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Feb
27
2015

How to get critters to read to the end -- by Candance Moore

It's the golden goose of the writing business: a qualified critter who reads the whole novel. Every writer wants them, but few are able to find them. What makes a critter walk away from a novel? What can writers do to prevent it?

Sometimes real life gets in the way and a critter must take a break from projects. That happens often, and there isn't much you can do about it. In those situations, it's best to be polite, supportive, and selfless. But, if the novel is ready for forward progress, do what's best for the novel – don't flounder for six months because you're waiting for them to come back. Let them know you understand their situation, and then work on finding other critters.

Although personal obstacles can get in the way, in the majority of cases, critters stop because they don't like something about the project. These are the things you can do something about! However, it's best to address possible concerns early; an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure.

Let's discuss the most popular reasons why a critter drops a novel.

The genre or subject matter is not what they were led to believe

Every experienced critter knows this feeling. They're reading a lovely romance with a precocious female protagonist, and then – bam! – chapter five has a graphic rape scene. A little warning would have been nice! Or, perhaps the novel was advertised as a spy thriller, but halfway through the critter realizes they're stuck with a YA romance that has a very juvenile attempt to solve a mystery.

You must be absolutely honest about your genre and your storyline. Too often I've witnessed authors fudge on their genre to attract more critters. Don't get sucked into doing that. The truth will come out in the end, and you'll burn a bridge with a good critter.

Decide on a genre that accurately portrays your novel. Don't just vaguely say it's YA, for example; say it's YA life-on-the-street with a paranormal twist. If you're using a private queue on CC, take advantage of the description space to specifically describe your novel, making sure to disclose all relevant information. Yes you might lose some critters on the spot – but that's better than losing them on chapter 10 when they suddenly stop answering your messages.

Once an experienced critter has been burned with that a few times, they're reluctant to even consider novels when the author sounds evasive. That means your vague trying-to-please-everyone sales pitch will actually scare them off right away. It has the opposite effect of what you think! Be honest, precise, transparent, and darn proud of your genre. Critters will respect that – and it often impresses them enough to give you a chance.

Different levels of advancement between two writers

 

This can have a very negative effect on both sides. The less experienced beginner does little more than count the adverbs in a submission, or perhaps they even offer advice/correction that is totally wrong. Meanwhile, the more advanced person is stuck with a terrible submission that makes their eyes bleed.

Have an audition period where each side looks at chapter one. See what you're up against before you commit to a novel. If you don't think you'll be a good fit, it's best to speak up then – making yourself plow through it rarely works, and you'll find yourself avoiding their messages by chapter 10.

If you have your novel in a private queue on CC, it would behoove you to offer some sort of preliminary access to chapter one. Perhaps you submit the first chapter to a public queue and then show future critters where it lives in your archive. Maybe you use the note feature on CC to stick the opening scene on your profile.  The fact is that many critters don't want to go through the hassle of joining a queue if they're nervous about leaving on chapter one. That's the single biggest obstacle critters face. Give them a solution.

Keep in mind that there's nothing to be ashamed of when two people are on different levels. Beginners need time to develop; they don't always need someone with high expectations telling them the whole thing is crap. If a more advanced writer is willing to withhold advanced feedback, that's great. But not every critter has the time to mentor a newbie. Recognize the difference, and walk away if necessary.

The second half of the novel is just plain boring or too far-fetched

You got the critter past chapter one… hooray! They're excited about the story. They say it has great potential. Then they find an infodump in chapter three, then the protagonist dies and somehow comes back to life, then we meet a strange character who has nothing to do with the plot, then… then… then… now it's chapter 12 and the protag hasn't gotten any closer to solving their problem.

Cue up the bored critter starting to avoid you. What else are they going to do, tell you 30,000 words of your novel are rubbish – especially if you said you're keen to get it published soon? When you make it clear that you're not interested in major edits, you will leave them no choice but to disengage.

If you got an agent or editor interested in the novel, and they told you the wheels came off in chapter 12, would you respond by saying you're not interested in changing it? If you wouldn't give that answer to an agent, don't give to a critter.

I strongly recommend that crit relationships start with chapter one and a synopsis. But you say you want critters to be surprised and to have the experience of a normal reader! News flash: critters are not normal readers. They know the inner workings, they're thinking about your market, and they're trying to help you prepare the novel for print.

Think of critters like a surrogate agent – because that's what they are. Give them an idea of your entire novel before they commit to critting. And if they say you totally lost them in chapter 12, be willing to find out why, no matter what number of drafts you've already gone through. After all, if the novel is practically perfect, why are you still asking for crits?

If you notice over time that their crits are coming later and they're offering less advice, take the initiative to ask for a reason. Even if a critter isn't worried about hurting your feelings, there often comes a point when they just feel blah toward a story, they feel like it's not all that interesting, and they don't know how to say that in a way that would be helpful. You can let the issue fester until they disappear, or you can talk about it, resolve it, or perhaps part ways as friends.

Personal chemistry/partnership problems

Nothing kills a crit friendship faster than making them feel like their advice is worthless. Be truly open to their feedback and truly transparent about your style. Yes, there are times when crit advice can be unhelpful, but the solution is not to argue about it. Set clear expectations of your style, tone, premise, and opinion on adverbs. If the critter is trying to work within those lines to help you, listen to their advice. If they want to change your style, politely disengage. Don't let it fester.

On a final note, always be sure to give as much as you take. If they send you pages of feedback on a chapter, don't just lazily count their adverbs in return. If you don't have time to crit as fast as they do, explain that up front and come to an agreement.

A good crit partnership is very much like a min-marriage. It takes time, investment, honesty, humility, and a belief in each other. The more hard work you put in at the beginning, the easier it will be for critters to finish.

Posted by Candance Moore 27 Feb 2015 at 02:51
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Responses to this blog

Susanlyons 27 Feb 2015 at 05:35  
Thanks, Candance. I found some useful advice here, especially about forewarning the critter and respecting the time, energy, and set of eyes they're putting into reading. Are open-ended questions from the writer to the critter helpful?

I'm also struggling with the best genre description. Does "speculative" fit inside science fiction if I'm working with creation archetypes?
Candance 27 Feb 2015 at 07:01  
Hi Susan,

My experience has found that literary-sounding terms like speculative rarely work to explain what a novel is about. People use speculative these days for anything from horror to sci-fi to fairy tales, so not every critter will think it means what you think it means. There's nothing wrong with plain language that says your novel is science fiction that explores creation theories.

As for asking good questions, CC could do a whole blog post just on that. High-level questions like "What do you think of the plot?" are usually so general that critters can only give a general answer. Open-ended questions work when you use them for targeted inquiries, such as "What kind of person do you think Dr. Jones is?"
__________________
You can write for yourself if you like, but you're the only one who will read it. Follow me on Twitter!

Darkocean 27 Feb 2015 at 07:25  
Wow there are cridics that will read the whole thing to help you with it? That sounds wonderful. <3 Ah, yes that's true, thats why most of us have come here right?


On a final note, always be sure to give as much as you take. If they send you pages of feedback on a chapter, don't just lazily count their adverbs in return.
- It could be worse, you could have done five of their chapters and not gotten one back in return. And that is another reason a critic will stop critiquing, when it is lopsided.


say it's YA life-on-the-street with a paranormal twist.


Oh ok, I'll remember that, fantasy with horror (or at least thriller as horror is hard to do.) and a little mystery tossed in.



Margotg 27 Feb 2015 at 08:46  
An excellent post Candance. I've only been here for a little while, but I've noticed a couple of my own reactions to crits given and received.

As far as crits received, I've found the community very generous. On the problem side, I had an excellent crit from someone for whom I cannot return the favor. The critter writes a genre I don't read and in a style I find too graphic. I don't believe I can add value. I really feel guilty about that.

As far as crits given, I really try to be constructive within my own abilities. I'm not great with punctuation, for instance, and rarely give advice on that topic. But when I've pointed out a weakness that is really hurting the story in a chapter, and then see the same weakness repeated in the subsequent chapter, I find myself getting annoyed. I know I shouldn't, every writer has the right to pick and choose which advice to take. I do that, myself. But I can't help thinking, why did I bother taking the time to comment? The result is I tend to shy away from the writer's next offering. I also feel guilty about that.

These are both personal issues, but I think I'm not the only one who suffers from them.
Candance 27 Feb 2015 at 08:59  
Quote by: Margotg
As far as crits received, I've found the community very generous. On the problem side, I had an excellent crit from someone for whom I cannot return the favor. The critter writes a genre I don't read and in a style I find too graphic. I don't believe I can add value. I really feel guilty about that.

It's totally fine for you to tell a critter why you can't crit their current WIP. Keep in mind that whatever they're doing today is probably not the only thing they will ever write again, so you'll likely get a chance to read something different from them down the road. Just send a quick message to let them know.


But when I've pointed out a weakness that is really hurting the story in a chapter, and then see the same weakness repeated in the subsequent chapter, I find myself getting annoyed.

A lot of that depends on how much of the novel is already written. I've seen cases before where a critter says "this character is a jerk" and the author responds "I'm guessing you won't enjoy chapter 10 when they kill someone." Those are the cases where communication is so important. The author should let you know why your advice seems to be falling on deaf ears.
__________________
You can write for yourself if you like, but you're the only one who will read it. Follow me on Twitter!

Rellrod 27 Feb 2015 at 18:59  
Candance — great advice!

I do wonder about one thing —

. . . and a synopsis. But you say you want critters to be surprised and to have the experience of a normal reader! . . .

True, I have had that thought — and it produced just the kind of difficulties you describe.

Yet still I'm uncertain: If the story contains a surprise twist, is it really best to describe the twist in advance? I have some concern that, not only will the critter not get to provide reactions to the 'reveal,' but the crits you do get may 'go easy' because the critter does know where you're headed, as opposed to the poor benighted reader who's bought your book and doesn't.

(On the other have, if they've read the flyleaf or back-cover blurb, are there really any secrets to keep? )

Rick
Candance 27 Feb 2015 at 19:21  
Hi Rick,

I tend to think there can be a happy middle when it comes to telling someone what happens in a novel. You don't always have to reveal every plot twist, but it helps for the critter to know those first three chapters are really going somewhere.
__________________
You can write for yourself if you like, but you're the only one who will read it. Follow me on Twitter!

Annehwhite 28 Feb 2015 at 14:20  
I think most critters don't read to the end because the writer has submitted the mss too soon, before it's ready to be read. A mss that's ready to be read demonstrates that the writer has worked hard on craft, knows what the story is about and what's at stake, has discarded much that doesn't belong, and has ensured that conflict, beginning with the first page, will move the reader forward. (Does everybody have a copy of "The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman. My copy's falling apart.

I stop reading—short stories, essays, chapters of novels—because the submission is too early a draft for reading and criting. I have to keep telling myself, "Good writing is an individual slaving away in the salt mines, alone, with my butt on the chair. It's not a committee activity." I have to dispassionately, objectively ask: Why am I submitting this now? Is there another trap I have to check first? (Regarding the latter: it helps to have a list.)

Often, I just want to say, "This submission is not ready to be read." But that would be rude. So I just disappear quietly and try not to feel guilty for leaving.
Annehwhite 28 Feb 2015 at 14:25  
Oh, and one more thing: I had a writing prof once who drew a line across the page where he stopped reading. We had to figure out why. No grade, and no negative judgment in this practice; just attention to craft and individual curiosity and work. The goal was to get him to read all the way through. It took the entire year for the line on my short stories to disappear. You don't forget experiences like this.
Hollowtusk 8 Apr 2015 at 20:07  
Speculative is a broad term. But the categories offered us here are limited. Perhaps I misread my options, but I chose speculative as the genre for my submitted short instead of fantasy or paranormal. Perhaps I should change it. Fantasy typically implies alternate worlds with magic and paranormal supernatural or psychic abilities. Correct? My story uses the muses from Greek myths in modern context. If a contemporary myth or folklore or fantasy genre was an option I would choose it. I guess I don't want myth rips tied up with recent ghost fads under the paranormal name. A person choosing to read a submitted story here only sees science fiction as the genre, not science fiction with ghosts or horror in space.
Slperrin 19 Apr 2015 at 09:59  
Excellent post with a lot of practical advice, especially for a newbie. When I get to the novel submission point, I will be sure to keep this post in mind. Thank you, Candance!
Cmefreeze 19 Apr 2015 at 13:28  
Quote by: Margotg
But when I've pointed out a weakness that is really hurting the story in a chapter, and then see the same weakness repeated in the subsequent chapter, I find myself getting annoyed. I know I shouldn't, every writer has the right to pick and choose which advice to take. I do that, myself. But I can't help thinking, why did I bother taking the time to comment? The result is I tend to shy away from the writer's next offering. I also feel guilty about that.

These are both personal issues, but I think I'm not the only one who suffers from them.



Well, if you are giving advice to help someone fix a big problem that's, in your opinion, making the story considerably less readable, and they don't bother to fix succeeding chs.... Ya, they have a perfect right to not take your advice, but you have a perfect right to not crit them anymore. Don't feel guilty about it, imho. Just tell yourself you and that writer were not a good match and why should you waste your time writing the crit and their time making them read a crit they obviously don't agree with?

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