New Year’s Resolution: How To Start A Novel

Inkprint Press books at a con in Australia. Look at all the pretty books!

So, you want to write a book? Good for you!

Maybe you’ve daydreamed about being a Real Author for years. Maybe you set a goal as a child to pen the next Great Novel. Maybe you have hazy, romantic ideas about what authors do (spoiler alert: we sit at our computers in pajamas a lot). Whatever the reason is, you want to write a book and that’s an amazing goal!

The first step to writing anything is to figure out what you want to write.

The first thing you need to recognize is that you already know how stories go. You know what you like. You have been exposed to enough stories in your time that you know how they are supposed to go. Keep that certainty with you, because there is going to be a point in writing where you forget this and it can kill your dream if you let it.

The second thing you need to recognize is that writing is hard. Getting a perfect story on the page takes more than intuition and experience at reading stories. Being a reader is like flipping a light switch and knowing that the lights are supposed to turn on. Being an author is like generating electricity, inventing a light source, building the house, and installing the switch. The end results are both light, but there’s more technical know-how and hard work when you’re the author/engineer.

Following the light switch analogy, this How To is a guide to figuring out what kind of light source you want to create. Are you making a big lamp, a spotlight, a nightlight? Are you writing romance, horror, sci-fi? Are you writing short fiction or a novel? What story are you going to write?

There are two basic ways that story ideas come to author…
1 – The story jumps out and mugs them, the ideas overflow, and imagination takes over.
2 – The author goes story hunting, plays with ideas, fails a few times, finds something that works, and imagination takes over.

Most authors have both kinds of stories during their careers. Sometimes you wake up from a dream with the shred of a story. Sometimes you read a headline and go, “Someone ought to write that.” Sometimes you sit down for a few hours sketching out ideas until something starts to gel. This is a primer to get the story ideas flowing.

 

1 – List Your Favorite Stories
Broad generalities are fine. Titles are fine. “I love Cinderella stories.” “I love Ocean’s 12 but not 11.” “I love murder mysteries.” … great! Write all those down. Try to come up with at least 10.

2- Find The Common Threads
Compare your favorite stories and see what they have in common. Make a list of 7 of the overlapping themes/ideas/emotions. This will be the base template for your book and your author brand. This is what grabs your attention, fires your imagination, and makes you happy. That means this is what you should write.

3- Start Making High Concept Pitches
THIS meets THAT in NEW LOCATION
Look at your list of favorite stories. Start mixing and matching. “Cinderella meets Ocean’s 11 in Space.” – “Robin Hood meets Boyz To Men on a Cruise Ship” – “Harry Dresden in The Revolutionary War” …. fair warning: not all of these will work. Make a list of 10 to 20 ideas. Make them wild and outrageous. Make them silly. Make them gruesome. Don’t overthink it, just throw words at the page. You are hunting a story here, not committing to a life together.

4- Ask Why
Let’s say your idea is “Lucrezia Borgia meets A Pizza Guy in the TARDIS” (this is a real short story, by the by, not one of mine, but bonus points if you can name the anthology it was published in)… How? Why? Why is Lucrezia ordering pizza? Why is she meeting a pizza delivery person? Why is the TARDIS there?

5- Answer Your Questions
Obviously Lucrezia isn’t going to cook dinner for the twenty people she needs to kill, so ordering pizza from a time traveling pizza delivery company is a great idea! Just add poison for that “Made By Borgia” taste they love!
Every story happens for a reason.
We do not tell stories about the unchanging events. Those are reports. Stories always center on change. We don’t need five hundred pages of routine life, but five dazzling pages about the moment everything changes. The moment the sun rises on the dark landscape. The moment the sun sets. Answering WHY and HOW things change give you the shape of a story. If you get stuck ask WHY again.

6- Write The Basic Outline
Answer your WHY in 500 words or less. Your first sentence should name the main character, their first goal, and their first obstacle. Every sentence after that is filled in by asking “How does the character deal with the obstacle?” and “What comes after that reaction?”
You aren’t trying to write a full outline here. You aren’t plotting your twists. This is simply a sketch to see if you can make this idea stand up on it’s own.
Write three or four of these, take a break, and see which one you’re still interested in writing a week later (don’t be surprised if a better idea comes along while you’re thinking). The story that tackles you at midnight is the one you want to work on.

NEXT TIME: How to Plot a Book – Getting from Idea to Page 1

 

Want More? The expanded version of this post with examples and more information is available to Patreon supporters.

 

Writing, Apples, and the Alchemy of the Mind

Listen. Every authors hits a stage in their book where they question everything, where they doubt themselves, where they want to give up. It happens because you are comparing a working draft to finished manuscripts again. Which is a bit like asking why apples on the tree don’t taste like apple pie. There’s a relation to them, but apple pie does not grow on trees.
Finished manuscripts don’t have a final form until the cook in the reader’s head. You cannot produce apple pie with apples alone. You can’t produce the polished books like what you read elsewhere to a draft of anything you write.
Your drafts will always and only ever be apples.
Some of the stories are still seeds. Some are blossoms ready for the pollination (the work you put into writing the first rough draft), some of them are ripening in edits. Some of them are ready to harvest to go to the story-packing plant to be polished by beta readers and editors. Some of them are ready to get shipped to the store. But none of them become apple pie until someone buys the apple, takes it home, and does the work of reading the book. 
Don’t compare a still ripening apple to apple pie.
Don’t compare a manuscript in edits to a finished novel on the shelf.
They are not the same thing. And you’re hurting the end product by trying to rush the ripening process. Let it be. Let it grow. Let it develop naturally. Edit by edit. Line by line. This will get better and the book will get finished. Have some faith in yourself. First book for one hundred and first book, they all have a stage where you think they’re hopeless. They aren’t. They’re just growing. Be patient. 

Made It Monday: A Primary Color Wave

This weekend I tried a new-to-me project and did a 3 Color painting of a wave. It’s an interesting technique that relies on blending primary colors (red/yellow/blue) to create all the other colors needed. I enjoy painting because 1) I honestly suck at visual art like drawing and painting and want to improve so 2) I have to focus when painting and it becomes very meditative. Learning a new skill isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea, but I enjoy improving on something, and painting is a nice break from writing.

But, because I’m me and I like patterns, metaphors, and books I couldn’t help but let my mind wander over to how acrylic paintings  – which tend to be ugly up until the very last brush stroke – are so similar to book writing. Since NaNoWriMo is coming up in just a few short weeks I’m going to pull this all together in a quick mini-writing lesson. Because… why not?

If you’re interested in making this painting yourself check out the fabulous Cinnamon Cooney and her Art Sherpa youtube channel.

 

Phase 1: The Outline and Choosing your Colors
Before I could even paint my wave I had to pick which set of primary colors to use. There’s Primary Blue/Yellow/Magenta, or Magenta/Hansa Yellow/Pthalo Blue, or Cad Yellow/Cerulean Blue/Crimson… the different starting tones made different colors. You can see my test splotches in the top corners and the combinations further down.

Starting a story has a similar rhythm. First you need to decide what is going into the book. Are you writing a thriller or a romance? A Romantic thriller with a happy ending? A Thriller with romantic elements and a tragic end? Is your focus on one or two characters, or on the fates of thousands? Is the tone light or dark, somber or joyful, lively or a slow dirge into eternity? Knowing what you want helps you get the foundation of your story correct.

 

 

Phase 2: The Vague Outline of An Idea
The beginning. The end. Not middle visible? Ah, yes, that’s either this painting or anyone rough outline I’ve ever written. You should know where the book starts, and where you intend it to end, but the middle is always a murky mess when you begin. That’s fine. Draw in the ideas you know belong and figure out the rest as you go.

 

Phase 3: Color Blocking And The First Details
What do we have here? It’s a basic wave, you can see the shape of it now, and the middle has been filled with a purple blob that doesn’t really add much, but that’s okay. It’s there. This is the visual representation of a a rough draft. Everything is colored in. Technically, the wave has been painted. It’s not a blank canvas. You could probably sell this at a flea market for $5 and call it a day. It’s also painfully ugly and that ugliness makes too many people throw away their brushes (and their books) and give up in frustration. This looks nothing like the wave I envisioned! A rough draft doesn’t have the mental heft and weight of the book in my head! All is woe and sadness!

Okay, not really. This is a rough draft. The bones of a painting, or a story, are there. Now the fine details need to be added.

 

Phase 4: A Finished Work 
What changed? I added details. The foamy white crest splashing everywhere, reflections of light, more clouds, more color, more paint… And, again, this is a decent enough painting. It could be called done and hung on the wall. The equivalent of a book is one that has a couple rounds of edits and gets a nod. For most books, this is where they hit the query trenches or the publishing trenches. A lot of effort and time has been put into the project and the painter (me!) or the writer (you!) should feel justifiably proud of the effort.

 

Phase 5: The Polished Work
I’ll be 100% honest here… I could do more with this painting. I quit last night because I’d already gone over the 2 hours I’d set aside for painting and I needed to get some sleep. There are little details I’m not super happy with, things I’d still like to change, and I am seriously tempted to repaint this next week and do better

And, while I’m being honest, I can say I’ve felt that way about every book I’ve ever published. Most authors feel this way. There’s always something you think of at the last moment. There is an art to letting go, to knowing when any further effort and embellishment will only add noise, not improvement. It’s a hard skill to learn, and you only learn it if you are willing to take the risk of failing. If you can’t take that risk, can’t let yourself fall, then you’ll never find the point where you can fly.

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction!!!!

It’s worth the extra exclamation points!

I’ve actually been sitting on this piece of news since early June. Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, one of the editors for Uncanny Magazine’s issue of DISABLED PEOPLE DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION reached out to me and asked if I’d be willing to write something for this, which is an amazing honor. I’ve loved all the DESTROY issues Uncanny Magazine has done and I’m very excited by who is involved in this project already.

To make this a reality we will need your help. Donate to the Kickstarter. Spread the word. Write and submit, especially if you are living with a disability of any kind. Cheer our editors and writers on.

When I was working on this I made the unfortunate mistake of looking up lists of disabled people in fiction. It’s a short list. And it’s a male-heavy list. And it’s a very limited list when it comes to what people choose to write about. Which I found very depressing.

Most the authors were themselves able bodied human beings (not all but most for the lists I found). There were very few #OwnVoices stories about disabilities, and when there were they tended to be either non-fiction (fine) or inspirational (Danger Ahead!). I had trouble finding women, in science fiction especially, who were disabled and stayed disabled.

I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I was born with it. I will die with it. There is no cure for the crippling genetic mutation that affects 90% of my body. This is a genetic defect found throughout the human race, in every country and genetic group, and it’s unlikely to self-select out of the population. Short of a terrifying eugenics campaign, Ehlers-Danlos is going with humanity to space. A lot of genetic diseases are.

Amputations, hearing loss, blindness, anxiety, depression… we’re probably going to take those to Mars, or the Moon, or Jupiter, or even right out of the solar system if we ever get that far. We need to see that in fiction.

I want to see people struggling with imperfect health in space, because – let’s face it – most of us get sick. The majority of humans are only temporarily abled. Age and accident will eventually changed 90% or more of the population into disabled people. And we need to stop seeing disability as the end.

There are things I can’t do as I get older and Ehlers-Danlos does more damage to my body. There are activities I’ve had to give up. My dreams of being a martial artist are probably shot. I’m not going to get a black belt. My body would take too much damage and I don’t want to go to the hospital. But that doesn’t mean I should dig a grave and jump in.

I’m alive, and while I’m alive I want to see more people like me in fiction. I want to see someone dealing with their advancing disease and not getting a cure, but finding the strength to keep moving on no matter how much their illness slows them down. I hope that’s what you want to see too.

Because, SPOILER ALERT! that’s what I’m writing. Check out the Kickstarter video and all the deets, then get back to me and tell me what disabilities you think we’ll see in space! <3

You can check out the Kickstarter video here. 

DETAILS:

Over the last three years, Lynne M. Thomas & Michael Damian Thomas ran Kickstarters for the Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine Years OneTwo, and Three. We promised to bring you stunning cover art, passionate science fiction and fantasy fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, and provocative nonfiction by writers from every conceivable background. Not to mention a fantastic podcast featuring exclusive content. Through the hard work of our exceptional staff and contributors, Uncanny Magazine delivered on that promise. All that fantastic Uncanny Magazine content is freely available over the web and available as eBooks, thanks to your support. The Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, the Uncanny Magazine community, made it possible for our remarkable staff and contributors to create this wonderful art for all of our readers. THANK YOU, SPACE UNICORNS.

If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to join or re-up with the Space Unicorn Ranger Corps, now’s your chance!

This year, we’re back with a new mission, passed along from Lightspeed Magazine.

It’s Uncanny‘s turn to Destroy Science Fiction.

Uncanny Magazine proudly presents a special issue: Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction!

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction will be in the same vein as the previous Destroyspecial issues (Women Destroy Science FictionQueers Destroy Science Fiction, and People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction), featuring editors, writers (both solicited and unsolicited), and artists with representation from all across the sliding scale of disability. There is already a stellar team of guest editors in place for this special issue including:

  • Editor-in-Chief/Fiction Editor: Dominik Parisien
  • Editor-in-Chief/Nonfiction Editor: Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
  • Reprint Editor: Judith Tarr
  • Poetry Editor: S. Qiouyi Lu
  • Personal Essays Editor: Nicolette Barischoff

From Guest Editors-in-Chief Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and Dominik Parisien: 

Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction is a continuation of the Destroy series in which we, disabled members of the science fiction community, will put ourselves where we belong: at the center of the story. Often, disabled people are an afterthought, a punchline, or simply forgotten in the face of new horizons, scientific discovery, or magical invention. We intend to destroy ableism and bring forth voices, narratives, and truths most important to disabled writers, editors, and creators with this special issue.

 

GO SUPPORT THIS AWESOME PROJECT! 

Write For Love – Publish For Money

Start here with Derek Murphy’s wise words:

 

The number of times I’ve wanted to punch someone for implying that artists ought to starve to create, that our lives and time aren’t worth more than pennies, is a number higher than zero but not a number so high that you need to call the police. So put the phone down.

See that last sentence? “It’s also the reason we have an epidemic of authors who are feeding a billion dollar publishing industry by spending more than they make on their books.” That’s not a joke. That’s the very awful reality of many authors.

Because, somewhere out there in the web of crazy that is the internet, someone told a young author that giveaways and a pretty cover will sell books. The advice looks something like this…

“To throw a good launch you’ll need a great cover ($800), giveaways ($300 w/ shipping), a launch party ($50 for cake and plates), and don’t forget to send reviewers copies of your book ($7/book/reviewer going up to $500 to pay a big name publication to review your indie work)!”

That will generate a lot of buzz. But you’re spending up to $2000 out-of-pocket to promote the book and earning royalties of something like $0.30 to $3.00 per sale (depending on price and royalty rates). If your book is selling as a 99cent ebook (very popular for a time on Amazon) you need to sell close to 7000 copies of your book to break even.

The average book sells 250 copies per year.

At that rate, the author will earn back their money in 26.6 years.

BUT ONLY IF THEY KEEP SELLING.

This is where it all falls apart. People do these big launches, they maximize their newsletters, invest in their careers, and then launch a book into the world that is the what cat drool is to caviar. A poorly written book isn’t going to sell.

I mean, sure, you can buy 5000 copies of your own book and make it look great, but it won’t be a great book. You might get a buzz off of it. If it’s erotica you might get a few sales from hate reads. But a bad book isn’t going to sell 250 copies a year. It isn’t going to sell 7000 copies in 27 years. The idea that an author should write anything they want without thinking about market, audience, genre, or deadlines is absolute horse hockey. Telling writers to write in a vacuum, writing for passion rather than pay, destroys careers and leave authors broke and suffering.

Good authors write on deadlines with an audience in mind.

To quote a friend, “Shakespeare wrote to deadlines, with actors standing, handed out for the scripts he had written that day. Dickens wrote for a magazine with a deadline. If he didn’t write quickly, his story did not appear. Same for Conan Doyle.”

Good authors publish so they can get paid.

Writing is an intimate act. For some it’s therapeutic, for other people it’s a hobby. When you publish you are saying to the world, “I have this thing of value, that I have invested time, thought, and education into. It has worth. It will be good for you. It will sell.”

Never apologize for telling the world what you are worth.

There will always be people lining up to tell you that you, your time, your effort, your education, your intelligence, your talent isn’t worth paying for. Those people are liars and thieves who are hoping to take advantage of you. Ignore them. You have worth. Your work and your effort have worth. A year of your life writing and editing a novel has worth. Real, actual, measurable, pay-me-in-cash worth.

Authors as a collective group need to stop humbly accepting the push to starve authors, to make us work for free. A world without art is not one worth living in. Books are an affordable luxury, a vacation in 300 pages. Books are love, comfort, and family to the lonely. Books are happy memories for the sad. Books are magic. The world needs books, it needs authors, and it doesn’t need anyone to starve and suffer to make the world a better place (the whole There Must Be Poor! fallacy is something we can discuss another day).

Know your worth. Charge what you are worth, plus a little extra for inflation. And don’t apologize for getting paid.

 

 

 

How To be Successful

It’s been said before by far more brilliant people than me, but there is a single key to success in any creative field: DON’T QUIT.
The difference between every bestselling author and everyone out there who says they want to be those authors is one person hit that goal already and one person hasn’t yet.
People complain about mediocre writers and wonder why their amazing work isn’t getting published, and then they give up. And that’s the answer right there. The writers who give up because it’s too hard, or no one understands their genius, or they aren’t selling well, or they can’t find the market are giving up.
 
Stick with it. Keep publishing. Eventually your backlist will be “discovered” and you’ll sell.
 
People talk about GRRM, and Tolkien, and McCaffery like they always sold well. They didn’t. GRRM has a zillion books. Tolkien wrote short stories and essays on fables before Lord of the Rings. McCaffery has at least three series that only die-hard fans have even heard of.
 
Harry Potter wasn’t a phenomenon until Book 4.
 
Twilight wasn’t big until Book 3.
 
Harry Dresden took 5 books to become huge.
 
The authors people talk about being bestsellers don’t realize most those authors published 5-10 titles before they became recognized, and usually have 20 failed projects unpublished before that. Most of them have been doing this for 10 years before you even know their name.
 
If you quit because your first book was rejected, or you’ve only sold two and your agent can’t sell three, or because it just seems so hard you won’t succeed at publishing. You can’t. The odds are not in your favor.
 
What you have to do is roll with the rejection and write the next book. Find a new way to market. Maybe switch agents. Or genres. Or pen names.
 
Kim Harrison has a wildly successful career that most people say started with DEAD WITCH WALKING. Did you know she published two fantasy novels before DEAD WITCH WALKING and the publisher refused to buy the third? She could have quit writing and done something else, but she didn’t. She switched genres, switched pen names, rebranded herself and came out even stronger. I don’t know her personally, but I know there had to be tears and doubts. I know she was tempted to quit, but she didn’t. 
The path to success is littered with the people who fell down and quit.
If you want this: KEEP GOING.
Keep writing. Even if your progress is slow. Even if there are setbacks. KEEP WRITING. KEEP WORKING. KEEP GOING.

The Path To Failure

I have another secret to share, come here. Closer… closer… STOP! Right there.

Look around. Do you see everything around you? This, my friend, is the path to failure. This is where dreams are broken. This is where it all falls apart. We call it life, sometimes adulthood, but what it really is the graveyard of our hopes.

Okay, you can back up now.

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Shake that negativity off. Take another deep breath and look around. You see this?

This is the path to success. This is where all your dreams come true. This is where everything works for you like you are a Cinderella whose fairy godmother took over the mob and took out those two step-sisters years before you ever had to scrub a floor.

Do you know what the difference is between the path to failure and the road to success? There is none.

There is only one road.

Some days it looks like you are careening towards failure. Everyone else took the express route and found their Prince Charming, their book deal, their million dollar dream and you are still scrubbing floors and writing books by candlelight as you weep into your ink-stained hands.

Suck it up, Buttercup, this is what success looks like before they photoshop it.

It’s hard work, long nights, gut checks, honest chats with friends, and getting knocked back on your butt ninety-nine times. And then you stand up for that hundreth time and punch back. Failure is success that quit. Failure is what happens when you stop standing up when you get punched down. Failure is a step on the long road to success.

Cry if you must. Take a deep breath, look out at the scenery. Take a detour and check out the little things. Then get back on the road and keep going because that’s what turns failure into Success.

If you quit because of a rejection letter, or because you didn’t get the job, or because you failed the first test in a class you aren’t giving yourself a chance to be brilliant. Believe in yourself a little bit longer. Stand back up. You’re getting there.

There Are Three Rules To Writing A Novel…

… and no one knows what they are. Or so says the infamous quote seen on mugs and hats everywhere people want to make money off of frustrated authors.
I’m not saying these are the missing three rules, but they’re my best guess for the time being.

1- Write it all down. Too many young authors dismiss an idea by saying “I’ll remember it later” or “it’s a stupid idea.” You won’t and it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if it’s fanfiction, or parody, or something you wrote just because it sounded funny – write it down. Write it, edit it, and polish it before you judge your work. As long as you agree to learn from your mistakes there is no wasted time, and more than one author has become famous writing “just for fun” while they waited for the perfect book to come along.

2 – Assume your reader is intelligent. They want to read your book, don’t they? That proves they’re intelligent. So trust your reader and don’t hammer them over the head with needless details. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel and give your reader a minute description of a car unless this car is radically different than the common definition. And get so lost in your love of words that you alienate your reader. Yes, a book set in ancient Rome would be more accurate if you wrote it in Greek and Latin, but far fewer people would be able to enjoy your work. Your readers are intelligent, don’t make them jump through hoops to enjoy your writing.

3- Start editing at chapter three. After your first draft is finished reread starting with chapter three. Many authors use the first two chapters to set the stage and establish characters. If you can start reading at chapter three and enjoy the book the readers don’t need those first two chapters. You may need them as an author, but your audience doesn’t. Of course, if you read from chapter three and nothing makes sense pat yourself on the back, you started your story in the right place!

There, now when someone tells you that no one knows how to write the perfect novel you can smirk knowingly and say,”I do.”

What three rules do you believe every good book follows?

Previously Published June 2012

Finding Your Strengths

All writers are not created equal.

Some are gifted at world building, others excel at pacing, some write witty dialog without breaking a sweat (looking at you, Whedon). Whatever your skill, you should identify it and make the most of it?

Why?

Let’s pretend that your greatest strength is dialog. And then you write a book with a character that never speaks to anyone. Everything is description and inner monologue. Guess what? That book is not going to snap the way your previous books did.

Worse, your readers who come to you looking for a specific style of writing might be turned off.

Think of writing a book like you would plan to dress for a photo shoot; even if you’re changing the style of the clothes you still want to accentuate your best features.

So how do you find your strengths? Here’s four quick questions that will help you find your best angle…

1) What do you like writing best?
If you find the descriptive scenes just flow, you might have a knack for world building. If you always know where to end a scene for the right dramatic tension, congratulations, you’re one of the lucky few who has a talent for pacing.

2) What scenes do you think of first?
If the dialog comes before the character description, you probably have flair for dialog. If you know your characters better than you know your neighbor, you are a natural character builder, and I bet no one has ever called your characters “flat.”

3) What do your reviews say?
Look at your critiques and reviews say? Do they mention lush worlds, colorful characters, or snappy sass? That’s your talent!

4) What do people ask for your advice about?
When someone sends you a message and says, “How would you do this?” you know you’ve found your strength.

Previously Published January 2016

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