Newbie Post #12: 5 Silver Linings in Those Rejection Letters

Cloud computing concept
Ahh, the rejection letter. The big “R”. That nasty little email we wait and wait for, only to drown in sorrows when it arrives. But is it really all that bad? Um, yeah, it is, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Here’s 5 reasons why those R’s can be a force for good:

1) I’ve sent out thirty queries and all I have to show is an inbox full of form rejections. (And that doesn’t include all the “no response means no”)
Okay, yeah, this is the worst. You’ve spent months, maybe years, perfecting that novel. Then months (hopefully not years) perfecting that query. Not to mention the agents who want a synopsis. And of course, every agent has different requirements: No attachments – Everything in the body of the email – PDFs only – Word doc only – Synopsis – No synopsis – 1st 10 pages – 1st 3 chapters and on and on . . .

You’ve worked your butt off and all you get is a lousy form rejection. And it’s headed with Dear Author, or maybe they used a name, just not your name. It can feel like utter, abject failure. But you’re wrong. First, let’s look at that statement: You’ve worked your butt off. You have! You know more about how to write a query, what to avoid, what agents might be interested in your work than you did before you started. It may not be much conciliation at this point, but just think of the experience you gained. Most authors aren’t published on their first try, so failure at this point isn’t really failure. It’s just one step in a long journey, so don’t stop now! (Incidentally, 30 queries isn’t that many, so don’t stop at thirty!)

2) I’ve received several requests for partial or full submissions, but they’ve all come back with a form rejection. Yup, this one’s hard too! You’ve gotten your hopes up that maybe, just maybe, an agent or publisher is going to like your work, then bam! None for you! But yes, there’s a sliver lining here too. So said agent or publisher read your letter. Either they liked your query, or the writing sample, or both. Worst case (and you’ll never know) they weren’t very impressed by the writing or query, but thought the premise of your story was interesting enough to give it a try. Unfortunately you have no idea why they decided to reject, but you do have something. The query worked. Or maybe your writing sample was strong. The idea has promise. Maybe the agent didn’t connect with it (universal agent code for they don’t want to represent this story) but that’s okay. From what I gather, an agent has to really be in love with an MS to represent it. You may just have to go through a lot of query letters before you find the agent that does. So keep sending out those queries, because clearly something is working.

3) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission telling me what they didn’t like about the story. Well, honestly, this one isn’t too bad. Rejections suck in all forms, but knowing why an agent didn’t fall head-over-heels with your novel is fantastic. Why? Because you know what you can work on. Or, in one case for me, I knew that agent wasn’t right for me anyway, so I didn’t feel bad about the rejection. She thought the story was going to be more character driven by my query and writing sample, but was disappointed to find out it had a lot of action. Cool! I have no intention of changing my YA novel to remove the action, so no biggie. She wasn’t the right fit. Now, had she said I did too much telling instead of showing, or the middle was boring and bogged down, or my MC was too whiny and annoying, then I have concrete things to work on. Not that you have to take what an agent says to heart. He or she is only one opinion, but it does give you something to think about.

4) I received a personalized rejection for this novel based on the query and the writing sample, but the agent asked to see my other work. Um, so just to be clear, there’s nothing sad about this! The agent liked your writing. Let me repeat: THE AGENT LIKED YOUR WRITING! This is golden. Not only are they asking to see more of your work, when you have something ready to send, there’s a good chance they will remember you! Be sure to mention your previous work and that they said X, Y and Z about it. Now is not the time to be shy. Consider this your personal invitation, because you now have a leg up on the entire slush pile!

5) I received a personalized rejection on my full submission, but the agent invited me to submit my future work. Once again, no frowny faces here! So they aren’t interested in representing this novel, which stinks, but there are often reasons. One of my latest rejections on a full was because the Post-Apocalyptic market is flooded and she didn’t think she could sell it. But she had many wonderful things to say about the manuscript. Take those compliments, store them in your little heart of hearts, and get back to work! You have agents who want to see future work, so make that future work. And make it as good or better than the novel they rejected. To repeat, this is a personal invitation. And just as a little tip, I got in the habit of telling the agents what I was working on next when I sent them my submission (I’m talking requested material, not query.) This generated interest by several agents in my next project. I have agents eager to see my next novel, and it isn’t even written yet!

So that’s all I have. There are many kinds of rejections, and I’m sure I didn’t highlight them all, but this should give you a little boost in finding that silver lining. Rejections are hard, no denying it, but if you want to do better, get better and be better, you must learn from them. I haven’t completely given up on I Have No Name, but I’m happy to save it for later while I work on another project. And I have learned so much about how to navigate this business in the mean time that my energies are far from wasted!

What have you learned from rejections that has helped you (or is currently helping you) to be a better writer and make the next one stick?

More of my posts on querying:

Queries! Queries! Queries! : Researching Agents

Queries! Queries! Queries?? How to Write a Query Letter

Agent Research: I Forgot to Tell You Something!

How I Got My Agent (Or the art of never giving up)

Newbie Post #11: Let Your Verbs Do the Heavy Work!

Newbie Post 11

As usual, I’m not going to take any expert credit on this post. I have learned through beta readers, friends on Absolute Write and reading blog posts until my eyes blurred! Strangely enough, I had difficulty digging up blog posts that specifically deal with this issue. I don’t know. Maybe it’s one of those things mentioned here and there, but I didn’t Pin any topic-specific posts on Pinterest. Anyway, I’ll try to talk a little about strong verbs, and point you towards a few helpful sites. Plus, I’ll throw in reference charts compiled from several sources online. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the sources when I wrote down all the strong verbs in a notebook, so I won’t be able to site all the places I found these.

So what is a strong verb? I’ll try a few, not so well-written examples, but hopefully it will illustrate the point.

I ran to the treeline looking for cover

I bolted to the treeline looking for cover.

So that’s pretty rudimentary, but you see what I’m talking about. Yes, run is an action verb, but it’s boring, mundane. As writers, we can come up with something far better. There are many words that can replace simple verbs like run, walk, said, that can be far more descriptive.

“I hate you, Evan. And I never want to see you again,” she said.

“I hate you, Evan. And I never want to see you again,” she screamed.

The first is fine if your character is full of cold fury, but if she’s manic and enraged, screamed works much better. You don’t always have to use descriptive verbs (especially when we’re talking about said) but there are many times when simply changing out one verb for another can give a whole new meaning to the sentence.

That’s kind of it. It’s not exactly a difficult concept. Using verbs that give strength and description to your sentences will make your writing pop. Not to mention, strong verbs usually involve fewer words and get you closer to the action, kind of like those filter words we talked about last time.

Here are a few websites that probably (most definitely) explain this better than I, so please have a look:

Keyboard Smash Writers short post on strong verbs
Writers In The Storm post Use Adverbs “Consciously” To Make Your Writing Strong (Not exactly verbs, but still related)
Writer’s Digest post on Subverting Adverbs and Clichés by Chuck Sambuchino (More adverbs, but illustrates the point)
University of Houston Clearlake post on Strong Verbs

Here are two charts that help to illustrate how you can take a very common verb and use something more descriptive to give life to your sentence:

Click image to see larger

Click image to see larger

*Word of caution on the word “said” and replacing it. Do so sparingly! “Said” is the wood paneling in every 70’s home: not particularly pretty, but so common you don’t even notice when you see it. If you start replacing every “said” with something colorful, it will stand out like a sore thumb. Only use a descriptive word here when it is important to differentiate your dialogue from simple talking.

Click image to see larger

Click image to see larger

And if all of that isn’t enough, here are a few more links to charts and lists of strong verbs to help boost your verb vocabulary:

Strong Verbs to Persuade on Mrs. Swanda’s Writing Resources
Email Writing Tips: How to Keep Your Prospecting Emails Short on Radius.com (This one is aimed at emails, but applies to all writing in many ways)
Strong Action Verbs on AirforceWriter.com

Hope some of this is helpful in your quest for “perfect” writing abilities. Yeah, that endless (and unatainable) quest we all pursue! 🙂

Look for Newbie Post #12: Describing Emotion in Writing

Newbie Post #10: Filters Are For Coffee, Not For Writing!

Coffee Mug Icon Computer Key For Taking A Break

Mmmm, coffee! That delicious drink that fuels our mad dash at the keyboard in an attempt to write the novel brewing inside us. What would we do without it? And filters make that possible. Whisking out all those gritty, bitter grounds that would ruin that delectable smooth concoction. But surprisingly enough, we need those grounds in our writing.

Wait, did I just compare your writing to coffee grounds? This comparison is getting a little off track, but the point is, you don’t want bland smoothness in your writing. You want the grit and the chunks and the texture that makes it come alive. Maybe not so much in coffee, but in writing? Yes!

So what are these filters that weaken our writing, making it easy to slip through the minds of our readers, leaving no impression and just gliding off into nothingness? Well, I had no idea they existed until I decided to do a little research into editing techniques. And this is what I found:

Basically, filter words are anything that weakens the impact of your writing and/or pulls the reader farther away from the action. And I don’t want to sound like I’m some expert here. Far from it. I’m going to share some fantastic websites that helped me better understand this topic, and maybe try to paraphrase for you.

Here is a list of blog articles that helped me to see where I was going wrong with my writing:

10 Words to Cut from Your Writing on Entrepreneur.com Gives a list of 10 unnecessary words to cut to tighten your prose.
Three Words You Should Eliminate From Your Writing on WriteToDone.com This adds one more word to the list in the previous blog post, but it’s still a good read to reinforce why we can skip these words.
8 Words to Seek and Destroy in Your Writing on LitReactor.com See the pattern here? Cut. Cut. Cut.
Are These Filter Words Weakening Your Fiction? on WriteItSideways.com This great post explains filter words and links to several more articles that can help, as well as listing a few more words to add to that growing list of filters.
Ten Words to Avoid When Writing on FreelanceWriting.com And a few more to add to the growing pile. Each article reiterates some of the tried and true favorites and adds one or two more.
Filter Words on PublishingCrawl.com Gives some great examples to help you see where you can eliminate words that distance your reader from what is happening.
Ten Quick Fixes to Improve Your Fiction Now on AbsoluteWrite.com/novels

And when you’re done with those, just Google some more. There are plenty of blog posts and articles to help on this subject. Here is a compiled list of all the words highlighted in the aforementioned articles, along with a few I’ve found to be troublesome myself, and in no particular order:

table

Just to give you an idea, I cut more than 200 words by eliminating the word “that”. Obviously not all of them. There are instances where it was needed, but there were 200 where it was not. I changed a lot of “I’ve got” and “you’ve got” to “I have” and “you have”. I used the word “own” so many times, I couldn’t stop seeing it once I realized it was there, as in “my own” and “his own”. Where ever I could, I changed -ing verbs, especially ones using the word “is”. For example: “My ankle is throbbing” was changed to “My ankle throbs”. See how that’s more immediate. Instead of the character telling us what she’s feeling, we feel it too.

And there may be be words that you use too much that are fine used sparingly, but in such quantities seems like a glaring error. Although, to be honest, some of these words on the list are personal preference. I can see limiting the word “of”, but when I went through my manuscript using the Find & Replace task, I didn’t see how changing the “of” would make it better. So to each his own. There, I used it again!

It never hurts to brush up on these, and I’ll be referring to my own post when I get to the editing stage again. The trick is to keep the reader fully invested in the characters and the action, so why put distance or filters between the reader and your story? It’s easy to write “weak” in a first draft, but once that’s done, edit “strong”.

Watch out for Newbie Post #11: Strong Verbs – This one’s self-explanatory, and kind of gets to the gritty chunks and textures I was talking about in the beginning of this rambling post.

If you liked this one, check out Newbie Post #9: You’re Novel Is Not Ready to be Seen by Anyone

I’m a liar . . .

I feel I owe all of you a minor apology. Okay, maybe not apology, but explanation. I said on this blog that I was going to participate in NaNoWriMo this year by starting the second book in my series. I would never pants my way through NaNo, or any book, I’m just too much of a planner, and it’s the only book I have plotted in my head right now. But I’ve come to a realization over the past month or so since that posting. My YA Post-Apocalyptic may not get an agent and consequently a publisher right now. The sneaking suspicion has been loitering in my brain, being dutifully ignored, but those rejection letters have helped to make it loud and clear. Oh, and this:

I’m certainly not finished querying my novel. I’ve given it my heart and soul, so I’m not going to abandon it so easily. But I don’t plan to put all my eggs in one basket, so I’m planning a new novel. And since I haven’t planned it yet, I can’t write it. Remember, no panster here. So NaNoWriMo is going to be NaNoReMo fro me (National Novel Researching Month).

And by way of encouragement, well, encouragement for me, here’s a little piece of a pleasant rejection letter I received from one of my dream agents:

I really like the writing here—it’s punchy and clean. That said I think it’d be very difficult to sell a post-apocalyptic novel just now, as I’m finding editors are a still suffering from a bit of dystopian/post-apoc fatigue. I don’t think I can take this project on, but if you have more you’d like to share, I’d be interested to see your other work down the line.

Umm, he’d like to see my future work. My future work! This is all the encouragement I need to know I’m on the right track. Maybe not with this novel (though, once again, haven’t given up), but the next, or the next. I’ve managed to gain attention from some pretty amazing agents with a concept that has been declared well-done. I am by no means discouraged by my rejections. Writing is a long term commitment and not for the faint of heart. I am a stalwart rock!

Newbie Post #9: Your Novel Is Not Ready to be Seen by Anyone!

Your Novel Is Not ready

So you finished that novel! All 129,000 words are shining and screaming for attention: Read me! Read me! Read me! But they’re not screaming at you. Oh no, they have much juicier prey to sink their many, many, many teeth into. So you hit up your husband, or your mom, or your sister, or that college friend who was an English major. But let me stop you right there . . .

First, there’s a good chance your novel isn’t ready to be seen by anyone. Believe it or not, you have some editing to do. Read through that monster, and take your time. Check for typos, delete unnecessary sentences, replace and/or delete filter words. You may need to cut scenes that aren’t advancing the plot or combine characters because you have too many, or any number of other tweaks and fixes to make that novel shine. And you’ll get far more out of your readers if you’ve ironed out some major kinks before you toss it in their lap like a basket of rocks.

And keep in mind, friends and relatives are not the best readers of your work. If you need a confidence boost, and don’t mind burdening your loved ones with that task, then go ahead. But don’t expect real constructive criticism. Even if they’re a reader. I have found not one of my family/friend readers have given me very useful feedback. Well, excepting that one doctor who helped with my medical scenes. And my Hubby who always asks important questions about the story. Otherwise, they serve to help me believe it isn’t total rubbish. That’s about it. (Even if it was total rubbish!)

My advice to you would be to read as many books on writing as you can find, Google articles and blog posts on revision and editing, check out my post on filter words—coming soon—and while you’re at it, my Pinterest board The Business of Writing is a plethora of articles and posts related to writing. There’s no shortage of info to help you be a better writer, so use it. It can’t hurt, and it will most likely help in a big way.

Newbie Post #10: Filters Are For Coffee, Not For Writing!

Newbie Post #1: My Humble Beginnings . . .
Newbie Post #2: Dreams Awakening . . .
Newbie Post #3: Yeah, About That Hobby Thing . . .
Newbie Post #4: Sally Green’s Acknowledgments and Why They Mean Something to Me
Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!
Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you LEARN!
Newbie Post #7: Beta Readers and Why They Rock! . . . Most of the Time . . .
Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts Are One-Night Stands!

The Query Process: Its Own Brand of Crazy!

Reject Key Means Decline Or DenyAs if the grueling process of writing an entire novel isn’t enough, now you have to find an agent to represent your book for its best chance of publication!

I know I jokingly said in an earlier post something to the effect of, “How much time can querying agents take?”, but that was a little tongue-in-cheek. I actually knew researching agents, crafting personal letters and compiling submission material to meet guidelines would be time consuming, I just didn’t realize how much.

And that’s not even considering the mental and emotional strife I’m dealing with. *Refresh email* *Refresh email* *Refresh email* *Partial request!* (Writer’s high) *Form Rejection* (Writer’s low) I think that’s why I find myself emotionally distancing myself from my novel right now. A rejection sends me into a flurry of, “What did I do wrong? What can I fix?” The emotional distance of finding the right business partner for the business document I have written is far less mentally taxing than waiting to see if a brilliant lit agent I admire will give my literary baby a nod of acceptance.

And it’s only week two. I’ve only dipped my toe in to the proverbial shark-infested waters. I’m not calling you literary agents sharks by any means. It’s just that to a writer seeking approval, it can feel like our egos are chum floating in the mixed waters of self-confidence and abject misery. *sigh*

Well, off to research more agents, try to find someone you think you can connect with through nothing but interviews and webpages, and write another sparkling query that will hopefully garner the right attention. This is far harder than actually writing the book, but I would like to say “Thank you!” to all the agents who have taken the time to read my letters. It can be just as hard for an agent to find that diamond in the slush pile, as it is for we writers to find the perfect partner for a literary career.

What kind of querying experience have you had? Do you use a rejection spike for rejection letters? What helps you to keep going, even after multiple rejections? And how many rejections before you say you’ve had enough and move onto another project?

Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts Are One-Night Stands!

One-Night Stand

I think we can all agree that we writers have a world. Critique groups, writing circles, online forums, blogging, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter. We are inundated with ways for our traditionally hermit-like tendencies to branch out into social sharing, learning, critiquing and commiserating the woes of being a writer.

When I first started searching the online forums, reading blog posts and generally dipping my toe (then diving head first!) into the world of writers, I came across a lot of new information. For one, there a lot of acronyms. It took me awhile to catch on to all of these, and I might do a quick post in the future, but I did eventually get them. I still only use a few, because I’m a write-it-out kind of gal, but it’s helpful to know what other people are talking about.

And the process of writing and getting published was a huge mystery. I learned from doing and from listening to others talk about their process, until now I think I have a pretty good handle on it (says the woman without an agent or book deal.) What really has me confused are two things: Writing Prompts and NaNoWriMo.

Yes, I know what both things are, but I just don’t understand their purpose. They seem pointless to me. And for those of you who may be wondering what NaNoWriMo is, it’s National Novel Writing Month, held every year from Nov. 1 through the 30th. Pretty much everyone in the writing world has heard of this. If you haven’t, no biggie, but you might want to get out more. 🙂

So why don’t you see the point?, you say, your hackles rising in irritation at my audacity. I love writing prompts and NaNo is my favorite time of year! I will tell you why, but let’s start with writing prompts.

I have notebooks full of ideas. I have ideas from my ideas. I have kernels of thought buried in my brain so small and inconsequential I haven’t written them down. What do I need writing prompts for? The exercise, you say. The act of taking an inspiration and turning it into a short story. Many a novel has been derived from a short story derived from a writing prompt. I’ll give you that. But if you have ideas that are inspiring you, why do you need more? And if you’re writing everyday like a good novelist should, why do you need the exercise?

This may sound like I’m being detrimental and mean, but really I’m not. I get they work for other people, but they are pointless for me. And there’s a tiny, persistent voice inside me that says they should be useless for you too. It’s small, easily shouted down, because what works for one writer doesn’t always work for the next. I allow that, but I feel if you are taking the time to write shorts based on writing prompts for the fun or the exercise, or you are doing writing exercises of another nature, you are wasting time you could be working on that novel. Writing itself is an exercise and if you are writing everyday with an end goal in mind (completed novel) then you don’t need the exercise of prompts. You’re already doing the work of improving by simply writing. And then there’s the editing phase. You learn more in that than you do the whole time your plowing away to reach The End, because now you’re networking out to others. Your betas will tell you what’s wrong and hopefully give you pointers on how to fix it. You yourself will read and see that first drafts are crap. Beautiful, shiny, wonderful crap, but crap nonetheless.

So this is where I’ll leave writing prompts. If they work for you, okay. But ask yourself if all the time you spend coming up with short stories you’ll never use would be better spent actually writing the novel you’ve been dreaming about for years. If the answer is no, then by all means, prompt-away. But if the answer is I don’t know, or maybe, or yes, then drop the prompts and get with that guy, er, novel that will stick with you through the test of time. Make a commitment. Don’t be scared! What’s the worst that could happen? You write 30k words then lose interest? Maybe, but that sounds a lot better to me than 30k split over ten stories that just sit on your blog or hard drive and never go anywhere. Rome wasn’t built in a day, my friends, and your writing career won’t be either. So treat it like a long term commitment, not a one-night stand. Quit being a writing whore!

And on to NaNoWriMo . . .

By now your blood is boiling at my insulting attitude, but hopefully you’ve stuck with me. I’ll be a little gentler on NaNo, though based on his popularity, I think he can take it. So, once again for anyone who doesn’t know, NaNoWriMo’s purpose is to write 50k words in one month. And I have actually heard of writers who have turned their NaNo-baby into a polished, published novel. I think Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was a NaNo-baby. Hmm, I like that term, NaNo-baby. I think I’ll keep it. And like your NaNo project, you may want to keep it too. At least here I can see the purpose. NaNo teaches you discipline, gives you goals, shows you how to track progress and takes those constant-editors and turns them into word-churning machines.

But I’ve never actually worked that way. I have carved out blocks of time in my life for writing. Very little interrupts that. I get done what I can get done and that’s enough. Unfortunately, I am a constant editor, and this is an area where I could use some improvement, but the discipline required to complete 50k in a month has never seemed like an asset to me. I’m in it for the long haul, the career, the commitment. There’s no short cuts to success and serious writers don’t need gimmicks to get them to complete a novel. In case you didn’t hear the sarcasm in that last sentence, it was there. I fancied myself above such silly games. I didn’t need to be tricked into writing a novel, I’ve completed two, by golly!

But you know what, I’m beginning to rethink that. No, I don’t need NaNo to complete a novel. I really have written two full-length novels. I know I can do it, and I have no doubts about my abilities to complete decent fiction. I’m no Hemmingway, and neither do I aspire to be, but I’m pretty sure my YA is better written than half the crap produced these days. Of course the other half makes mine look like cow dung, but still, middle of the packs not bad. So what can NaNo do for me? Well, like I said, I’m a constant editor. If I really look at the amount of time I’m writing, (this includes networking, blogging, etc., not just writing) I have a part time job of 18-20 hours a week. Some weeks more if I can squeeze it in. But I could write faster. I could force myself not to go back and correct every mistake, or re-write something because it “sounds” bad. That’s what the editing stage is for.

Like I said, I don’t need NaNo, and I’ve never participated, not only because it seemed pointless, but because I was already in the throws of writing (or in the throws of life!) when NaNo came around. Right now, though, I’m querying agents. So really, how much time per day does that take up? I’ve been networking and blogging (a very little) and generally spreading myself thin over Facebook, Twitter, Absolute Write and Pinterest. All of which has value, but I’m ready to start writing again. So why not? I have the second book to I HAVE NO NAME pretty much plotted in my head. It’s ready to go. I just have to pull the trigger, er, hit the keyboard. Why not turn it into a NaNo-baby? I’ve heard NaNo-babies have a face only a mother could love, but that’s okay. I’ll polish that precious bundle until she’s a shiny, sparkly manuscript.

And I have no illusions about winning NaNo. (You get to call yourself a winner if you complete the 50k, no matter how terrible they are!) Chances are good that life will prevent me from achieving that illustrious number, but it will kick start my writing. And for me, it’s more about teaching myself to push through and write than anything. Even if my NaNo-baby is a preemie at only 20 or 30k, I’ll have something to work with. So okay, I’ll give it a shot!

Newbie Post #9: Your Novel Is Not Ready To Be Seen By Anyone!

Newbie Post #1: My Humble Beginnings . . .
Newbie Post #2: Dreams Awakening . . .
Newbie Post #3: Yeah, About That Hobby Thing . . .
Newbie Post #4: Sally Green’s Acknowledgments and Why They Mean Something to Me . . .
Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!
Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you LEARN!
Newbie Post #7: Beta Readers and Why They Rock! . . . Most of the Time . . .

Newbie Post #7: Beta Readers and Why They Rock! . . . Most of the Time . . .

Shaking hands  people

I’m writing my Newbie Posts a little out of order. As I started writing this one, it turned into your-novel-is-not-ready-to-be-seen-by-anyone!, so I took a step back and realized I had another post to write. That will be Newbie Post #9, so look for it in the future. 🙂 But today I’m going to talk about why Beta readers are so important, but not always so important.

You’re at the point you’ve edited your novel several times (*not everyone agrees on how many edits a novel takes. I’m from the 20+ school, while Stephen King says only a couple, but we are not Stephen King, so edit heavily!) and you’ve let your husband, mom or best friend take a peek. They rave about how wonderful it is. How proud they are of you. What an accomplishment you’ve achieved! But before you send that bad boy off to an agent with a hastily slapped together letter stating your mom thinks it’s the next best seller, take a step back. Mom and Hubby are not the best judges of your work, unless of course your mom is, oh, I don’t know, J.K. Rowling or Margaret Atwood. If not, you may need some beta readers.

But how do I find a beta reader? I don’t know any writers. I live in a small town and there aren’t any writing groups! Just hold on a second and realize we live in the digital age. You have beta readers right at your fingertips. You just have to find them. I found mine through Absolute Write. I’ve talked about this website many, many, many times, and I will continue to do so. Without them, I’d be no where. If you’re writing in the black hole of loneliness, then you need to get out there and connect. You’re reading my blog, so that’s a good step, but find a critique group, forum or even just a couple other writers to form a circle of critiquing partners. Here is a short list of places to to start with, but really, I just used Google, so you can find some too:

Absolute Write: Beta readers, Mentors and Writing Buddies
Goodreads: Beta Reader Group
Tumblr: Find Your Beta Reader
World Literary Cafe: Beta Readers and Critique Groups

Seriously, it’s not hard. Just step out of your shell, place your fingers on the keyboard, annnnnnd reach out! Get connected. When I started on Absolute Write, I spent most of my time chatting in the newbie forums just to get to know people, and lurking among the forums geared towards my writing, too afraid to comment for fear I’d look like an idiot. That’s okay. You learn. That’s what forums are all about.

I’m digressing. Maybe you’re already on a forum, and this isn’t about how important it is to network (but it is important!) This is about how reaching out to another writer and sending your precious literary baby through the internet to reside in someone else’s computer is downright terrifying! What if they steal it?! What if they publish it?! I’m not going to lie, it could happen. There are copyright laws which I am not very knowledgeable about, so don’t get that info here. And I’ve heard the Poorman’s Copyright is a bit of a myth. A writing friend of mine had all her work copyrighted, and advised me to do so as well. Admittedly, I have not. No good reason, just haven’t done it. Still, the risk is minimal. I have never had a beta steal my work, that I know of. And at least on AW, there’s a thread on betas to watch out for because of bad experiences. I’d say 99% of writers on AW have had a positive experience with the betas they have worked with through that site.

And just to be clear, most betas want something in return. You read my novel, I’ll read yours. Honestly, this is the fun part. Unless of course the novel is simply so bad it’s no fun to even edit. But I’ve only had one of those and broke off the relationship. Which is another point: make sure that novel is really ready to be seen. A beta will not appreciate correcting your repetitive grammar and punctuation mistakes or reminding you not to write like a valley girl (Like, he went to the store, and totally bought that milk!) You will get more out of your beta if they can concentrate on writing style, plot holes, character development and other important aspects of your story. And you need more than one. I had six betas for my last WIP. I’m currently still working with two of them, because we wanted to develop writing relationships beyond just the beta exchange, and I’m so glad I did. Having a trusted circle of writing friends is invaluable and I hope I not only develop more relationships, but strengthen the ones I have.

Before you exchange your novels, set some ground rules or at least get an understanding of what you want. Exchange a chapter to see if you both want to work with each other. Let them know, and ask them what they want out of the critique. And be sure to let each other know how you expect to be treated. Some people like to be handled with kid gloves, others like the rough treatment. Me, I like professionalism, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather they were rough. Hand-holding and head-patting gets you no where. Kick me in the ass or don’t waste my time. Only tell me you love it if you really do!

Great. You’ve exchanged novels, critiqued, and exchanged again. Now what? Your heart is palpitating wildly, you feel like you’re going to be sick, and you’d rather face Freddy Krueger right now than open that document. But like the scantily clad girls in horror movies who are going to go through that door no matter how many times you shout at the screen not to, you’re going to click OPEN on your computer. And there it is, in black and white, or red, or whatever color they edit in. The page looks like Freddy Krueger got to it first. Just breathe. It’s going to be okay. Read. And keep reading, until you reach the end. Now that you feel like crap, open the next one, because you got more than one right?

At this point you may feel like crawling back into that black hole of writing loneliness, but don’t. Let those edits sit and stew for a few days. And no matter what you do, or what was said, DON”T reply to the critiquer in a negative way. Don’t do it! What you may take as a personal attack or over the line was meant only as a way to help you improve. Critiques are very rarely personally motivated. Chuck those hurt feelings in the bin and move on. Writers don’t get to have feelings except the ones they pour on the page.

Okay, so you’ve simmered and thought about what was said and you’re feeling less homicidal and misunderstood. Time to move on. And it’s time to go back and look at those critiques again. This time with a cool, professional eye. If more than one beta is saying the same thing, LISTEN! Chances are good they are right. If even one beta is telling you to fix something that you have doubts about, there’s a good chance this is correct as well, but here’s where it gets tricky. My best piece of advice is to go with your gut. It sucks, I know. I hate it when people tell me this, but it’s true. This is your story, and no one knows you’re story better than you. This is not a license to freely ignore every piece of writing advice you don’t want to hear. Sometimes we need to hear that our characters are flat, or there’s a gaping plot hole, or the drama of a scene isn’t coming through. We also need to hear that we use certain words too much, or our voice sounds stodgy or we need to show more and tell less. It’s hard, but listen and try to see where they are coming from. Look at your writing and critically asses whether they have a point or are clearly off their rocker. I’m going to tell you that 99% of the time, the beta has a point. But that doesn’t mean you have to change anything.

The other side of the coin is looking at where the beta is coming from. If they are telling you to show more/tell less, but their MS is dripping in purple prose, they may just have a different writing style than you. But if the show/tell beta has a decent amount of both in their novel, they might know what they’re talking about. If they say your love scenes are too prim and proper, but theirs borders on erotica, once again, take it with a grain of salt. And if ANYONE is telling you to make a major change in your novel, think that through before you change or disregard completely. Do not make a substantial change to your novel that doesn’t feel right to you just because a beta, or even several betas say you should. This is your novel. If you aren’t happy with the end product, then it was a wasted effort.

Personally, I’ve had great experiences with betas. Even when I ranted and raved to my husband how this person or that was a complete idiot, they didn’t get me, they were complete morons, I would later come back to the critique and often find merit in what was said. Criticism, even constructive criticism, can be tough to take, but you can also get some pretty amazing benefits too. New writers learn from others how to improve, not only from the critique they receive, but from the ones they give. More experienced writers will still learn. Writers never stop learning, but they also give back something that they most likely received when they were starting out.

And just one little side note on the benefits of beta readers, especially those you develop great relationships with. I had a beta make a suggestion about cutting/combining characters and adding a sub-plot twist. At first, I disregarded the notion, because this was my book and no one was going to tell me how to change it! But that little seed she planted grew and grew, until I couldn’t wait to get back to the computer and make a major change. From that tiny comment and suggestion, a new character was born. One I loved writing and I think I might even make a novella of him someday, because I HAVE NO NAME was unable to delve too deeply into his life, but there’s so much more to tell. The point is, write the story that’s inside you, but be open to others stepping into that world. After all, that’s what you’re writing it for, right?

* I just wanted to be clear on the editing note above. I edit my novels 20+ times to finish, not just to find a beta. 3-6 is probably a good number before a beta, though everyone is different. If you are experienced and confident of your writing abilities, then edit the number of times you see fit, just remember you’ll get more out of a beta if the mechanics are down pat first.

Newbie Post #8: Writing Prompts are One-Night Stands!

Newbie Post #1: My Humble Beginnings . . .
Newbie Post #2: Dreams Awakening . . .
Newbie Post #3: Yeah, About That Hobby Thing . . .
Newbie Post #4: Sally green’s Acknowledgments and Why They Mean Something to Me . . .
Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!
Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you win; Sometimes you LEARN!

Newbie Post #6: Sometimes you win; Sometimes you LEARN!

Hubby has this book. I’m pretty sure it was “required” reading from his boss. It’s called Sometimes you Win; Sometimes you Learn by John C. Maxwell. I have not read this book. And neither do I plan to. Just not my cup of tea. And I’m not sure Hubby has read all of it either. It is, in fact, his cup of tea. He loves books that talk about better ways to live and think and look at the world. He loves to let them pile up and collect dust on the bedside table. 🙂 I’m giving him a hard time, though it’s 75% true. He does read, but he works full time and comes home to a frazzled wife who just wants him to take over baby-duty. Plus he puts the three smallest boys to bed, so by the time that’s complete, he doesn’t have much time (or energy!) to read.

But I digress. I’m not going to talk about this book, just the title. Because it fits in very nicely with my next post. I didn’t publish my first novel. Most writers don’t publish their first novel. When you hear, “So-and-so’s debut novel does this-and-that,” usually that debut novel was not the first they wrote. Sure, for some of them it is, but the reality of novel writing is stacks and stacks of unused material that takes up space on our hard drive or in our filing cabinets, but never sees more than a few beta readers. It can be heartbreaking, allowing that beautiful story to molder in the recesses of whatever filing system we use, but it is a necessary thing. And it is not a failure!

I recently read On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King. A book review will come later! But the one thing that stuck out at me was how many times Stephen King failed. By failure, I’m referring to rejection letters. Granted, he knew he wanted to be a writer from a very young age. He was sending in short stories at around 11 or 12. And receiving letters of refusal. He was good enough they didn’t just chuck it in the trash and laugh at some kid who dared to send in a story. In fact, he started to keep those letters on a nail in the wall as proof that he was trying! Eventually, he switched to a stake in the wall, the letters piled up so thick.

And he didn’t necessarily view them as failure. He saw the progress. First, the letters were form rejections, nothing personal. But after a time he started receiving advice along with the refusal. I’m too lazy to go look up the examples he listed in the book, but they were words of encouragement, advice for how to improve, requests for a different kind of story. Progress! Not failure. And he did the only thing he could do from them: Learn.

When I trunked my MG novel, it was devastating. It felt like I had wasted years of research, networking, writing, imagining and learning, and for what? That book as it stands will never be published. I could have been writing something else. I could be published by now. I could be living my dream, right?

Wrong! If I hand’t spent several years honing my craft on that novel, I’d have been doing it on another. And the novel I just completed wouldn’t be as good as it is (that statement is subjective. 🙂 ) I had to learn somehow. It’s just like my first marriage and my second. Now, I’m not condoning a trial-marriage. No sir! Try to make that first one stick. But in my case, we didn’t treat each other very well. It took that failure for me to know how to treat a spouse better and also what is acceptable in the treatment of myself. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t gone through so many years of unhappiness. There are better ways to learn, yes, but I don’t regret my life. I learn from it. Because if I’m not growing through my mistakes, then what’s the point of living?

And what’s the point of writing? My second novel, writing-gods* willing, will be published. Whether it is and I start work on a sequel, or it isn’t and I find something else to write, the next project will be even better. It will take less time, be written better, and continue to improve my skills every time I sit down at the keyboard. That’s what your writing career is about. The hard work of progress and improvement littered with a trail of unused material and rejection letters. If you’re expecting that fairy tale career where your debut is published to rave reviews, you’re in the wrong business. It may happen, but it’s rare, and that’s why they call them fairy tales!

What failures have you experienced and what did you learn from them? Would you take them back if you could or was the lesson too valuable?

*My sister would call this writing-Jesus. She’s a reporter, and news-Jesus helps her out with good stories every now and then, but I wasn’t sure how it would sound in context so I went with a more neutral noun!

Newbie Post #7: Where I talk about Beta Readers and why they rock! Most of the time . . .

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Newbie Post #2
Newbie Post #3
Newbie Post #4
Newbie Post #5

Newbie Post #5: Let it go! Let it go! Turn away and slam the door!

Elsa-Frozen-Disney-Wallpaper

I apologize for the title, but I couldn’t resist. It was so perfect!

So there I was, my 130,000 word MG novel at its first draft. Yes, 130,000 word MG novel. Then came the editing stage, something that was completely new to me. I knew my word count was high, but hey, J.K Rowling did it, right?

Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Another lesson learned. J.K. Rowling can do whatever she wants because she’s J.K. Rowling. I had no concept of cutting scenes, finding the most important to keep, not padding my world building with a lot of unnecessary material, reducing number of characters, etc., etc.

I asked some poor, abused family members to read. One still has my printed manuscript in binders. That was six years ago. I’m hoping they’ve disposed of it by now. Anyway, my sister thought it was good. Of course she did. She’s my sister.

Girl Asleep On Her Notebook Computer

Onward and upward to finding beta readers. They thought the writing was good, though they had a lot of ideas for cutting and condensing. More work. Great! I love writing and I’m happy to edit. This was fantastic.

open blank book and puzzles concept

And so it went for a good year. Cutting. Editing. Obsessing over what to cut and what to edit. More editing. More thinking. Every spare minute dedicated to a manuscript and characters that I loved. I had a whole series planned and some were destined for death while others for a somewhat happy ending. The groundwork was laid for an in depth MG series.

There was just one problem. Okay, there was more than one problem. The writing was decent (I think), the story was intriguing, my characters were well developed, but it was still way too long and it smacked of Harry Potter. You just can’t write another book in that vein anymore. The chances of getting published are minuscule, but the chances of getting sued are through the roof. Not to mention the fan base would tear you apart for even attempting such a lofty goal. No, it wasn’t fan fic, but only someone who’d been living under a rock for the past twenty years wouldn’t notice the correlations.

I knew all the problems that existed with my novel and the unlikely chance it would get published. The belief that I was a writer, and that was my career (despite the absent paycheck) had taken hold and I knew I had to make the decision that was best for my career. It was time to let it go. Trunk it. Maybe some day I’d come back when I could divorce myself from writing the next HP and just take my characters on the journey they were meant to take. We’ll see.

And I had this idea, about a girl who lived alone for two years after a plague wiped out mankind, or so she thought. The story wouldn’t let go, and I was filling notebooks with research and plotting and character development.

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Somewhere along the way I found out I was pregnant with twins. Morning sickness took over and then my babies were born almost three months early. We spent months in the hospital, followed by the life changing experience of bringing home preemie twins. I didn’t write much for almost a year and half, but I had I Have No Name planned in detail in my head and in notebooks. I just had to start writing.

Writing isn’t just about the fame or the money (however small they may be) or even getting published, but to take the purist attitude that I am only an artist, I will write what I want despite the market and I will pay no attention to such mundane things as the business side of writing is tantamount to career suicide. I will state it loud and clear. My goal is to be published, have a decent following and make enough money that I can justify it as a career and continue writing. Anything less is failure in my book.

I understand I may not reach my goal, but I will do whatever I am capable of to achieve it just the same. Even if it means giving up on a novel that will never be published. There may come a time I say that about my current WIP, and I already have several ideas vying for the right to come alive. That is the business of writing, and though it was very painful to let that MS go, it was the right thing to do. You can’t hang your career on one manuscript. Or even two. Some authors publish their first efforts, but most do not and I will not let my first “failure” inhibit me from moving on.

Newbie Post #6: Where we discuss why not publishing your first MS is not failure!

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Newbie Post #3
Newbie Post #4