It Takes a Village

Though many wonderful authors work in isolation and use their agent or editor as first readers, for me, it takes a village to get a manuscript ready to send in. I do my best work in response to thoughtful feedback from trusted friends and often go back and rewrite great swaths of manuscript after someone's comment sparks an idea that sharpens the book's focus. I absolutely love this phase (where I am now) when I have a complete draft and can work on the big picture, looking at motivation, character arc, even the theme... stuff it's hard to focus on while the daily quota's pressing.

Today, I'd like to introduce my village and say thanks.

USA Today bestselling author Patricia Kay is my line of first defense. We exchange chapters as we complete them via e-mail. She sees the raw stuff, including all the typos (which are legion), and helps steer me away from dangerous shoals.

Then there are the members of my fabulous critique group, The Midwives (Joni Rodgers, TJ Bennett, Barbara Taylor Sissel, and Wanda Dionne). Twice a month we get together and talk books, chitchat, and then get down to the nitty-gritty. Not much gets by these women. They're Tasmanian devils when it comes to rooting out the dead flesh (there I go, with the flattery) in each member's bimonthy ten-twelve pages. But they do it with such respect and such a genuine desire to made each member's work shine that you hardly notice the gore dripping - okay, just kidding. I adore these ladies. They're all incredibly talented, and they're wonderful about giving positive feedback.

Once I'm finished a draft, I draft at least two of my critique partners. (The irreplaceable Barbara Sissel has been first full-draft reader for every book I've done in the past ten years!) And Joni's offered some amazing input that's helped me kick things up another notch.

With every pass, the manuscript gets stronger (and shorn of another round of the insidious typos), but at this point, I take one last step before passing it on to my editor. JoAnne Banker, a writer with a wonderful eye for story, is my "cold reader". She hasn't seen any pages or the synopsis, and she's not influenced by various and sundry versions of the book. She just calls 'em as she sees 'em and gives me one last chance.

Now, you'd think with allll that feedback, I'd turn in a perfect manuscript. But last of all, my brilliant editor Alicia Condon takes a crack at it and invariably comes back with insightful suggestions to improve the story even further.

Thanks so much to all of you!

So who's your village? Who do you count on to brainstorm ideas, read drafts or pages, or simply hold your hand and help you keep your sanity?

Since it's Sunday, I'll restrain myself from asking "Who's your village idiot?" ;)


jennymilch said…
I guess I'm the Village Idiot--it certainly feels that way after everyone catches all the things wrong with a ms that I would've sworn was the First Ever Perfect First Draft (heretofore known as the FEPFD) and penned only by yours truly.

I call them my trustys and they include a terrific freelance editor and friend, two former members of the first writers group I ever belonged to, and a shockingly high number of family members, whom everyone warns against using as readers. I think that's out of fear that such people would tiptoe around the truth and say things like, Oy, my daughter writes so nicely.

Luckily (this is a good thing in most respects) my family members, voracious readers all, have no such qualms about stroking my ego, and will happily dissect anything I hand them. Each one has his or her own strength: my dad goes for depth and technical glitches, my sister for language, my mom for motivation, my brother for the ick factor (as in, that's too much...ick). And my husband is the best line editor and plot problem solver I've ever known, after my agent.

My agent is my very last reader. I always aim to send her something stunningly polished since all these wonderful trustys have had at it, but fortunately for me, she discovers flaws and wrong notes that, once addressed, make for the book I almost, almost intended to write when first I sat down...

One day soon I hope to have an editor to add to this list, but for now I am grateful to have such a devoted and hard-working group make me look a little less idiotic on the page ;)
Sounds like a pretty awesome tribe you have there, Jenny. Hoping they'll help lead you to an editor's notice very soon!

As I'm going through my first reader's edits, I can definitely relate to the village idiot comment. I always feel like that when I see the ms's obvious-once-pointed-out flaws. But that's how we learn. :) said…
Hey, Colleen, thanks for the kind words. I am honored to be part of your village. As far as mine goes, you're definitely the first line of defense. Along with Alaina Richardson, a RITA award winning author who's been looking at my work since 1986 and giving invaluable advice, I feel I have two of the best eyes in the business helping me put out the best book I can. You guys are the best!

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