Tag Archives: critique partner

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends…

19 Oct

By Sarah J. Maas

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So, several months back, I posted a semi-tongue-in-cheek survival guide to revisions on my personal blog. Mostly, my must-have supplies included things like ten pounds of candy and sweatbands. And to be honest, I totally did need those things to get through revisions.

BUT having just sent in my final line edits for QUEEN OF GLASS (now onto copy edits!!!), I can look back at the trek through revisions and say that there is a LOT more to surviving it than twix, diet mountain dew, and neon-green sweatbands.

Some writers go through many, many rounds of revision. Personally, I went through two rounds, with a third, very small round of line edits. But each round taught me something new. From the small things (it’s “toward” not “towards”) to the larger-picture stuff, I feel like I’ve emerged from revisions knowing not just more about myself as a writer, but also more about my strengths as a person.

It’s different than working with your agent or your critique partner (though it’s similar in some ways). Mostly because with each round, you realize you’re getting closer to the final product—which you CANNOT change. There’s a sense of finality looming over the whole thing, and it pushes you to really, truly making sure you’re giving your all. It’s exciting to realize you are SO close to being published—it’s exhilarating, actually.

But there are the dark moments, too. The moments when you wonder if you’re just kidding yourself and your manuscript is a giant mess that you’ll never have enough time to fix, the moments when you think every word is garbage and you just want to go veg on the couch and pretend you don’t have a deadline to meet.

And those are the moments when you really need your #1 resource when surviving revisions: your writing friends. See, I spent years thinking that CPs and writer-friends were great for everything before the book deal—no one ever really told me how very important they are for the stuff after it.

They will talk you off ledges, they will reassure you that your work isn’t garbage, they will brainstorm with you for HOURS even though they have their own deadlines…They will hold your hand and never ask for anything in return, because they know exactly what you’re going through.

You’ll find yourself revealing your doubts and vulnerabilities—voicing the things that really terrify you, the dread so horrible it keeps you up at night. And you know what’s the most surprising thing you learn? You’re not alone in feeling that way. Because your friends either have faced or are facing the same fears and pressures and doubts.

Not to mention, when you get stuck during revisions, they know your work well enough to help you brainstorm your way out of it, or to just approve a semi-crazy idea that you have that miiight solve a plot problem. I cannot tell you how many times I emailed or IMed one of my CPs with a “What if I did THIS!?” question about QOG, or a “How do I fix THAT!?” complaint, and they helped me through it. Better than that—they made me EXCITED about those changes.

I’m a fairly independent person, and leaning on others doesn’t come naturally to me. But I realized, thanks to all of those emails and IMs and skype sessions, that revealing my vulnerabilities doesn’t make me weak, and voicing my fears doesn’t make me a coward. It makes me human—it allows people to get close to me and allows my relationships to grow.

I recently sent in the acknowledgments for QOG, and I honestly felt that I’d never have enough space to properly thank the people who helped me through this process—that WORDS don’t accurately convey the gratitude I feel. I don’t think I can ever fully convey that.

Revisions made me open myself up to others in ways I didn’t think I’d ever be comfortable doing—partially because I realized that no one EXCEPT my writer-friends would understand what I was going through. (Family and non-writer friends tend to give you “You’re amazing! It’ll be fine!” answers. Which are great, but not helpful.) I realized I NEEDED to have writing-friends who understood what I was going through–that I wouldn’t survive the process without them.

So, please, do me a favor: no matter where you are in the publishing journey–first drafting, querying, on submissions, already published–if you do one thing today, go tell your writing friends/CPs that you love them. Thank them for all they do for you. Because while writing a book might be a mostly solitary act, publishing one isn’t. And it shouldn’t be. 🙂

~~~

Sarah J. Maas has written several novels, including QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA epic fantasy that will be published by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She is repped by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her website here, and follow her on twitter.

And she loves her writer-friends  & CPs very much. ❤

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Writing a Saleable Book

10 Aug

by Susan Dennard

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Recently, someone asked me:

What is required to make a book saleable?

That is a rather large-in-scope question, and as such, I’m afraid my answer will be kinda vague. All the same, I thought it was worth taking the time to answer for everyone.

🙂

My super broad response is the:

The most important thing in writing a saleable book is writing a good book.

I am 100% convinced that if you have a well-written, compelling story, your novel will eventually find an agent/editor. Period.

That said, there are a few critical things that define a “good book”. Again, these answers are vague, and I’d be more than happy to get specific for anyone with questions (ask in the comments, please!).

Parts of a Good Book

1. First and foremost, the story absolutely most flow. Stilted dialogue, poor pacing, or unreadable grammar/syntax will kill a manuscript. A reader can put up with slow scenes if it all flows beautifully, and a reader can put up with a less-than-compelling plot if it’s smooth.

The way to ensure your novel flows is to revise-revise-revise. Learning to master the written word is absolutely critical. Few people write stunning first drafts, but give them a red pen, and they can line-edit their words into perfect prose.

2. Secondly, a book needs a compelling plot with tension on every page. The story builds, the tension builds, and everything ends in an explosive climax (and this applies to any genre—by explosive I simply mean all aspects of the story finally come together).

This is something you can learn by reading about writing, taking workshops, or simply reading heavily in the genre you write. There are structure to stories (three-act is the most common), and your job is to practice until these are second nature when you write/revise.

Again, my first drafts are rarely good examples of compelling plot, but I can revise them until they shine and all the subplots weave into the main plot.

3. Third, a book needs a cast of characters that readers care about. The best way to achieve this is to ensure the MC has a desperate need—secondary characters too. This is also something you have to learn by doing/practicing.

4. Fourth, the book must have high stakes. “High stakes” simply means we are invested in whether or not the MC achieves his/her goal. What will she lose if she fails to reach her goal? And why does that matter? A common reason a book fails to compel readers is low stakes—if we don’t care about the MC’s failure, we don’t care about reading the book.

Finding Problems

My biggest suggestion in terms of how to address these 4 components is to start critiquing and getting your work critiqued. Either find a critique partner, join a critique group, or stay active in a critiquing community. This is no doubt something everyone here already knows, but it’s so important (in my opinion) that I just have to emphasize it!

When you see others make mistakes, you learn to spot them in your own writing. Additionally, we, the writers, are often too close to our novels to see them “as a whole”. CPs and betas have the needed distance to spot problems

When I got an agent, Something Strange and Deadly had been through 4 crit partners and 2 betas. Did I always listen to my CPs’/betas’ comments? No—you must decide and filter feedback—but it was thanks to my CPs/betas that I caught some of my biggest mistakes (character inconsistencies, flat climax, plot holes, etc.).

What do you think? Are there any other components you think a saleable book needs? And how do you feel about critique partners or beta readers?

~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.