Craft Book Recommendation: Writing the Other

By Cynthia Ward and Nisi Shawl

Publication Date: November 1, 2011

No one intends to be ‘that person’ who writes a story with an element offensive to a marginalized group. But it happens. Many people with the ability to have a story published have written from a position of privilege in some form. That privilege creates unexamined weaknesses in a work; biases the writer is unaware of. When we write, we are creating with intention. Intent means examining every aspect of a work, including othering.

Writing the Other is a tool for helping writers interrogate their biases.

Written by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, Writing the Other shows how unintended othering creeps into what we write, and provides ways of recognizing and eradicating it. One strength of this book is when Cynthia shares her experiences as a white, cis, writer. This is helpful for those along the same spectrum. The book is never preachy or judgemental. Everyone makes mistakes, and perhaps the most valuable tool provided is how to respond when you’ve unintentionally done a harmful thing with your writing.

The most important lesson of the book is not to avoid writing the other, but how to do it and what to avoid when doing it. This is in direct response to those who suggest not offending by never writing the other. All that does is continue to erase diversity from our stories.

Do You Need A Beta Reading or a Critique? What’s the Difference?

When you’ve finished a piece of fiction, or think you’re close, you can still make it better. The process starts with sharing it. The question is, how to share it?

Should you post it online on your blog or a site like Wattpad?
Should you share it with an editor?
Should you ask for a Beta Reading from friends or writing partners?
Should you have the work critiqued?

The answer, as with most things writing related, is that it depends.

If you haven’t written many stories or novels, you may want to start with a beta reading. At this stage in your writing experience (and even at other times) you need encouragement and feedback. You want honest feedback, but you also want to hear what’s good about the story, or even some recognition for finishing a piece. Your friends and family, regardless of whether they are writers, are a good first step. You may also find beta readers from volunteers you don’t know. A good beta reader will encourage you and tell you how a general reader reacts. What they are unlikely to do is tell you why they reacted that way.

Does that mean editors or a critique partners are not encouraging? No, but an editor and a critique partner focus on making the story better. There’s a lot less morale boosting and more direct language about why a story isn’t working. Some people find receiving a critique or an edit to be emotionally difficult.

So what’s the difference between and edit and a critique?

For clarity, I’m talking about a developmental editor and someone like a critique partner like you might have in a writing workshop. An editor will be fairly prescriptive and explain why things aren’t working and offer solutions. I think of an editor like a coach.

A critique partner is somewhere between a beta reader and an editor. A critique partner will look at everything an editor does, like characterization, structure, pacing, etc. but the response is less prescriptive and more open-ended. Ideally you want a Critique earlier in the process than an edit and should make an edit easier.

I believe the best way to deliver critiques is mostly through questions. A critique should question the author on the choices they’ve made (consciously or not) and point out the effects of those choices on the reader. The author then has to decide if that’s what they intended and whether to change it. If an editor functions like a coach, a critique partner should be a teammate.

What do these forms of feedback cost?

Beta readers are usually free, though there are many paid services like my own for those who aren’t getting the right feedback from their beta readers or can’t find beta readers. Finding a beta reader for a 120,000 word epic can be a challenge.

Editing is the most expensive, and again, should come at or near the end of the process when the story is as good as the author thinks they can make it. Costs can run between $0.005 – $0.02 per word, or $600 – $2,400 for your 120k word epic.

Critiques are part of what you pay for in a writing workshop, which makes that form of critique expensive. If you are fortunate to belong to a writing group (ideally with some members more experienced than you) the cost may be a critique in kind. Some writers find long-term critique partners. They trade novel length work and give full critiques like you would receive from a workshop.

When it’s time to share your story, consider which type of feedback you need. Even experienced authors sometimes just want a simple beta read to judge what a typical reader gets from the story, and to receive some encouragement. Other times, the story is ready for an editor. Sometimes a story needs a critique: a close reading, critical feedback, and some encouragement.

If you need a beta read or a critique and have no partner or ability to attend a workshop, I provide affordable options here.

The Difference Between Copyeditors, Proofreaders, and Editors: A Short Refresher

I hear the question each time I tell someone what I do. “What’s a copyeditor? Is that the same as a proofreader?” Sometimes the person asks me to review the structure of their novel.

Here’s the difference between editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders:

Editor – In this context, the editor is the one who helps with big picture items. Sometimes called a developmental or content editor, this editor’s job is to make sure the best story is being told. The editor judges if structure, voice, pacing, and characterization are working correctly, and if not, suggests changes.

The term editor can also refer to an editor-in-chief of a publication, or an acquisition editor for a press or publication. 

Copyeditor – Sometimes called a line-level editor, the copyeditor looks at every line, paragraph, section, and chapter to make sure the word usage, spelling, capitalization, hyphenation, verb tense, modifiers, and more are all correct and working in service to the story. That last bit is the important part. The copyeditor makes the story cleaner and clearer.

Proofreader – The proofreader is the last set of eyes on a book or story before being published. The proofreader looks for typos, misused words, weird spacing, anything that detracts from the book’s readiness for publication.

Copyediting for Fantasy and Speculative Fiction

Today, Epos is offering copyediting specific to fantasy and speculative fiction.

A copyeditor of fantasy and speculative fiction has to perform all the work any fiction copyeditor must do. The editor must also understand fantastic concepts, terms, and speculative science logic. They must track consistency with fictional worlds, invented names, and invented terminology.

Learn more about copyediting here.