Tag Archives: critique partner

Spiralling Out of Control

attachmentToday I’m having a guest on my blog: Michelle Dennis Evans. She’s an Aussie mum and writer like me who I met a few years ago through online writer’s circles we were both part of at the time. I’m so excited for her as she’s just released her debut novel, the first book in her ‘Spiralling’ series. What makes me even more excited about this particular series is that I got to read parts of two of the books, including this one, back when I was Michelle’s critique partner.

Stephanie’s story in Spiralling Out of Controlis one to which most teenagers can relate. Stephanie faces all kinds of pressures and questions who she is and what she values. I couldn’t stop turning the pages to find out how Stephanie’s story would end; I got so drawn into the character. Michelle wrote her with such a clear voice. It’s currently sitting in the top 20 on Amazon under Social Issues in young adult fiction. If you have a teenage girl, this is a book they will feel a connection with. (Warning: There are references to sex, alcohol and other hard issues, I would recommend parents read first.)

Enough from me, though. I’m very pleased to welcome Michelle to my blog.

Hello!
Thank you so much, Jo, for hosting me today. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be finally releasing my debut novel, Spiralling Out of Control, a YA Contemporary story about Stephanie who makes one crazy decision after the other and finds herself heading down a very dark path.
 
On my blog, I love to play a game called 5 Favourites so I thought I’d pop over here and play it because I never get a chance to play when I’m at home!
 
Favourite food – Cheese (and a glass of red), hummus, vegies (I am the sugar police – sugar is poison LOL)
Favourite colour – Greens (from the trees to the grass to the ocean) and purple
Favourite author – I don’t have a favourite. I do enjoy books by Jody Hedlund, Lisa Schroeder, Tracey Hoffmann, Rose Dee, Andrea Grigg – and now that I’ve started listing authors I’m scared I’ve missed a couple of others I love!
Favourite pastimes – hanging out with family or friends, reading, writing.
Favourite places – My family farm (Scenic Rim Robotic Dairy), Rainforests, sandy beaches – anywhere with a magnificent view or outlook.
 
Hehehe that was fun!
 
I’ve loved visiting Jo’s blog and I’d love to invite you all over to mine – pop in and say hi at MichelleDennisEvans.com
Mich2 - Copy
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Writers Beware (Part 2)

In part 1 I talked about a situation where a writer had her book published, only to realise too late that the company was not a traditional publishing company, they were just posing as one. They played on the writer’s dream of being published to make money off her. As a result she ended up with a book that was poorly edited, unavailable in bookstores and locked into a contract so she can’t publish it with anyone else. It was left to her to market the book herself, meaning it was bought by family and friends, but no one else. Even if she worked up the courage to approach a bookstore herself, they probably wouldn’t stock it because a) it’s overpriced for a book by a first time author, b) the publishing company won’t accept refunds if the book doesn’t sell and c) the book is so poorly edited, people probably won’t buy it anyway (no matter how good the story is).

How can you avoid this situation?

You have to be savvy.

Google is your friend.

This is a good idea to do for any publisher. Google the publisher, skip past all the links for the publisher’s own website and see what other people have to say. You will quickly find out if the publisher is a reputable one and whether other writers have had good or bad experiences with them.

Get involved in writers’ circles/writers’ forums/writers on Twitter.

We writers can be isolated people, but the net has made it easy to connect with fellow writers. There are writers at all stages of the writing journey, and some of them are a great wealth of information. You will soon hear the dos and don’ts of the publishing and writing world when you’re connected to others who have been there before you. Some great people to follow on Twitter (because they always have their ear to the ground and post great links): Elizabeth S Craig and Jane Friedman.

Follow Agent/Publisher blogs or follow them on Twitter.

There are some fantastic literary agent and publisher blogs around and they’re worth following. They offer a wealth of knowledge on the ins and outs of the publishing industry. For example, Nathan Bransford’s blog is packed full of great information on both writing and the publishing industry.

Read contracts carefully.

This is an important one. Know what you are signing before you sign it. This is where having a literary agent represent you can be of great benefit because they know exactly what to look for in a publishing contract and can negotiate terms with the publisher for you. Literary agents cost nothing, unlike lawyers, but you need to query them with your manuscript the same way you would with a publisher. It’s better to query agents first, before publishers, if possible. But if your manuscript has already been accepted by a publisher, you can still query agents and mention in your query letter that a publisher has already acquired it. Otherwise, you can get a lawyer/solicitor to look over the contract for you, but it will cost money and often they don’t have as much knowledge about the specifics of publishing contracts.

What can I do to get the attention of a genuine publisher?

The most important thing to do is to keep improving your craft. The second most important thing is to become knowledgeable about the industry.

Keep Writing.

The best way to improve is to keep writing. I can’t remember who said it, but it has been said that to be a good writer, you must first write one million bad words. Quite often the first novel you write won’t ever be published. It’s sad, but true. But every word is contributing to you becoming a better writer. And one day you’ll look back on that first novel and think, ‘I can’t believe how bad it was! Why did I ever think it would get published?’

Join a critique group/Get a critique partner

Remember my story in part 1 about the author not letting anyone see their work before sending it out to publishers? He/she thought it was the smart thing to do, but there is benefit in letting others see your work before you send it out – the biggest benefit being a better novel. At some stage you need to get over your fear that other writers are out to steal your ideas. The good thing about critique groups and critique partners is you have to trust each other. You won’t steal their ideas and they won’t steal yours. Once you find a critique partner you feel comfortable with, the next hurdle is to be able to take their critique. This is a hard one. You will feel hurt. You will feel indignant (what does she mean my character is flat!). But once you get over that, you may find she’s right. Once you learn to accept your novel is not perfect and there’s room for improvement, you will be on your way to having a polished novel.

Use writing resources available to you

As I mentioned, following agent/ publisher blogs and being involved with other writers on forums/Twitter are great ways to stay informed. There are a lot of great writing resources out there, and fellow writers are only too happy to share, and so are agents and publishers. There are some great writer blogs out there too. A good place to start is Barry Lyga’s blog, he has a plethora of topics for helping to improve all areas of your writing. Check out some writing books too, like Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.

Research the industry

Did you know if you live in the US or you intend to get your book published in the US it is a good idea to first seek a literary agent? (A good literary agent won’t charge you fees, they make their money when the book sells.) In some other countries, such as Australia, literary agents are less common and a lot of publishers are still happy to accept unsolicited (eg: unagented) submissions. Do you know which agent/publisher is most suitable for your book? You don’t want to waste time sending a fantasy novel to someone who only takes on non-fiction work. Do you know if the publisher/agent you are querying has a good reputation? ALWAYS DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Follow guidelines

Publishers and agents have guidelines for a reason, so follow them. Some publishers/agents will reject your work without even reading it if you haven’t followed guidelines.

And because someone asked…

In my comments on part 1, someone asked about how to know if a literary agent is genuine. The points I’ve made about publishing companies can equally be applied to agents. Use google, research before you query, follow writers/agents on Twitter, join writing forums (many have sections on agents/the publishing industry). And if an agent wants you to pay fees to represent you, then he/she is probably not a genuine literary agent.

Why You Shouldn’t Ask Your Spouse’s Opinion

Many writing sites will tell you that when you ask someone to critique/beta read your work you should never ask your spouse or mum or anyone closely related to you. The reason for this is that they will most likely give you a biased view because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. I’m lucky enough to have both a spouse and mum who are very honest with me, and it’s something I appreciate, because I’m always openly honest (I’m a terrible liar).

I found my husband to be a fantastic sounding board in the drafting stage of my novel. I would ask his opinion on certain plot points, if he thought there was enough tension, if the ending was strong enough, etc. As yet he’s never actually sat down and read my novel. I thought in light of his usual honest opinions I would ask him to read my pitch for some feedback. This is our conversation:

Hubby (having just finished reading my pitch): Uh-huh

Me: So what did you think? Does it make you want to read the book?

Hubby: It’s about a girl.

Me (rolling my eyes): If the main character was a boy would you read it?

Hubby: I don’t read books. (This is true, he’s never been a reader and hasn’t read a novel since he was forced to in high school.)

Me: Pretend it’s for a movie, would you watch the movie?

Hubby: If the girl was hot.

Me: …

Hubby: Maybe you should ask someone else to read it. Someone who knows about this kind of thing.

All I can say is, thank goodness I have a great critique partner who does know about this kind of thing. Thanks Beth!

Blogiversary Celebrations: Part Two – Award Ceremony

Welcome to the first ever The Graceful Doe Blogiversary Award Ceremony! It’s nice to see everyone dressed in their finest.  Now that everyone is seated let the award ceremony begin.

Over the past year I have visited numerous sites on writing, querying, etc. Many of those sites and posts have contained lots of great information and some of those great sites and posts I have shared on my blog. The awards to be presented today go to those who I have kept returning to over and over again, who give great advice or tips to writers, and who are just all around fabulous people.

Just over a year ago I discovered how much the internet had to offer aspiring authors. At that time I had decided to get serious about writing a novel and found a lot of great sites with information just right for the helping me begin my serious writing journey. So the first award is the Best Site for New Writers award. This award goes to a site offering helpful advice to those writers who may just be starting out. A site that covers the writing basics, such as writing effective dialogue and character building, in an easy to understand approach. This award goes to…

Barry Lyga’s blog barrylyga.com

For those who don’t know, the majority of my writing falls into the category of kid lit, that is, writing aimed at children and teens. As a result, I read a lot of blogs and posts relating to kid lit. This next award is for the Best Site for Kid Lit Writers. This award is for a site that covers the various aspects of writing picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult, giving writers of kid lit great advice to help improve their writing and querying. This award goes to…

Mary Kole’s blog kidlit.com

Query writing is something many writers agonise over, which is why it’s great that there are so many insightful blogs and websites out there offering advice. This next award is for the Best Query Advice Site. It’s for a site dedicated to helping writers write effective queries. With her brutal honesty and dedication to helping writers get their queries right, this award goes to…

The Query Shark (aka Janet Reid) at queryshark.blogspot.com

In the past year I have come across some of the loveliest literary agents. They are willing to take time to tweet and blog about querying and writing for the benefit of writers to help them along their journey towards publication. The Best Agent Site award is for a blog or website of a literary agent that offers advice and encouragement to aspiring authors. And the award goes to…

Rachelle Gardner and her blog cba-ramblings.blogspot.com

And as many lovely agents as there are about, there are just as many lovely agent interns. From tweeting about the query pile to blogging helpful hints for writers, agent interns are a great resource for aspiring authors. The award for Best Agent Intern Site is for a blog offering advice to writers, including not just advice on query letters, but other aspects of writing too. This award goes to…

Cassandra Marshall’s blog www.camarshall.com

Still on the topic of agents, anyone who follows the #queries hashtag or #askagent hashtag (or any similar hashtags) on Twitter knows that there are agents and agent interns out there giving great advice to writers on Twitter. I have a long list of agents and agent interns I follow on Twitter and all of them are only too willing to help out aspiring authors. I just had to include an award for the Best Agent to Follow on Twitter. This award is for an agent on Twitter who regularly tweets valuable advice to writers. The award goes to…

Natalie Fischer @Natalie_Fischer

There are a lot of great Twitter chats for writers. There are chats to discuss the craft of writing, writing genres, querying and a multitude of other topics. I considered doing an award for the best writer chat, but then I had another idea. Instead this award is for the Friendliest Writer Chat. This award is for a chat where you are bound to meet the friendliest writers around, who are always willing to offer support to their fellow writers and are only to happy to share links and resources with each other. The award goes to the very friendly…

#pblitchat (run by two lovely ladies known on Twitter as @KarenCollum and @KatApel)

Writer forums offer great support for writers. Apart from offering a way to connect with fellow writers, these forums are places where you can have your writing or queries critiqued, find out information about the writing industry, or, if you are really lucky, even find an agent for your book. The award for Best Writer Forum goes to a site that offers all these things as well as supporting and encouraging emerging writers. The award goes to…

YA Lit Chat at yalitchat.ning.com

And now we get to a couple of more personal awards. Critique groups and critique partners help writers see plot holes, character flaws and poor word choice a writer may have overlooked. They read a manuscipt with fresh eyes, reading it how a reader would read and understand the story without the bias the writer him/herself have, yet at the same time because they are writers themselves they can also look at the manuscript and tell the writer not just that something isn’t working, but why it isn’t working. This past few months I have been swapping chapters with a critique partner and I think she is deserving of the award for Awesome Critique Partner. The award goes to…

Beth Hull (you can find her blog here)

The last award today goes to someone who I’ve been collaborating with the past couple of weeks to bring you all a 5 page critique contest, someone who is also celebrating her 1st blogiversary today. The award for Best Blogiversary Buddy goes to…

Peevish Penman (aka Carrie Bailey – find her blog here)

And that concludes The Graceful Doe’s first ever Blogiversary Award Ceremony.

More blogiversary celebrations still to come (including the winners of the blogiversary contest).

Author Interview

This week I was interviewed on Beth Hull’s blog. I got to talk a little about my work-in-progress, my writing process and how I find time to write with two little ones at home (among other things). Beth is my critique partner and in coming weeks I will be interviewing her on this blog.

Aspiring author interviews are not only great practice for when you do become published and will have to think about the answers to questions about your book (including summarising it in a couple of sentences) and about your writing process, but it’s also a good way to relate to other writers who are at a similar place on their writing journeys.

You can check out my responses to Beth’s questions here: NiFtY Interview with Jo Hart

The Revision Process

Back in February I talked about how I planned to do my first lot of revisions once I finished the first draft of my manuscript. Now I have finished those initial revisions, I am now doing more revisions (does it ever end !) so I thought I would dedicate a post to what my focus is in this part of the revision process. First a brief recap of what I did for my first lot of revisions.

FIRST ROUND REVISIONS

Main focus: Structure and technical elements

1. Listen to chapter read aloud on ywriter and highlight flaws.

2. Read chapter, fix spelling and grammar and make additional notes.

3. Go back over highlighted parts of text and rewrite (highlighted parts generally indicate telling rather than showing and awkward phrasing)

4. Read aloud chapter to myself and fix anything else that stands out.

SECOND ROUND REVISIONS

Main focus: Tightening manuscript and fixing plot flaws

1. Delete all unnecessary words, descriptions and anything not relevant to the plot. This includes getting rid of words like ‘that’ and backstory that contributes nothing to the plot. I also deleted the entire prologue.

2. Make a list of plot holes then go back and fix them.

3. Rewrite beginning (multiple times) until it hooks the reader.

4. Raise the stakes! Delete anything boring and add more conflict.

5. Restructure chapter breaks. Instead of ending chapters at mundane natural breaks (like falling asleep at the end of one chapter and waking up the next morning at the start of the following chapter) use chapter breaks in high-tension places to hook the reader into the next chapter.

6. Create more natural dialogue between characters.

7. Work with critique partner to pinpoint flaws I have overlooked and to see what impressions a reader would have of the manuscript in its current state.

What do you do when you revise? Do you follow a similar structure or do you revise in a completely different way?

How having a critique partner can improve your writing

Once you’ve finished your manuscript and gone over it with a fine tooth comb, the time comes to consider, “What will readers perceive as they read my book, and, more importantly, will agents/publishers take one look at my work and throw it in the trash?” This is when having a critique partner can be invaluable to your revision process. I’ve recently finished my first couple of drafts and have hooked up with a critique partner. Even though we’ve only exchanged a couple of chapters my novel is already reaping the benefits. Here are a few ways having a critique partner can improve your writing:

1. A critique partner looks over your manuscript with fresh eyes. When you’ve been immersed in your book for so long it can be hard to distance yourself enough from your novel to see the little things. One thing I didn’t notice after my first round of revisions was just how much I used the words ‘that’ and ‘was’ in my writing. I know these are problematic words when overused, but I guess in the course of my revisions I overlooked them. When my critique partner sent back my first chapter with all the words ‘that’ and ‘was’ highlighted I realised just how much I used them.

2. A critique partner has no preconceived notions. As the author of your novel you know your characters inside out, you know the world you’ve created to the tiniest detail and you know the entire backstory of your storyline. Because you know everything about your characters, world and plotline you may unknowingly forget that your readers don’t know what you know and you unwittingly leave out necessary details. A critique partner reads your manuscript with none of the preconceived ideas you have and can point out where your story becomes confusing.

3. A critique partner can act as a beta reader. Your critique partner will read your story as a reader would read it. When I critique I tend to write notes on my first impressions as I read and ask the questions a reader would be asking. This helps show you how your future readers, or more importantly an agent or publisher, would be thinking as they read your work. If your critique partner is confused, you can be sure an agent/publisher/reader will be confused too. If your critique partner tells you a certain scene makes their eyes glaze over, you can be sure an agent/publisher/reader’s eyes will be glazing over too (and you can be sure they’ll be putting the book down).

4. A critique partner can offer you constructive criticism. Unlike a beta reader (someone who reads your work from the perspective of a future reader, ie: someone in your target readership), a critique partner is a writer too, so they will read you work from the perspective of a writer. This means instead of just telling you a certain scene isn’t working, they can actually articulate why it isn’t working.

5. Being a critique partner helps you see flaws in your own writing. Critiquing someone else’s work can make you become more aware of your own writing and your own flaws. You may notice in your partner’s writing a tendency to over-describe characters physical attributes, only to realise you’ve done exactly the same thing in your own novel. I’ve also found that after looking over someone else’s work with a critical eye, when I go back to my own work I retain that critical eye and pick up on flaws in my own writing I missed before. It helps me stand back from my own work.

If you do find a critique partner keep a few things in mind as you critique and receive critique:

1. Be constructive. For example, if you feel your partner’s characters are flat, try to explain why. Remember the point of critique is to help the other person improve.

2. Don’t rewrite the story for them. While it’s okay to suggest rewording a sentence to make the meaning clearer, don’t write the sentence for them. It’s their work, and as tempting as it is to write it how you think it should be written, you need to realise the story is their baby. Imagine how you would feel if they started rewriting your story! Offer suggestions and act as a guide, but don’t take over.

3. Be respectful. I believe in being totally honest when I critique, but there’s a difference between being honest and being nasty.

4. Include the positives as well as the negatives. Don’t forget to tell your partner what is working well in their story.

5. Be open-minded when receiving critique. If you partner up with someone you must be prepared to take any criticism they give you and not take it personally. Don’t sign up for a critique partner if you just want to hear good things about your novel. When I put up my ad for a critique partner I said straight out that I would be honest when I critique and I expected the same in return. If I wanted to hear only good things about my novel I could have easily given it to my sister and had her tell me how much she liked it (because I know my sister is too nice to hurt my feelings, and I love her for it). But I wanted honest critique from another writer, someone prepared to rip my manuscript to shreds, because that is the only way I can improve as a writer. Sure, you might feel like crying the first time you receive critique back on your novel, but once you take a deep breath and remember your critique partner is only there to help you, you can appreciate their honesty and start using their advice to help you create a better story.

One last piece of advice…

In the end remember that your novel is your baby.

As a mother lots of people have given me advice over the years on how I should raise my kids (if you have kids you’ll know what I mean!), and that’s fine, everyone has their own opinion on what works best for them and their kids, but I only listen to the advice I think will work for my kids and disregard the rest. When I was a new mum I was overwhelmed with advice (sometimes conflicting advice) and I felt obligated to take it all. In the end I realised that it was my child and, as much as people were trying to help, only I knew what was best. Once I realised this I was a lot less stressed.

The same thing can be applied to your novel. In the end it is your story and you don’t have to feel obligated to take all the advice given to you. Do what’s right for your novel. And the same applies for your critique partner too. You can give advice and critique, but don’t feel hurt if your partner doesn’t apply everything you suggest, because it is their baby.

If you are looking for a critique partner, here are a couple of links to sites with critique connections (both are for YA/kidlit writers, so if you write outside of those you may have to do a search):

Critique Connection – Kidlit.com

This is where I found my current critique partner. You can either scroll down the list of people who have already posted an interest in finding a partner and e-mail them, or if none there seem like a good match, then post a little about you and your novel and leave your e-mail. Writers here range from picture book writers to young adult writers.

Crit Seekers – YALitChat

This forum is dedicated mostly to young adult writers, but you may also find som middle grade writers too. Scroll through the comments to seeif anyone might be a good match, or post your own comment describing what your novel is about. You will need to join to be able to post (but it’s well worth joining anyway if you write YA).

Many cities also have critique groups. Check out your local library or do a search on the internet to see if there are any in your area.

How has having a critique partner helped your writing? Comment below and share.