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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

When should you hire a freelance editor? Part one

Let’s face it, writing is not for wusses. It involves at least a small financial investment in books, workshops, conferences, equipment, office supplies.

Because of that, I have several low-cost services in my Story Sensei service, like the Synopsis critique, Synopsis writing worksheet and Screening critique.

But even these services cost money. How do you know at which point you need to hire a freelance editor, whether it’s me or someone else?

Are you in a critique group or do you have critique partners?

If the answer is no, then you are not yet ready to hire a freelance editor.

Critique groups/partners help you grow from a beginning writer to a strong intermediate one. They can help you understand basic things like point of view, showing versus telling, passive verbs, -ly adverbs, proper punctuation/grammar, etc.

For example, if you are a beginning writer and you hire me for a manuscript critique, I will point out all the above in your manuscript for you, but I will be so busy pointing those things out that I won’t be able to comment on deeper things like writing with more emotional intensity, sentence structure variation, deep point of view, scene structure, polishing your writer’s voice, and effective story pacing.

You want the most bang for your buck, right? If your writing is already strong thanks to a critique group, then I can spend time during your critique pointing out things that will take you to that next level of writing.

Click here for part two

Monday, August 18, 2008

Critique group/partner etiquette, part two

Give useful feedback. Don’t just praise the writer and not make any kind of useful comments in a manuscript. That isn’t helpful.

Critique groups and partners are meant to help writers grow, not just pat them on the back. You want to be both encouraged and challenged by your group/partner, and encourage and challenge them in return.

Good writers always want to be challenged to improve their writing. Even multi-published, best-selling authors are constantly learning new things about their writing craft to improve and grow.

Listen to the feedback people give you. What’s the point of being in a critique group if you’re not going to listen to anything people tell you?

Be open to hearing things—sometimes hard things—about your writing. Realize that it’s meant to help you become a better writer.

And then do something about the things people tell you. Don’t just smile, nod, and go your merry way. Work to improve your writing and make it better because of the feedback you get.

On the flip side, be judicious about what advice you take or ignore. Not all critique comments are going to be good for the manuscript.

It’s not that your critiquer was wrong, just that the comment isn’t right for your story.

Go with your gut and try to discern what advice you follow, and what advice you choose to ignore. (Just make sure you don’t ignore everything your critique partner/group tells you!)

Your discernment will get better the longer you write and get feedback on your writing. It might be hard at first to figure out what to keep or ignore, but you’ll find it gets easier as you get more and more feedback. You’ll start to recognize what comments are most applicable for your manuscript.

Now you’re ready to dive into your first critique group! Go to it!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells

What could be better than a book sale?
A SALE on BOOKS!! Former editor, agent and a writer of romance herself, Alice Orr is offering her inventory of her 2004 Writer's Digest Book on the used book store at Amazon.

No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells (Hardcover)

Book Description
It's often said that "rejection is a part of the writing business," and aspiring writers are advised to learn to live with being rejected again and again. Not anymore! With the invaluable hints in No More Rejections, readers will learn how to turn "No" into "Yes."

Successful literary agent, author, and former editor Alice Orr combines lessons on craft with lessons on marketing to create a series of tips and techniques that help writers think about their book's marketability while they write it. Chapters feature lessons on: *Scoping out salable story ideas *Creating compelling characters *Writing an opening sentence that sizzles *Crafting sex scenes that satisfy *And more!

From writing the story itself to writing the pitch that sells the story, this book has it all!

About the Author
In addition to owning her own literary agency for 10 years, Alice Orr is an award-winning romance/suspense author whose books include Protect Me, Love; Manhattan Heat; and Dear Santa. She lives in Burton, Washington.

From Ms. Orr, "I have listed the book for sale under New and Used at Amazon for $7.89 (usual price new is $22.99) with a personal autograph by me and extra added writing exercises. These pluses are mentioned in the listing so you can't miss it. "

Friday, August 15, 2008

Critique group/partner etiquette, part one

Once you join a critique group or find a critique partner, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Critiquing, just like writing, is a time commitment. If you get feedback on your manuscript, you’re expected to give feedback in return.

If your critique partners give fabulous, detailed, valuable feedback, you are expected to also spend as much time giving detailed feedback on their work.

It just isn’t fair if your time commitment isn’t the same as the other people in your critique group or your critique partner. Don’t be a leach, and don’t be selfish—give back as much as you receive.

Don’t be argumentative. No one likes a whiner. Even more, no one likes a belligerent writer. You can expect to get bad feedback or kicked out of a group if you insist on arguing with your critique partners.

Take time after you get a critique to calm down and get some distance (physical and temporal). When you return to it, you might find that the comments are more helpful than you initially thought.

And if you don’t agree with a comment, don’t argue about it. A critique is only one person’s opinion, and they’re entitled to it. Be polite and treat your critiquers the way you’d like to be treated.

Be timely. If your critique group agrees to one chapter a week, then critique your groups’ chapters that week, especially if you expect them to critique your chapter that week.

It isn’t fair—in fact, it’s plain selfish and inconsiderate—if your group is critiquing your chapters, but you “haven’t yet gotten to” their chapters. Most likely, they’ll stop critiquing your chapters for you.

Be honest, but don’t be malicious. Balance positive comments with negative comments.

Even long-established critique partners will sprinkle “LOL”s in their friends’ manuscripts as well as hard criticism at other places. They’re not always just negative or critical.

If you are crushing another writer’s spirit with your comments, it’s time for you to look long and hard at your own attitudes or leave the group.

More next time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Finding the right critique partners

Finding the right critique partners is kind of like marriage. Lots of dating to find someone (or several people) who fit you best.

Try out a group/partners for a few months first.

You’ll be able to tell after a while if the group is a good fit for you. You’ll want to match on several different levels:

1) Does the group/your partner submit chapters for critique as often as you do? If they submit more often or less often, it might not be a good fit.

You don’t want to spend all your time critiquing several their chapters when they only have to critique one of yours in the same time frame.

Similarly, they might resent if you submit many more chapters than they do in a month, and they’re forced to critique more for you than you critique for them.

2) Does your group/partner “get” your writing and are they able to give useful feedback?

If your critiquer(s) are giving feedback that is completely off base because they don’t really understand your writing or the genre, it might be a hint that you need different critiquers.

On the other hand, if they don’t understand your writing, it could also be an indication that your writing is not clear enough, and you need to clarify things. If they don’t get your writing, there’s a chance an agent/editor won’t get it either. So weigh this point carefully.

3) Does your group/partner give emotionally helpful feedback?

You don’t want a cheerleader who thinks everything is fabulous. On the flip side, you don’t want a negative person who has nothing but negative things to say.

Find out what you need in a critique group/partner—how much positive versus negative you need to be helpful and yet not crushing.

4) Are your critiquers honest with you?


Do NOT give in to the lovely feeling of having critiquers who think everything you write is brilliant. You will never become a better writer with critique partners like that. And your chances of being published diminish significantly.

5) Does the group/partner’s critique style match your own?

Are YOU giving helpful feedback, a helpful mix of negative and positive, honest and useful?

I’ve seen that most critique groups that are successful are formed of people whose critiquing styles are very similar—the mix of negative versus positive, honesty, and “getting” their work.

There are two sides to this—are you making the effort to give good feedback? Are your group/partners making the effort to give good feedback?

If it’s the former, it’s time to shape up! If it’s the latter, it’s time to ship out.

Don’t feel guilty for needing to leave a critique group. You wouldn’t want to be married to the wrong person, right? Similarly, you don’t want to remain in an unhealthy critique group.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Critique groups

Are you in a critique group or do you have critique partners?

If you don’t, I strongly suggest you find one.

Why do you need a critique group/critique partners?

While it’s true that there are several published authors who don’t have critique groups or critique partners, there are far more who do.

Writers always can use feedback to help their writing be stronger. They can help you with punctuation or grammar errors, and can help you flag things like passive verbs, telling, backstory, etc.

If anything, critique partners help you catch inconsistencies in the story like your heroine’s eyes changing from blue in chapter two to green in chapter fifteen. Or having your hero sprain his ankle in chapter one and it miraculously heals by chapter three.

Critiquing other people’s manuscripts can also help you improve your writing skills. In pointing out weak writing in your critique partner’s work, you can also be aware of weak writing in your own.

You don’t have to worry about anyone stealing your work. According to copyright laws, copyright is in effect as soon as you type it into your computer, and anyone stealing anything is infringement of your copyright.

Accepting critiques can be hard. I won’t lie—I always wince before opening a critiqued Word document. But the end result always makes me so much more satisfied with my story, it’s worth the initial pain. (Kind of like exercise, you know?)

Where can I find a critique group?

If you’re a member of a writing organization, they usually have critique groups you can join, or a Critique Group coordinator you can email who will put you in an online/email critique group.

If you belong to American Christian Fiction Writers, they have online critique groups for members. You can find the Critique Group coordinator in the Member’s Only section of the ACFW website.

If you belong to Romance Writers of America, they have many chapters (both online and local) which often have critique groups. I believe there is also an online RWA chapter for critiquing, but don’t quote me on that.

You can also get critiques free by joining On this huge site, writers can read and critique stories, poems and articles, post their own pieces for critique, and connect with other writers from practically any genre. There are several tiers of membership, from the basic Free membership to a full Business membership. The site policies, the innovative Gift Points system and the examples of generous community members work to maintain an honest and encouraging critiquing environment. Because the membership is so large, writers get a wide variety of critiques from people who are truly interested in the genre of their piece, and all writers are encouraged to review others in kind. This site is mainstream, not Christian, so be aware of an article’s Content Rating (similar to a movie rating).

If you write romance, there’s a good (mainstream, not Christian) and FREE YahooGroup for critique run by Charlotte Dillon, RWCcritique. RWCcritique is purely novel chapter critiques--you critique two other writers’ chapters for every chapter you submit. is a Christian writing website that also allows for critiquing. It’s a very friendly, helpful atmosphere, and I believe their forum discussion boards are still an active place (it was when I was more active on the website a few years ago). Like, it has several tiers of members, including a free one.

I list a few other critique groups on my Writers Groups article here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Waiting on God devo

My friend Tina Russo sent me this devotional she received. I love it--it's so appropriate for writers, whether published or unpublished.

And if you're not Christian, well, you don't have to read this post.


Waiting on God
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 1 by Os Hillman
Sunday, August 10 2008

"Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you
compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who
wait for Him!" Isaiah 30:18

Have you ever noticed that God is not in a hurry? It took 40 years
for Moses to receive his commission to lead the people out of Egypt.
It took 17 years of preparation before Joseph was delivered from
slavery and imprisonment. It took 20 years before Jacob was released
from Laban's control. Abraham and Sarah were in their old age when
they finally received the son of promise, Isaac. So why isn't God in
a hurry?

God called each of these servants to accomplish a certain task in His
Kingdom, yet He was in no hurry to bring their mission into
fulfillment. First, He accomplished what He wanted in them. We are
often more focused on outcome than the process that He is
accomplishing in our lives each day. When we experience His presence
daily, one day we wake up and realize that God has done something
special in and through our lives. However, the accomplishment is no
longer what excites us. Instead, what excites us is knowing Him.
Through those times, we become more acquainted with His love, grace,
and power in our lives. When this happens, we are no longer focused
on the outcome because the outcome is a result of our walk with Him.
It is not the goal of our walk, but the by-product. Hence, when
Joseph came to power in Egypt, he probably couldn't have cared less.
He had come to a place of complete surrender so that he was not
anxious about tomorrow or his circumstances.

This is the lesson for us. We must wait for God's timing and embrace
wherever we are in the process. When we find contentment in that
place, we begin to experience God in ways we never thought possible.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Market for poetry?

Sally Stuart posted a great answer to poets who want their work published.

Q - Market for Poetry

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Interview with literary agent Rachel Zurakowski

Today, literary agent Rachel Zurakowski is blogging at Seekerville. She's with the prestigious Books and Such literary agency.

She will also be answering questions, so leave a comment and she'll answer you sometime later in the comments.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Top Ten Mistakes I See in Fiction Manuscripts

Originally this article appeared on Gina Conroy's blog, but a few people were deterred because for some reason the page takes a while to load. So here's the article in full.

I run a critique service called the Story Sensei, and I’ve also judged a fair number of writing contests through RWA, in addition to coordinating the ACFW Genesis contest. I’ve noticed a few commonalities in the manuscripts I’ve critiqued and judged, and Gina asked me to share. So here is:

The top ten mistakes I see in manuscripts:

10) Inadequate use of point of view.

I’m not talking about head-hopping. I’m talking about a very distant use of point of view that doesn’t get the reader into the character’s head or feeling the character’s emotions.

For a first chapter, especially, this is crucial. If the reader isn’t immediately sucked into the character’s mind and body, if the reader doesn’t care about the character, they’re going to put the book down. This leads to the next mistake:

9) Inadequate character emotions.

A distant point of view will contribute to distancing the reader from the character’s emotions. And if a reader doesn’t feel the character’s emotions, why should they care about the character at all?

What I especially like about Nancy Kress’s book Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint is that she shows how emotion is very deeply intertwined with point of view. The deeper and more skillfully crafted the point of view, the stronger and more vivid the character emotions.

My suggestion is for writers to read up on viewpoint and emotion. There are lots of good books and workshops out there. One of the best is Margie Lawson’s workshop Empowering Characters’ Emotions.

8) A weak opening line.

When I see a strong, intriguing first line or first paragraph, I’m immediately hooked. Even if the story tanks from that point on, I will still stick with the manuscript for more pages than I would if the opening line were weak.

The opening line or paragraph needs to grab the reader. Something curious, ominous, intriguing, humorous, surprising, or alarming. Here are a few examples:

This was not the smartest way to die.

--A Soldier’s Family by Cheryl Wyatt

If there was one thing Josie Miller knew, it was the smell of a rich man. And whoever had just walked into the diner smelled like Fort Knox.

--Her Unlikely Family by Missy Tippens

At 1:33 a.m., nine hours and twenty-seven minutes before my wedding ceremony, my fiancé dumped me. By text message.

--Daring Chloe by Laura Jensen Walker

Make your opening line have POW!

7) No external goals.

I see this much too often. The main character will have no external goal to carry him or her throughout the story.

Without an external goal, the character is aimless, purposeless. It’s harder to follow a character who doesn’t know what they want, who doesn’t have a goal in mind.

Sometimes they have an external goal, but it’s resolved by the middle of the book. That’s not good either—it needs to be a goal that carries them through the climax.

If you’re not familiar with external goals, I can suggest Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins, and Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon ((you can only order this through the publisher’s website:

6) Episodic writing.

Every single scene should have something that moves the plot forward. It is not good enough if a scene shows a character’s charming personality or their relationship with their dog or their tendency to spill drinks.

Each scene needs to move the plot forward. Something has to happen, another step toward the climax of the story.

When it’s just people talking in a coffeeshop, then talking over a breakfast table, then walking the park, it’s called episodic writing. The story is not moving forward—the scenes are meandering, without purpose or direction.

If you don’t have something significant in the scene that moves the plot forward, cut the scene. Be ruthless. If you need to show the heroine’s relationship with her dog, then combine that in another scene that is moving the plot forward. That way, you kill two birds with one stone.

5) Too much narrative.

Especially the first scene of a novel needs to have movement. The characters don’t need to be shooting at people or having a car chase or running from an exploding building, but there needs to be some sort of movement, action, dialogue.

This is not the place for a character’s thoughts to go off on backstory or on their opinion of the new mayor’s policy on front lawn watering.

Action. Movement. Dialogue.

Give the viewpoint character a scene goal and have them pursue it. This will give purpose and movement to the scene, because the character isn’t going to stop and smell the roses—he’s going to fight the crowds at the rally and convince the mayor to sign off on his petition. Or she’s going to find her batty grandma somewhere in the craft fair crowd and take the old woman home.

If you’re not familiar with scene goals, brush up on Scene and Sequel, which is mentioned in Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain, Scene and Structure by Jack Bickham, and Randy Ingermanson in his article, “Writing the Perfect Scene.”

4) Not enough conflict and tension.

You don’t need characters to be fighting or shooting people, but there needs to be some sort of conflict or tension on every single page. And before you think that’s going overboard, analyze your favorite novel.

I will take one of my favorite novels, Pride and Prejudice, which many people would think has very little conflict or tension.

That classic first line, besides being very funny, bodes ill for any single man with a good fortune. That’s tension right there.

The next pages detail Mrs. Bennet telling Mr. Bennet about Mr. Bingley. Mrs. Bennet is over the moon at the prospects for the girls, while Mr. Bennet is being purposefully obtuse about it (conflict). Mrs. Bennet also wants Mr. Bennet to visit Mr. Bingley, and Mr. Bennet flatly refuses (conflict), besides which calling his daughters silly and ignorant (tension). The conversation goes downhill from there, as Mrs. Bennet gets more upset (tension) and Mr. Bennet has more fun teasing his wife (conflict).

Go through your manuscript and make sure you have conflict or tension in every single page, in every paragraph if you can do it. I highly recommend Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.

3) Amateur writing.

I’m lumping passive verbs, excessive use of –ly adverbs, exclamation points galore, and too many dialogue tags under amateur writing.

There are lots of articles online about these small mistakes that nevertheless make the writer’s amateur status stand out to an editor. If you haven’t yet read them yet, pick up The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

2) Cliches abounding.

I’m not only talking about clichéd phrases like “her heart pounded in her chest” or “he panted as if he’d run a marathon.” I’m also talking about clichéd characters.

Think of Scarlett O’Hara. Hercule Poirot. Indiana Jones.

They are incredibly unique, vivid characters that stand out from the rest. They are originals. They are definitely not clichéd or boring.

Your characters need to be that unique. Your characters need to be completely original. Your characters need to stand out from the other types of characters in the books on the Barnes and Noble shelves.

One of the only ways to make sure your characters are truly original is to read extensively. Know what types of characters are already out there on the shelves so that you can make sure your character isn’t like the heroine in the latest Susan May Warren romance, or the latest Colleen Coble suspense.

Your characters have to be UNIQUE. ORIGINAL. DIFFERENT.

1) Impatience.

I see too many manuscripts where the writers were too impatient to submit to editors or agents, and the writing is just not up to snuff.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it a good impression.

Read up on the writing craft. Take workshops. Order MP3 recordings of workshops from writing conferences. Go to a few conferences.

There are many writing craft books to choose from, and it can be overwhelming. But if you go to your favorite authors’ websites, they usually have a list of their favorite writing craft books. Many times, certain titles keep coming up because they’re loved by different authors.

If you haven’t read those certain titles yet, you’re not ready to submit to an editor or agent. If you haven’t yet done as much as you can to learn the basics of the writing craft, you’re not ready to submit yet.

Enter contests to get feedback so that your writing can be as polished as it can be. THEN start submitting to editors and agents. Make a fabulous first impression with your sparkling writing and professional craftsmanship.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Craft and Art, or, Are There Rules and Why?

Andy Meisenheimer, editor at Zondervan, posted a great email to the ACFW loop about following or not following "rules" in writing. I asked for permission and he let me repost it here for you guys. He has a lot of good things to say.

Craft and Art, or, Are There Rules and Why?

Writing is, as all creative media, a mixture of art and craft. Craft is what art is when it becomes codified--that is, when it can be deconstructed and taught. Art is where innovation happens. Craft is where convention resides. There are few artists who aren't first skilled craftsmen. The great artists are those who know how to take craft and transcend convention to create something new.

So the task of the budding artist is first and foremost to learn the craft. If you want to build a chair, just winging it, based on feelings and "voice", it will rarely result in a chair that will support a person, last through everyday use and stand up to abuse. Craft is the result of all the artists that have come before, trying to communicate with an audience, and learning from their stumbling and their successes.

So, is it really black and white all the time? Of course not. But there are things that have proven to resound with readers and those that have proven to put readers off. That's what we call craft. Poor craft, then, is writing that hasn't learned from the past. Learning the craft doesn't change someone's particular voice, it is part of the development of that voice. Voice is not an unrefined raw instinct--it is the result of deep study and intense deconstruction. And good craft isn't dumbing things down--it's making things accessible at a basic level where effective communication can happen.

For an example--omniscient point of view, which was once a part of the craft, has since become a technique, and a rare one at that. Is it wrong? No. Is it increasingly difficult to use and still capture the imagination of the majority of today's reader? Yes. And like most techniques, it's really easy to do very poorly. Just because you're doing omniscient POV doesn't mean you're doing it right. It has its own expectations, conventions, and guidelines, and just like the chair, winging it based on feelings and "voice" rarely produces a viable product.

On the other hand, there's a lot of folk wisdom and old wives' tales out there masquerading as "rules". Most of them have basis in a good idea, but then they get twisted as people look to make them easier to implement, or make them apply to their own personal tastes. When the difficulty of a convincing omniscient POV meets the glut of poorly-done or accidental omniscient POV, it's easy to just say "Omniscient POV is wrong." And then, in the age of the internet, woo hoo! Suddenly the whole world of aspiring writers knows it.

A good editor knows the difference between the rule and the craft. So when an editor makes comments about a certain technique, and says "don't do that", they aren't saying "you can't", but "it's not working for you." And it's because the editor, if they are a good editor, has noticed a disconnect between what the author intends and what the majority of readers will feel, subconsciously or consciously, and wants to save you from creating an undesired reaction in the reader.

And the best editors can tell the difference between good art and bad craft. I heard recently the comment "all books are starting to sound the same"--and there's no one good answer to that. I highly doubt, though, that it's because all of this brilliantly written art is getting edited *down* in the name of craft. It's a nice thought, if you're an aspiring writer. And I'm not blaming you--professional editors have their own personal demons to battle, but that's another story.

We need to think about writing more like an art form. When you see people in art museums copying the great works--when you hear your neighbor practicing the piano--when you see a ballet dancer stretching--when you see a film student furiously taking notes in a movie theater--those people all have dreams of changing the world someday, but in order to do so, they are learning the craft. Remember, that should be you.

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