Monday, April 30, 2012
If you've ever received a critique, you probably know the crazy emotions that churn up before you read the comments. Maybe you're holding an envelope with a returned contest entry, or you're staring at the e-mail titled here are your chapters. You brace yourself, wondering why a cyclone seems to be tearing through your gut, and you wipe your clammy hands down the sides of your jeans before opening the document.
If it's your first critique, you may be completely unprepared for the comments inside. You open the file, scan the document, and new emotions roar. Even if most of the feedback is positive, you can't help but be blinded by the negatives.
Here's a sample of what might go through your head the first time you get a critique:
It needs work? What?? I thought I nailed it!
Craft issues? Too many -ing words? Passive voice? What are they talking about?
How can the pacing be too slow?
Head hopping? But my favorite author does it and she's on the NY Time's Bestseller list all the time.
What do they mean my character is unlikable?
What in the world is GMC?
Then, after you've let it sunk in for a while, you might have different thoughts:
I thought I was writing something really special, and it's not special at all.
It's just one person's opinion.
I might as well give up now. I'll never be a good writer.
I know I'm great. The judge/commenter doesn't get my writing.
A few days or weeks later, you might return to your work and realize:
Oh my goodness. She's totally right. How could I have missed that?
I need to study more writing craft books.
The rules aren't the same for aspiring authors and seasoned bestselling authors.
This book doesn't need to be scrapped. I need to rewrite some areas and revise again.
The difficulties don't end after that first critique either. The longer we write, the more we want to create better drafts. We don't want to hear there's a major problem with our book, because it makes us feel vulnerable.
I made mistakes early in my career that actually helped me receive feedback. For one, I queried my first three books and sent off the requested partials before I had a critique partner. The subsequent rejections softened my delusional heart so that I knew I needed honest feedback before I sent out more books.
I've always learned something from a critique. I've been part of different critique groups over the years, and I've opened the dreaded contest results. Now, when I get feedback from my critique partners, I have a system to apply their advice.
Making the Most of Critiques
**Remind yourself you want to be a great writer. Getting feedback will make your book better. You're not asking for feedback to hear "you're the best." You're asking for it to improve your writing.**
1. Read through every comment in the document. Do your best to remain neutral. Let the comments sink in.
2. If you're upset, walk away for a few hours or until you can be objective.
3. When you're ready to be objective, read through the comments again and ask yourself which ones resonate with you. Write down the overall issues you glean in the comments.
4. If the feedback is from a critique partner, e-mail (or call) them to thank them. If they didn't summarize their overall impressions, you might want to reiterate the problem points in the book to verify you're on the right track.
5. For a full manuscript with multiple critiques, I recommend creating a table of revision notes for the problems you decide to resolve. Go through your book and write the chapter, the problem, and your proposed fix. Repeat until you've made it through the whole book. When you're ready to work on the suggestions, check off the changes as you make them.
Try not to throw out an entire critique because you're upset. Sure, you don't have to take any advice you don't agree with, but that doesn't mean you can't learn something from the comments.
On the other hand, don't blindly take all advice as true. You need to go the extra step and be objective. If you don't agree with the feedback, don't take it.
Certain things will come up in critiques again and again. Pay attention to them. You can train yourself to avoid common problems if you're aware of your weak areas. But try not to fall into the trap of thinking you'll be able to achieve perfection. I struggle with repetition, and no matter what I do to clean my books up before I send them to my c.p.'s, new repeated words and phrases manage to appear! I laugh it off. That's what Find/Replace is for. :)
One thing many writers new to feedback do is rush through proposed changes. This isn't a race. I don't think it's possible to fix a major problem in three hours. Take your time. Don't be afraid to work through changes in a series of drafts.
Feedback is one of the most important things you can receive as a writer. Be gracious. Be patient. And be thankful you've been given one more tool to make your writing terrific.
Do you have a tips for receiving critiques?
Have a fabulous Monday!
Friday, April 27, 2012
Since I have such affection for the genre, I still get surprised by the misconceptions others have about it. In many circles, romance novels are the wart-filled stepsister of other mass-market genres. Even though romance outsells every other fiction genre in the U.S. market--see Romance Literature Statistics here--the books and their authors continue to get snubbed.
In yesterday's On the Ether, Porter Anderson shared a fun article by Larry Brooks via StoryFix called "What I Just Learned from a Room Full of Romance Writers." (Full article is linked.) I loved Larry's open attitude and willingness to embrace the romance genre after he taught an advanced workshop for the Rose City Romance Writers of America. (I've been a member of RWA for five years, and I have nothing but great things to say about this organization.) Larry's piece brought back memories of all the odd things people have said to me about romance over the years.
Here are some of the misconceptions people have about the romance genre:
- The books are all about sex, sex, and more sex.
- Romance writers don't take the craft of writing seriously.
- Romance writers just pop words into a formula.
- Romance novels are less literary than other genres.
- The words Christian and romance don't belong together.
I try not to get offended by these ideas. People unfamiliar with the genre can't be expected to understand it. However, I do try to clear these false concepts up whenever possible.
- There are different levels of spice in romance novels. I write for the inspirational market which is the "sweetest" genre and quite strict about intimacy. You might find a few kisses but everything else will be after marriage and behind closed doors. Mainstream romances range from sweet to extra spicy, and the erotic genres still have a love story, but the emphasis is on the physical relationship.
- I've yet to meet a writer of romance who does not take the craft of writing seriously. We want to be good writers, put out excellent books, and we strive to get better with each book.
- There is no formula for a romance beyond the normal plot structure most novels adhere to. Our readers do have expectations--they want to see the hero and heroine together in the majority of scenes, the romance journey is the main arc, and there must be a happily ever after. That leaves a lot of room for ingenuity in between!
- The literary debate will probably never end. What makes one book more literary than another? Does a steamy cover cancel the literary value of the book? I say no, but many say yes.
- Christians do fall in love---shocking, I know! As I mentioned earlier, the inspirational market does not focus on the physical relationship. Readers of this genre want to see two people fall in love against a faith-based backdrop. While my books feature plenty of attraction, they never cross a line.
The bottom line? People read romances because they want to experience the rush of falling in love.
Have you ever read a romance novel? Do you like the genre? Have you come across any misconceptions about it?
The winner of Monday's giveaway--hosted by the amazing Jennifer Shirk--is SARAH FORGRAVE!! Congratulations, Sarah! You won a copy of Jennifer's new release Sunny Days for Sam and Teeccino!!
I also want to thank all of the new followers! I really appreciate you supporting my blog. :)
Have a terrific weekend!
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
With a great job at a reputable magazine and a man who’s the perfect match, Serenity Holland thinks she’s laid the foundation for an ideal London life. When a routine assignment uncovers a shocking secret threatening her boyfriend’s company, Serenity decides to leave nothing to chance, taking matters into her own hands. Soon, though, she realises keeping secrets isn't as easy as she thought . . . and the consequences are far worse than she ever imagined.
Monday, April 23, 2012
This week's writer's survival guide post is from one of my favorite writers/bloggers--the lovely Jennifer Shirk. I asked Jennifer to share one of her health tips with us today because she's very open about her commitment to fitness. I want her secrets! When I exercise 4-5 times a week and make an effort to eat plenty of fruits and veggies, I stay at my healthy weight. But more often than not, I slip into old habits and find five extra pounds creeping on.
Jennifer has found a really cool way to get her coffee fix and add nutrients to her diet, and I'm excited she's sharing it with us today. So here goes!
I’ve been on a health kick now for well over two years. (I guess it’s moved beyond just being a “kick”) LOL
But recently, I’ve cut down my use of caffeine. Yep, that means COFFEE too, for all you coffee addicts—er, lovers out there!
**more info from the John Hopkins School of Medicine
I know. Doom and gloom. But don’t get me wrong. I still drink coffee and enjoy it. However, I’ve modified it a bit by adding an herbal organic coffee to it called Teeccino.
Energy is the reason why many people drink coffee. With Teeccino, people experience an energy boost that comes from nutrients, not stimulants like caffeine. It’s a blend of Mediterranean herbs, grains, fruits, and nuts that are ground and brewed to taste like coffee.
I really enjoy it. Right now, when I make a pot of coffee, I blend coffee with Teeccino in about equal parts, so I’m only getting half the amount of caffeine I would normally be drinking. And I don’t feel tired at all. In fact, I have more energy now than I ever did—which is way better for me and my writing. J
Thanks for having me, Jill!! It’s nice to get healthy together!
Thank YOU, Jennifer, for sharing this with us. I can't wait to try it! I have had trouble with the jitters and the afternoon energy crash. When I cut down on my caffeine, I notice a difference, but even when I switch to decaf, I'm not getting the health benefits of a product like Teeccino. Love this!
Everyone, Jennifer has a new book, Sunny Days for Sam, out right now, and not only has she graciously offered to give a copy to one lucky reader, she's also throwing in a package of Teeccino! To enter the contest, simply include your e-mail address in a comment below. I'll announce the lucky winner on Friday (winner will be alerted by e-mail also.)!
Sunny Days for Sam released April 6, 2012 through Avalon Books. Available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble and a library near you! Also, be sure to check out Jennifer's fun blog, Me, My Muse, and I.
Sunnyva “Sunny” Fletcher is a firm believer in fairy tales. With the recent debt she’s acquired, the hope of something magical happening in her life is the only thing keeping her going. She needs a job fast. So when Sunny learns the sexy new vacationer in town is looking for a nanny, she starts to believe she just may have a fairy godmother after all!
Internet guru Sam Calloway is only in town for the summer and needs a nanny for his two small children. However, the beautiful and inexperienced Sunny is not exactly the kind of caregiver Sam has in mind. It doesn’t take long for Sunny’s tenderhearted and bubble-blowing ways to soon have the children—and Sam—enamored with her. She’s a dream come true. But after what Sam’s been through, he’s stopped believing in fairy tales long ago.
Sunny manages to work her way into Sam’s closed-off heart, but at the end of the summer, will the workaholic dad go back to his life in New York City, or will he decide his days are much sunnier here with Sunny?
Thanks again, Jennifer!
Are you addicted to caffeine? Or do you try to avoid the stuff? I'd like to hear your tips!
Have a wonderful Monday!
Friday, April 20, 2012
You might be wondering, how do writers continue their education? It depends on the person! There are so many ways authors can enhance their knowledge.
One way I contribute to my ongoing education is with subscriptions to magazines on writing. Two of mine come automatically with my membership to organizations. RWR, Romance Writer's Report, is a monthly magazine put out by RWA, and it's loaded with terrific articles and interviews. ACFW recently launched their debut magazine which will be published quarterly. It's a gem.
Another way is to attend conferences. If you can't afford one or don't have time to travel, there are plenty of great online conferences and many are free.
Just meeting with other writers can add to your knowledge. I learn so much about what's happening in the publishing industry, not to mention plotting tips, contest information, and anything else writing related simply by meeting with other writers on a regular basis.
Fantastic blogs on writing abound. If you aren't sure where to start or are looking to add some new sites to your list, I highly recommend checking out Elizabeth S. Craig's Twitterific round-up each week. She also co-founded the Writer's Knowledge Base, an online emporium of all things writing.
For the fast track on what's going on with the publishing industry, I suggest reading Porter Anderson's "On the Ether" series each Thursday. These are intense posts, centering on the behind the scenes action of Amazon, the big six publishers, and the rapidly changing publishing climate. Porter does an amazing job of staying on top of the latest developments and he adds expert insight into what they mean. I can't recommend On the Ether enough. It's not a quick read, though, so grab a cup of coffee and rope off half an hour.
My recent means of continuing my writing education is a short, daily craft lesson from The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, which features 77 short interviews and articles written by best-selling authors on all aspects of writing. I plan to read them in order, and I'm assigning myself one each weekday.
If you're in the mood for a new book on the writing craft, check out Jody Hedlund's fantastic list of books for writers.
How do you keep your education fresh?
Have a wonderful weekend!!
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Thank you for joining me in welcoming…Lacie Nezbeth!!
How do you celebrate spring? Do you plant flowers? Brew sun tea? Have a barbecue? I want to hear!
Have a fantastic Wednesday!
Monday, April 16, 2012
I just finished reading a short interview with Kristi Yamaguchi, the Olympic gold medal figure skater. Featured in the April issue of Family Circle, the article concentrated on how Kristi balances family and work (she's published the New York Times Best Selling children's book, Dream Big, Little Pig!). Her motto, "Always Dream," resonated with me.
It got me to thinking about what kind of attitude we can take:
Who am I to want that?
Why not me?
Ever since fourth grade, I've been a "Why not me" gal. Here's why.
In the middle of third grade, my family moved to a small town at the bottom of Indiana. It was my first foray into the public school system. The day I started school, I made a comment about how thin the reading book was (at my old school, I'd spent the entire year bumped up a grade for reading, and our text was thick).
In this classroom, students were divided into three reading groups--low, middle, and advanced. There were two or three kids in the low group, a dozen in the middle, and six or seven in the advanced. The teacher had overheard my comment, and he promptly put me in the low reader group, with the warning, "you're going to have to work hard if you want to read with the middle group."
Honestly, the teacher didn't like me, and his attitude soon spread throughout the classroom. I spent the rest of the school year without a single friend. I did work hard in the low group, which was self-taught. We selected kindergarten level books, read them, and took short quizzes. He never worked with the low group. He spent all of his time with the middle and advanced groups.
Life in this new school bewildered me. Was I dumb? Why was I reading such simple stories? And why did all of the kids act like I didn't exist? I had gotten along well with my classmates at previous schools.
I worked very hard to move to the coveted middle reading group, and about a month before school ended, the teacher bumped me up. I was thrilled to take part in the discussions, but even when I answered his questions, I would often get a stern look or a snide comment. Only once did I ever get a sticker (I still remember it was a grape scratch n' sniff) for doing a good job. The kids no longer ignored me, but they didn't befriend me either.
It took years before I realized there was nothing wrong with me, that a teacher had held my fate in his hands, and he'd abused it. But before I came to that realization, something changed within me.
We moved back to Michigan that summer, and from fourth grade on, I knew deep within me, that I was good enough. My attitude morphed from "Who am I to want that?" to "Why not me?" at every level. I no longer feared trying out for things. I no longer stressed constantly over friends. I'd survived six months with zero friends--I knew I could survive anything.
Over the years, I've come across other tainted people who have tried to mess with my sense of self-worth, but they couldn't. Sometimes I think I've been exposed to a higher percentage of such people than the average person! But always, always, I've stood firm in my belief in myself.
God plants a seed within us, and this seed assures us that no matter what is going on around us, we are perfect in His sight. It allows us to be honest with ourselves. I know my shortcomings, and I know my strengths. No one can convince me one of my strengths is a weakness.
So what does this have to do with the motto, "Always Dream?"
Whatever you crave, whatever you're striving for--it's possible. Never let anyone tell you you're less than what you are. Never let anyone convince you dreams are for other people, for smarter people, for better people.
You're here for a reason.
Have you dealt with bias in your life?
Enjoy your Monday!
Friday, April 6, 2012
Although I should be keeping this post reflective, it's the first Friday in April and therefore time for another webisode of "... with Jill Kemerer." Today, we're setting a watch!
FYI, I did figure out how to set the watch, and at 12:03 AM, I learned I'd set the alarm too. Wonderful. A few days later, I'd accidentally pushed a few buttons and managed to set an alarm that beeped every hour. I'm pretty sure I've got the kinks worked out. I hope so at least!
To catch past webisodes of "... with Jill Kemerer," head to my YouTube channel which is linked! And feel free to subscribe so you don't miss any new webisodes. :)
In honor of Easter break, I am taking next week off from blogging. Come back on Monday, April 16 for a new post.
Have a blessed, happy Easter!
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Let’s get to it!
For mornings, it's got to be Maxwell House's Suisse Mocha. The sugar free, decaf variety - since caffeine and I don't get along. The rest of the day? Good old H2O is my beverage of choice! A hint of lemon or lime adds just enough pizzazz to make it refreshing and fun!
3. Dream vacation?
You're really generating some thought on this one, Jill! I love warm weather - so I'm going to say a tropical destination. I love a nice, sandy beach where I can relax with a good book, or get out in the water to kayak or snorkel. Yup! I can imagine it now, completing an award-winning, inspirational, Christian romance novel by Jill Kemerer, before heading out to swim with the exotic fish and sea turtles... Sounds like the perfect vacation to me!
4. What are you listening to right now?
Ahhh! The silence of being the only one at home right now. It's easiest for me to write with no distractions. Reminds me of a Bible verse the Lord has etched into my heart, "Be still, and know that I am God..." (Psalm 46:10; KJV).
I’m inviting myself along on your tropical getaway—and how sweet of you to say that about my books! We’ll have some sunshine, frozen drinks, and a lot of laughter. Anyone else want to join? Oh, and I’m a Rachael Ray magazine subscriber—the chili sounds yummy! Thanks so much for being my guest today!
Have a marvelous Wednesday!
Monday, April 2, 2012
I rely on a number of systems for every aspect of my writing life. One system I can't live without? Keeping my draft files organized.
Maybe you're the type of writer who only keeps one draft? The current one is the best one? I save drafts at each step in my process. With computer storage growing larger each year, I don't have to eliminate any drafts even though I rarely go back to those middle versions.
When I start a project, the first thing I do is create a new folder in Microsoft Word. It is stored as a sub-folder in my master folder, Single Title Books. I also write category length romances and have a master folder for those. You could name your master folder anything you want--if you write more than one genre, maybe call it Historicals or Suspense?
I name the book's folder with the working title of the book (which sometimes changes!). If I'm writing a series, I might number the books or precede their titles with a, b, c. This allows them to show up in the order of the series, rather than alphabetically by their title.
In the book's folder, I create more folders.
Since I rarely enter Contests, not every book has this folder, but when I am entering them, it helps to keep my entries straight. The Critiques folder holds every critique I receive. I always rename the files I get back from my critique partners to reflect who sent it--for example, NLOLpartialCindy. This saves time when I want to look up a file. The Synopses folder holds my short and long synopses, as well as earlier versions and later versions. I include a date in the file name--for example, NLOLlongsynop032312. If you're querying, you might want a Query folder to keep track of the various letters you send.
The Drafts folder holds all versions of my manuscript. I name them according to what draft I'm working on. My first draft is usually 1draftNLOL (NLOL are the initials of the title). When I mark the first draft up to revise, I save my comments in a file named 1adraft. To make those changes, I save 1adraft as 2draft. I continue to number my drafts until I've reached the final, polished version. The file then gets renamed with the title--for example, New-Lease-On-Love-Full-Manuscript.
Why name the final version with the spelled out name? It's easier for agents and editors to find the file with your title in it rather than figuring out a file name like finaldraft or something vague.
Another thing I do is keep my working draft in the project's main folder, not in any subfolders. This allows me to get right to work--no guessing which version is my current one. Not that I would, since I simply head to the last numbered version, but still. Anything to make life easier.
Last week Cheryl Reif shared an excellent post on making the most out of Microsoft Word. I'm linking it here, "10 Ways to Use Microsoft Word More Effectively." One thing she mentioned is to date each file as you edit it. The article is full of other great tips, so I hope you'll check it out.
How do you keep your drafts from becoming a jumbled mess in your files? I'd love to hear your methods!
Have a fantastic Monday!