Thursday, January 17, 2008

Too Many Cooks

To celebrate the completion of my book in the required nick of time (yeaaaa!), I asked Joni to join me for one of the coffee (or chai latte tea in my case) brainstorming/bs-ing/kvetching sessions that I cherish. Since we've both been completing manuscripts, soliciting critiques from trusted readers, and incorporating those suggestions that resonate, we got onto the topic of how much is too much in the helpful advice department. To both of us, having only one reader seems too little, two seems pretty good, three teeters on the edge, and more than three (not counting the editor, whose opinion is the one that counts) definitely constitutes "Too Many Cooks."

Once you've passed the TMC point, your original vision and even your authorial voice can get diluted. It causes you to lose confidence, since if given the chance, everybody and his dog will jump at the chance to "fix" your story. TMC-built manuscripts are often technically just fine, but somehow, they read as if they were manufactured by a large and faceless corporation. Instead of your grandma's homemade chicken soup, you're getting Campbell's (or insert-your-favorite-store-brand's) fat-free, low sodium version. A lot of these manuscripts end up doing well in contests and coming close to selling, but somehow, they lack that unique flavor that prompts the editor to make the buy.

Once you've completed a manuscript, do you have someone read it before sending it to your agent, editor, or perhaps a contest? If so, how many critiques do you generally solicit? Do you find this step valuable, as I do?


Suzan Harden said...

LOL - That's one lesson I had to learn the hard way. It's amazing how many people want to "help" with your ms. It's learning which folks really do want to see you succeed and which ones wouldn't be quite as happy.

Colleen, thanks for being one of the good guys!

Colleen Thompson said...

Thanks, Suzan, and you're right. There are a few critique partners whose observations are colored by petty jealousy. Some make themselves feel better by tearing down others, and others are so in love with their own voice they feel the need to rewrite everyone's text their way.

Not at all helpful.


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