How Do You Know You're Ready for Critique?

Photo credit: clarkmaxwell on Flickr
Getting critiqued is never easy. It can be tough to have all of your book's flaws pointed out to you, and see the pile of work you'll need to do to fix it mount up. It can be intimidating—and even a tad embarrassing—to see your manuscript's mistakes and shortcomings highlighted as you ask yourself why you hadn't noticed them before.

Which is why, when going into a critique, it's important to have the right mindset. But how do you know you're ready?

Writers work with critique partners at different stages, largely dependent on personal preference. Some work with readers as they first draft, largely for encouragement and bouncing ideas back and forth. Some send their first drafts to their critique partners the moment they've finished the manuscript. Some, like myself, wait until they've revised the manuscript at least once by themselves before they start gradually working with critique partners.

In the end, the when will depend on how you work as a writer and what you're able to handle. I'm a very practical person, so I prefer to work with critique partners later on in the process so I can fix a bunch of the biggest issues on my own before my critique partners see it. That way, for the most part, they rarely tell me something I already knew, and it allows me to get a more polished draft at the end. But other writers need the back and forth earlier on in the process, and that's okay too.

But how do you know when you're ready? I think readiness for critique is something you actively develop, not something that magically appears on its own. It comes with understanding the critique process—that they're critiquing the manuscript, not you, and that ultimately, the critique process is necessary for you to make your manuscript the best it can be—and reminding yourself however often is needed that this critique is going to help you and your manuscript.

Critique can be a daunting thing. But the important part is to take a deep breath, remind yourself why you're getting critiqued, and take a step beyond the initial emotional resistance to digest the critique and consider how it will help you.

Sometimes, it takes a long time to hit the point where you're comfortable with critique—and that's okay. Just take it a step at a time, and it'll become a regular (if not slightly nerve-wracking) part of your process that you've figured out how to cope with however works best for you.

How do you know when you're ready for critique?

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you know when you're ready for critique? @Ava_Jae shares some thoughts. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Break Through Writers' Block

Ahh, the dreaded writers' block. We all hit a point at some time or another where the writing just isn't flowing anymore—but what can you do to break through it? Today I'm sharing my block-busting tips.


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How do you break through writers' block?

Twitter-sized bites:
Struggling with writers' block? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips for getting through the dreaded slog. (Click to tweet
How do you break through writers' block? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. #vlog (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #35!

Photo credit: Raccatography on Flickr
Brief pre-vlog post to announce the winner of the thirty-fifth fixing the first page feature giveaway!

*drumroll*

And the thirty-fifth winner is…


KK JENKINS!


Yay! Congratulations, KK!

Thanks again to all you wonderful entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in June, so as always, keep an eye out!

6th Blogoversary Giveaway Winners!

Photo credit: Clare & Dave on Flickr
First and foremost! The giveaway was another awesome success—thank you so much to all who entered! Now, the best part of any giveaway—the time to make lots of people happy—is now here. Here are the lucky winners!

  • Synopsis Critique (up to 1,000 words) from Laura Heffernan: Matt Mutshnick
  • Query Critique from Gabrielle Prendergast: Alyssa Purcell
  • 2 Query Critiques from Briana Morgan: Jamie Kay and V Yarrington
  • Query Critique + Follow-up e-mail + Synopsis critique (if wanted) from Gill Hoffs: Kelly Barina
  • First Chapter Critique from Jackie Yeager: Emily Moore
  • Query + First Chapter Critique from Akemi Dawn Bowman: Nicole Lowrey
  • Query + First Chapter Critique from Amelinda Berube: Sarah Pripas Kapit
  • Query + First Chapter Critique from K Callard: Bev Baird
  • Query + First Chapter Critique from Hayley Chewins: Lana Kondryuk
  • Query + First Chapter + 1-4 Page Summary Critique from Erica Cameron: Vanessa Valiente
  • Query + First Chapter Critique OR $75 towards her Graphic Design Services from Veronica Bartles: M.E. Bond
  • First 3 Chapters Critique from Kristi Wientgne: Cez Apollo
  • First 6 Chapters Critique from Megan Manzano: Brie Tart
  • First 50 Pages Critique from Nicole Tone: Layne
  • First 50 Pages Critique from Chelsea M. Cameron: Megan Trotter
  • Query + First 30 Pages Critique from me: Jacy Merrill
  • Query + First 30 Pages Critique from Katherine Locke: Bonnie Woodward

And the book winners!

  • ARC of Zero Repeat Forever by Gabrielle Prendergast: Stephanie Carmichael
  • ARC of Karma Khullar's Mustache by Kristi Wientgne: AdikMiftakhur Rohmah
  • Signed Hardcover of Beyond the Red by Ava Jae: Bonnie Woodward
  • Pre-order of The Girl With the Red Balloon (Amazon or B&N) + Signed Bookplate by Katherine Locke: Shawn Fournier
  • Signed copies of Behind the Throne & After the Crown by KB Wagers: Ellie Firestone
  • Signed Hardcover of My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights by Brooks Benjamin: Ingrid Cuanalo
  • Signed copy of The Girl Before by Rena Olsen: Mary Kate
  • Signed Hardcover of Iron Cast by Destiny Soria: Emily Moore

Thanks again to all who entered and congratulations to all of the winners! To those who see their names here, you should be receiving an e-mail shortly (if it’s not already in your inboxes—check the e-mails you gave the rafflecopter!).

Finally, if you entered to win a critique but didn't win, I will say I have some June and beyond openings available for big and small critiques alike, and the anniversary 5% sale (and 10% off #ownvoices) is running until May 31st—so feel free to take a look at your options.

That’s all! See you all tomorrow with a vlog.

Guest Post: What Reading Picture Books Can Teach You About Writing Novels by M.E. Bond

Photo credit: Megan Hemphill (Prairie & Co) on Flickr
With three kids under five I read a lot of picture books. In fact we usually have two dozen different picture books out from the library at any given time. So how can I use all this reading to benefit my writing, even though I'm working on adult novels? I came up with six ways to use picture books to my advantage; I think they'll help you, too.

  1. Mimic plot and structure. If you stop and think about what makes a satisfying picture book, you're sure to find applications for novel-writing. How is conflict introduced and resolved? How are surprise endings constructed? How do repeated imagery and phrases tie the story together?

  2. Reflect on rhyme and rhythm. You're probably not writing your novel in rhyme, but the rhyme and rhythm in a good picture book will inspire you to think about word choice and the cadence of your sentences. 

  3. Know what to leave unsaid. Often the best part of reading picture books is studying the relationship between the words and pictures. Think about what you want to convey with your writing and what you should leave to your reader's imagination.

  4. Consider different ways to approach a story. You'll often find picture books on the same topics – be it counting, welcoming a new baby, or getting ready for bed – not to mention those based on traditional stories (like these two retellings of the same Jewish folktale). Let them guide you as you take some time to think about different approaches to story-telling. 

  5. Find inspiration. The subject matter of picture books may well give you an idea for your next novel or an addition to your work in progress. For example, any of these 17 picture books about historical heroines could spawn a dramatic adult novel.

  6. Remember the joy of writing. When you're pressed for time reading aloud a beloved picture book may be the best way to remind yourself of the wonder of words and the magic of stories. Then you can press on, reinvigorated, to tackle your adult projects.

How do picture books inspire you? (And which are your favourite?)


M.E. Bond is a part-time writer and full-time mother living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She spends her writing time blogging about history, archives, and libraries, and endlessly revising her first novel, a mystery set on a university campus.

Blog | Twitter | Goodreads (including two shelves of favorite picture books)

Twitter-sized bite:
What can you learn from reading picture books? @MEBond_writer shares her experience on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Guest Post: The Author Portrait by Rachel Linn

Photo credit: María Garrido on Flickr
Be honest, when you sit down at your computer to compose your magnum opus, there’s a lot of knee-jiggling, nail-biting, and an alarming amount of palm-sweating. You want to experience the joy of putting words on the page, but the weight of actually writing things down keeps you poised on the edge of creation-- sometimes for months. This chronic paralysis develops because you’ve conflated who you are with what you create. It won’t resolve until you understand you are not The Author.

Margaret Atwood felt “the act of writing comes weighted with a burden of anxieties. The written word is so much like evidence—like something that can be used against you later.” And she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale for goodness sake! If anyone has a body of evidence to show off, it’s Atwood.

But the woman who wrote that quote in 2002 isn’t the same woman who wrote The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985. Yet she’s expected to be THE AUTHOR OF THE HANDMAID’S TALE all the time. While eating lunch. While brushing her teeth. While meeting rabid fans. Another Atwood gem applies here: “Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pâte.”

You can’t meet The Author because that person doesn’t exist. The person sitting there watering the keyboard with overmoist palms is not The Author. But it becomes impossible to separate yourself from the looming mythos you’ve create when you believe every sentence is a piece of your soul. So instead of getting anything done, you wait for The Author to show up and do it right. Aaaaany day now.

To cope with this paralysis, I’ve borrowed (stolen) Michel Foucault’s concept of the author function. Since “author function” sounds like a car part, I call it the author portrait instead. The author portrait’s not a person, but a curated accumulation of writing/performance that happens to be attached to a person. Namely you. It’s both an invention and a reflection: your ever evolving professional portrait. So your current draft doesn’t have to be profound any more than your grocery list does. They are just things you write down. When looking through your draft, don’t ask “Will readers like me?” Ask “Does this work enhance the author portrait I’m painting?” When critique partners criticize your work, realize they are critiquing your author portrait, not you as a person.

It’s dangerous to imagine you and your work are one entity, because your writing is meant to be consumed by others while you most certainly are not. Sometimes we fill ourselves with beautiful books and forget what we see is someone else’s author portrait. Behind that finished pâte was a grisly process where a person sweated over a keyboard (or quill pen) until they got over their own mythos and wrote. You and your author portrait are not the same, (and thank goodness) because you are so much more than The Author.

What do you think?


Rachel Linn is a dramaturg/librarian/writer in Atlanta who is passionate about novels, manga, gaming, and fan studies. She has a PhD in Interdisciplinary Arts and and MA in Theatre specializing in critique and critical analysis. On the side she writes a blog with her filmmaker husband called MarriedtotheAuthor.com.

Twitter-sized bite:
On Margaret Atwood, the Author Portrait, and more, @Married2tAuthor shares her guest post on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Guest Vlog: How to Make Writer Friends with Lily Meade

Networking can seem a little intimidating at first—but really, it's about making great writerly friends. The lovely Lily Meade is here today to talk about how to make friends with other writers.


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How do you make writer friends?

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to make some writer friends but not sure where to start? @LilyMeade shares some tips on @Ava_Jae's YT channel. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #35!

Photo credit: Nicolas Ciotti on Flickr
Incredibly, we are exactly halfway through May! Which means, of course, as is always the case here on Writability, it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature.

For those who’ve missed before, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a public (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.

Rules!

  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the thirty-fifth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Sunday, May 21 at 11:59 PM EST to enter!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post: Why Do You Write? by Rafia Khader

Photo credit: freestocks.org on Flickr
Why do you write?

Sure, you love to write. But have you ever asked yourself why you love to write?

If you’re anything like me, writing might be the only way you feel you can communicate with others. As someone who is both shy and introverted, writing is not a choice. It’s a compulsion. Writing allows me the space to be myself and truly be heard.

I grew up feeling alone, not resonating with any of the narratives I saw around me as a child and as an adolescent. To a certain extent, I still feel that way as a thirty-year old.

I am a former overweight, Canadian-born, Muslim woman of Indian ethnicity living in a post-9/11 America.

You can imagine how middle and high school must have been like for me. I’ll give you a hint: I wasn’t a popular kid. It wasn’t just that I was different - I felt invisible. One of my closest friends in high school didn’t even know I was Muslim until senior year.

The issues that are important to me aren’t the issues most people seem to care about. Even within the different communities I am a part of, I feel like an outlier.

I don’t fit in with any of the narratives that surround me.

But I want to desperately fit in.

So, that’s why I write. Because when I do so, I get to create my own narrative. I fit in in the world that I create.

Even though most people will probably never understand my enthusiasm for the Oxford Comma, or why I am so obsessed with coming up with the perfect plot line for that book I just need to write, I know why I write and why I must continue to do so.

Writing has been a constant companion for me when (most of) the rest of the world told me I didn’t belong.

So, why do you write? Maybe all that you’ve been through is pointing you in the direction you must now go. I know that the unique experiences I’ve had will inform the kind of book I write. And maybe that’s exactly what the world needs. Are you willing to share your story with the rest of the world?


Rafia Khader is a writer, blogger, and aspiring novelist with a penchant for cake and cows. She shares her reflections on life, faith, marriage, and writing - all with a dash of humour - on her blog Cake & Cows



Twitter-sized bite:
Why do you write? Rafia Khader shares why she puts words on the page—join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Guest Post: So You’ve Been Called Out—How Not to Make It Worse by Jennifer Austin

Photo credit: guidancefs on Flickr
I’ve seen a number of incidents—mostly plastered all over Twitter—involving an author being called out for bad representation in their book, or possibly something they’ve said online. I’m not going to get into the topic of calling it “mob mentality” (don’t do that) or blaming the critiquers for their “nasty tone” instead of just listening to what is being said (don’t do that either.) But I think a guide for authors in this situation might be somewhat helpful.

  1. STOP: Whatever thought just came to the top of your head, just stop. Don’t tweet. Don’t blog. Don’t comment. If someone is calling out your words, there’s a reason, even if you don’t agree with it. So stop. Don’t respond.

  2. LISTEN: It may not be possible for you to read the critiques (think of them as critiques, not attacks.) They can hurt, and some of us don’t have the mental well-being to handle those comments unfiltered. So ask a friend to do it and give you an overview. Someone feels hurt. Your words caused it. You need to know why.

  3. APOLOGIZE: This is hard to do, but do it. Apologize. On Twitter, on your blog, whatever avenue you have open to you. Don’t turn it into “this was my intent so don’t be mad at me” post. It’s okay to explain yourself, but that needs to be very secondary to apologizing for the hurt you’ve caused and promising to do better next time. 

  4. LEARN: This might be the most difficult part. You have to learn from your mistake. Maybe your intent wasn’t to hurt anyone, but you did. You need to learn why, through listening to what they have to say and doing more investigation into the particular aggression you committed. Our internal biases are built on years of society telling us untrue things. We’ve been propped up and rewarded for believing some hurtful crap. It’s time to unlearn those biases. Google the subject matter at hand. Explore the countless writing resources out there that explain some of the very microaggressions we writers fall into without meaning to. But it is imperative that we learn and do better, otherwise we are just fulfilling an endless cycle of hurt and anger for all parties involved.

We have an obligation to our readers to provide the best books and social media profiles that we can, and this includes supporting readers of many different identities. Identities we may not share, but choose to write or talk about. We have a long reaching power to affect teens with our words. Alienating them, hurting them, causing them to question who they are, is not what I want to do with that power. I’d rather show them the love and support they need and deserve. Let that be your literary legacy.

What do you think?

Jennifer Austin is a YA writer who used to keep her little sisters up at night by telling them long, fantastical stories. Now she writes them down. And lets her family sleep. She can most often be found sitting in a patch of sunshine weaving new worlds, or trying to make sense of the current political one. Find her at Jennifer Austin-Author or @JLAustin13

Twitter-sized bite:
So you've been called out—@JLAustin13 talks about how not to make it worse on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Write Transitions

Navigating the space between scenes can sometimes be a little perplexing. So today I'm talking about a vital part of novel-writing—how to write transitions.


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What tips would you add for writing transitions?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling to smoothly connect the dots between scenes? @Ava_Jae vlogs tips for writing transitions. (Click to tweet)

Guest Post: On the Importance of Working with the Right CPs by Mary Kate Pagano

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk on Flickr
Critique partners: critical to the writing process. But we all know that by now, don't we?

I wanted to talk about finding the right critique partners for you. Specifically, how important it is to ensure you're working with critique partners who are familiar with the kind of stuff you write.

I took a writing class not too long ago that was simply called "Novel Writing", so the students were people from all walks of life, writing all sorts of things. Each week we critiqued one person's submission; we went around the room and everyone said what they did and didn't like about it, and at the end, the writer got to ask questions.

It wasn't a terrible format, except that with the wide variety of people in the class, some of the critique I got was...less than helpful.

"I don't understand why anyone writes in the present tense," said one person. "It doesn't make sense to me. You're writing a story that already happened, so how can it be happening NOW?" 
"Your tone is too conversational," said another. "Like a kid talking." 
"I hate the first person," said a third.

There were some other criticisms, but you get my point. These people were not helpful, because my piece was an excerpt from a YA novel. And these people had never read YA literature.

This is an extreme example--though some of those people did reach out to me after the class was over to see if we could continue CPing, and I foolishly said yes because I didn't have any CPs yet!--but it just highlighted to me how hugely important it is to be working with CPs who know what you're going for.

I didn't last long working with those people. And it's clear to me now why.

YA literature isn't so drastically different from adult literature that I'm saying someone who reads or writes some adult can't be a good CP. They just need to also be familiar with YA. A category in which the first person and present tense are OF COURSE acceptable. Where the voice of the novel may sound conversational. Where coming-of-age themes are important.

Needless to say, I've been a bit pickier about who I work with on a CP basis now. And by the same token, when people reach out to me for CPing who write in a genre about which I know little (i.e. erotica, or someone even asked me once to critique a child's picture book), I think it's much better for both of us that I (nicely) turn them down.

How about you? Did you also make mistakes when first working with CPs? What have you learned?

Mary Kate Pagano has been voraciously reading and writing since she learned how, but it's only in the last six years or so that she's drummed up the courage to actually attempt to publish a novel. She has three finished YA manuscripts under her belt and will be querying all once she's satisfied with them (which is taking some time :) You can find her writerly and readerly musings over at www.wanderlustywriter.com and also catch her writerly and readerly (and sometimes random) tweets at https://twitter.com/wandrlstywriter.

Twitter-sized bite:
Working w/ CPs is important but @wandrlstywriter talks abt why working w/ the *right* CPs is essential. (Click to tweet)

Year SIX Blogoversary Celebration!

Today is May 5, 2017 and exactly six years ago tomorrow I posted my very first blog post on Writability. I'm so endlessly grateful for the reach this blog has built, and it's all thanks to your wonderful support over the years. So whether this is your first post here on Writability or 1,140th (I know, right?), my thanks goes out to you!

Every year I like to do a giveaway to thank you guys for your wonderful support, and this year is no different! This time around I've got eighteen critiques and nine books up for grabs, so whether you're a writer or reader (or both!) there's lots to win.

The way this is year's giveaway will work: critiques will each go to one different person (so that's fifteen winners!) and the books will go to eight winners (one winner will win two related books), so there will be twenty-seven winners total! Some book giveaways are US only, some are international, but it's all in the same rafflecopter—you'll just need to specify whether you live in the US or internationally when you enter. All of the critique giveaways are international.

Here are the incredibly generous authors and editors who donated prizes:


Laura Heffernan—Synopsis Critique (up to 1,000 words)

Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the Northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.



Briana Morgan—2 Query Critiques

Briana Morgan is a YA and NA writer, editor, and blogger who loves dark, suspenseful reads, angst-ridden relationships, and complicated characters. Her interest in Jay Gatsby scares her friends and family. You can find her in way too many places online, eating too much popcorn, reading in the corner, or crying about long-dead literary heroes.


Gill Hoffs—Query Critique + Follow-up e-mail + Synopsis critique, if wanted

Gill Hoffs lives in the northwest of England with Coraline Cat and not enough chocolate. She is best known for her nonfiction books on weird Victorian shipwrecks (The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the 'Victorian Titanic', The Lost Story of the William & Mary: The Cowardice of Captain Stinson - both published by Pen & Sword) and related appearance on BBC's Coast. Her short fiction and nonfiction is widely available online and in print, including Wild: A Collection (Pure Slush), and her as yet unpublished novels have been longlisted for the Virginia Prize and Mslexia Novel Competition.


Jackie Yeager—First Chapter Critique

Jackie Yeager is the debut author of THE CRIMSON FIVE: SPIN THE GOLDEN LIGHT BULB which will be released on January 2, 2018 by Amberjack Publishing. The middle grade story follows the tale of five eleven year-olds on a competitive adventure almost too good to be true. She lives in Rochester, New York with her husband and two teenagers.



Akemi Dawn Bowman—Query + First Chapter Critique

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish. She is also a Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix.www.akemidawnbowman.com Twitter: @akemidawn


Amelinda Berube—Query + First Chapter Critique

Amelinda Bérubé is the author of UNDER THE ICY LAKE, a YA ghost story coming from Sourcebooks Fire in 2018. She's spent the last ten years as a writer and editor with the Canadian public service, prior to which her career path meandered through academics, carpentry, and administrivia. Amelinda is a passionate fan of YA, SFF, and all things spooky and looks forward to participating in PitchWars 2017 as a mentor!


K Callard—Query + First Chapter Critique

K. Callard is the author of Fun with Frosting: A Beginner's Guide to Decorating Creative, Fondant-Free Cakes (Skyhorse, 2016). When she's not baking, she writes YA and MG, takes care of her kids, and geeks out (mostly over Harry Potter, all things Whedon, and adorable monsters). She is represented by Brianne Johnson of Writer's House.



Hayley Chewins—Query + First Chapter Critique

Hayley Chewins writes books about magical girls with secrets. Her debut, THE TURNAWAY GIRLS, is forthcoming from Candlewick and Walker Books in 2018. She has an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and she’s represented by Patricia Nelson at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.



Erica Cameron—Query + First Chapter + 1-4 Page Summary Critique

Erica Cameron is the author of books for young adults including the Assassins duology, the Ryogan Chronicles, and The Dream War Saga. She also co-authored the Laguna Tides novels with Lani Woodland. An advocate for asexuality and emotional abuse awareness, Erica also works with teens at a residential rehabilitation facility in her hometown of Fort Lauderdale.



Veronica Bartles—Query + First Chapter Critique OR $75 towards her Graphic Design Services

Author of TWELVE STEPS (YA), and THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (PB), has spent most of her life wondering “What If?” She believes there are many sides to every story, and she’s determined to discover every single one of them. Veronica believes every princess deserves a frog, because princes aren’t pets. And she’s an incurable optimist who loves gray, drizzly days because that’s when rainbows come out to play. 



Megan Manzano—First Six Chapters Critique

Megan Manzano is currently working on her first YA book and generally likes writing science fiction, fantasy, and the occasional contemporary piece. She doubles as an editor, both in the publishing and freelance world. You can follow her on twitter, @megan_manzano, where she discusses writing/editing tips, feely stuff about her characters and the characters of others, and reviews books.


Nicole Tone—First 50 Pages Critique

Nicole Tone is the Publishing Director at REUTS Publications, a freelance editor, and a writer of upmarket fiction, book reviews, and personal essays. You can find her on twitter at @nicoleatone or blogging about books and the editing process at http://www.nicoleatone.com.


Chelsea M. Cameron—First 50 Pages Critique

Chelsea M. Cameron is an international bestselling romance author from Maine. Her hobbies include pestering her cat for snuggles, tweeting, eating red velvet cake, drinking too much tea, and reading.



Gabrielle Prendergast—Query Critique + ARC of Zero Repeat Forever (US/CAN only)

Gabrielle Prendergast is the author of the award-winning and multi-nominated young adult novels in verse, Audacious and Capricious. Her next novel, Zero Repeat Forever comes out August 29, 2017 from Simon & Schuster. She lives in Canada with her family. Find her on Twitter at @GabrielleSaraP or her website www.gabrielleprendergast.com.



Kristi Wientgne—First 3 Chapter Critique + ARC of Karma Khullar's Mustache (International)

Kristi Wientge is originally from Ohio where she grew up writing stories about animals and, her favorite, a jet-setting mouse. After studying to become a teacher for children with special needs, she spent several years exploring the world from China to England, teaching her students everything from English to how to flip their eyelids inside out. She’s spent twelve years raising her family in her husband’s home country of Singapore. Karma Khullar’s Mustache is her debut novel.





Ava Jae—Query + First 30 Pages Critique + Signed HC of Beyond the Red (US only)

Ava Jae is a Latinx tomboy who writes YA speculative fiction featuring marginalized characters grappling with identity. Ava lives with a chronic illness, is a recent University of Michigan grad and runs a popular writing blog and YouTube channel, where they share writing tips and bookish ramblings with writers and readers. Ava is the author of the Beyond the Red trilogy (Skyhorse), and their next novel, Into the Black, will be released Fall 2017. 


Katherine Locke—Query + First 30 Pages Critique + Pre-order of The Girl With the Red Balloon (Amazon or B&N) + Signed Bookplate (US only)

Katherine Locke writes historical fiction with a heaping of fantasy. When not tending to the many needs of their feline overlords, they're tweeting, reading, or dreaming up the next story. Their YA debut, The Girl with the Red Balloon, releases on September 1, 2017. They're most often found on Instagram and Twitter as @bibliogato, or at www.KatherineLockeBooks.com


KB Wagers—Signed copies of Behind the Throne & After the Crown (International)

K.B. Wagers lives and runs in the shadow of Pikes Peak. She loves flipping tires and lifting heavy things. She's especially proud of her second-degree black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu and her three Tough Mudder completions. When not writing she can be found wrangling cats with her husband, or trying to keep up with her teenage son.


Brooks Benjamin—Signed HC copy of My Seventh-Grade Life in Tights (International)

Brooks lives in Tennessee with his awesome wife and their wonderfully spoiled dog. When he's not writing, he's teaching reading to fifth graders and sampling as much pizza from as many different places as he can.



Rena Olsen—Signed copy of The Girl Before (US Only)

Rena Olsen is a writer, therapist, teacher, sometimes singer, and eternal optimist. By day she tries to save the world as a school therapist, and at night she creates new worlds in her writing. Her debut novel, The Girl Before, is now available from Putnam! Find her at renaolsen.com.


Destiny Soria—Signed HC copy of Iron Cast (US Only)

Destiny Soria is the author of Iron Cast (Abrams/Amulet), a YA historical fantasy about magic, mobsters, and two inseparable best friends in Prohibition-era Boston. She lives in Birmingham, AL, where she spends her time trying to come up with bios that make her sound kind of cool. She has yet to succeed.


So many critiques and books! This time around there will be two rafflecopters—one for the critiques, and one for the books. You are free to enter both, or either one—whatever you prefer. The giveaway will run until Friday, May 19th at 11:59 PM EST. Good luck!



a Rafflecopter giveaway


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Managing a Writing Career When You're Sick

Photo credit: freestocks.org on Flickr
Most of you know I have rheumatoid arthritis, a degenerative autoimmune disease. I was diagnosed over a year before I got my agent and roughly three years before my debut published, which is to say, I've never not been a professional writer who wasn't chronically ill.

Managing a writing career when you're sick has, well, a lot of ups and downs.

In many ways, I consider myself fortunate. I started a new medication in January that at last, five months later, has started to have some positive effects, including less frequent flares and lessened swelling in my hand. I can still walk without assistance (up to a certain distance, anyway, which unfortunately is less than it was five years ago), and all in all I know I could be in a worse position with my disease.

But I'd be lying if I said being chronically ill hasn't intersected with my writing career.

While I haven't yet thankfully had to cancel an event because I was too sick, I did just recently go to an event while flaring, and I have had to cancel writing days because a flare knocked me out, which has been frustrating. The most important thing for me, I think, has been to learn to be flexible and gentle with myself. I am undoubtedly a workaholic, and having to take days where I honestly didn't have the energy to do anything but watch Netflix and drink tea has been hard. But I've had to remind myself that if I tried to force myself to work on those days, the work I would've gotten done would've been half-assed and not nearly as well thought-out and effective as I would need it to be.

Being sick has also forced me to learn my patterns. I know I'm much more likely to flare mid-day or later in the day than I am in the morning, so getting up early and getting right to work helps me get some work done even on my bad flare days.

I'm not going to lie, being a writer would be easier when I didn't have to deal with frequent flares or the constant worry of lessening ability. But the good thing it's done is shown me the startling lack of positive chronic illness representation in children's lit, and reminded me not to judge someone based off their appearance—after all, people who look at me have no idea when I'm in pain or my knees or hips are getting stiff.

Managing a writing career is different and sometimes difficult when your body is actively working against you. But it's not impossible—it just requires figuring out what strategies work best for you and above all, being gentle with yourself.

Twitter-sized bite:
What's it like to manage a writing career when you're chronically ill? @Ava_Jae shares their experience. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Kill Your Characters

Last week I talked about writing fights and someone asked about the somewhat inevitable: killing your characters. So today I'm talking about how to off your characters effectively.


RELATED VLOGS:


What tips do you have for killing characters?

Twitter-sized bite:
Is your character death falling flat? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips on killing your characters effectively. #writetip (Click to tweet)

Tips for Writing Marginalized Characters

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Writing marginalized characters, whether you are marginalized yourself or not, can feel somewhat intimidating when you care about getting representation right. The burden of responsibility, especially at first, can feel especially heavy with the knowledge that getting something wrong can harm our readers. Of course, erasing marginalized characters from a narrative entirely—the alternative to writing marginalized characters—is equally damaging, especially because it happens so often. Which leaves writers who care about respectful representation and not doing harm to their readers left to navigate how to get it done right.

So where do you start?

  • Listening. The truth is the process starts long before you start actually writing any marginalized characters—and that's with listening to marginalized people. It means boosting their voices and paying attention when they talk about damaging tropes, stereotypes, and messages perpetuated in the media. It means listening and trying to understand when they say something has hurt them and why.

    Writing marginalized characters respectfully begins with listening to marginalized people in real life and educating yourself on all the ways the media—books, TV shows, movies, etc—has failed them in the past so you can try to avoid those pitfalls yourself. And that means listening when it makes you uncomfortable, and listening when you're tempted to disagree, and listening to a variety of voices in every community because opinions vary and no one community is a monolith.

  • Researching. So you've heard about damaging tropes and stereotypes from listening to marginalized people—great. Now it's time to dig into those and do your own separate research to see what other things should be avoided, whether it's one wording over another, a trope you didn't realize was a trope, etc. It also means finding examples of representation done right and understanding what it is about that particular example that worked so well. What did they do that the represented community was happy with? What could they have done better? These are all things you can learn from to better your own writing.

  • Read #ownvoices books. You're not going to get a better education that books featuring marginalized characters written by authors who share that marginalization. Read as many #ownvoices books featuring characters who share the marginalization(s) of whatever characters you're writing as you can.

  • When you've finished writing and revising with everything you've learned—hire sensitivity readers. Writing in the Margins is a great database, and Twitter also has lots of sensitivity readers who tweet about their services, which you'll come across if you're following plenty of people in Book/Writing Twitter. I like to hire sensitivity readers to check not only my protagonist and love interest, but other major characters as well, if I can. For Into the Black, for example, I worked with four sensitivity readers to check different aspects of marginalization for three characters. Truthfully, the more you can get checked, the better—and always, always thank your sensitivity readers for their time and do not argue with them if you disagree. Seriously, don't. Sensitivity readers are there to help, they have the expertise you don't, and it's your job to listen to them.

  • Know you may very well do all of this and still get it wrong. And if that happens, your job is to go back to step one—listen—then apologize and do everything you can to do better next time.

What tips would you add?

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to include marginalized characters in your writing, but not sure where to start? @Ava_Jae shares some tips. (Click to tweet)

2017 Guest Post Contest Winners!

Photo credit: Т E R E S Λ R O M Λ N O on Flickr
So firstly! I want to thank all of you who entered, because like last time, I was so, so impressed with not only how many entries there were, but how difficult it was to narrow it down to five posts because you guise are so talented! I absolutely want to encourage those of you who didn't get their posts chosen to post your entries on your own blog, because they should definitely be shared. :)

Okay, so! I do have five winners, whose posts will be up on May 8th, 10th, 12th, 17th, and 19th. And the winners are:

*drumroll*

  • Mary Kate Pagano
  • Jennifer Austin
  • Rafia Khader
  • Rachel Linn
  • M.E. Bond

Huzzah! Congratulations, all—I'll be e-mailing everyone shortly with your date and additional things I need from you.

To all the other entrants, thank you again for entering! I want to re-emphasize that all of the entries were fantastic, and I had to not choose a bunch of really good ones so please don't be discouraged. You all rock. 

I'm very much looking forward to sharing these awesome guest posts with everyone! I know you guise will love them. :)

Fixing the First Page Feature #34

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May is on its way, the days are getting longer, and summer is on the horizon. Which means, of course, it's once again time for the Fixing the First Page critique!

As usual, I'll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I'll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!

Title: MY DEGRADE

Genre/Category: Psychological Suspense

First 250 Words:

"I’m not looking forward to tomorrow. It’s coming way too fast. The first day of school will be tomorrow, and I hadn’t quite recovered from last year. School wasn’t the best place for me; Mrs. Jackson made it hell. She thought everything I did was rude, and if I get her on my schedule, I know I’ll be sent at least three times a week to the office. There was an incident last year where she accused me of “assaulting” her. She was standing too close when she startled me awake and my arm hit her. They suspended me for the rest of the year after that. I still think she was overreacting, but it wasn’t like I did it on purpose!
I let out a deep breath. The sun was starting to set behind the mountains. It was time to go home. It was nice here, quiet, empty, and peaceful, except for the families that used the playgrounds. I could be here all the time. That wasn’t something that I could do though. Dad would send Uncle Hal after me, and being a police officer, he kind of had the upper hand on me. He’d find me so fast that I’d barely had time to breathe before I was found. I’d run, but he always could catch me; not bad for a guy as old as he is. 
I started walking home, my eyes stayed fixed on the sky. It’s so cool how the evenings could turn the sky into a myriad of colors."

Okay! So. Firstly, I'm guessing the category was just forgotten here, because with no category mentioned I was expecting adult but this is definitely not adult—judging by the voice, I'd say it was MG. That's not a flaw with the excerpt, but just be careful with how you're pitching it, because category is very important!

As far as the excerpt goes, the biggest thing I'm noticing right away is this is all exposition. You have to be very careful with expository openings—they're not impossible to pull off, but they are tricky because if you're too in the character's head, then readers have no idea what's going on and have no way to picture where the character is or what they're doing—which is what's happening here until the last paragraph. The other issue with expository openings is they often (though not always) equate a slower pace, particularly if there isn't an immediate conflict the character is thinking about. Here we do have some conflict—the protagonist doesn't want to go to school—but it seems he's just walking around thinking, and I don't think that's a powerful enough opening to really grab the reader. I'd consider starting somewhere closer to the inciting incident.

All right, let's take a look at the line edits:

"I’m not looking forward to tomorrow. It’s coming way too fast. The first day of school will be tomorrow, and I hadn’t quite recovered from last year. Okay, so we've got some tense slippage here. Your first two and a half sentences are in present tense, but then everything else is in past tense. Pick a tense and stick with it (I'm guessing go with past tense, because it seems that's what the majority of your manuscript is.) School wasn’t the best place for me; Mrs. Jackson made it hell. She thought everything I did was rude, and if I get her on my schedule, I know I’ll be sent at least three times a week to the office. There was an incident last year where she accused me of “assaulting” her. She was standing too close when she startled me awake and my arm hit her. They suspended me for the rest of the year after that. This honestly just seems really unlikely. Accidentally hitting someone (and in the scenario described, it seems pretty obvious it'd be an accident) wouldn't end in someone's suspension that long. Especially since schools acknowledge end-of-year tests are important. I still think she was overreacting, but it wasn’t like I did it on purpose!
I let out a deep breath. The sun was starting to setting behind the mountains. It was time to go home. It was nice here, quiet, empty, and peaceful, except for the families that usinged the playgrounds. I wish I could be here all the time,. That wasn’t something that I could do though. but Dad would send Uncle Hal after me, and being a police officer, he kind of had the upper hand on me. He’d find me so fast that I’d barely had time to breathe before I was found. I’d run, but he always could catch me; not bad for a guy as old as he iwas. 
I started walking towards home, my eyes stayed fixed on the sky. It’ was so cool how the evenings could turned the sky into a myriad of colors." "Myriad" doesn't fit the voice, to me. It's not a word a teen or younger kid would casually say.

So that's what I've got! Overall I think the opening would likely be better off closer to the inciting incident, as I mentioned, and with less exposition. Therefore, if I saw this in the slush, I would pass.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, David!

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks expository openings, starting in the right spot & more in the 34th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Write Fights

By request! I love writing fight scenes and have written more of them than I can remember. So today I'm sharing some quick dos, don'ts, and things to remember while writing your characters beating each other up.


RELATED LINKS:


What tips do you have for writing fight scenes? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling to get that fight scene in your WIP right? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips. (Click to tweet)

On Reading Slumps

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I'm not sure if this is a busy-ness thing, a dealing with a whole lot of words thing, or a tiredness thing (or maybe all three?) but I've been dealing with a bit of a reading slump lately.

It's not like I don't have good books to read (that is definitely not a problem *eyes growing TBR shelf*), but I've been finding that my motivation to read has just been...waning. Which it shouldn't be, because there've been so many books I want to read but when I sit down to actually get through some pages, I've been super easily distracted and just...in general struggling.

Maybe it's partially what I've been reading too? I've been enjoying the last several books overall, but it seems even when I'm invested the motivation has been lacking. I'm mostly hoping this too shall pass and I'll be back to my regular reading motiv
ation levels soon, but for now it's been a struggle with nearly everything I've tried to read, which has been annoying.

#bookworm problems, I suppose. Or overworking problems, maybe.

I'm curious, though: what do you guise do when you hit a reading slump? What has gotten you through it?

Twitter-sized bite:
What do you do to get through a reading slump? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #34!

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Quick Saturday post to announce the winner of the thirty-fourth fixing the first page feature giveaway!

*drumroll*

And the thirty-fourth winner is…


DAVID TUCKER!


Hooray! Congratulations, David!

Thanks again to all you wonderful entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in May, so keep an eye out!

On (Needing?) External Deadlines

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So I recently started part-time work again to help me save for a thing, and when I initially started and got my hours I was a little worried about how I was going to be able to squeeze everything in. Between being on deadline (and not a self-imposed one!), and working on my freelance projects, and now the extra work, I was genuinely concerned there might not be enough hours in the day for me to get everything done that I needed to—and that's even with starting work around 6AM most days, and working on Saturdays.

That concern is still there for some days, but on my first super-packed day where I had a long shift and had to work on my deadline project and had to work on my freelance project, I found that squeezing it all in actually wasn't as terrible as I thought it might be. Largely because I wasted a hell of a lot less time on Twitter and random apps when I knew I had to stop working in a couple hours to go to work.

It kind of surprised me how easy it was to ignore distractions when I didn't have unlimited time throughout the day—I hunkered down and edited, and read, and did everything I needed to, and on the day that I tweeted, I ended up finishing with time to spare. Go figure.

Which got me thinking...maybe I kind of need less hours in the day from time to time? Even on the days that I don't go in to the day job, I had a renewed appreciation for the full hours I had available to me, and I ended up getting more work done than I needed to so I'd have less work to do on days I had less hours available. And really, getting my butt in gear was as a simple as just having five to six hours less on certain days of the week.

It's something I hadn't really thought about before—and I am still more actively worried about burnout, because understandably, I'm working even longer days than I used to. But it's been interesting, at least, to see how much easier it is to focus when my days are less flexible.

Maybe I work best under external deadlines after all.

What do you think? Do you work best under external deadlines or limited time?

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you work best under external deadlines or limited time? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Ava Edits One Year Anniversary Sale!

So about a year ago I made a pretty site and opened my doors to freelance editing! It's been a fantastic decision for me—I've really enjoyed working with so many talented clients—and I love my job. I'd like to celebrate my one year freelancing anniversary with a sale—yay sales!

To celebrate my one year freelancing anniversary, from now until end of May all services are 5% off to everyone, and because I'd like to help get more #ownvoices projects out in the world however I can, I'm also offering 10% off to #ownvoices projects! #ownvoices means you share a marginalization with your protagonist (not that someone in your family shares that marginalization, you). Also it must be a marginalization, not an experience, so something related to race, gender (I don't mean "woman," I mean "not cis"), sexuality/romanticism, religion, disability, or neuroatypicality.

Don't have an #ownvoices project you want edited? That's fine, you still can get 5% off any service! And like last time, you don't necessarily have to have anything ready right now to take advantage of the sale—as long as you book before the end of May (even if you book for, say, July), it will count!

Finally, I'm currently pretty booked in April, but I've got openings for everything May onwards.

So that covers it! Thanks again for all of your wonderful support—it's been a great year!

Twitter-sized bite:
Freelance editor @Ava_Jae is hosting a one year anniversary sale w/ 5% off all projects & 10% off #ownvoices projects until 5/31/17! (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Why Didn't I Self-Publish?

Once upon a time, several years before I got an agent and well before I got published, I seriously considered self-publishing. But here's why I decided it wasn't for me.


RELATED VLOGS:


What do you think?

Twitter-sized bite:
Author @Ava_Jae vlogs about why she didn't self-publish one of her nine trunked manuscripts. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #34!

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Once again we are halfway through the month! So, as always here on Writability, it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature.

For those who’ve missed before, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a public (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.

Rules!

  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the thirty-fourth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Friday, April 21 at 11:59 PM EST to enter!



a Rafflecopter giveaway
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