Category Archives: critique partners

More good news for a friend!

When I first started following writing blogs I noticed that there were often circles of agented/published writers who all seemed to be friends or CPs: Kiersten White, Natalie Whipple, Stephanie Perkins; Cassandra Clare, Holly Black, Maureen Johnson. Although I knew they would all have started from scratch just like me and my friends, it seemed like something foreign and perhaps outside what I expected would happen for myself, being a part of a successful group of writers like that. Like, in theory you could become the president, if you worked at it, but that’s something that happens for other people.

So it’s a little surreal to find it happening for me and my CPs now. I signed with an agent a couple weeks ago. My friend Maggie sold her book just before Christmas. My friend Charlee had the excitement of seeing a play she wrote performed. And now, the latest addition, which I’m super excited about:

My friend Heather Smith just signed a deal with Entranced Publishing for her YA novel Balancing Act! I read and critiqued this a little while ago for her, and it’s a great story, a contemporary romance about a girl who was training to be a competitive gymnast before breaking her ankle, who re-discovers her passion for the sport in the form of coaching. Heather was one of my earliest CPs, along with Charlee and Maggie, and – like Charlee and Maggie – writes wonderful stories. I’m so delighted she’ll get to share this one with the world! Congrats, Heather! :D

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Scripts and opening night

Back in December one of my CPs, Charlee Vale, asked me to read a project she was working on. It was a script for a play, her graduate thesis. I’d never read a script before, and I’ve seen a few plays but not in quite a number of years now, but I’ve read plenty of stories and I’d loved Charlee’s novels that I’d read, so I agreed.

Let me tell you: reading a script is very different from reading a novel. For one thing, there isn’t any show. There’s barely any tell, even. There’s just the dialogue. All the showing, the movement and emotion, that’s all produced by the actors’ interpretations as they deliver the dialogue. It makes for an… interesting read. You have to change the way you think about the story, picture in your head the actors on the stage as you read their lines.

It was a beautiful story, as Charlee’s always are. She twines together two separate but related, mirroring narratives, about a couple in the distant (Greek) past whose souls have found each other again in the present, faced with a similar choice in both lives. I’m not sure I provided the strongest critique for it, given how unfamiliar the style was for me, but I hope it helped at least.

This past weekend Charlee’s play opened as a real live stage production. She posted it over at her blog, complete with photos. I would imagine this is the stage equivalent of your book’s release day, with all the excitement that accompanies it. So I just want to say, congrats, Charlee! It’s fantastic, and deserved. Hope you have many more!

Revisions, round 2: complete

Yesterday afternoon I finished my second pass revisions on Stars! Yay! This was the first set where I was addressing feedback from readers, and there’s always more to do then than there is in round one, where it’s just my own notes. The biggest thing I had to tackle was the worldbuilding, but I had a lot of other, smaller details to fix up. I also removed two and a half full scenes, which included a whole (small) sub-plot for one of the characters, and a few other paragraphs or sections of dialogue that weren’t working for me. But with all the worldbuilding and other bits I added in, my word count is actually 3000 words higher than it was after the first pass. That’s pretty much how it goes for me, with my novels. I can’t remember the last time I did a revision pass and ended up with a lower word count than before.

So, it’s off to my beta readers now! And while I wait for them to read and critique it, I’ll be doing a critique for one of them, catching up on my backlog of library books, polishing up my query, figuring stuff out for Stars’ intended sequel, and, perhaps, starting to think about the story of novel #7. No shortage of stuff to keep me busy!

Blind Speed Dating at Cupid’s Literary Connection

There’s a new contest coming up over on the blog Cupid’s Literary Connection, called Blind Speed Dating. It’s going to be a huge, multi-stage agent contest with up to 360 participants. Writers will submit their entries in six rounds, one round per week containing 60 manuscripts. From these “bouncers” will select their favourites to go on to the final agent-read round. Even if not selected, though, all 60 manuscripts will be posted on the blog, each to its own blog post, and open to comments/critiques from friendly reviewers.

Entries must be completed manuscripts. The submission guidelines call for your query and first 250 words (as well as basic info like title and genre), plus a donation of $10 which will go toward supporting Cupid’s local library. There are six submission windows, each with their own set of three unique bouncers (including one of my CPs, Maggie Hall!), so you pick the window whose bouncers you think seem like the best fit for your manuscript (ideally).

These sorts of contests can be a lot of fun – not just to enter, but also to browse. There are some really interesting story ideas sometimes, and some great writing. I know some writers will visit these contests and “stalk” manuscripts – when they find one that really appeals to them they’ll contact the author and see if they’d be interested in having another beta reader on it, or even just simply sharing it and allowing them to read it. So if you’re looking for another critique partner/reader, this might also be an avenue worth exploring.

The first entry window opens January 11 at 8pm EST, and these things usually fill up super fast – like in the first few minutes – so if you’re interested, start getting your bits and pieces together now. :) Visit this blog post for more details and rules.

Another critique partner connection

A quick post to add to Wednesday’s – here’s another opportunity to browse critique partner listings, or join in yourself. Operation Awesome is holding a Critique Partner Connection as part of their New Year’s Revisions Conference. The “personals ads” are being left in the comments of this post, so swing by and have a look, if you’re interested! New submissions are being taken until January 7th.

Paying it forward

A few days ago I got a really nice email from the agent who repped my nonfiction book. He sold the book back in 2008 and I haven’t had much need of his services since then, at least not for that project. I was very keen, however, to follow up with another non-fiction project, to try to build a writing career from that first sale. He was very patient with me, considering (and ultimately rejecting, providing very thoughtful and thoroughly-explained reasons why) each project I sent him. I was a complete novice at not only writing but also the whole concept of publishing, and at the time I didn’t really understand how generous he was being with his time.

A year and a half after selling the nonfiction book, I fell into writing fiction. I wrote a book that fall, then quickly moved on to another once I’d finished and realized it was mediocre at best. By the time I finished the second book I understood that some work would be required post-drafting to tidy up the story.  I did a single pass of revisions on it, mostly addressing known plot holes. Then, like the naive newbie I was, I inquired with my agent whether he’d be interested, and sent it off.

Oh, the retrospective horror and embarrassment of that action. But at the time I didn’t know any better. I rather suspect he read the first couple of pages, realized it needed a lot of work, and then he sent it off to a professional reader. The woman provided a four-page critique of all the ways my book failed. It was, at the time, harsh and stinging, but only because I’d been so flush with satisfaction over the story. Thinking about it now it was probably no worse than anything I receive from my critique partners on current stories, but I wasn’t expecting it.

It was, however, an incredibly valuable learning experience. I owe so much to that critique. From that (and, later, reading writing blogs) I realized I needed critique partners, and when book number three was ready I posted to a forum looking for some. I contacted the agent again once book three was done, and sent it to him. He passed that one on to a colleague who specialized in YA, and who eventually passed.

Finally, when I finished Secrets back in the fall, I queried him for this new project. He read it himself, over the holidays. He passed, but wrote back with an incredibly detailed, thoughtful set of comments, both praise and constructive criticism. And he closed with, “Let me know how it goes and feel free to send me other things to read from time to time and/or ask for advice. I really want to see you succeed.”

I’ve continued to query him with all my projects because he’s taken such time to help me over the years, and I really owe a great deal of my development and maturation as a writer to his help. It seems I’ll probably end up signing with another agent, and a little of me will be disappointed that I won’t have been able to repay his generosity. Outside of signing with him as a client there isn’t a great deal I can do to repay the favour.

It reminds me of listening to Robert J Sawyer’s 2010 keynote presentation at the Ontario Writers’ Conference. He spoke about Heinlein’s rules, and in his introduction commented on Heinlein offering his advice to people, their gratitude and Heinlein’s response:

“For those who did follow his advice, they said to him afterwards, they said, ‘Thank you! But, how can I possibly repay you?’ And he said, quite rightly, ‘You can’t. There’s not a single thing you, as a beginner, can do for me, the established old fart. There’s nothing you can do for me. But, you can, not pay me back, but you can pay it forward. When you’re somewhere along the road to where I am, turn around and help the next guy in line.’”

(That whole presentation is worth listening to, incidentally. It’s 24 minutes long, but was worth every penny paid for that conference – it was the moment everything crystallized for me and I realized that yes, I could make it as an author.)

I think perhaps the thing I’m most looking forward to being able to do, if/when I have a small measure of fame/recognition as an author, is being able to pay it forward. There were points along my journey that I really wished I could talk to a published author and get some insight into how it’s done from someone who’s been through the whole process (even if their advice is not necessarily hugely more valuable than an unpublished critique partner’s). I did, in fact, contact a few of my favourite nonfiction authors back when my co-author and I were trying to sell our own nonfiction book and they were so incredibly generous with their time and advice. I’ve never forgotten that.

Now I daydream about starting up a mentorship program, where aspiring authors query me during an open call for submissions, and I pick a couple to take under my wing and basically be a critique partner for until they land an agent themselves – at which point they ‘graduate’ from my mentorship and I select someone new to lend my support to. I think I would love watching new writers grow and develop with my help, and, if they’re anything like me, I think they’d like the opportunity to work with someone who’s already had success in the game.

And this would be my way to thank my nonfiction book’s agent, and the nonfiction authors I received advice from. By paying it forward to the next people in line.

Miss Snark’s Critique Partner Dating Service

If you’re looking for critique partners, you may want to take advantage of this service over at Miss Snark’s First Victim. Even if you already have a CP or two, it’s worth considering adding another reader, so you can send your manuscript out to fresh eyes after each set of revisions and/or get multiple opinions.

The submission window closes tomorrow (Thursday Jan 3) at noon EST. After that all the ads will be formatted and then posted to the blog on Tuesday January 8, so even if you miss submitting something (or aren’t sure you want to) you can still browse the listings and contact anyone who catches your interest. The ads will only be up for one week, and will be removed January 15.

Visit this post for details on how to submit your entry, etc.