Category Archives: Critiquing

The joys of a well-written edit letter.

Yesterday, my editors sent me my first official edits. Not on the whole book, just on a particular section they want me to revamp before the in-depth editing begins in January. When I opened the file and looked at the five-page edit letter and the rainbow of track changes and comments within the actual story, two thoughts ran through my head simultaneously:

Dear lord I think I’m going to die…



And the first thought only lasted for about as long as it took me to think it. That’s because THIS is one of the handful of reasons I’ve been holding out for the “traditional” publishing model instead of trying to self publish. I wanted someone invested in my story who was excited about the characters and who really wanted to help me make the book better than the first draft. I struck gold with Spencer Hill. I don’t have one someone. I have three. And if this is an example of what they do on preliminary projects, I’m both excited and terrified to see what they give me when it’s time to really dig into the book as a whole. Can’t wait to get started!

If I ever start complaining about revisions come 2013, someone point me toward this post, kay? 🙂

Critiques: Getting Good Feedback And Using It

Author Janice Hardy.

First, sorry I’ve been gone for a couple of days! Thursday was very busy and I woke up Friday feeling like death. I’m better now, though, so onto the post!

I’ve already mentioned Janice Hardy in my post Writers Who Write About Writing, but I only vaguely mentioned a newer section of her blog where she critiques a short section (approx 250 words) of your work in progress or finished manuscript. I submitted the first 250 words of Sing, Sweet Nightingale to her in December and this morning she posted her critique. Her answers are so detailed and helpful I was blown away! You should definitely stop by the site and read through this and all past critique posts, but I am also going to post my 250 words here.
As it stands now, this is the opening to my novel Sing, Sweet Nightingale. I hope you enjoy!

Sleeping is the best part of my day. Everything goes slowly downhill from there. Waking up, searching for new music, faking my way through school, studying useless information for hours, suffering through dinner. The only thing I look forward is the buildup of anticipation before it’s finally time to go to sleep.

Can you imagine living like that? What kind of life that would be? I can tell you right now.

It’s no life at all.

That’s why I’m trying so hard to make sure I spend the rest of my life asleep. Who wouldn’t if they had a choice between paradise and Swallow’s Grove?

I saw my mom at the grocery store this morning. In most people’s lives, this wouldn’t be a story that goes beyond that sentence. That’s it. I saw my mom at the grocery store this morning. The End. That, however, is not my life.

In my life, this event is much, much more complicated.

Horace forgot that we were almost out of food, so he asked me to make a run for necessities. I don’t think twice about this because A) I don’t really have the right to refuse Horace such a simple request and B) it’s the grocery store. What can happen? I grab a cart at the door and start coasting through the aisles, automatically pulling our usual staples off the shelves as I pass. The normality of it, the routine of the actions, lulls me into complacence; I don’t see the danger until it’s too late.

It’s the hair-raising tingle that alerts me first. My head snaps up and some inner sense I’ve always had immediately locks on to the watcher. I almost drop the glass jar of spaghetti sauce in my hand when my gaze meets my mom’s.

Hudson’s chapter continues for another ten pages, but this is the section I sent to Janice Hardy, so this is all I’m posting here. Hope you like it! And please feel free to leave critiques in the comments section.

Publication: Advice On How To Get There

There is no easy answer to this question and no road map for you to follow.

Just so we’re clear.

There are, however, steps you can take and things you can try that might get you one step closer to publication. Agent Rachelle Gardner offers some tips, but no one can make you promises. Other agents and bloggers have as well and, in a nutshell, their combined advice is as follows.

One, improve your writing. In fact, this is kind of a must. If your book is not absolutely the best you can make it, don’t even think about submitting it and please, please step away from thoughts about self-publishing. For advice on how to improve without spending a lot of money, check out Elizabeth Spann’s post or my version of the same.

Two, enter contests. I mentioned this in my post on improving, but it’s a subject that is worth repeating. Romance Writers of America has a list of contests for 2012 here (chapter hosted contests) including a few for unpublished manuscripts. Many others exist for both published and unpublished authors and a Google search can help you turn up ones relevant to your genre.

Three, fine-tune your query letter, but stay away from query-letter services. I’ve read from multiple reliable sources that most agents can instantly spot a pre-fab query letter and using one of these will not get you on their good side. Free services for query letter critiques include sites like Critique Circle and Query Shark that can provide edits once you have a letter written, but if you’re struggling to get a solid letter on paper (or on computer) try one (or a few) of these resources:

  1. Agent Query – How to Write a Query Letter
  2. Query Shark – just reading through the posts can be enormously helpful
  3. Writer Beware Blogs – How to Write a Query Letter
  4. Nathan Bransford – How to Write a Query Letter

These are just a few of the thousands of sites available, but they are sites I know are reputable and thorough. The advice they offer is more valuable than gold and you should treat it as such.

Four, find an agent to query. Do your research and don’t bother querying agents who A) aren’t accepting submissions, B) don’t represent your genre, C) show up on Writer’s Beware, D) ask for money before reading your query, E) don’t follow the guidelines of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR). They don’t have to actually be a member of the AAR, but even those who aren’t should follow the ethical guidelines established by this organization. To find an agent you should do some Google searches or search through the databases of Agent Query (free) or Writer’s Market (subscription required). These sources include most of the agents currently working in the industry and will be invaluable in your search.

Five, attend conferences and pitch sessions. You can do a Google search for conferences in your area, but unless you live in New York or California, you will probably have to travel for most of the major events. Personally, I hope to attend the RWA conference, the New York Book Expo, and the NYC Pitch and Shop Conference in 2012. These types of conferences are a fantastic way to meet other writer and industry professionals and maybe start forming a network. Often, skill alone isn’t enough. A single recommendation can go a long, long way.

Six, think positive. This may seem silly, but it’s important. Crucial, even. Getting published can be a long, winding, uphill road and letting yourself feel negative is one step closer to letting yourself quit. If you want it bad enough, you’ll get there come hell or high water. Just remember that each rejection you get is one closer to an acceptance and each bad review is one more way you can make your work better.

This probably seems like a lot of work. That’s because it is. There is another route to publication, the DIY path, but since the weight of every single decision rests on your shoulders, you have to make sure you do your research before committing to this. J.A. Konrath has a lot of information on his blog about self-publishing even if he sometimes phrases his opinions in ways that tend to offend. Not me, but I’ve seen it happen. New sites with advice or offers of publishing services are popping up every day, but do your research before signing with a company. It’s free to load your ebook onto Amazon or Barnes & Noble, so don’t pay for anything you don’t have to. This is a very valid option, but not one I’ve done a ton of research on, so I can’t offer much more advice on the subject. Not anything that I’ve personally tested, anyway.

So, here it is. Hopefully, it helps someone. Satisfaction is in no way guaranteed, but it’s a possibility.

Writing: Critique Groups

Some people are incredibly private when it comes to their writing. Even some of those who are on the path to publication (or have already been published) eschew showing anyone other than their paid editor their book before it is in printed, bound, saleable form. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the most common is fear. And of the most prevalent fears is the fear of a story being stolen.

I can’t say I am completely immune to this particular fear. I have shied away from putting my stories up in online critique groups and writing communities in response to stories about authors suddenly seeing their stories in print under someone else’s name. The problem is that no one I’ve spoken to can point out even one particular case of this happening. Where is the evidence?

Eventually, I got over my fears–part of that had to do with the fact that I actually joined a wonderful online critique group (Critique Circle, for anyone interested)–and recently I even created a group of my own.

But the point of this post isn’t fear, it’s why critique groups are incredibly awesome.

Have you ever worked on a math problem for a long time and gotten so turned around by the numbers that you can’t figure out where you went wrong? But then someone comes along and points out your mistake in two seconds? Sometimes that’s what a good critique can do.

You are God in your character’s universe. Both omnipotent and omniscient, sometimes it’s hard to realize that not everyone sees your world the way you do. By bringing in an outsider, you get a whole new set of questions you have to answer, different expectations to meet, and a different reader to satisfy. By bringing in several, you’re getting a sampling of your future audience and you learn ahead of time which points of the story some readers disagree on. By bringing in a critique group instead of a paid editor, you’re saving money. I know I’m totally broke. 😉

Besides, it’s fantastic to have someone to talk to about the characters, what’s working, and what they want to see.

So how do you go about forming a critique group? Here are some tips that may help.

  1. Keep it relatively small. If more than four or five writers are involved, individuals receive minimal attention.
  2. Find people whose work you find interesting. Critiquing a 500 page novel that you hate isn’t good for anyone, honestly.
  3. Work with people who will be honest but constructive. Vindictive or hurtful comments are not going to help you revise, they’ll just shatter your self-confidence.
  4. Lay out the ground rules early. How much time does each story get? How long do readers have to respond? How often will you meet? Will the meetings be in person, on the phone, or online? In what format do writers expect to receive their comments?
  5. Stick with it! You’ll only benefit if everyone in the group is willing to put in the time to make it work.

Do you think a critique group is for you? There are plenty of ways to meet writers interested in forming one. Online forums, conferences, flyers in college English departments, local writer’s clubs (check your local library), coffee shops, book stores. The possibilities are limitless. So, go! Find those who share your passion and help each other make it toward the finish line. I have a feeling you’ll be glad you did.