Don’t Embrace The Boulders – Keep Chasing Your Dreams

The highway of life is filled with mole hills, bumps, potholes, and occasionally boulders. Big, fat, road-blocking boulders that fill all six lanes of your highway and stop forward momentum at fatal velocities.

Potholes are someone else’s choice interfering with your forward progression, like the CEO embezzling a few billion dollars and your company going bankrupt. You have no control over this, and it’s definitely going to throw you off your stride for a bit.

Mole hills are little things that may look big, like losing those last three pounds or remembering to get birthday cards in the mail by Friday. At the end of your life a mole hill is a trivial thing that’s easily forgotten. Bumps are also small. They rattle you, but they won’t kill you.

Boulders… those are a different beast entirely. Boulders are huge things that stop you from moving. Career-ending decisions. Dead end jobs. Addictions that throw you out of the loop of life and down to the sidelines.

Boulders take many forms. Sometimes they’re an addiction. Sometimes they’re a lifestyle choice. Sometimes the boulder is something we have very little control over, like a cancer diagnosis or clinical depression. Sometimes the boulder is something entirely of our own making.

Whatever the case, don’t embrace the boulders.

I see too many people who see a boulder on the road of life and assume it’s the end of the road.

The teen mom who’s life came to a screeching halt because she had a kid, and fourteen years later she’s never dated, never left home, never done anything but let one choice dictate her entire life. She’s embraced the boulder and refuses to move on.

Or my alcoholic uncle who has lost his family and friends to his abusive drinking, who lives on the edge of poverty because his paycheck goes straight to the liquor store, and who doesn’t understand why no one is excited that he’s decided to try home brewing. Alcoholism is his boulder. He’s embraced it. He has decided that alcohol is more important than anything else in life, and that he can’t cut back on it because being an alcoholic is what he is.

The author who throws in the towel because on publishing house rejected their novel that came over the transom. ONE. Not hundreds of rejections. Not dozens of rejections. ONE REJECTION, and the author wants to quit because Sad Author wrote the book with that publisher in mind.

It makes me want to set my hair on fire!

I get it, I really do. Some of these are very hard things to deal with. Addictions aren’t something you can always handle alone. Certainly a cancer diagnosis isn’t something you can shrug off. Depression sucks, I know, I’ve got it. But, Dude! YOU ARE NOT DEAD.

It’s a boulder. It’s blocking your way. But it is not the end of the road.

Don’t embrace the boulder. Don’t sell yourself short and let a mistake or a low point in your life define you. You are so much more than the obstacles you face. You have infinite potential to do good and help others. You have the unrivaled ability to create something wholly unique and wonderful. Don’t throw that all away because of a boulder.

Previously Published November 2012

How To Be A Good Critique Partner (reprint)

Critique groups abound, especially as NaNoWriMo wraps up. The crisp, cold weather of winter combined with the frenzy of writing a novel in a month spawns writing groups like there is no tomorrow. New writing groups are wonderful, but not all critique partners are created equal.

The horror stories about bad critique partners turning a book into a chimera are all over the place. If you have nothing better to do one day, ask me about it on Twitter when I’m in a talkative mood. I have stories. But this post is about how to make yourself a better critique partner.

1) Know the Expectations
Before you start any editing project you need to know what the author wants. The wrong critique at the wrong time will kill many a good book before it’s finished. Ask the author before you start what they want. I offer levels…
— “Just a look” where I read it over and give a thumbs up or down. This is perfect for rough drafts and cheering on an author struggling to complete a project.
— “Look for plot holes” where I read and point out inconsistencies in the plot line, plot holes, and correct basic spelling and grammar errors with a note (ie – note: comma before proper names in DL)
— “Shred it” where you nitpick every single word and flaw. This is an edit for a final draft. Every word and movement is under the microscope for nuance and meaning, and I only do this with an author who is subbing the piece in the next 6 months. I wouldn’t attack a first draft like this ever.
— “Final Edits” reading the piece out loud and looking for grammar and spelling errors exclusively. This is for a clean copy that’s days away from being submitted. It’s not uncommon for authors to add a spelling error while editing.


2) Know the Audience
Before you can critique you need to know where the manuscript is headed. As a critique partner the book isn’t written for you, it’s written for a reader somewhere out in the great, big world. You need to be the reader’s advocate and make sure the book turns out well enough that someone who doesn’t know the author can enjoy it.

3) Know the Market
Fuss all you like about artistic rights. If an author wants to publish a book they need to know the market expectations (word count, content, common tropes, ect) and so does their critique partner. A good critique partner is going to red flag a mid-grade manuscript that goes over the 60,000 word limit. You also need to be familiar with the genre your partner writes in. What happens if you and your buddy both write horror and then, one day, your partner decides to write epic fantasy YA? You either start reading epic fantasy YA, or you find your buddy a new critique partner who knows the genre. Trust one who has been mismatched with critique partners before, it’s not pretty when someone edits a sci-fi manuscript with YA expectations. *shudder*


4) Trust The Author -or- Don’t Cut To Early
Never tell an author a scene doesn’t need to exist until you’ve finished the book. There’s a habit in writing groups to rip and shred before reading, and it doesn’t work. Yes, that opening line needs to be amazing, but the only legitimate comment you can give about the validity of an opening chapter is, “This works, I’m hooked.” or “I’m not hooked yet, I’ll keep reading and maybe there’s a better opening.” (Hint: check chapter 3)

5) Leave The Voice
The novice mistake of critiquing is to rewrite the book in your own words. Resist the urge. Every author has a unique voice, don’t squish it into oblivion because you’d compare love to a summer’s day and the author compares love to a rosy sunset.

6) React
Ninety percent of the notes on a good critique are reaction notes. “Oh My Gosh!!! I can’t believe Character just did that!” … “Love it!” … “I laughed here.” … “I’m picturing him naked, which I know is wrong. Rewrite.” Reactions let an author know if things are working. A large, and often overlooked, portion of editing is leading the reader down a path of emotions and reactions. If the author wanted a scene to be warm and cuddly and it’s coming off with a stalker vibe, the author needs to know. Don’t get caught up in the But-The-Author-Told-Me trap. Readers are not going to have a two hour conversation about this scene with the author. They won’t know that the author wanted the guy to be authoritative and demanding. The reader will see a stalker scene, not an authoritative male being Alphahole-ish but sweet.

Do you have anything to add? What makes a critique partner great? Hit the comments and tell me all about it.

Previously published December 2012 on www.lianabrooks.com

Dialog Choices and Slang – a writing post

Dialog choice, or the words your character uses to describe the world around them, is a major deal breaker for books. If all the characters sound the same they lose their individual personalities. One of the big places where you’ll see a variation in a shared language is in slang words. Slang changes much more rapidly than the rest of the language. It’s okay, sometimes encouraged, to create slang for your new world.

Negative slang usually reflects major religious beliefs and social fears (damn, hell, comparison to being a dog, or stupid). Positive and affirmative slang is less codified but usually comes a subculture of some form before being adopted and adapted by a wider group of language users (wicked, cool, hot, lit, ect).

Buzzfeed did a pretty decent video on the evolution of American slang. Keep in mind that what you’re writing isn’t 100% American culture so your subcultures are going to be different. Even within our culture slang can vary by family or friend group. They can come out inside jokes or even typos. So, while you’re writing, make sure the slang you use is appropriate for the time, venue, culture, and character using the language.

Saying Goodbye to the Impulse Buy

For the better part of two years each Tuesday morning has been accompanied by the Impulse Buy Book of the Week. A new (or at least new to me) book that is priced under $5 for the ebook. It’s been a great way to explore new genres and introduce readers to books I love.

The early response was great. People enjoyed the books. Authors reported a boost in sales. Everyone seemed happy.

Over the last six months that hasn’t been happening. Fewer readers are tuning in for the weekly postings. Fewer people are opening the emails. Readers no longer seem interested and that’s okay. There are a lot of great book lists, and so many ways to reach readers, that often authors don’t need the extra push from the Impulse Buy. Maybe you already knew the author. Maybe you were tired of reading newsletters. Maybe no one is in the mood for books.

So, it is with fond memories and a touch of sadness that we say goodbye to the beloved Impulse Buy. Our weekly book will be missed.

The Impulse Buy was originally started as a way to promote the books published by the HarperVoyager Impulse line of science fiction and fantasy books. These books were all e-book first with an e-book at a low price point that allowed readers to give new authors a try. It was a fun idea and the Impulse Buy newsletter was our unofficial outlet that welcomed a variety of authors over the years.

Some of those authors hit the bestseller lists. Some of them didn’t. In my personal opinion they were all fun books.

I want to thank all the readers who have read the Impulse Buy, bought the books, and encouraged the careers of these wonderful authors (including me!). Readers make all the uncertainty of publishing worthwhile. When an author has a bad day, it’s you they think about. It’s that one reader who you know needs this book that you write for when you would otherwise succumb to doubt and rejection.

Thank you for reading.

Now, as much as I love books and love talking about books, I’d love to find another way to share books that I love with you. Hit me in the comments and let me know how you find your books, and what you’d like to see on the blog in the future.

Liana