Monday, July 19, 2010

Author Visits This Week in Barberton, OH and Presque Isle, ME!

Barberton Public Library
Magic on the Page: Writing and Publishing Fantasy Fiction
Author Presentation, Book Sale and Signing
July 21, 2010, 6 p.m.
602 West Park Ave.
Barberton, OH 44203

Turner Memorial Library Summer Reading Program
Magic on the Page: Writing and Publishing Fantasy Fiction
Skype Visit
July 22, 2010, 12 noon
Presque Isle, ME

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Forming Successful Critique Partnerships

Great—you’ve found a critique partner, or a group, or an ongoing workshop. Yes! You think. This is just what I need to reach the next level.
But there’s trouble from the start. Cassie submits a hundred pages every month, but does a perfunctory read of your 850-word picture book. Roy only shows up when he is on the schedule for critique. Roy’s erotica embarrasses Tom, who writes “clean teen” fiction.
Bitsy gets defensive whenever anyone makes a suggestion about her work, and it always turns into a big argument. She thinks the only person qualified to comment is Miranda, because she’s the only published author in the group. Bitsy is hoping Miranda will refer her to her agent. Of course, nobody ever has any suggestions about Miranda’s work, because it is just PERFECT.
Miranda quits after the first meeting. And within a month or two, everyone else does, too. What went wrong?
I’ve belonged to a number of critique groups over the years. Some lasted for years, others either imploded or were not a good fit for me.
I am currently active in three very different groups. One is online, the other two are in-person.

There are many different ways to structure a critique group, but making it effective and fair takes planning and effort on everyone’s part. It’s important to establish some rules and expectations from the start. You may need less structure than this, but here are some issues to consider up front.

Who will be in the group? Can anyone join or are there criteria as to genre, audience, or experience level? Is the group open to the public, e.g., new members can join at any time, or closed, to maintain continuity? Is there a limit as to size? How are new members admitted? Does the group have to agree or can any member invite someone? Do prospective members have to submit a writing sample?
Some groups include a mixture of new and established writers, which allows more experienced writers to mentor newbies. But there’s also the risk of losing pro-level writers who are not getting value back in the form of helpful critique. Long-lived groups depend on reciprocity—where all members have their needs met. I think it’s best to seek group members who exhibit the same level of focus and professionalism about the work.
It is not necessary for all members of a critique group to write in the same genre, but it is necessary for all members to take submissions seriously and offer useful critique, whether they write that genre or not. It is not helpful for another member to throw up his hands and say, “Well, I don’t feel qualified to read this because I just don’t get science fiction.” Good fiction, no matter the genre, has more commonalities than differences.

How will the work be submitted? Will it be distributed in hard copy to members for review at the next meeting? Emailed to members ahead of time? Read aloud at the critique meeting? There are pros and cons to each method. For instance, reading work at the meeting means there is little work to be done outside of the meeting, except for the writing. But it also means that time at the meeting will be taken up by reading. You may need to limit the number of works critiqued at a meeting, and the length of each work critiqued.
If submissions are read aloud, a good or bad reader can affect how the work is perceived. And “hearing” a work is different from reading it.

What will the process be? Will you meet in person or submit critiques online at your convenience? If in person, will critiques be written? Verbal? Both? Do members want line edits or global feedback only? Can a member submit every month or is there a schedule? Are all group members expected to critique every submission? At the meeting, will you go around the circle, making sure everyone is heard from, or will it be a matter of who speaks up? Is the author expected to remain silent during the critique or not? You may think, why shouldn’t the author be allowed to speak? But it can shut down feedback (not to mention take up a lot of time) if the author argues and defends and explains every point. Will there be a discussion leader at the meetings? That can help keep the meeting on track, on time, and discourage off-topic side conversations. Is it the same leader at every meeting, or does it rotate? Is social time planned into the meeting, or is it all business?

What are the expectations of group members? Will the group meet at the same time and day each month or will it vary depending on member schedules? Are all members expected to be at the meetings, except in unusual circumstances, or can they come and go, depending on their interest in the work at hand? If members don’t attend the meeting, are they still expected to forward critique to the submitters for that month? Are all members expected to submit, intermittently at least? (This may seem obvious, but I once belonged to a group that broke up because some members critiqued, but never submitted.) We learn both by giving critique and receiving it.
Finally, it may take several tries to find a group that is a good fit for you in terms of membership, process, genre, and work ethic. One group may be primarily a social group, another may be a nest of literary barracudas, a third may focus almost exclusively on a genre that you don’t write. If you write novels, a monthly critique meeting with a ten-page limit is not going to work well for you in terms of getting feedback on the entire work.
Be persistent. If you want critique, find a path that works for you, even if it means organizing a group yourself.

Critique Links
You will notice that a lot of these resources are related to science fiction and fantasy writing. That’s because SFF writers have a long history of workshop critiquing.
Longridge Writers Group
This site covers rules of critique as well as guidelines for managing critique group problems
Turkey City Lexicon
Site directed at science fiction and fantasy writers, but all writers will see themselves here (and have a good laugh too) Tips for the actual process of critiquing
James Patrick Kelly’s article on Writing Workshops

Saturday, July 10, 2010

When and Where to Find Critique

In  a previous post, I discussed the benefits of getting feedback on your work before you take it to an agent or editor. 
There are a number of ways to get feedback on your work, including hiring a freelance editor or signing up for a writing class or paid workshop with a writing professional. But here I’m talking about peer critique—a reciprocal process where writers read and critique each other’s work and so improve through the process.

When should you seek feedback/critique on your work?
For some writers, early critique can be a story killer. Writing a first draft and revising it are two separate skills. Those writers will want to finish the entire project and do a first revision before showing it to anyone else.
For others, early feedback can help set them on the right path. The right critique group can help them see the potential in their story.
In order to make the most of a critique opportunity, I think it’s best to honor your readers with fairly polished work. You don’t want your expert readers to spend their time on line edits, grammar and spelling. Take your work as far as you can on your own—then seek help from others.
If you are actively publishing, deadlines must be considered also. If you want the benefit of critique before you submit your final manuscript to that editor or agent, that timing will be a factor.

Where can you find feedback?
Writing organizations, such as the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Romance Writers of America, the Mystery Writers of America, and the International Women’s Writing Guild often sponsor local chapter meetings and online and in-person critique groups.  These groups may require membership in those organizations, but should welcome visitors for a few meetings.
A Google search on “writers Cleveland OH” turned up links to the Lit, a home-grown writing organization that sponsors book clubs, workshops, and classes, the Ohioana Library, which focuses on Ohio writers, and the Ohio Center for the Book, associated with Cleveland Public Library.
            Local libraries and bookstores often host writing workshops and meetings, and may know of writers meeting in your area. Sometimes a workshop can grow out of a writing class or program. One of my first critique groups grew out of a fiction-writing class I took at a library. We continued to meet for more than ten years.
Some writers don’t belong to a formal critique group at all. They may have a few trusted readers who provide that service. It may be tempting to ask your spouse or siblings to read, since they are conveniently at hand, and may be willing and interested. As a writing professional, however, ask yourself whether they are the best readers for your work. And whether the feedback from that reading might damage a valuable relationship.
Future post: Strategies for Successful Critique

Links to Writing Organizations

Here are some links to get you started.
Local Writing Organizations by state on Squidoo:

List of  National Writing Organizations on Novelspot:

And ebook crossroads:

Some Genre-Related Writing Organizations

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I have vivid memories of high school—good and bad. I think that’s one reason that I write novels for teens. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, any writer who survives adolescence has more than enough material to last a lifetime. I remember high school as a fever dream juxtaposition of the highest highs and the lowest lows.
So it is with some trepidation that I prepare for my first high school reunion. To my knowledge, my class has held only two reunions—a tenth, that I was not able to attend, and this one. I have a lot of catching up to do.
I spend the afternoon studying up on the yearbook. Some of the people I want to see will not be there, because some of them are dead. Some never made it out of their twenties.
It is time to go, and I have five outfits laid out on the bed, trying to decide what to wear. Flower child throw-back? Sleek, sophisticated black with heels? Literary goddess?
I choose black and white and heels. My husband looks me up and down. “You look kind of dressed up,” he says, this man who would wear a sports shirt and khakis to a wedding. “But don’t change now. We gotta go.”
On the way, I develop an unpleasant queasiness—maybe the aftermath of clothing anxiety. Wow, I think, you are nervous about this.
We arrive at the country club. As we cross the parking lot, I’m feeling light-headed. It’ll be all right, I tell myself. Cocktails, dinner, dancing. Well, maybe not dancing. We’ll see how it goes.
In the reception area, I give my name and they hand my husband and me name tags and a CD. Someone taps me on the shoulder.
“Cinda? It’s Debbie Weiner. Remember me?”
Of course I remember Debbie Weiner. I cling to her like a buoy in an uncertain sea, since I seem to be getting seasick.
“I saw you were in publishing,” she says. “I’m in publishing, too, since right after I graduated from Kent State.”
“Well,” I say, “I took a more indirect route.”
Someone else greets me. It is Bob Good. We were in the Drama Club together, and the a capella choir. He was Sir Pellinore in Camelot (I was in the chorus.) And here’s Mike Bezbatchenko, one of the many Bezbatchenkos.
I chat with Debbie in the photography line. She has worked for a series of academic presses. I am eager to hear more, but my digestive turmoil increases.
Maybe not cocktails. Or dinner.
I break into a cold sweat as I realize that I need to find the ladies’ room—and fast. I charge off, abandoning my bewildered husband in the photography line.
As I thread my way through the crowd, other people greet me, volunteering familiar names attached to unfamiliar faces. Everyone is very friendly. I’m actually a high school reunion success! Except…
I huddle in the restroom stall, dripping sweat, hugging the porcelain goddess. I’m there a considerable time, in a miserable limbo.
The outside door opens. “Um—Cinda?” It’s Debbie. “Your husband sent me in to see if you’re all right.”
“Well,” I say, as surprised as anyone, “apparently I am ill.”
“Can I help you?” she asks kindly, this woman I haven’t seen in forty years.
“Well, maybe I’ll just stay here and see what develops,” I say.
And, of course, I am violently ill. Also mortified.
Debbie brings me a glass of water.
Now my husband comes in. “Are you all right? Debbie says--”
“No,” I say, hoping for a quick and merciful death.
Some women enter the ladies’ room, and my husband beats a hasty retreat.
A few minutes later, he’s back. Debbie is guarding the door. Temporarily defused, I emerge from the cubicle.
“Let’s go home,” my husband says.
“Well,” I say, bravely, “maybe I could get my picture taken anyway. For the memory book.”
“I’ll bet they would take it really fast,” Debbie says.
My husband takes in my pallid face, my stringy, sweaty hair. “Let’s just go,” he says, deciding that this is not a moment we want to preserve.
And so we leave, never having made it past the foyer, passing other classmates just arriving. They make eye contact with me, smiling, hoping I am someone they once knew—from choir, from band, from the senior class play. Even though just now I’m looking like the undead. Or a child of the 70’s who never successfully completed rehab.
It’s looking more and more like the only way I’ll return to high school is via fantasy fiction and fever dreams.