Thursday, September 15, 2016

How Thick is Your Skin? by Alison Henderson

My new release BOILING POINT is finished and ready to go. Whew! Of all the books I've written, this one required the most lashes to whip it into shape. When I finish a book, I always think it's wonderful--and I'm always wrong. I never seem to learn. Fortunately, I have a number of others to help point out the errors of my ways in no uncertain terms.

Previously, I'd been lulled into a false sense of competence by my editors with my former publisher. They were lovely people. They were gentle and supportive but recommended only minor changes. They didn't make me a better writer. I was always vaguely disappointed when I received a manuscript back without any substantive suggestions to improve the story or characters.

Well, let me tell you, that didn't happen this time. I received pages of very pointed comments, both from my editor and beta readers (my sisters). Fortunately, they addressed the very points that had been gnawing at me all along. For some reason, it's always easier for me to correct major errors when someone else sees them, too. I don't know--maybe I need to learn to trust my own judgement better.

My editor is brutal, but in the best possible way. Jannine, you know it's true. The first time we worked together, I was crushed when I received her notes and read through the manuscript. It wasn't easy to accept that after three published books, I was still such a beginner. This time wasn't much better, even though I knew what to expect. However, I try to learn at least one lesson from each book, and Jannine, you'll be proud to hear I found and corrected a few additional instances of "telling" on my own as I worked through the edits.

One of my sisters began her email, "Don't take this personally." That made me laugh out loud. How else would I take it? You can't separate the creator from her creation. For better or worse, I'd spent months laboring over that manuscript. Fortunately, she had some excellent suggestions for strengthening the secondary characters, and I was happy to use them.

The book that finally makes its way into the hands of readers next month is much stronger than the one I thought I'd "finished" a few weeks ago. I'm proud of it and eternally grateful to those who helped make it the best it could be.

Alison
www.alisonhenderson.com

16 comments:

Leah St. James said...

Wonderful news about the new book, Alison! I can't wait to read it! My sister told me the same thing the first time she critiqued one of my stories: "It's not personal." Ha! There's not much that ISN'T personal about the stories we produce. I'm so glad you now have an editor who will help you grow and whip those manuscripts into shape. :-)

Jannine Gallant said...

I saw the title of this post and cringed a little. I had a feeling I knew what would follow. I'm not a mean and cruel person...okay, maybe a little. However, I prefer the term direct. I figure if someone asks me to edit their book, I'm wasting my time and theirs if I don't do everything possible to make that book the best it can be. But I could probably take lessons in bedside manners... Alison and Margo have been the recipients of my brutal honesty and keep coming back for more, so I hope that means they find value in my efforts. More importantly, you're both still talking to me. I loved your book, Alison. It's charming and well-written, and I did take note that you absorbed the lessons from my previous efforts. Said tags were few and far between. Next time I know those "telling" words will be a thing of the past. I remember getting a book back from Ally way back when that pointed out all those "watched" "heard" etc. words. I was completely clueless. But she was probably nicer than me about it. LOL Anyway, here's to a successful launch of Boiling Point. It really is a terrific read!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Alison, you describe to a "T" that sense of knowing where the weaknesses lie in the manuscript, but an unwillingness to address them until someone pulls the pin. Too much telling, info dumps (I swear I THINK I've left them all out). We never knew at the outset that writing a book was as ugly as making sausage. If readers only knew how hard this was is to carry off, they'd pay us $30 a book instead of a frigging $2.99! I always think about J.D. Salinger, who was terribly dissatisfied with Catcher in the Rye. The critics skewered him; his book was banned. I have to think that we're getting better with each book, but we're also trying more approaches, so we continue to look/feel inept. Critical friends are golden (Jannine). The best of luck with your new gem, Alison!

Vonnie Davis said...

Thick skin is required in this business. The number of books you have out doesn't make it any better. I swear I think the first book I ever had published was my best. It flowed out of me in 3 fun-filled months. No angst. No struggling. My editor had me rewrite the entire last half of book 14. Talk about a major blow to the ego. LOL I've learned all the craft issues...now to learn not to write a heavy plot. I love your books, so I'd say you're doing quite well, thick skin or not. Good luck with this new release.

Donna Michaels said...

One of the toughest parts of being an author is dealing with criticism. What we do with it is even more important. Learning from our mistakes is key and it sounds as if you've done just that. Bravo to you and to Jannine! I'm still learning and always will be if I want to continue to improve. Of course, I'm the first to admit I'll never master the dreaded 'comma'. Not going to happen no matter how hard I try. All I can do is give it my best shot. That's all any of us authors can do. Sounds like you're doing very well! Best of luck with your new release!

Alison Henderson said...

Leah, Jannine has indeed helped me grow as a writer, and I'm very grateful.

RE Mullins said...

I also appreciate honest criticism. Though I do prefer it to be said gently LOL

Alison Henderson said...

Jannine, you are direct, and that's exactly what I need. I learn more with each book. My first editor made me go back and take out nearly every "that" and most directional adjectives like "up" and "down". Since many of the big name writers I loved used them all the time, I'd had no idea. Same with those telling verbs. While I was working on the edits for Boiling Point, it occurred to me the main problem with "watched" and "heard" and their pals is those words subtly distance the reader from the POV character. I'd never considered that and hope it will help me avoid the problem in the future.

As for bedside manner, at least (unlike my sister) you didn't tell my you HATED the secondary characters. LOL. Thanks to everyone's input, the resulting book is much better, and I hope readers will find it delightful.

Alison Henderson said...

Rolynn, I'm not sure why we're so reluctant to fix things we sense are wrong, but it does help to have someone else point them out in no uncertain terms. Critical friends are essential!

Alison Henderson said...

Vonnie, I've always had pretty thick skin, but that first glance at editorial comments is always a bit of a blow. I know I need them, and I know they're going to make the book better, but I'm always embarrassed by my own mistakes.

Alison Henderson said...

Donna, I agree we're always continuing to learn. If we don't, our work becomes routine and stale. And don't get me started on commas. I copyedited Boiling Point with The Chicago Manual of Style in one hand and The Copyeditor's Handbook in the other, and I'm sure I still didn't get them all right.

Alison Henderson said...

RE, I've come to value direct criticism. It's a little more difficult up front, but that makes it harder to ignore.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Yes, well, I can certainly vouch for Jannine's, um, assertive nature. As for a bedside manner, why do visions of being unceremoniously dumped out of a hammock on a warm summer day keep running through my mind? Let's just say she gives as well as she gets. Seriously though, unless someone is willing to give their honest opinion about your work AND offer suggested ways to craft improvements, why bother? Like you, Alison, I always go through a critiqued manuscript nodding my head in reluctant agreement. Do love that cover and wish you the best success with your latest.

Diane Burton said...

Being told your character should be shoved out the airlock into space was hard to accept. She needed work but wasn't that unlovable. I want a good critique and/or edit. As Margo says, why bother? I'm glad your book has come together, Alison. What I read of it was so interesting. Best wishes.

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks, Margo. I knew you'd understand. And I completely agree about the honest critique.

Diane, if my sister was a sci-fi fan, that's exactly what she would have said about Marian! I really appreciate your input into the first half. I made some changes to the characters, but the plot and action is the same.

Liz Flaherty said...

A great post, Alison. I'm like Vonnie in that I loved writing my first books best, but I know they're not my best books. I've had wonderful editors, but the truth is I've never developed a thick skin. I still whimper some, but I gotta admit they're usually right.