! So make sure you feel good about the person you’re hiring before you turn over an entire book and pay a lot of money…
As you can see, there are a ton of options out there to help you make your book better. And as I said at the beginning, I really urge you to do so. One the one hand, too many cooks can spoil a broth, but on the other hand—especially if you’re new to writing—getting multiple sources of outside feedback can help you learn more about your craft.
Plus, reading for other people is one of the BEST ways to learn about your craft!
And that’s why I will be sending the second draft of Luminaries 2 off to:
at least two beta readers,
at last two authenticity readers,
and maybe a third beta reader if I can find one…
Yes, I know it’s hard to find readers. And yes, I know it’s SCARY to share your book with more people. But think how many eyes will be on your book once it’s published! Better to make it as polished as possible (and make sure you’re not causing harm) before the book gets in front of readers’ eyes.
P.S. Feel free to look for readers in the comments section! Leave a comment saying what you’re looking for (critique partner, beta reader, etc) and what your project is about! Good luck!
5. Upcoming Events
New York Comic-Con — find my schedule here!
Luminaries Tour —specific times to come!
Nov 1 – Schuler’s, Grand Rapids, MI
Nov 2 – B&N, Neshaminy Mall, Bensalem, PA
Nov 3 – Tattered Cover, Littleton, CO
Nov 4 – Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, CA
Nov 7 – Book People, Austin, TX
Nov 9 - Eagle Eye Bookstore, Atlanta, GA
Grand Rapids Comic-Con — schedule to come!
6. The Mighty Pens return!
It’s that time again for the Mighty Pens to ramp up. This year, we’re raising money for Direct Relief. How does it work? During National Novel Writing Month, people sponsor us based on the words we write! Kind of like how runners get sponsors for races…but instead of miles, we accumulate words!
Right now, we’re looking for volunteers. My cofounder (and critique partner!) Kat Brauer will be deployed during November and I’ll be on tour. 😬 So we really need help this year!
If you think this might be something you’re interested in or you want to learn more, please click the button and fill out our form!
I’m also thrilled to announce WE ARE OPEN FOR PARTICIPANTS! So if you want to join our epic community for NaNoWriMo, click the button!
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you have an incredible weekend! 🐙 Don’t forget to leave a comment or a like!
💚 - Sooz
P.S. Be sure you’ve upgraded before October 1, if you want to read The Lady of Charlotte!