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I strongly believe in the value of crit partners and beta readers. I also believe in gaining alignment and setting expectations upfront. Especially when those of us in the writerly world occasionally exchange reads, what’s needed in a critique varies from author to author.

Here’s a few insights into what I’m looking for in a beta read or critique. YMMV.

Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

In my day job, I’m often gathering user requirements and communicating the use case to our product team and software developers. I’m very careful to present what a user is trying to do and what their experience is using the software and how the software isn’t meeting the user’s needs. What I don’t do is tell the product team or software developers how to fix the issue. They write the code, not me, and I would break a whole lot of things in the software if I tried to tell them how to fix a thing.

When I look at my writing, I find Mary Robinette Kowal‘s take on critique very handy. She describes three types of feedback:

  • Symptoms – This made me feel this way.
  • Diagnosis – This made me feel this way and I think this is why.
  • Prescriptions – This made me feel this way, I think this is why, and this is how I think you should fix it.

When I have beta readers looking at my story, I am specifically looking for Symptoms. In particular, I’m looking for Symptoms that can be expressed as:

I didn’t believe this. It just wasn’t plausible to me.
I didn’t care about this or I skimmed this section.
I didn’t understand this.

I highly recommend checking out Mary Robinette’s post and video on both providing and receiving critique. She goes into even more detail on giving critiques and also receiving them.

The compliment sandwich

When I first started providing crits, I was told to always give a compliment sandwich, in which I start with something positive then follow with constructive critical feedback and finally end on a positive note again.

This is a useful tool for those learning to critique. It’s potentially useful forever. Receiving constructive feedback is not just hard, it’s brutal, and balancing the critical commentary with positive or encouraging comments can be incredibly helpful. A danger here is the recipient who focuses only on the compliments in the compliment sandwich and mentally dodges the critical feedback which is essentially the meat of the sandwich. Another challenge is when the complimentary and critical elements conflict, leaving the recipient confused.

Me? I do best with a sort of open-faced sandwich, if that’s not taking the metaphor too far. If you’re ever beta reading for me, please lead with the critical feedback. Don’t hold back calling it out as it happens throughout the text. Go ahead and tell me when something pisses you off or when something confused you. I am happy to hear when you think something is not plausible or if something seems out of character. I definitely want to know and be able to address when I might have written something problematic.

At the same time, I do want to know when something in my book makes you smile or laugh out loud. Bonus points to us both if a foodie moment makes you hungry enough to go get a snack. I need to know about those reactions. I need to know if my emotional elements worked or if they fell flat or were too subtle.

And so, dear crit partners and beta readers…

When it comes to what I’m looking for from crit partners and beta readers, that’s about it. Trust me, that’s already a lot. There might be more I’d be looking for from a subject matter expert or sensitivity reader, yes, and that’s probably an entirely different topic for another day.

I truly appreciate those who take the time to work with me to beta read my work. I hope this was helpful to you too.

When Mary Robinette Kowal asks me to be a panelist/moderator at the Nebula Conference-a professional conference for Science Fiction and Fantasy-I’m extremely likely to say YES. Not only because I have a decades long love for the genres but also due to my deep respect for Mary herself.

She is thought-provoking. She is also considerate. She writes wonderful novels. And she demonstrates via her actions the messages she presents via her words. Mary Robinette Kowal is one of those nifty people who inspire me to strive to do great things.

And so I’ll be in Chicago for the Nebula Conference, on panel and moderating. I’ll also be attending the many other interesting panels to expand my mind.

It will be my first Nebula and I have no doubts about it being interesting. 😉

ComingSoon copyI’m evolving this year and this conference will be a test of that evolution. I am Piper J. Drake when it comes to romantic suspense. But will PJ Schnyder continue on or will that alter-identity fade into the archives as Piper continues? It’s a question that involves publishers, my agent, and some deep thinking. Regardless, I intend to continue writing science fiction, paranormal romance, and steampunk in addition to my romantic suspense.

As a part of the evolution, my social media platforms are consolidating. So whether you are looking for PJ Schnyder or Piper J. Drake, you will find my thoughts here.

And I’ll hope to see you at the Nebula Conference in Chicago. 😉

PJ’s (Piper’s) Panels at the Nebula Conference

Saturday May 14 at 2pm

Being a Hybrid Author

Rather than choosing traditional publishing or indie-publishing, some authors are doing both. These panelists talk about the nuts and bolts of combining publishing strategies to diversify a writer’s income stream.

Moderator: Kameron Hurley

Panelists: Eric FlintCharles GannonAlethea KontisPJ SchnyderDan Slater

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Saturday May 14 at 3pm

Day Jobs for Writers

Discussion would include considerations for writers balancing their writing careers with day jobs from time management techniques to whether to have pen names to what not to Tweet in order to avoid getting fired. Bonus discussion on how experience in the workplace can impact your writing perspective.

Moderator: PJ Schnyder

Panelists: Rachel AcksDanielle FriedmanN.K. JemisinMartin L. Shoemaker

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Saturday May 14 at 4pm

Redefining Aliens of the Future

In early SF, aliens were often used as stand-ins, to represent groups of Others in our own societies. They are still sometimes inappropriately inserted into lists of marginalized groups by people attempting to downplay bias. In SF worlds where the human condition is portrayed with full diversity, what new roles can aliens take on to keep their relevance to their core genre?

Moderator: Juliette Wade

Panelists: Charles GannonNick Kanas, M.D.Fonda LeePJ SchnyderRachel Swirsky

 

All Aboard for a Cruise!

Piper’s last trip to Cozumel was 2003

In less than 48 hours, it will be all aboard the Independence of the Seas for the 2015 Out of Excuses Writing Workshop and Retreat for a Western Caribbean cruise!

The summer, it isn’t over yet.

I am about to embark on a nautical adventure of epic proportions with such great company as Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells. I admire all of these people, not only for their writerly works but also for their podcast: Writing Excuses.

I’ll be working on Deadly Testimony, a Safeguard Novel, on the cruise because if I don’t, my editors at Carina Press may be incredibly angry with me. (I’m on deadline!) Somewhere in there, I also hope to record the next episode of #EMEPiper. There may be a Piper Travels or Piper Notes video coming out of the cruise too. Hopefully.

But first and foremost: WRITING.

I’m looking forward to several of the workshops scheduled for the cruise. There’s sessions on description, worldbuilding, revision, giving critiques, deconstructing structure, writing with multiple viewpoints, dialogue, and much more.

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve been on a cruise and I’m delighted to be leading a discussion on one of the excursions at Grand Cayman as well.

There’s so much nifty about this coming week, I can’t even hope to describe it all. So there will be pictures and video and podcasting involved. 😉

See you when I return to port!