Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Feedback: Where To Go

            Writers, especially new writers, need feedback.  Honest and helpful feedback can take our writing to the next level.  But where to find it?  Where do we go for constructive feedback that will enable us to strengthen and improve our writing?

Several sources come to mind:

            Contests.  Do your networking and find out about contests in your genre.  Do you have only a synopsis and several chapters?  Look for a contest that wants only a partial.  Do you have a full manuscript?  You can broaden your sights a bit and search for a contest that demands a full manuscript.  Be careful in reading the contest rules.  Most contests have fairly stringent rules in how to submit, what format to use, word length, etc.  If feedback is truly your goal, look for contests which promise critiques and suggestions, rather than just scores.  Though it’s wonderful to receive a top score, of course, it is more beneficial to receive an honest but constructive critique.  Look also at the judges.  Are they listed as published or unpublished?  Are any editors and/or agents you are interested in submitting to acting as judges?  You’ll want to consider those contests very seriously.

            Critique partner.  Finding a compatible critique partner is invaluable.  Look for one who is at a similar stage of writing as your own.  Look, as well, for one whose writing pace matches your own.  If you write one book a year and your critique partner puts out six, you’re likely to have problems. Look for a partner who can both give and accept criticism.  Examine your own ability to give and receive constructive criticism.  A partner who praises everything you write, deservedly or not, is probably not going to be much help to your writing.  On the other hand, a partner who is unrelentingly negative may well discourage you from writing ever again.  As in so many things, balance is key.  Check with your local library.  Writers frequently make friends with librarians.

            Critique group.  Once again, a critique group can be great. But…  (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?)  Beware of trying to “be all things to all people.”  Have you heard the definition of a camel?  A camel is a horse designed by a committee.  I’ve known of several writers (myself included) who tried to change their writing style and voice in accordance to all of the suggestions given at a group.  In the end, they (and I) ended up with a mishmash that read like a hodgepodge, reflecting neither their or my style and voice.  Accept what criticisms will strengthen your writing.  Then politely thank everyone for their help, whether or not you used their suggestions.  Don’t know where to go to find a group?  Again, check with your library.  Also, do an online search for a nearby writers’ group.

            Agent.  Agents can be a great source of feedback.  However, you need to be on the cusp of selling before even considering submitting to an agent.  Agents, like editors, are busy people who have a finite amount of time.  Don’t waste yours or theirs by submitting a manuscript that is far from polished.  As you did with contests, research your targeted agent.  Does he want a partial or a complete manuscript?  Does he accept manuscripts from unpublished authors?  Does he accept the kind of book you are writing?  Don’t reveal yourself to be a rank amateur by sending an inspirational book to an agent who accepts only contemporary, mainstream books.  Agents have long memories.  Don’t antagonize one by sending him something completely inappropriate.

            Okay, we’ve talked about possible places to find feedback and the importance of finding helpful, constructive feedback. Sometimes, we may become so desperate for it that we will go to extraordinary lengths for this feedback, even going so far as to paying a “literary service”
            There are people who advertise themselves as a “literary service” who promise to give feedback and critique  There are legitimate services, of course.  That said, understand that there are many unscrupulous services that offer a few generic suggestions and little else.  Don’t be misled by grandiose promises that such a service will “polish your manuscript, submit, and sell it,” all for a “modest” fee. 
            What is the best thing you can do for your writing?  Write the best book you can.  If you are unpublished, finish that first book.  It will be the most important book you ever write, whether or not it sells.  Find feedback along the way.  Then, give back.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014


RWA Conference is coming up soon, July 23-26, and ACFW is Sept 25-27, in St. Louis.  So I'm going to post some articles about what I've learned about conferences.


            Attending a writers’ conference is a heady experience.  My first conference was especially exciting as I learned there that I had sold my first book.  It was a modest sale, but it remains the most important one in my career.
            Still, conference was  a stressful time.  Looking back, I wish I had known a few things to help me navigate the experience and come out at the other end feeling confident and happy instead of worn-out. 
            I came up with the following for anyone contemplating attending a conference:

                    Accept where you are in your writing career.  Are you a brand new writer?  Rejoice in that and take workshops to help you develop the craft of writing.  Is a writer you admire presenting a workshop?  Take her class.  Afterward, tell her how much you like her books.  No writer tires of hearing that someone loves her books.  Are you on the verge of being published?  Rejoice in that as well.  Take some classes on polishing your manuscript and how to submit to different publishing houses.  Are you published?  Once again, rejoice.  Perhaps it’s time you concentrated on classes about social media, networking, and marketing.  Don’t let yourself become complacent, but do know that writing is a journey, not a destination.

                   Leave the comparisons at home.  Do not compare yourself to other writers.  Their journey is theirs.  Your journey to publication is yours alone.  Comparisons are dangerous.  If your career isn’t as advanced as that of a friend, you may feel that you lack the talent and drive to succeed.  If your career is more advanced than that of others, you may feel smug or you may feel that they are resentful of your success.  Neither is a good place to be.  This goes back to the first tip of accepting yourself. 

                      Believe the best about your fellow attendees.  Don’t assume the woman who cut in front of you in the line to meet a best-selling author did so on purpose.  Chances are she didn’t realize she what she was doing.  Expect others to treat you in a respectful way and do the same for them.

                      Be helpful.  If you see someone who looks lost, take time to help him find the workshop he’s looking for.  I’ve never regretted taking time from my schedule to help someone else. Is there a woman sitting by herself who looks lonely?  Ask her to join you or your group.  Invite her to sit with you at the luncheon.  Be willing to help a harassed hostess find the lost forms she was to hand out.   

                    Spend more time listening than talking.  After all, you’re there to learn.  Listen to the workshop presenters.  Listen to the keynote speaker.  Listen to other writers who are talking about their works-in-progress.  Tuck away any gems of knowledge you glean and resolve to take them home and use them in your writing.   People will notice your respectful manner.  (They will also notice the attention hog who talks non-stop about herself and her writing but in a far different way.)  They may even decide that you are a great conversationalist!

                     Have a schedule of workshops to attend but be flexible.  It’s great to identify the workshops you feel might best benefit you and your career, but if you stumble upon something that looks promising, don’t pass it by because it wasn’t in your schedule.  Part of the fun of conference is the serendipity of learning new things, making new friends, going to a class you hadn’t planned on.  Take time out of the day to meet with friends from your writers’ chapter. 

                     Finally, relax.  Conference represents a significant commitment in money, time, and energy.  But don’t let it make you crazy.  Find your niche in the scheme of things.  Make some new friends.  Understand that you are there to learn and to give of yourself when you can.

            Conferences can be overwhelming.  Make your experience a memorable one by finding where you’re comfortable, then stretching yourself a bit.  Don’t try to do everything.  Expect to learn.  Then have fun!