author feedback

A Letter to An Author Friend on Her Debut

Dear Sara B. Larson,

I really loved your debut novel, DEFY! I’m excited  you’ve stepped into the world of the Published Author — a world I’m sure you’ve noticed by now is quite different for everyone. Like your main character, Alexa, who pretends to be a male warrior, I’ve found that I’ve also felt nobody understands me and never will, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to hide forever.

Today  I’m going to step away from my hiding and boldly dispel two things about being a published author — at least, things I’ve dealt with and seen many other authors deal with. You may or may not find yourself in my shoes at some point, or maybe you’ve already experienced some of these things. Whatever the case may be, I hope this dream you have reached continues to shine around the edges, no matter what!  

Jealousy

I think most authors get extremely envious of each other and don’t admit it. It’s not the nicest thing ever to talk about in public. But, I’ve found that if I admit my jealousy and face it, I’m a lot more likely to get over it quickly and move on with my life. I’ll admit I’m jealous of your success, Sara. You have an amazing, friendly agent who came to your launch! You are with a pretty sweet publisher, and you are tall and popular and pretty. Oh, I could go on.

The truth of it all is, however, that jealousy often means I want what someone else has, even though it might not be the best thing for me. The truth of it is that jealousy is an opportunity to turn myself around and face the reasons why I’m jealous and what I am overlooking in my own life. Opportunity is never a bad thing. So even though I’m jealous of you, that jealousy has helped me see myself better, and also strengthen my excitement and happiness for your success.

Other People’s Opinions, Namely Reviews

Published authors tell you not to read reviews, but 99% of the authors out there have read them at one point or another. Some of them continue to do so. I used to preach the “don’t read reviews” rule, but lately I’ve begun to see that at least when a new book of mine goes out there into the world, it’s actually quite helpful to know the feedback it’s getting — good and bad, even if it hurts. In the end, I have to admit that it has made me a better writer. If I lived in a sugar-coated world of five-star reviews (or completely unaware of responses on my work), I’m pretty sure I’d lose something important.

So I hope you don’t beat yourself up if you’ve read a few reviews, even if they sting. 

There are many great authors out there who can give better advice than me, but I hope you don’t think of any of this as advice — just me bravely stepping forward to share some of the things I’ve been afraid to admit publicly before. And I owe this to Alexa’s bravery in DEFY. Thank you, Sara, for being brave enough to chase your dreams. 

Standing With You In Publishing Land,

Michelle D. Argyle

sarablarson_michelle_d_argyle_blog_defy

Sara B. Larson can’t remember a time when she didn’t write books. Although she now uses a computer instead of a Little Mermaid notebook. Sara lives in Utah with her husband and their three children. She writes during naptime and the quiet hours when most people are sleeping. Her husband claims she should have a degree in “the art of multitasking.” On occasion you will find her hiding in a bubble bath with a book and some Swedish Fish. Find more about Sara and her debut DEFY on her blog.

“DEFY by Sara Larson is an amazing, fantastic book. It has everything you’d want: intrigue, awesomely real characters, suspense, and a captivating plot. All in a world that comes to life in your mind. Highly recommended.” ­– James Dashner, bestselling author of THE MAZE RUNNER

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing

Is Critiquing a Friend’s Novel a Bad Idea?

I am lucky enough to have met Holli Moncrieff a few years ago online. I have yet to meet her in person, but I do hope one day I get the pleasure of doing just that because she is one of the most caring, patient, and hard working people I know. Today, Holli is sharing an experience of hers with critiquing a friend’s novel. What’s funny is I am currently reading one of Holli’s novels to critique, so I read this post of hers with great interest! I do hope you will give Holli some encouragement today and leave a  comment as well as visit her blog. She is sharing some really exciting news that I’ve been waiting for over a month for her to announce (and I didn’t even know what it was!)

It was 2:30 in the morning. I couldn’t sleep.

“Don’t email her again,” my boyfriend protested as I tossed off the covers and lunged for the computer. “It’s like you’re drunk texting her.”

Ignoring his advice, I staggered bleary-eyed to the keyboard. “Please don’t hate me,” I typed.

This may sound familiar if you’ve ever agreed to critique a friend’s work.

Novelists are sensitive souls. That sensitivity is required to create characters who live and breathe. Unfortunately, we also have to be thick-skinned if we want our work to improve. Enter the novel critique.

If you’re a writer, you most likely have writer friends. Who better to commiserate with over each tortured paragraph, each tired adjective? When you need an honest critique of your latest novel, short story, or poem, it makes sense to ask your writer friends, right? Wrong.

Please, I beg of you—for your own sanity—when a friend asks you to edit her work, Just Say No.

Because here’s what’s going to happen. You’ll tell yourself it’s only right to help her. She’s your friend. And besides, you know she writes brilliantly. Critiquing her work should be a snap. A few corrected typos here, an inconsistency there—zip, zap and you’ve done your good deed for the day. What could be easier?

But what if you start reading, only to realize the story has serious issues? What if there are significant problems that will take a lot of time and energy to fix?

In that situation, you have two choices. You could lie to spare your friend’s feelings, thus doing her a great disservice … or you could tell the truth. And risk her hating you forever.

No matter how much we want to hear the truth about our writing, an honest critique can be painful. And there are enough people in the world who will tell you that you suck without having to hear it from a friend.

Your friend may be able to take it. She may welcome your bravery and value your critique as a way to make her story better, even if it doesn’t feel too good at first.

But in the time it takes her to let you know that, you will go through hell. You’re a writer, after all. You’ll imagine the worst. You’ll second-guess yourself. Were you too harsh? Did you remember to tell her the good things about her story? Will she know you were just joking when you scrawled the word “barf”?

By the time your friend gets back to you, you will have lost hours of sleep. Acquired a few gray hairs. Bitten your nails to the quick.

In my case, my friend thankfully didn’t hate me. But I was a complete wreck when I got her email—I must have hit refresh on my browser five million times. She valued my critique and will even implement some of my suggestions.

But we’ve both agreed she’ll never ask me to critique her work again. For my own mental health.

Have you had a similar experience editing a friend’s work, or vice versa? Some friends make great crit partners, especially if they’re used to each others’ editing styles, but for me, it just isn’t worth it. I still support my writing friends—I comment on their blogs, go to their book launches, and give them great reviews—but it’s probably best they find a different critique partner.

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Holli is sharing one of her novels on her blog today (Oct 18) at www.thekickboxingwriter.blogspot.ca. She would love to see you there!
Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Guest Posts, Working With Other Writers

My 10 Guidelines to Staying Sane as a (Published) Writer

1. Even if you take a break from writing, don’t actually stop writing. Always try to keep something creative boiling on the back burner of your mind. Feeling consistently productive is usually the greatest source of a writer’s motivation.

2. If you insist on reading reviews and you feel the need to punch the computer screen with your fist, don’t. And don’t ever respond in any form or fashion. Be careful what you say about reviews in any form or fashion, even to your friends in private. Saying bad things about other people’s opinions (because they really are just opinions) rarely comes off making you look good in the long run.

3. Don’t ever assume you are worth less than another writer, no matter how on the bottom-of-the-publishing-barrel you feel.

4. Even if the publishing world crumbles around you (or it threatens to crumble your world) remember nobody can ever take away the books you have written and how they have changed you.

5. Don’t call your friends liars by not believing what they say to you about your writing, good or bad. However, rely on your intuition for choosing what to change from criticism. If someone tells you exactly how to fix something (unless it’s grammar), it’s usually wrong for your book. Take feedback. Figure out the fixes yourself.

6. Making time for reading is as important as making time for writing. Period.

7. Don’t ever judge a method of publication, including your own.

8. If you feel like an outcast in the publishing world, it probably means you’re incredibly unique. Live it up. Nobody really wants to be a lemming.

9. If you’re trying to make a living from your books, remember that for most of us it’s slow-going. Always be writing another book (see above about back burners), and don’t forget to, you know, live. 

10. “Breaking out/making it big” on a first book, or fifth book, or tenth book, isn’t always the best way to go. A solid, quality backlist that sells is a stronger foundation and will make you even bigger in the long run. So. Keep. Writing.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in All Things Publishing

What Feedback Means for a Writer

I just received two very nice, very helpful emails from some beta readers for Scales. They contained some great compliments and some suggestions for improvement according to their viewpoint. They were well-thought out and very kind. I like that kind of feedback. What I usually do to evaluate feedback is lay it all out, read it about 800 times, and then start piecing together what I feel will work for the book and what won’t.

Deciding What Works

This is the tricky part, because I feel that writers really do value what others think of their work. But they also know that as the author, their own opinion is the most important. They wrote it. They’re married to it. They know it better than anyone. So what do they do when they get feedback and they really respect the person who sent it to them, and they can see their point, but they’re all wishy-washy on whether or not to use the suggestion?

The first thing I do is evaluate whether or not a specific point ever crossed my mind before it was mentioned. If it did, then more than likely, I will want to use that suggestion.

If a suggestion feels like it could maybe work in the text, but I’m not sure, I’ll look at it from all possible angles. Will it drastically change the characters, the plot, the themes? If so, do I want to do that much revision? Will it be small changes? Does it affect my original vision of the story?

If I initially feel defensive about a certain suggestion, about nine times out of ten, it’s something I should use. I think this is because I feel defensive when, deep-down, I know the person is 100% correct. Sometimes my ego gets a kicking. I get over it. The story is all that matters!

What Has Changed

I think feedback has gotten easier for me to work with the more I write. It’s not such a huge guessing game anymore, and I think that comes about with practice. I think it also might have to do with finding beta readers I’m compatible with. That’s a huge deal. But I also think it’s because I’ve become aware of my writing on a different level. It’s fluid. Changeable. I’m not afraid to let it evolve, but I’ve also learned that I don’t have to please everyone, even my betas, and sometimes the story is what it is and shouldn’t be changed. Every time I talk to my husband about feedback I just received, he looks at me and says, “Remember the Steven King rule. If only one person mentions something, ignore it. If you get up into 5 or 6, you’re entering into consideration. More than that, do not ignore.”

Since I sometimes don’t use that many betas, I stick to percentages instead of numbers of people, but it’s the same idea. I’m not sure where my hubby read that, but he quotes it all the time. I’ll have to look it up!

What It Means

What feedback really means to me is something quite precious, actually. That there are people out there willing to read my imperfect, often dreadfully typo-ridden drafts and offer me suggestions is incredible. I’m deeply grateful for that, always. As more time goes by and I do this over and over, I think what I’ve learned is that while as much as I’d like to write in a vacuum, I know it’s impossible. My work always, always, always gets better when I allow feedback and actually use it to revise. And it’s not because I’m trying to please people – it’s because my focus is usually too narrow and I miss things.

I hope that if you’re a writer, you have found a good way to evaluate feedback. Honestly, it used to reduce me to tears. I used to stress about it, and I used to dread it. These days, it’s a breath of fresh air for a project. Night and day difference! It’s definitely possible.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Working With Other Writers

When People Love You and Not Your Book, Which is More Often Than You Might Think

I’ve run across an interesting thing that happens to artists. I’m married to an actor so I know this isn’t only related to writers, of course. He does a lot of Shakespeare, which I’ll admit, I used to dislike until I met him. I didn’t understand Shakespeare and I thought he was overrated. Wow, was I wrong. Once I learned to appreciate him a whole new world of beauty opened up to me – including understanding an important part of my husband.

What I began to see, however, was that some of our family and many of our friends are in the same boat as I was before I learned to appreciate Shakespeare. They love Adam. They love me. They want to support both of us when I send out an email or call them up on the phone or tell them face-to-face that he’s in a new play and that it’s Shakespeare. Sometimes their face falls and they come up with an excuse on the spot not to attend. Trust me, I can tell every single time when someone doesn’t want to force themselves to sit through a “bone-dry boring play” they don’t think they’ll enjoy. Other times, however, these loved friends and family will nod and say that sure, they’ll try to come even though I can tell it’s not something at the top of they’re exciting-things-to-do-list.

I love them for that. I love those gestures of caring despite enduring something not entirely pleasant.

This, of course, extends into my own career. I can’t count on my fingers and toes (because it’s much more than 20) how many people have purchased and read my books just to support me. It truly means the world to me that they do so. I have many emails from friends and family who have read Cinders, my novella from last year, and told me that it was different than they thought it would be – that they actually loved it and fully admit they didn’t think they would. This doesn’t always happen, though.

Awhile ago I wrote a post about friends and family who don’t read your work. I was surprised at how many people commented and said I wasn’t the only one who felt like my writing (one of the most important things in my life) was being ignored by some of the most loved people in my life. It hurts, honestly, because there are some people in my life who don’t give a crap about my writing. They don’t read this blog. They don’t ask me about my career. If I happen to mention it they kind of shove it aside like its something they don’t understand and its therefore not important. However, they do care about me as a person, so I ask myself, well, if they care me about as a person why don’t they care about this absolutely essential part of me? Then I stop and ask myself what I might not be understanding about them. They might care deeply about something I could care less about. Goes both ways.

I’ll admit I have high respect for those friends and family who really have no interest in what I do, but support me by trying to show an interest anyway. So thank you to anyone reading this who has read my work mostly because you want to support me more than you had an interest in the actual work. That says a lot about you as a person. I’ve tried to return that kindness with loved ones in my own life. In fact, the more I get into this career, the more I’m trying to open my eyes and see what I might be missing about the people around me.

I just want to make the point today that while there are many people in our lives who love us, they won’t always understand and love what we do. It’s much easier to relate to things we have in common with each other. The other day a friend of mine mentioned in chat that she was so, so sorry she hadn’t bought and read my book Cinders yet. She said she felt lame and awful for being such a bad friend. I told her (and I meant every single word from the bottom of my heart) that she did not have to read my books to be a good friend. I loved her anyway.

And it’s true. I hope other writers in my life understand if I don’t get to their work quickly. I know how personal it can feel when you want someone to read your work and they don’t seem to care. But my advice today is to understand that if you’re an artist (writer, actor, whatever) that this might always be an issue and you never know the other side of the story. If you’re upset over someone not caring, the other person probably doesn’t even know or understand why. There might just be something about them you’re not understanding, either. All I know is that when I let myself open my eyes to that Shakespearean side of my husband my life expanded just a little bit more.

So how do you feel about this? An issue for you? A non-issue? Something you’ve grown beyond and have advice about?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process

How Do You Find a Beta Reader?

I’ve had a lot of people asking me about beta readers lately, so here are my thoughts.

When I first heard the term beta reader, all I could think about was my beta fish in college. I had that fish for two years. I named it Jessifer. I don’t have that fish anymore, but I have beta readers. I also have alpha readers. I don’t have a set critique group, which can work differently from beta readers who might change from project to project.

Alpha Reader – Someone who reads a written work in stages as it is being written and provides feedback, often very positive, to the author for moral support and to spot any large issues as they’re happening.

Beta Reader – Someone who reads a written work as a completed draft and provides feedback, often constructive criticism, to the author for revisions and edits.

All writers seem to need different things since we’re all different. Yesterday I wrote about publishing your first book too fast. I wrote about that because more often than not, my own work needs some hefty read-throughs and revisions before it’s even close to ready for publication. I couldn’t do this without beta readers and it’s hard for me to imagine writing something so wonderfully perfect that it doesn’t need help from outside my own brilliance. And yes, I’m being sarcastic when I say brilliance. My first drafts are anything but brilliant. I have noticed, however, that the more I write the less readers I need. I think I will always need at least two.

So how does one go about finding a beta reader?

For me, friendships! My friend Scott G.F. Bailey has a mighty fine alpha/beta reader whom online he calls Mighty Reader. I’m not sure if she reads his work in the stages as it’s being written, but I do know she’s close to him personally, and she is an avid reader. He trusts her to read his work because he trusts her as a person. He also lets me and our friend Davin Malasarn read his work in draft stages. The three of us are beta readers for each other, and occasionally alpha readers on some things. We also blog together on The Literary Lab. We’re friends.

For my advice on how to find good beta readers – just get out there and make friends. If you’re reading this blog, you obviously make your way around the blogosphere. Put a call out on your own blog or social network for other writers or readers who are interested in helping you beta read. If that doesn’t work or the beta readers aren’t giving the kind of feedback you need, join a free site like Critique Circle. Everyone there is looking for critique help. You’re bound to find a few good matches for your work. Currently, one of my best beta readers is a friend I made through this very blog. She commented a lot on here, so I started following her blog where she only had 5 followers. We got to be friends and she ended up purchasing and reading Cinders. She loved it so much and gave me such great feedback on it that I let her beta-read my novella, Thirds. Now, she has read almost everything I’ve written. She’s fantastic. I had to make an effort to find her and build a friendship. I value that friendship and her help with my work. I also return the favor and read her work, as well. That’s often how beta reading goes, but doesn’t always have to work that way. Find friends outside of the internet who are willing to read your work in its first stages – people you know who love reading. They are often the best beta readers, and valuable to have when you need an opinion not colored with a writer’s viewpoint.

Are there different kinds of beta readers?

Absolutely. For me, a beta reader is someone I must trust and get along with. Two of my beta readers are friends I didn’t make online through writing. They are my two friends who don’t write. They are readers only, and their input is extremely valuable.

How many beta readers should you have?

As many as you need. I use a different amount of beta readers for different projects. Sometimes I need three, sometimes four or five, and I’ll ask different people to beta read at different stages of the work. For the first draft, two betas will work. For the third and fourth drafts when I’m getting close to finished, another two betas (usually Scott and Davin) will work.

Should your beta readers stick with you?

It depends. For me, I have beta readers who read almost every project I work on, but I’ve also had other people who have only beta read for me once. Sometimes a beta reader isn’t a good fit for you or a particular project. Sometimes a writer just needs different readers all the time. For me, it depends on the project for who reads what.

What if a beta reader is taking too long or isn’t working?

I’ve had this happen a few times, and it’s frustrating. But you have to remember that people are busy. If your beta reader promises to get back to you in a specific amount of time and they’re taking longer, then maybe there’s an issue with them not liking your work and they’re too afraid to tell you. Or maybe they’ve had something come up that is unrelated to your work. Either way, communication is key. If the beta relationship isn’t working and this person is a good friend, simply tell them you value their feedback, but for that particular project, it’s not going to work out. Keep it professional. No friendship is worth ruining over a book, so be cautious when choosing your beta readers, too.

I could go on and on about beta readers, but let me know if you have any advice here in the comments section. Do you have beta readers?

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Working With Other Writers

You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About! Reading & Critiquing In Layers

Ah, more layers. I did a post awhile ago about Working In Layers. And now I’m expanding to talk about Reading & Critiquing In Layers.

What Is Layering?

As explained in my earlier post, think of layering like your body. Underneath everything is the skeleton. Add muscle tissue, skin, and then all the fine details that make the person interesting and unique on the outside.

When I spoke about Working In Layers, I explained how I edit in different stages or levels – or layers. It’s all the same concept. First I’ll write the story, then I’ll edit for fluff. Then I’ll edit for tension. Then I’ll edit for grammar, and so and so forth. Every layer adds something more to the work as a whole, and ultimately you’ll end up with a polished novel. I don’t like to do all of it at once. It’s too much. I find that if I work in layers, I can keep things much better organized and under control.

I also talk about layers as in layers or levels of meaning in a work. I also add layers like the symbolic layer. This often comes later when I can see how symbols and themes in the novel are coming together and where I can tighten them and make them shine.

What Is Reading In Layers?

I currently have my novel Monarch up for beta reading and up on its own novel blog for invited readers. After receiving some great feedback, I suddenly realized that like working in layers, we can also read in layers.

If you read The Great Gatsby, for instance, you might first read it for the PLOT layer. Then on your next read, since you know the plot, you’ll read for the SYMBOLS layer. Then maybe for the CHARACTERS layer. And so on and so forth. Being an English major, I usually read multiple layers at a time. However, I don’t think most readers do.

Judging from the feedback I’m receiving on Monarch, I’m beginning to see that many readers critique only specific layers. One specific reader (and no, it isn’t anyone who reads this blog) made me want to scream, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! Didn’t you see what I was trying to do with that point of view? Hello! It’s obvious. If you would just read a little more carefully!”

Then I took a step back and made myself breathe normally.
This reader was not seeing certain layers – besides the fact that I have not made that layer CLEAR enough yet, anyway. After realizing this, it was suddenly evident what I need to work on and which layer needs the most attention. I don’t want that layer to be obvious, but I certainly want it clearer than it is!

I don’t know about you, but I always read in multiple layers. Many readers pick up a book for only one layer – the ENTERTAINMENT or PLOT layer. I know I do sometimes. But many other readers are looking for something more to sink their teeth into.

What Is Critiquing In Layers?

My novel Monarch works on many different layers, but many of them are still not meshing right yet. It creates a discord that many readers cannot pinpoint.

For those of you who critique other works, try and remember that there may be several layers to get through. A good critique often involves more than one read-through. However, I know I certainly don’t have time to beta read a novel more than once! So I try and put my time to its best use and critique several layers as I go.

If something doesn’t feel right, I’ll step back and look at it from different angles. I’ll ask myself, is the writer trying to be symbolic here? Is that a layer I have not paid attention to yet? Sometimes it helps to take notes of certain threads and layers running through the story so you don’t forget.

But that’s just me. I’m a layer girl.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Working With Other Writers

Isuckitis

We have a word in my writing group called isuckitis. I think every writer experiences this. What is it? A condition. A sickness. A mood. It happens to a lot to writers. It means when you look at the computer screen or page and think to yourself, “Why am I writing? I’m no good. Everything that flows out of my fingers sucks. I suck. I should just quit. No, maybe I should start a new WIP. Maybe that will solve the problem.” So you do. And it sucks, too.

If you don’t suffer from Isuckitis, then great for you! Share some of your wisdom in the comments section, please.

If you do suffer from Isuckitis, then read on.

When It Strikes

You might not realize when you catch Isuckitis. It can come on slow like a cold or fast like the flu. It can last for hours, days, weeks, months, years. My specific case lasted for 5 years. Yes, FIVE years. My Muse packed her bags and ran away when she saw that I was infected. She came back when enough time went by for the disease to dwindle off.

Don’t let this happen to you. I didn’t write for five years. Imagine where I would be now if I had been writing all that time!

When Isuckitis strikes, take a step back from your work. Give it a few days and come back. Do you think it’s still horrible? That’s when it’s time to attack the disease with everything you’ve got.

How To Fight It

Don’t let this sucker win! You don’t suck, no matter what you think or write or say or feel. If you are reading this blog post, if you blog yourself, if you write on a regular basis, if you send out queries, if you have even felt ONCE in your writing career that you are good and that is why you keep writing, then keep writing!

That’s the key to whipping Isuckitis’s butt.

Keep writing.

Keep showing up. Watch this 20 minute video if you are currently infected with Isuckitis. I promise it will help.

Writing groups are also helpful. When I started writing again, I still suffered from Isuckitis off and on. I didn’t have anybody to go to. Things looked much brighter when I joined an online critique group and made a lot of writer friends who help me understand that:

(1) I don’t have to write like anybody else out there. In fact it’s better if I don’t,

(2) If I stick with it long enough, and have enough passion, I will sell a book someday, and

(3) It’s normal to get down on yourself and your writing. When it happens, tell somebody. Get help! Don’t wallow in your misery.

If you don’t have anybody to go to, email me. I’m always up for a good Isuckitis chat.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Think Positive