Archive for October, 2015

IT’S TIME TO TALK ABOUT CRITIQUES

October 30, 2015

Wow, I just looked through eight years full of blogs and discovered I’ve never discussed critiques.  At some point in their writing career, every writer (okay, every conscientious writer) decides that perhaps someone else ought to see their work and enters the world of critiques.

I’ve had mixed luck with critiques and so I’ll point out the positives and pitfalls of this process.  Before I do I’ll just say if you are critiquing another writer’s work, tread lightly.  When I was personally guiding critique groups I established a rule—one positive comment for every two negative ones.  Critiques can be devastating.  I’ve seen new writers walk away from a particularly negative group and never return to writing.

Some tips:

  1. The Golden Rule applies here. Critique as you wish to be critiqued.  Don’t tear the piece apart.  Yes, it may be a new writer and yes, the piece may be a mess.  But everything has a redeeming quality, so don’t eviscerate the writer or the piece.
  2. If you are getting a critique keep in mind who is looking at the piece. That’s why if I’m entering the contest, I don’t ask for a critique unless I know who the critic is—agent, editor, published writer yes—another writer forget it.
  3. Despite the fact that they may not be knowledgeable, beginning writers seem to insist on spewing vitriol in a critique group. So if you are a seasoned writer ignore it and go on.  Don’t seethe and envision ways to set fire to everything the beginner has written.  Their time is coming.
  4. Even professional writers miss sometimes. Asking a thriller writer to critique a romance may result in bad information and hurt feelings. So if you are looking for a critique try to find someone with credentials in your writing field.
  5. This is not English class. A critic who insists that you use “proper English” may not be the critic for you. If your characters drop “g”s or use colloquialisms asking an English teacher for a critique is a very bad idea.  It will take you longer to undo what the critic did than to finding a compatible critic.

So ask for a critique when you are ready, but don’t feel that everything the critic says came directly from a publisher or GOD.

 

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CONTESTS–ARE THEY WORTH IT?

October 23, 2015

Since our organization, the National Writers Association runs several contests per year, I’m frequently asked whether it is worth the money to enter a contest. My answer is always the same—it depends on why you are entering. Here are some reasons to enter or not enter a contest.

1. GOLD AND GLORY-If you are entering a contest to win the prize or the prize money, it probably isn’t the best idea to enter the contest. Adding a contest win to your resume might stroke your ego, but will it sell your work? Probably not.
If the prize is publication, go out and find a copy if the previously published works. Do they look like they were self-published? Can you even find a copy of the published work? Will it mess up the possibility of having a regular (dare I say legitimate) publisher publish your work? Answer these questions before you enter the contest.

2. LEARNING MORE ABOUT YOUR WRITING-If the contest offers a critique of your work or even judge’s evaluation sheets enter it and expect to get an evaluation of your work. Most contests have writing professionals judge the entries. This gives you an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of your writing. Sometimes judges miss a point, but overall they have no “skin” in this game so they will give you a fair evaluation. You might learn that the area that you thought needed work is not the area where the judges feel needs attention.
Learning how your writing stacks-up against the competition will help you grow as a writer. You need to develop a bit of armor to handle some criticism, but eventually you’ll be able to take the good and bad without thinking you’ve been personally attacked.

A couple of last thoughts.
Don’t argue with a judge. Being contentious will only end up hurting you in the end. Have you forgotten that editors, agents, and publishers talk to each other? Even if you feel you have an honest gripe, it won’t win you points in the publishing world.
Read the contest rules and follow them. If they request an SASE for results—send it. If there’s an entry fee—pay it. I know from experience not following the rules can and, at least in our corner of the world, does result in a walk to the shredder. Be aware of why you entered a contest in the first place and learn from your participation. If you can follow these simple steps you’ll be a better writer and soon you could be a published writer.

ROYALTIES–DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!

October 16, 2015

It is the time of year when large numbers of publishers pay their author’s royalties and if you are a new author your blood pressure is rising and your heart is beating faster. Sage advice—don’t hold your breath otherwise you may pass out before the check comes.

Remember that contract you signed? Maybe you’d better spend your time reading it. Come on—I know you were so excited you just signed it and didn’t bother to read the fine print. So while you’re waiting– do some reading.

Unless you are a “best-selling author” your royalties may be a pleasant number under $1,000. Be glad. Go out and purchase your winter fuel or stock up on groceries. It isn’t going to be enough to purchase a small island in the Bahamas or a week in Paris.

In the 1980’s I knew an author of a Sociology textbook who was able to purchase a car with his royalties. Key points—it was a textbook (actually the only one available in that subject area in the United States) and it was the 1980’s. I was impressed, but reminded myself that writing another textbook, at least in Sociology wasn’t going to buy a car for me.

Why write if it doesn’t pay? The answer to that old question lies in you. Most of us don’t write for the paycheck. If we do, we are writing magazine articles and technical pieces. If you are writing novels or short nonfiction, you are probably writing because you feel compelled to do it. You want to get your thoughts and words on paper. You aren’t writing for a paycheck. If you are I suggest you check your local fast food restaurant. Paychecks come twice per year in the form of royalties and they aren’t millions of dollars.

You write because you are compelled—you want to get your thoughts down on paper. That’s why you write. If you are writing for the royalties, WOW are you going to be surprised.

ARE ALL THOSE SOCIAL MEDIA SITES WORTH IT?

October 9, 2015

As a writer, I’ve heard more than a few colleagues ask the above question. My answer is some maybe, all probably not. When my historical saga came out, I hired a publicist to help me get the word out. She immediately contacted me with a list of social media sites I needed to add to my life to “get the word out.” I complied feeling that if I didn’t I’d be going counter to her efforts. Boy, was I a dreamer! First she did nothing on that front. From the media sites, few if any members flocked to my book or my Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn/Goodreads/LibraryThing posts or e-mail pages. I didn’t rack up thousands of followers and book sales failed to soar.

Perhaps the worst result was that I spent so much time keeping up with all of the new media that I didn’t have time to write, and the sequel to that first book still isn’t complete. I’m not laying blame on the social media or the publicist, but you can spend you life on those places and accomplish nothing. Because the Internet is everywhere you might think that this exposure would drag in International readers like bees flocking to red flowers, but you’d be wrong. I know this sounds like sour grapes, but I’m just trying to be honest.

If your name isn’t Stephen King or Danielle Steel, you’re probably not going to drag in a lot of new fans. If you can’t be brilliant and witty all the time, your Twitter readers are going to get tired of checking your new posts and go back to posting information about their own (many times self-published) new books.

What I’m saying here is, we are writers, not social media gurus. We need to do what we know best and WRITE.

SOMETHING TO SAY, WHEN TO SAY IT

October 2, 2015

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For the last couple of weeks my blog has gone dark. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have anything to add to the observation world. It meant I was super busy. Part of that was a bit of time relaxing. Yes, I consider that being “busy”, because everyone needs a bit of time to debrief.

Even the most dedicated writer needs some time to observe the world around them and relax. For me that meant taking a quick trip to the Rocky Mountains to observe the changing aspens. We caught them at just the right time and it was a real joy. It used to be the one time when my husband would drag me away from the keyboard and take me on a car trip. With him gone, it was strange to be sharing this experience with my daughter. It seemed a bit strange that in the years my spouse and I had experienced this sojourn, we’d never shared it with our daughter. She thoroughly enjoyed herself and I smiled as she gushed over the striking reds and yellows nestled between the groves of Douglas firs and blue spruce. We traveled on a road I hadn’t been on since 1968. What a new perspective I gained seeing it from her eyes.

A joyful experience emerged instead of the possible sorrow of losing a fifty-year companion. Seeing the world through a new set of eyes made a more relaxing time and I returned ready to get back to the task at hand.