Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Being Kind is Critical: How to Be a Great Critic - Guest Post by Alyssa Roat

You mean you actually want to read my writing?

    In high school, I wrote alone. I didn’t know any other writers. But once I got to college to pursue a degree in professional writing, I suddenly found myself surrounded by young writers of incredible talent. That was when I learned the meaning of those fateful words:

The critique group.

    A critique group can be one of three things: a shark tank, a flower party, or a critical part of your development as a writer.

    As you might have guessed, the first two are bad.

    As a writer, you’ve been working on your novel for months, maybe even years. It’s your firstborn child. The last thing you want is to enter the shark tank critique group. This is the group in which each member is looking for any excuse to tear your manuscript apart. Members of this group only tell you what you did wrong.

    On the other hand, some writers are too aware of how much your baby means to you. They’re terrified of hurting your feelings. Instead of giving you feedback, these critique group members throw you a flower party, telling you everything good about your manuscript and avoiding making suggestions for improvement.

    Finally, there is the best kind of critique group, where everyone grows. Each member brings his or her strengths to balance one another’s weaknesses. The girl who’s great at grammar helps the guy who excels at dialogue, who in turn helps the girl with rock-solid plots.

    But how do you become a member of such a fabulous society? The best way to find good critics is to be a good critic. Here are seven tips to become the best critic you can be.

1. Establish expectations right away.

Some people are confident in their plot. They only want a proofreader. Others don’t care about the grammar right now; they just need help with character development. Before you begin critiquing, establish what the writer wants from you. This can help you focus on the main problems as well as save you time.

2. Establish the tone.

    What personality does the writer have? Does she have thick skin? Is he nervous just to let someone else see his work? Does she appreciate humor in critiques, or would that hurt her feelings? It’s very important to figure out how you’re going to phrase your comments.
    For example, I love humorous critiques. My good friend and favorite critiquer is absolutely brutal; she’ll catch every inconsistency or minute error. However, her witty comments make me laugh out loud, even at myself. It doesn’t sting as much because I’m laughing so hard. Make sure you know the writer and what sort of criticism would best help him or her.

3. Phrase negatives positively.

Oxymoronic as it may seem, there are positive ways to tell others they have made a terrible mistake. “This passage is awful,” is an insult, not a critique. “This setting seems vague; maybe add some more sensory descriptions,” is a positive critique with a helpful suggestion.

4. Be specific.

“This dialogue could be improved,” is not helpful. “The dialogue could use more contractions to sound less stilted,” is helpful. A doctor doesn’t just say, “Yep. You’re sick.” He makes a diagnosis. Be a good book doctor.

5. Remember, you’re not always right.

Something may seem strange to you that may be perfectly clear to someone else. You might be bored with a passage or character that is riveting and relatable for another person. Be confident in your judgment, but be willing to back down.

6. Don’t be afraid to criticize.

This is a critique group after all. I know I just spent a long time harping on how to be nice, but you do need to tell the writer what is wrong with his or her work so he or she can improve. Even if you do everything you can to soften the blow, some writers may still be upset. It’s okay. As their friend, you are saying it in a much more positive, constructive manner than a rejection letter would. It’s a little pain now to avoid a lot of pain later. When their novel hits the shelves, they’ll thank you.

7. And finally, start and end with the positive.

You’re trying to be helpful, not hurt feelings. Telling people what they do well encourages them to keep doing the good things while improving on problem areas.

    Critiquing is hard, but when done well, there’s nothing as fun as a critique group.

About the Author:

Alyssa Roat is a professional writing major at Taylor University. Hailing from Tucson, Arizona, her love of words blossomed while she spent her days hiding from the scorching desert sun in dim rooms with thick books. She emerged from her dark, bookish cave to attend college, where her articles were featured in several publications. Now, she is often found writing and editing in the much cooler sunlight of Indiana.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How to Become an Author in Today’s Publishing World: P.3 – Building a Career

Many people think, once they sign a publishing contract, that they’ve officially “made it” as an author. And I guess this can be true for some, depending on what their specific goal/vision is. But if you’re hoping to build a career as a novelist, then that first book contract? It’s not the finish line; it’s the starting point. In other words … your career is just beginning!

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In the previous posts in this series (Post 1 & Post 2), I discussed how to set a foundation that could pave the way to attaining publication. I then explained the steps you can take when you’re ready to move forward and seek representation/publication.

Once you’ve finally landed a publishing contract, are there still goals to be reached? And how can you sustain your novelist career, stand out in the publishing world, and sell your next book?

First, let’s discuss what an average traditionally-published author’s career might look like…

  1. Author signs book deal and delivers manuscript.
  2. Author is taken through rounds of edits with in-house editors.
  3. As the six-month pre-release of the book approaches, author begins generating more buzz surrounding book release. They may work with publicists at this point to help strategize promo efforts and create a marketing plan.
  4. Author might begin brainstorming a new project during this time.
  5. Release day finally arrives! Hopefully the author has planned a launch party—either an in-person event, virtual party, or both.
  6. Author continues participating in marketing efforts even after the book is released. If their editor approves of their new book proposal/idea, the author may sign a new contract and get to work writing this new book. (Unless, of course, the author has already signed a multiple-book deal with this publisher.)
  7. Repeat.

Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t always what the publication process looks like for traditionally-published authors. There are those who might have no idea how to market a book, so their release comes and goes without hardly any publicity. If this happens, their publisher will be less likely to sign a new book deal with them. It’s also likely that the publisher might prefer to wait and see if this new author can earn out their advance before they offer another contract.

Basically, here’s a brief overview of the hurdles this new author now faces:

  • Marketing. Generating and sustaining book buzz. Building a solid readership—one that will help to sell their next book.
  • Brainstorming a new book idea and selling it to their publisher (if they didn’t sign a multiple-book deal).
  • Delivering the book idea.
  • Receiving glowing reviews and ratings and attaining book awards—all in effort to build author credibility and bring more publicity to the book.

With this in mind, what can you to prepare for the road ahead?

  1. Build your knowledge of book marketing. Take courses, workshops, listen to podcasts, and read books and blogs. Keep in mind, though, that it’s impossible to do everything. Stay focused by creating a marketing plan and only participating in efforts you’re comfortable with. It might also be a good idea to hire someone who can help spread the word about the book. Of course, don’t forget to continue building your platform during this time! Find where your audience is and strategize how you can connect with them (without necessarily “selling” to them.)
  2. Know your brand. This can be a difficult feat, especially for the newly contracted author. Sometimes it’s not easy to establish a brand until you hear from readers and can tap into the reputation your books have within your genre. For now, do what you can to create a brand that suits your personality and differentiates your books from other authors within the genre. You can find out more about how to do this by seeing this post.
  3. Stay updated on the industry and know what’s selling in your genre. I don’t, however, recommend that authors “chase the trend” per se. But it is wise to know what’s selling and know if your new book idea will have an audience. (Because if there is an audience for it, then the publisher will be more likely to sign another book deal.)
  4. Keep going! Sure, there may be slow seasons in the author’s life. Several of them, actually. But a slow season shouldn’t necessarily be a stagnant season. If you’re actively working at growing a platform, marketing your book(s), interacting with readers, entering contests, staying updated on the industry, making connections, and, of course, writing—then your writer’s journey never has to come to an end.

Summary: The writer’s journey is filled with new milestones—not necessarily finish lines. Once you become an author, don’t take for granted the unfolding of your dream, but do continue working to ensure that your career is sustainable. And no, I don’t think it’s ever too early to prepare for life after publication!

~ ~ ~

What are you doing to prepare for publication? If you’re an author, do you have advice you’d like to add?


How to Become an Author in Today’s Publishing World: P.3 – Building a Career #authorslife #publishing @TessaEmilyHall

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How to Become an Author in Today's Publishing World: P. 2 – Launching Forward

Once you’ve established the foundation of a writing career, how do you know when it’s time to launch forward and seek publication? What does the process even look like, and where should an aspiring author to begin?

Last week, we discussed how aspiring authors can set a foundation by writing a book, researching publishing, building a platform, gaining publishing credits, winning contests, etc. So what's the next stage? You guessed it—the submission process.

But wait … if you move ahead too soon, you could risk sending your book into the public pre-maturely. It could even cost you a publishing contract.

So how can you know when it’s time to submit?

  • You’ve built a foundation (platform, writing credentials, understanding of the publishing industry, etc.)
  • You’ve taken the time to write and polish a book that you’re proud of
  • Critique partners/editor(s) have reviewed your manuscript
  • You’ve prepared yourself—mentally and emotionally—to receive rejections

Where should you start? First, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is my overall goal and vision as an author? (The answer to this will steer your publishing-related decisions.)
  • Should I seek publication with a small/medium-sized publisher, which doesn’t typically require an agent? (See this post for a glimpse at pros/cons of publishing with a smaller press.)
  • Would it be best to take the self-publishing route? (If you’ve reached this point, then you should know the pros and cons of self-publishing.)
  • Or do I want a literary agent, someone who can bring me into traditional publishing and negotiate contracts on my behalf?

With your goals and vision in mind, it’s time to launch forward!

If you’ve chosen to seek publication with a small/medium-sized publisher, it’s not necessary that you submit to an agent. (Although there are several benefits to having representation, and some smaller-sized publishing houses still require agented submissions.) To find publishers, you may want to purchase the Christian Writer’s Market Guide or Writer’s Market Guide. Make a list of potential publishers, then do research to make sure that your book would make a good fit. Study the house’s previous works, then submit your book proposal according to the submission guidelines. (Not doing this could result in an instant rejection!)

Tip: You can also meet with editors at smaller houses at writing conferences. This is how I sold my first book, PURPLE MOON, without an agent.

If you choose to self-publish your book, it’s vital that you know what you’re getting into and understand the risks involved. If you choose to self-publish, you’re no longer the author; you’re both the author and the publisher. This means it’s up to you to present a quality overall book to the market. You’re 100% in charge of publishing, sales, marketing, etc. I recommend that you do research beforehand and build a team (cover designer, editor, formatter, etc.) who can accompany you in this process.

Tip: Before diving into the unknown waters of self-publishing, you may want to first speak with authors who have successfully self-published their books. Writing conferences are a great place to make these connections.

If you choose to sign with an agent, you’ll want to begin by making a list of prospective agents who represent your genre. Where can you find a list of literary agents? Research. You may want to subscribe to Writer’s Digest. Oftentimes, authors will mention who it is they’re represented by on their website, social media, or in the acknowledgements section of their books. Once you’ve written an impressive query letter, it’s time to submit! I advise that writers submit to prospective agents in batches of about 5 – 10 emails at a time. That way, if you continue to receive rejections and constructive criticism, you can take their feedback and make necessary revisions to your manuscript. That way, you won’t burn several bridges at once.

Tip: You can also meet with agents at writing conferences. Meeting face-to-face is a great way to potentially rise to the top of their slush pile.

The timing of this process varies from writer to writer. Some writers see success instantly, but most writers have to wait months—if not years—before they finally receive a yes. The key is to keep going. While waiting to hear back from editors/agents, don’t waste any time; get started on your next book! Keep plugging away at your platform. Enter contests. Attend conferences/workshops. Gain publishing credits.

The writer’s journey is just that—a journey. Patience is a vital quality to possess, especially as you wait to hear back from editors and agents.

It’s only those who give up who are guaranteed to never see success.

Sure, that might sound cliché—but it’s true. I recently found a quote (source unknown) that says this: 

"The master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried."

Why is this?

Because those who succeed are the ones who kept pressing forward. Closed doors are an inevitable part of the journey. When they receive rejections, they take whatever constructive criticism they need to hone their craft/career—then they try again, and again and again until a door has finally opened.

Eventually, you might just find yourself with a contract. And when that happens, it’s just the beginning! There’s still more to learn. More opportunities to grow. More waiting seasons that will stretch your patience. More criticism that will test your humility.

In the next post I’ll discuss how you can sustain momentum and build a career once you’ve stepped through that open door. (No, it’s never too early to plan ahead!)

 ~ ~ ~

Have you reached the submission process yet? If so, what do you think is the most difficult part of this stage?