Critique Groups, Beta Readers, Editors… oh my!

It is my humble opinion that every writer needs at least someone critiquing their work. It is only to your benefit that someone else (who is not a sycophant, someone who will tell you they love it no matter what) looking over your work and giving you constructive feedback. It can only make your work stronger in the end. The more constructive eyes you have on your work to a certain point, all the better.

critique groupCritique Groups. I’ve written before about my critique group. I have so enjoyed them! And I do believe “iron sharpening iron” is an adequate description of what we’re all about. But I am fortunate to have found a good critique group in which the members really care about each other’s successes. This, I understand, is not always the case. Sometimes, I’m told, critique groups can be a place that tear down the most talented writers in the group. Just be wary as you seek out a crit group. If you can’t find one (or a good one) that meets in your area, you can look online for one. And maybe the group isn’t for you, but you like the feedback you get from one or two of the individuals. E-mail or PM (personal message) them and ask them if they would be willing to be critique partners outside of the group.

beta readerBeta Readers. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my beta readers. They are fabulous people from a little bit varying skill sets that do me a world of good. Beta Readers should be a part of your process once you have your novel complete. Some writers send the manuscript to their beta readers before it goes through editing, some after. But that feedback from your crew is sooo important. You’ll hear of authors who have over 10 beta readers, but you’ll hear some authors who preach that more than three opinions is too many. For my personal preference, three seems to be the right number for me. But my three give me pretty deep, comprehensive feedback. One of my beta readers has history background (I write Historical Fiction) so her feedback really helps in this area. She also has a good mind about word choice and flow that I find quite valuable. Another of my beta readers has a background in English and Literature. As you can imagine, her feedback on story structure and flow is priceless. And my third beta reader is a proofreader/copyeditor as well. Her input is irreplaceable. I really think I have a solid team, though it may be small, these three ladies pack quite a punch.

editorEditors. Again, as I’ve mentioned before, there are several types of editors your book will go through. Content Editor, Line Editor, Proofing Editor…and their focus is on different things. But I’m not writing about their different jobs today, I’m writing as the editor’s position as far as offering feedback on your manuscript. Yes, it can be painful. All of these sources of feedback can be. You have got to swallow the fact that you (and your manuscript) are not perfect. Nor will it be at the end of this process. I guarantee you that someone (a reviewer perhaps) will find an error (or several) and feel the need to point it out. Just accept the fact that you, your crit group, beta readers, and editors are all a team trying to get your manuscript to the point where it is at the most perfect it can be before publication. Keep reminding yourself throughout the editing/critiquing/feedback process – these people are trying to help me, this is only making my work stronger.

In the end, however, please hear me say that this is YOUR work. YOUR name is the one that’s going to be on it. So the decisions you make about what feedback to take or to pass on is yours and yours alone. And it’s okay if you don’t take every single bit of feedback you get. Even from an experienced editor. I would make sure you have a good reason for sticking to your guns, so to speak. But a good editor, crit partner, or beta reader will respect that you are the artist and this is your masterpiece.

NaNoWriMo is upon us!

nanowrimo-is-comingNaNoWriMo is a writing challenge to get writers writing. It is a collective commitment among writers to get that novel done. There are other writing challenges out there, and I’ve recently become a fan of setting such huge goals and pushing yourself to achieve them.

NaNoWriMo…what is it? Well, for new writers and non-writers, I will tell you what I know. It stands for “National Novel Writing Month”. The goal is to start and complete at least a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and November 30th. Get that novel out of you and onto paper (or electronic) form. You can find more information, sign up, and even look at merchandise (why not?) here.

10K-Day-header-cropped10K day write-a-thon. This is a challenge that I just took on (and completed – yay!). Basically in a 24 hour period, you will write 10,000 words. This can be quite intense. There are some great resources to give you advice about prep work for your 10K day and some thoughts about as your write (don’t edit, don’t worry about structure, formatting, grammar, etc….just get those words out). You can find that info here.

Writing Prompts. This is another form of writing challenge. There are a variety of places where you can find writing prompts (just google “writing prompts” or “writing challenges”). This is basically a thought, statement, idea, etc that gives you something to write about. These are great to get the creative juices flowing. Especially if you are feeling blocked. The critique group I’m a part of does a writing prompt as part of our meeting each week. It can be challenging sometimes, but always creatively stimulating.

writing computerWhy take on a challenge like these? On the face of it, it simply gets you writing. And that helps, again, get that idea, that spark, that story out of you and into a form that can be molded and worked with and (hopefully) published for others to enjoy. The 10K challenge definitely took me from a stagnant place where I had been having trouble finding time to write and had become complacent with my work in progress. Pouring that much time and effort into it reminded me why I had the idea in the first place. I remembered my passion for the story. And why I need to write it. Now I make it more of a priority. And I can’t wait to sit down and see it grow and develop.

So, I encourage you, if you are in any way creatively inclined toward writing, or painting, or crafting…take a day for yourself (like the 10K day forces you to for writing) and just pour yourself into your craft. It is a very rewarding experience!

Believing in Yourself and Your Art

The world of writing and publishing and actually making money at it is…a slow moving machine (as I’m coming to find out). I have had high hopes for my debut novel. And, while it certainly has been a crash course, a serious learning process, I have frankly gained more in knowledge than anything else. But I don’t count that a loss. Knowledge is much more valuable than all that other stuff. Knowledge, as they say, is power. Knowledge can help me better plot the course for my next book, and the ones after that. Knowledge can help me as I write successive books. What is this newfound knowledge you ask?

publishingIncreased knowledge of the publishing world. I have a better handle on what the publishing world looks like. Am I an expert? No. But I am more informed. I am making more informed decisions.

Increased knowledge of the market. There isn’t always going to be an automatic audience for you. This was a mistake I made. How do you go about getting people to buy your book? Because I strongly believe that people who enjoy clean, meaningful romances in a historical setting will enjoy “The Lady Bornekova“. But how do they find my book among the masses? The market, as I’ve come to discover, is saturated with books with the rise of the indie publisher and self-published author. It’s not so easy for people to discover your book and make that decision to buy it. There are just so many choices out there.

typewriterIncreased knowledge of the craft. This is perhaps the most valuable knowledge of all…this will help my writing, which will help me write better books, which will make them more appealing, which can only help in the end. It’s not as if I was ignorant of the things of the craft of writing before, but I have definitely grown in my understanding of the nuances of deep point of view, show-don’t-tell, dark moment story, plotting and outlining, among so many other things.

possibleBut what happens when you get dealt a bit of discouragement? Like a piece of rejection? A pitch that didn’t go so well? A bad review? The number one thing in this business that I’ve found is that you have to believe in yourself. You cannot make it very far with thin skin and a lack of confidence in your art. Surround yourself with people who support you, encourage you, and believe in you, too. I have an amazingly supportive husband, a mentor, a critique group, my beta readers, as well as a whole host of friends and family who are at the ready to offer a kind word of encouragement when I seem to need it the most. But I know that this is not the case for everyone. So, examine your work, examine yourself…do you believe in your own work? Your own ability to do this? If you do, I do. Because you can.

Who has the time?

I tell you…I MISS writing! But I just haven’t had the time! Make the time, Sara. Yes, I know, I know. But time is a precious commodity…for everyone. And it’s not as easy as you think with three young ones with three different schedules, a house, a husband (who I will say is INCREDIBLY supportive), and the myriad of appointments and other things that make up my life.

computer issuesWhen I do schedule time to sit down, I find that my e-mail box is crammed full, there are a dozen e-mails that need to be returned, I have to contact someone’s teacher, I need to catch up on my social media posts, and then there’s the blogging.

Don’t get me wrong. Blogging is such an important part of what I do. Connecting with you and having a place to think “out loud” is valuable to me. I find blogging to be almost a necessary part of processing the things that go on in my writing career and in my life. So, this will remain a constant in my life.

do-not-disturb-writerBut there are untold stories inside of me, begging…no, dying to get out. They MUST be told. And my fingers fairly ache to tell them. So, where does that time come from?

I recently read Jen Hatmaker’s “For the Love“. It is a book I HIGHLY recommend for any woman who is…well, just for any and every woman out there. She is so transparent and open. It’s refreshing. But, back for the loveto my point…she talks about the things we allow into our life as if we put things on and off a balance beam. The important stuff goes on the beam, the unimportant stuff, off the beam. So, we have to be vigilant over our time and priorities as to what we allow on the beam and what we take off.

Seems to me that I need to take a hard look at what all I’ve allowed on my beam. Not that the things are my beam are bad. But they may not be the best things for me. Especially if I’m dying to get these stories out and there is no time for me to write. Something has to give! And the sooner, the better. So, that is my commitment. I will start examining my week, my days, my hours, to find where my schedule can have some give to it, where things need to be re-prioritized, where I can maybe trade good, for better. What about you?

A letter for the aspiring author

Please note that I am not saying that I have all the answers. In fact, I am still fairly new to the game. But I want to share what information I have gleaned while it is fresh in my mind. I am about a year into the game (having signed my first contract about a year ago now). I think it is important that we share what we have learned and leave the porch light on, so to speak, so that the writers coming behind us can find their way along the path. When I was an aspiring author (and still am, to a large extent), I wondered about what I needed to do, what I needed in my arsenal, and what my day needed to look like. I will try to help you out with those questions as much as I can…

typewriter-chapter-oneWRITE THE BOOK. First, you need to delve into writing the best book you can. You are likely an aspiring author because you have a story inside of you trying to get out. You have found that inspiration. Get it out on paper. Do what you can to write the best book. This may involve learning how to write. Well how do I learn how to write?

READ BOOKS ABOUT THE CRAFT OF WRITING. Anything by James Scott Bell. Brandilyn Collins is another good one. Some of my favorite books on the craft include “The Emotion Thesaurus” and “Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View“. There are tons of books out there on the craft of writing. You just have to get started somewhere.

bob mayer's bookGO TO CONFERENCES. I cannot say enough about the difference that investing in conferences has made in my writing. Learning from the experts, networking with other writers, having the chance to learn from pitching your work to an agent/editor…these are just a few of the gems that come from going to a good conference. There is likely a conference near you (it may be small, but I recommend starting small). And there are larger conferences in different genres. Before you do go to that conference, invest in Bob Mayer’s “Writer’s Conference Guide: Making the Most of Your Time and Money“. I highly recommend it for first timers.

FIND A CRITIQUE GROUP. If you can, join a writing critique group, even if it’s online. Find a good one. What I mean by that critique groupis there should be at least one person in the group that is published. Or else, you may end up in a situation where the blind are leading the blind. Also, some groups can end up tearing down the more talented writers…that’s not what you want. So be on the look-out for that. A good critique group is going to give you feedback, but give it constructively.

MENTOR. As you continue on your journey, see if you can hook up with a mentor. Maybe it will be someone in your critique group who is farther along than you are, maybe it’s someone you come across at a conference. But a mentor is an invaluable resource.

WRITE THE BOOK. Are you still writing that book? Cause that’s what it’s all about. You have to have the book. It’s all about the book.

query sharkLEARN ABOUT QUERYING/QUERY. Query Shark is an amazing resource about how to write a query. Also, be mindful to research the agents/publishers you are wanting to submit to, they each have their own submission guidelines. Some will want a cover letter, some won’t. Some want a formal book proposal, some want just sample chapters. Just be mindful and FOLLOW THEIR GUIDELINES to the letter.

BUILD A WEBSITE/BLOG. You need to start building a PLATFORM. I know that sounds like a big, scary word. But, if you plan on marketing (another scary word) your book, you need to have your own website and, probably, a blog. Instead of delving into everything that makes up a platform, I’ll just focus on why you set up a website and blog. You want a blogsplace where your fanbase can come and visit you. You do not own Facebook/Twitter. They can change the rules on you in an instant. You do not want to rely on one of these social media outlets to be your only internet presence. So, set up your own website and start a blog. This is one of the best pieces of advice I can give you about platform.

READ OTHER AUTHOR’S BLOGS. Like mine! Another good blog is Jerry Jenkins. He gives wonderful information about writing, in my opinion. I follow 5 blogs every week and make regular comments on these blogs to get involved in these communities. This is a piece of advice my mentor gave to me.

WRITE THE BOOK. In the end, it’s still about the book. These other things are ways to enhance your experience as a writer/author. But, you cannot forget that it is about your idea, your story, your novel. Never lose sight of that. And there will be days when you don’t feel like spending time with your book, editing, revising, or writing. But it is important to spend that time in your work, creating. Just try to make yourself sit down and start working, once the pump is primed, the juices just might start flowing. You won’t know until you try.

 

 

Writer’s Workshop: A review from the front

I co-led my first writer’s workshop this past weekend. It was ah-mazing! It was nerve-wracking, exciting, a little stressful (for my perfectionist side), and just a lot of fun!

shaking handsMeeting other writers. This is always one of my favorite things about these events. Meeting writers in all walks of life. We had a good turn out and I enjoyed meeting these interesting people who are at different places in their journeys in learning more about the craft and toward publication. It was different to be interacting from the perspective of a presenter…I see myself as more a facilitator of the information rather than a teacher (as, by and large, I am more a student myself than anything else).

Disseminating Information. My partner and I had some information to share…information we felt would be helpful to a group of learning writers. We talked about brainstorming (mind-mapping), plotting, outlining, and research. It seemed from the questions and discussion that followed that our information was relevant and well-received.

conference1Guest Speakers. We did have a best selling author speak on layering a scene for a short stint and another author speak about his journey with non-fiction. Having guest speakers is something we intent to continue to do with our workshops. It can only enhance the experience for our attendees…relying on the expertise of others is only wisdom.

What would I do differently? While we wanted to have an information packed session, I do fear that we tried to cover too many topics. We could have selected a couple of the subjects and delved deeper into them for a more thorough session. But, overall, I think we did well with it being our first workshop to put on.

Can I get in on this? Glad you asked! If you are in the middle TN area (northern area), we will hold these workshops periodically. You can follow us on: Clarksville Christian Writers (on Facebook). Our next workshop will be October 25th and will be all about the journey to publication – querying, agents, marketing, and more!

I have been converted…

Scrivener-Logo…to Scrivener. I held off. I fought tooth and nail. I clung to my LibreOffice Word Processor and minimal usage of Microsoft Word as long as I could. But it was inevitable. As soon as I was exposed to the wonders that this software held for the writer such as I, I could no longer deny that this might very well be the tool for me.

fancyFancy-Schmancy. First of all, “Fancy” and “Techno-saavy” are not words that ANYONE would use to describe me. These are reasons that I shied away from Scrivener for a while. It just seemed like too many shiny buttons and gadgets for my “level” of techno-ability. I need things that are easy to understand and “user-friendly”. (Just a note here: I am an oddity for my generation in this technolo-don’t. Always have been…probably always will be.)

FREE Trial. Can I hear an “Amen”? Now they’re singing my song. Free trial with a rather in-depth tutorial – even better. Now, I’m doing my slow walk on the fast track to learning Scrivener.

cork boardWhat’s so cool about Scrivener? There are many unique features about Scrivener that I won’t go into, but the way they let you organize information is definitely one of them. My novel is divided up by chapter and scene and I can attach information about that scene such as POV character, level of progress, and other miscellaneous information that I can see at a glance on an on-screen cork board. The other thing I will find so useful about Scrivener, I think, is that it gives me the ability to keep all of my research in one place – pictures, documents, links, etc. So, instead of having multiple files in a folder in my dropbox, all of my research will be accessible through “binder” when I’m in my manuscript.

“The Lady Bornekova” Sequel. This is the first novel that has been transferred into Scrivener. (I was about 5 chapters into the novel in LibreOffice.) Already, I am LOVING working in Scrivener. I can’t quite bring myself to transfer my completed works…but just barely. The transfer was pretty painless. But I fear a whole novel would be a bit more laborious.

All in all, I am looking forward to discovering and utilizing even more of the features available with Scrivener. No doubt you’ll hear more about it in the future! From someone who thought they would never be able to work anything more complicated than the most basic word processor, I’m out there and giving it a go!