With stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders and the wisdom of
social distancing, many of us are feeling isolated. I’m finding myself on
Facebook more than usual just for socializing. What I’m personally not
missing is my weekly critique group.
About four weeks ago we decided to try virtual meetings
because I had moved away. Our first meeting, the others met up at a house and we
Skyped with them all sitting around one
computer. I was the only remote person. The next week we decided to try Zoom with each in one at home. It worked great and
we’ve been using it ever since and have even added two others to our group. It’s
great seeing everyone’s faces at once. We just have to be careful not to talk
over each other. (I’m
paying for Zoom since free is limited to 40 minutes at a time. It’s well-worth
the $16 something a month. Zoom lets me set up a recurring meeting which means
the meeting starts automatically. Another member also signed up as a backup
We are submitting our manuscripts on Monday and we “meet” on
Thursday. After we share our comments on a manuscript, members return the
notated copy to the author. Some of us do so via email as we’re using Word’s
commenting. Others prefer making handwritten notes on a printed copy and
mailing. It’s working well. And no one is having to drive anywhere.
Most of us had participated in Zoom meetings (or webinars) which made us aware of the program/app. But there are other similar options. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
Whereby: the free option
allows up to four people to meet at one time. For $9.99/month (probably plus
tax), you can have up to 12 participants.
GoToMeeting: You can test it free for 14 days. Plans start at $12/month.
Also has a free trial—theirs is 30 days. Plans start at $9.95/month.
Google has a G Suite Hangouts Meet: I found it difficult
to find pricing and stopped looking.
JoinMe: There’s a free
trial. For 5 participants it is $13/month. Prices go up from there. Appears
that scheduling is only an option for a higher fee.
I just found this “Top 20
Alternatives & Competitors to Zoom” which will give you more info.
The point is, you don’t have
to survive this virus without other writers. If you aren’t in a critique group,
maybe now is the time to find one. SCBWI
members should check their local regions and the Blueboard. If you’re on
Facebook, you can find critique partners or do swaps through Kidlit 411 Manuscript
Swap (For illustrators there’s Kidlit 411
Illustrator Critique Swap) or Sub It
Club Critique Partner Matchup.
Rejections are subjective. I know that. I only have to think about books I loved that a friend didn’t like or one they loved that I didn’t like. We all have our own tastes and even moods. But when our manuscript is rejected it often doesn’t feel subjective. We often feel as if we’ve failed.
When those feelings strike me, I have to remember how many published books I read where the story didn’t grab me. Or something turned me off. And these books were loved by an editor willing to spend a lot of time with the manuscript. They’ve been supported by a publishing company as a whole. So if published books can fail an individual, why I am I surprised when my own unpublished manuscript does?
At first page and roundtable critique sessions, I’ve seen how editors and agents just haven’t connected with the writing of a specific piece. One person might “get it” and the others not. Or the panel is split on whether they’d read on.
Ever had rejections that said, “I just didn’t love it enough.”? I have. Some agents/editors have told me things to work on; others haven’t. They are a reminder that I need to keep trying. If you’re getting personal rejections, keep on.
But what if you aren’t getting any personal rejections? That means it’s time to step back and look at your writing.
Many years ago at the SCBWI LA Conference–2009 to be exact–Editor Wendy Loggia shared “seven 7 reasons why your manuscript is declined.” They included:
- nice writing, but no story
- too similar to something else she’d edited or in the market place
- unclear who the audience would be
- can’t connect to the voice
- book submitted too early before it was ready
- project would not stand out on the house list
- the author is difficult to deal with (Yes, many editors and agents check your social media.)
What she concluded with was “If I can’t give a book my heart and soul, I won’t acquire it.” But note how many of the reasons above are something we have control over: a good story, a clear audience, a professional manuscript, a good attitude.
Here are some tips garnered from a variety of agents and editors that deal with what we control:
- put your best foot forward – fix those typos and grammar errors
- have a good hook
- show, don’t tell
- Editor Nick Thomas says, “Don’t make the first chapter too long.”
- have an intimacy with your characters
- remember cliffhangers make good chapter endings
- don’t write to trends
- be passionate about your project
- got voice? “Always it’s the voice that gets me… The way it makes me feel,” says Editor Christy Ottaviano.
- make sure your plot is solid
- share big truths
- provide opportunity for emotional engagement
And for the querying itself:
- research the agent(s) you are querying
- follow submission instructions
- get the agent or editor’s name right
- write a good query/cover letter
- provide good comp titles – this is one of my weaknesses
- keep your letter to one page
Also, don’t forget that you aren’t alone in getting rejections.
“At times the rejections did get to me, but the will to write always triumphed over the disappointment of rejection.” – Karen Hesse
Shannon Hale said, “I’ve published 20+ books, the last 10 or so of which have all been best sellers, and I still get rejections. All the time.”
“Rejection isn’t a sign of failure. Rejection is a reminder that there’s always room for improvement.” – Ana Hart
Kathryn Stockett said, “I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected.”
Let’s not be ashamed. Let’s press on.
Recently, I visited Kansas and Missouri friends for a writing retreat where we each worked on our own projects. Four of us were writing and one illustrating. Because this group used to write together once or twice a week, it was easy to fall into a comfortable rhythm. During meal times and evenings we chatted, played games, and chatted some more. Of course, we took breaks for bird watching, stretching our legs, seeing the fish in the pond get fed, etc.
One of the advantages of a retreat like this is limited cell service and limited household chores (only cooking and cleaning up after meals). That meant dedicated time to focus on work. I caught up on a bunch of rewrites I wanted/needed to do and moved forward in my WIP. I saw others doing research, writing, planning a future book, editing, drawing and painting. Work!
Another advantage of a retreat is the shared information. One gal is working on a low residency MFA in children’s writing through Vermont College of Fine Arts. She shared tidbits from lectures. We urged her to get her submission in for an award. We all encouraged another gal not to give up writing. And, of course, we exchanged information about good books–now my “to be read” list is even longer. ☺
A task I was doing was comp titles for a picture book I’d written. One friend asked me how I found them. “I just used Amazon,” I said. I showed her there was a lot of nonfiction on my topic, but only one fiction picture book and it was from the 1980s.
The same gal asked a question about her new Mac (she’s switched from PC) and the result was I and another made changes to our word doc default, too.
So, work, exchanging information, good friends, fun, food, all equaled a great time! The others enjoyed it too and we unanimously decided to repeat the retreat. THANK YOU, Heather Trent Beers, Kate Barsotti, Jenn Bailey and Lisha Cauthen. It was so much fun being with you all.
Recommendations for planning and enjoying YOUR personal creative retreat:
- 1. Choose people you trust and respect. Everyone at our retreat paid her agreed upon share. I love that my friends were considerate and said to the two of us with knee problems, “take the downstairs bedrooms.”
- 2. Don’t invite people who do drama. No one fussed about where she sat, slept, what she ate, sharing bathrooms, etc. People drank, or didn’t drink, alcohol as desired, but no one got drunk. A peaceful atmosphere goes a long way to make a productive retreat.
- 3. Plan at least two full days for work not counting arrival time and departure time. We arrived on a Friday afternoon and settled in and didn’t worry about serious work that day, although we talked about writing and the publishing business. (Of course!) This let everyone unwind. We left Monday morning at check out time–again since we were packing up, no creative work was done. Loved having two solid days of accomplishments.
- 4. If you’re not used to working with these people, agree on an informal schedule.
- 5. Bring some fun games or relaxing activities. But if someone wants to continue working when everyone else is recreating, no nagging.
- 6. Keep your group small enough that you can share a bed and breakfast or retreat cabin/vacation house and be the only guests.
- 7. Someone needs to be the point person to find and book a venue. We started planning two plus months in advance.
- 8. Decide whether wi-fi at your location is important to the group or not. We wanted it.
- 9. Share the food expense, meal planning, preparation and cleanup. The only problem we had was too much food. For example, ladies kept adding items to bring that weren’t on the agreed list, so we had duplicate snack foods, which returned home. (Or choose a venue that provides food, although you’ll still probably want snacks.)
- 10. Arrange carpooling because it’s a lot of fun to talk while driving, too.
My local writing group and I have been talking about a retreat. I think we need to quit talking and plan!
It depends on you and on the listserve.
There are usually several types of people on a listserve: posters and lurkers. Posters are the ones that keep a listserve alive. They ask questions. They share information of interest to the group. They answer other people’s questions. They encourage others. They share ideas. Lurkers are the people who are reading, but not participating in the conversation. They don’t comment, nor start new topics, nor share good and bad news. Does this mean they can’t get anything out of the posts? Of course not. They can glean lots of information from what others are saying. But…if they have a question and don’t ask it on the listserve, how will they get it answered?
One of my friends had been lurking on a listserve and because I “out”ed that she was there (she had invited me to it), she decided she’d better introduce herself. Nervously, she wrote a post of intro and commented on a topic that the group had been discussing. She asked me to look over her post before she sent it. “Is it okay?” she asked. “Definitely,” I told her. “Go ahead and post.” She did, and guess who commented?! Andy Boyles of Highlights. Just by making an intelligent comment on a listserve she had a short conversation with an editor.
By chatting with others, I’ve also made friends on listserves. This Saturday I get to meet one friend face-to-face for the first time. Is that cool or what?
Listserves come in a variety of kinds: regional, topic or genre, general writing, organizational. What’s the right group for me, may not be the right one for you. I like trying out a listserve. It’s like going to a club meeting. If you enjoy the people you meet and the topics of conversation, you’ll come back. If not, you won’t. If your focus changes, you may need a new listserve and may let an old one go.
They can become timewasters if you are involved either in ones that are very busy with many many conversations, or if you’re involved in too many listserves. I like getting my listserves in digest format versus individual emails. I can scan the topic headers and skip any that aren’t of interest to me. It also helps me limit the time spent.
So how do you find listserves? Most of the ones I participate in were by invitation or through a writing organization. But you can also find them by searching yahoo or google groups. Here are some I found that way:
childrensbookandarticlecritiquing – the title says it all
Childrens-FandSF-Writers – the F stands for fantasy and obviously SF is Science Fiction
childrens-writers – a discussion group
childrenswriterstoday – a forum for writers, poets, illustrators, editors and publishers of all genres in the juvenile to teen market to announce their latest news, reviews, columns, books and publication works
fantasyweavers – an online critique group for writers of middle-grade and young-adult fantasy and science fiction
internetchildrensstories – this is a club devoted to writers of children’s stories and their readers
Northwest Independent Writers Association – for writers of any kind
When searching make sure you check the statistics (latest activity; members; and if it is important to you, whether the group is moderated or not). Some groups will be open and others closed. Some groups may want to know something about you before adding you; others have no vetting process.
If you’ve never tried one, ask other writers or illustrators what listserves they like. Then join one or two. Lurking at first is okay, but remember you’ll get more out of it, if you post, too.
image courtesy of morguefile.com
It was exciting to become one of eCollegeFinder’s Top 75 Writing blogs! My website is listed on their site as a student resource on this page. I don’t know how they found the nominees for this award. One day I just received notice that my site had been nominated. Each of the nominees was asked to describe the blog and answer this question: “What advice can you offer students aiming to improve their writing acumen?”
Then eCollegeFinder posted the finalists’ answers and had a voting period to determine the top 3. They got so many votes it overwhelmed their system and they had to do some technical scrambling to get their site back up!
The top winner is someone I follow myself! Miss Snark’s First Victim by Authoress. She deserves the number one spot!
Number 2 is A Writer’s Life with Liz Fielding and number 3 is Unwritten by Mysti Parker.
Here are the other 71. Of these, I’m only providing links to the sites specifically by or for children’s and YA writers (or blogs about those type of books). It’s not that I dislike adult writers, it’s just that my blog focuses on writing for children and teens. To see the other links, go to the eCollegeFinder’s link above. From what I can discern, all the blogs are from the US or the UK.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
All Things Writerly – A Blog
Anne R. Allen’s Blog with Ruth Harris
Author Julie Cohen
Blog of Horror Author Matt Nord
Bob Sanchez: Writing, Reading, and a Bit of Travel
Clifton Hill – Writer. Artist. Head thoroughly lodged in the clouds.
David Powers King
Donna Newton’s Blog
Fonts and Fiction
Glynis Smy – Writer
Helena’s London Life
Janet Sumner Johnson: Musings of a Children’s Writer
Jean Bull’s Writing Blog
Jessica Hart: Writing Romance Around The World
Lexi Revellian: my writing and other related matters
Literary MacGregor – an agent’s site
Mystery Writing is Murder
N. R. Williams, The Writing Craft
Non-Fiction Chronicles of a Fiction-Filled Life
Not Only In Thailand
Rachel Morgan Writes
Reading and Writing
Sometimes, the Wheel is on Fire
Steven Chapman (writer)
Tara Bradford Writing and Photography
The Alliterative Allomorph
The Book Addict
The Eagle’s Aerial Perspective
The Girdle of Melian
The Leaky Pencil
The Paperback Pursuer
The Writing Bug
This Writer’s Life
Thoughts in Progress
Write Up the Hill
Writing for Woman’s World Magazine
Writing to the Edge of Darkness
However, although this could be a good resource, and you may find some sites to follow, remember if you are reading many blogs on a regular basis, make sure you reserve time to write!