My dad was one of those folks that took privacy to a whole new level. Some called him conspiracy theorist. Funny – today we see some of his complaints coming to pass, but I don’t think anyone ever followed Dad around Houston. He took a different route every time to get where he was going. My husband who went into business with him for a short period of time called driving with Dad, “The Witness Protection Route.”
Knowing that background, would you be surprised if I told you I used to be afraid of showing my work, for fear someone would steal my idea? Certainly we need to be careful who we share with – look at Stephanie Meyer’s leak of Midnight Sun (which I liked better than Twilight. Yeah, I read it off her site – I wish she’d finish it). Still, if you never show your work to anyone, you’ll have a lot harder time improving.
Join a “critique group”. Find some guinea pigs within your target audience. Listen to your feedback. Be open-minded, and be willing to change. Some say “get a tough skin.” I don’t know if I’ll ever grow a tough skin, but I can listen objectively and remind myself that the critiques are given so I can improve. Do I want to be published, or do I want to be right?
Here’s the kicker though – watch who you’re listening to. I’m not a high fantasy type of girl – I read it on occasion, but I’m not that into it. I found myself having to critique several high fantasy manuscripts at the conference. It was a stretch for me, especially since some of them were adult high fantasy, & I’d never critiqued anything like that before – I don’t know the rules for it. I made sure that I prefaced everything that I said with those facts so they understood where I was coming from. I was not offended if they dismissed my critiques, knowing that although I took it seriously and did my best, I might be way off-base.
When it came to my own manuscript, I found having had a year of showing off helped me be even more open-minded than ever. I received a critique that dealt with high school stereotypes. As the discussion progressed, I figured out most of the teens I had read over my manuscript (and thought it was great & where’s the rest please, Mrs. Schulmire?) were home-schooled, or dual enrolled. To them, the only stereotypes they deal with are “home-schoolers are social misfits (NOT) and public-schoolers are all brainless twerps (NOT).” It hadn’t occurred to me that I was missing the mark on my target audience.
By the same token, those home-schooled teens helped me discern NOT to listen to a woman who said my boy protagonist had a girl voice. Everyone else in the room disagreed, and worried I would listen to her. I knew he didn’t. I’d had more than 25 teens read over it, and 5 adults. I was pretty confident my protagonist was ALL boy.
So be a show off. Get in a critique group with folks in your genre that understand the ins and outs of the editing/publishing world – they’ll know the pitfalls to watch out for. Get a group of readers in your target audience to read your stuff – listen to their likes and dislikes (it’s just as important to know your strengths as it is to know your flaws). And don’t forget to get a few readers who aren’t in your genre – you never know when they’ll have something to say that will make you see things in a different light.