Tag Archives: Kate’s (ahem) “Process”

The Kid Editor Crew, Part the Third: The Discussion

The discussion begins with a phone call.

Ah, the phone call. I could probably do this by Skype, but I always think I look awful in pictures and video, and while obviously nobody but me cares whether or not I look elegant and put-together in this sort of situation, I don’t want to be distracted. So phone it is.

In the email setting up the phone call, I ask the readers to go over my questions, and, which is more important, to begin writing down their thoughts and questions, if they haven’t already. Some kids are great at talking off-the-cuff and thinking of things in the moment; others will do what I do myself if I don’t make notes, and go completely blank.

When it’s time for the phone call, I have my original questions and the reader’s notes (if they’ve emailed any along the way) in front of me, and a fresh notebook page with the date up in the corner. The next page has a list of all of the major and most of the minor characters.

Now, from here, things can go a couple of different ways. We always go over the advance questions, and any questions that arise organically from those. Then we start talking people, places, things.

We go over the settings. I ask them if they can picture the locations, and which places they most liked visiting. We go over any major weirdnesses I threw into the story (which have, in the past, included everything from alchemical fireworks to mail-order catalogues to creatures made from walking iron to half-told, invented folklore).

We go over basically every character, first with me simply asking the reader what he/she thought of that person, and what he/she liked and disliked. Then I ask who the readers would like to see more of in this book; who they’d like to see come back in another book; and who they’d like to be the main character in his or her own story. For these questions, any character, no matter how small, is fair game. I have been absolutely shocked by what I’ve learned with these questions. Among other things, it’s how I know if I get my villains right. If the readers connect with the villains, that’s always an incredibly good sign.

Then we get into the reader’s questions, concerns, confusions. This is where it’s critically important that these kids understand that it’s okay to tell me, the almighty writer, that they don’t understand something, that they’re confused, that they’re bothered, that they simply don’t like what I’ve done. This is a tough one, too. It takes a while to build up the necessary trust between yourself and the kid editor for him/her to feel comfortable being honest when the truth means giving constructive feedback. I knew I had the right formula when one of my readers, who I will speak more of in a later post, told me point blank, “I wish you hadn’t done that. I wish you had done it more like this.”

Another thing I ask, because I write things that tend toward the scary: was anything too far beyond the pale? Did anything really creep you out? Do I need to dial down the scariness? This question gets the most interesting answers. In The Broken Lands, when I thought I might have crossed a line or two, the two youngest readers told me I could make it more frightening, if I wanted to, and that the villains were just the right kind of creepy. One of my readers had no problem with anything the villains did, but was truly shaken by an act of violence that takes place between two adults that, in her words, “should have known better.” Fascinating stuff.

And, of course, as with any group of readers, sometimes I agree with what the Kid Editors tell me, and sometimes I disagree–although certainly if they’re all in agreement, that’s a big flashing warning sign for me to pay attention.

When we return: your questions answered, and wise words from the Kid Editors themselves.

 

The Kid Editor Crew, Part the Second: How it Works

Continuing with our discussion of kid beta-readers, we rejoin the Kid Editor Crew for Part the Second: How it Works.

Here’s how it works.

When I have a draft almost ready, I send out an email to the Kid Editors to find out what everybody’s schedules look like, and the Editors let me know if they’ve got busy times coming up (family trips, school projects, that kind of stuff), and we figure out when a good time for me to send them material might be. The Kid Editors know that I do not want to get them in trouble with their parents. Nor do I wish to get in trouble with their parents (all of whom, at this point, I consider friends as well).

When it’s time to send out reading material, I come up with a list of specific questions I would like answered. Sometimes I break these concerns into two parts; let’s call them things to keep in mind while reading and questions for afterward (the latter category might involve spoilers, or things I’m concerned might not actually be issues if I don’t point them out in advance and make a big deal out of them). I am learning to make these open-ended questions. I also always ask for the Kid Editors to make note of anything else that leaps out at them that I haven’t asked about, and to note any questions they have while reading, any characters or moments they particularly like, and any they particularly don’t.

The specific questions vary from manuscript to manuscript, but here are a few taken from the email I sent with the manuscript for The Broken Lands, earlier this year.

  • What are your thoughts on Sam? What are your thoughts on Jin? Nathan thinks I changed my mind midway through about who the main character was, and that I need to work on Sam more. I think he might be right, and I think I know what I’m going to do about it, but what do you think?
  • Does hearing Jack’s story from Ambrose rather than actually meeting him make him menacing enough? Do you have a sense of what it would mean for him to take the city of New York? Are you clear on what the stakes are? Does the concept of the pillars of the city make sense to you?
  • What do you think of Walker and Bones? Scary? Too scary? Not scary enough? What about Christophel and Bios and the daemons?
  • The love story–is it good, bad, stupid, annoying?
  • How is the pacing? Am I doing better with getting things moving quicker?
  • Having read this and The Boneshaker, do you understand how they are related? Any thoughts on what you now expect when we return to Natalie?

I want to make sure the specific concerns I have are addressed; but I also want to make sure that the readers know I honestly want to hear their thoughts, not just their responses to my questions.

Now, here I will pause to answer another frequently-asked question. It’s usually framed something like this: “How do you send the material?” I send it in Word, primarily because I’m too lazy to remember to convert it to a PDF, but when asked this question I actually think what people often really mean is, “You send your manuscripts to a bunch of kids? How do you know they aren’t emailing it off to all their friends? You don’t know where that manuscript goes! How can you possibly do that and not wake up in a cold sweat at night?”

I don’t wake up in a cold sweat at night a couple of reasons. I didn’t pick these four kids off the street at random. They are passionate readers, and passionate fans. They understand that what they are being asked to do is, essentially, take part in the secret, behind-the-scenes world of books-before-they’re-books. They know that’s something very special, and they understand it would be a tremendous breach of trust to share the manuscript with anyone else (however, talking about how awesome the book is with anyone and everyone is, of course, highly encouraged). But in the end, it is a leap of faith. Every writer has to decide for him or herself whether or not this is a leap he/she’s willing to take.

Some of the Kid Editors like to give me updates throughout the process. Others are fast readers and want to breeze through on their own. One pair of readers, twin girls, asked their father to read them the last draft out loud, because that’s how they read The Boneshaker (BONUS!! This parent was dragooned into being a Dad Editor). Eventually, though, I get messages from each reader as he or she finishes reading. These emails might contain answers to my questions, or just “I finished it” notes. In either case, the next step is to schedule a phone call.

I don’t ask for comments back in the manuscript itself, for two reasons. Firstly, I want them to be able to read the material in whatever manner works best for them. If they want to print it, that’s fine, but that can get expensive. If they want to read it on the family computer, that’s fine, too, but who knows if the computer can be spared for that. The second thing is, I find real-time discussion to be amazingly informative. Now, one of my readers, who I’ll introduce to you in a later post, is actually planning to become either an agent or an editor, so it’s looking like we may begin to look at options for in-manuscript critiques, too. Honestly, though, there’s a third reason for an actual conversation, which is simply that I like having the more personal contact of talking directly to them. It’s a treat for me. Actually talking to readers is rare, and special.

So, part the Third on the phone call, coming to you on Wednesday.

My Secret Weapon: The Beta-Reading Geniuses of the Kid Editor Crew (Part the First)

Every writer eventually gets asked at least once or twice what she thinks the most important things are for someone who wants to be a writer. There are any number of good answers to this question (persistence, self-motivation, delusions of having something to say, delusions of being able to take criticism, etc). Today I’m going to focus on this one: writers need critical readers they trust. We need them like we need coffee. Which is to say, they are absolutely something we cannot do without.

Now, my mother, my father, my sister, and my best friend are all good readers. They are smart, they ask good questions, and while they might be somewhat deluded about how totally brilliant I am, they are all of them, in one way or another, writers as well, and they know what’s helpful and what’s not. My husband is even better, if only because he is somewhat concerned that I eventually get paid for what I write, since I quit a full-time job to do it. My critique group, which is comprised of ten brilliant middle-grade and young-adult authors, is phenomenal, and takes a near-psychotic pride in its ability to apply razor-teeth to each others’ drafts and/or take those vicious crits like the nerves-of-steel ladies we are. That is an awkward sentence, for example, and I promise you there are ten ladies out there right now dying to fix it.

But in the end, all of these people are adults. And while I certainly hope adults will read my books, they are written for younger readers. Wiser folks than I have pointed out that there is sometimes a huge gap between the experiences of an adult reader and a kid reader, even if they’re reading the same thing.

Enter the Kid Editor Crew.

The Kid Editor Crew–my Kid Editor Crew, anyway–is a circle of four kids between 9 and 12, and it occasionally, but not always, includes their parents and siblings. But only if the Kid Editors decide to allow it. When I have a draft nearing readiness to submit to editors, these are the last eyes that see it before I decide it’s ready to go. Sometimes they see it before my critique group does, for various reasons. I have discovered in my perambulations throughout the writerly world that not everybody has Kid Editors, and I have several times been asked 1) how it works and 2) how did you find them?

Hence, readers, my gift to you this December: all about the amazing Kid Editor Crew and their thoughts on the beta-reading process, with special appearances by these genius kids themselves.

Email me your questions, and they will be passed along to the Kid Editors themselves. In the meantime, stay tuned. Part Two coming up on Monday.