Critique Comments – When to Heed, When to Weed

There’s an interesting discussion unfolding on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s member group. It involves deciding which of your critique partner’s comments don’t apply to your work, and which comments should be heeded and acted upon.

There’s a fine line to walk with critique comments. On one side, you may strengthen your writing by heeding them; on the other side, you may stray from your vision of the story or dilute the effectiveness of your prose if you change your story every time someone makes a negative comment.

Protect your writing by giving careful thought to each comment. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. For example, if you encounter a comment like, “You have too many characters,” probe for more specifics. Possible questions might be:

Have I confused the reader? If it’s a group discussion scene, is each voice made distinctive and identified (perhaps by the quality of the voice, the language used, familiar gestures, or distinctive item of clothing), or does the reader wonder who’s on stage and who’s saying what?

Are there too many similar characters, or characters with similar functions? In a car repair scene, for example, if the alternator is shot and need replacing, which complicates things for the protagonist, do you need more than one mechanic to complete the scene? Or if you have three sisters as sidekicks, can they be combined in one with no loss of plot?

Is there one particular character you’d like to see gone? Maybe a supporting character is offensive and distracts the reader in a negative way. If so, is the character necessary? I once had a character who smoked, and it bothered the reader way out of proportion to the usefulness of having her smoke, so voila! Instant recovered smoker and she could go on to perform her plot functions.

I’m not suggesting that you question your critique person to exhaustion — limit yourself to one or two succinct questions, and never defend or explain your work — but with a couple of well thought out questions, it’s possible to learn something useful in cases of general statements such as, “You have too many characters.”

Have you suffered through nightmare critiques? What did you do?  Please share, if you have the time today, and happy writing!  –Janet

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New Self-pub Author Survey – Can we really make that much $$?

As you know, I’m traditionally published with my historical romance novels. Book Three is completed, and I’m working on Book Four in the series, and I have a bundle of women’s fiction novels waiting for their moment in the limelight. Stymied by the broken trail of promises of traditional publishing, I’ve been giving careful consideration to self-publishing, but a CP reminded me of the dismal outlook for self-pub: the average self-pub author sells 57 books! Well, that may have been true 5 years ago, but take a look at this survey! Self-pub success story author Marie Force just released her ground-breaking survey just yesterday. It’s eye-popping, and has the potential to drastically change the way we think about self-publishing. Take a look, post-haste, at …. then come back and let me know what you think! Does reading this survey change your mind about self-publishing *your* novel?

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Choice Overload – Work through the fear to make good choices

Avoid choice overload by focusing on your unique needs.

By Janet Lane

I subscribe to Ted Talks and viewed an interesting presentation by Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School and author of The Art of Choosing.  Her talk was about choice overload.

Writers can benefit from her insight. She cited an experiment in which grocery store shoppers were given a choice of 6 different kinds of jams.  On the same day shoppers were given a choice of 24 different kinds of jam. Their findings: more people stopped at the 24-jam table, but only 1 in 24 actually bought a jar, while at the 6-choice table, 30% bought a jar. Bottom line: people were 6 times more likely to buy if they encountered 6 instead of 24 varieties of jam.

What does jam have to do with you?  When faced with a bewildering array of choices, we are more likely to avoid choices, more likely to make a bad decision, and more likely to derive less satisfaction from the choice.

Writers are faced with a massive number of choices that can paralyze us, make us likely to make any decision, in a time when a good decision may help you in our  careers.  Here are just some of them.

Publishing options.  Traditional New York Publishers. Small publishers.  Vanity publishers.  Kindle Publishing. B&N Nook Publishing. Smashwords Publishing. Innovative on-line publishers.

Author support services.  Web site design. Book cover design. Editing services.  Advertising opportunities – Google and other pop-up banners.

Buying paid advertising in return for a book review. Bookmarks, pens, calendars, etc.  A mind-boggling number of blogs and Yahoo groups that offer help with any aspect of writing you could ever imagine.

Educational services.  Dreamy retreats in gorgeous locations, with hands-on instruction on plotting, revising, polishing.  A multitude of on-line writer’s courses for craft and marketing.  Software instructional tapes so you can create your own website, book covers, etc.

 “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can doIs the right thing.

The worst thing you can do is nothing.”  –Theodore Roosevelt

 Here are some succinct ways to reduce your choice overload problem.

  1.  Cut.  Reduce your options.  Why agonize over how to design a book cover if you still haven’t decided you’ll e-pub?  Don’t ponder over selecting a $750/book editor if you don’t have the funds for it. Selecting the big choices first will help you eliminate more than half of the choices.  Write in your consumer journal:  “I need to decide X first.  Then Y.  The rest can wait for another time.  I will focus on this first.”
  1. Concretization.  Make it real. Gather as much information as you can, so you can really “see” what that choice is. Ask the journalistic 5 W’s: who, what, when, where, why. Ask successful authors what worked best for them. Learn the costs, royalties, expenses and demands involved in each option.  If you don’t qualify for X and Y, eliminate them as options.  Simplify.
  1. Categorization. If you’re swimming in genres, pick one and focus on that for this time in your life. You can always do a separate study later on something else, but give A, B or C genre your full focus for now, not all three.
  1. Start easy.  Make choices in the areas that have the least number of choices – like Iyengar’s jam tasting table, go to the table with 6 selections first.  Find a way to minimize choices, perhaps by ease of entry, affordability, or some factor that will give you more simplicity and ease of choice.

“A real decision is measured by the fact that

you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action,

you haven’t truly decided.” — Tony Robbins 

- – – – – – – – -

 Wishing you many opportunities … and good choices!  –Janet

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Agent panel at Colorado Gold – agent tips and secrets

by Janet Lane

RMFW (Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) annual conference offers a wealth of educational workshops and editor/agent panels to help aspiring writers get published. Go to and click on 'conference' to learn more about next September's conference.

Agents at the RMFW conference this year gave us insight and tips that may change the way you target agents, and when and how you query.

Agents on the panel:

Rachelle Gardner, Wordserve Literary Group

Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency

Rebecca Strauss of the McIntosh & Otis, Inc. Literary Agency

Sandra Bond of the Sandra Bond Literary Agency

Here’s a peek into the Q&A session.

 Don’t get caught doing this!

When asked what not to do when sending a query, Rachelle Gardner advised that you don’t start with a rhetorical question, or try to be cute. Follow the submission guidelines for that particular agent.

Sara Megibow suggested that you don’t sub in a genre she doesn’t represent.  Write a blurb that will make her want to read the book.  “I want your query letter to sound like the back cover of the novel,” Sara said.

When trying to suggest an audience for your work, Rebecca Strauss suggested you avoid saying, “I’m the next Faulker.”  Instead, try some content comparison with a known author.  Example:  “My work is along the lines of  X Author.” She said it helps to research what the agents represent. Her example:  “I enjoyed Tempest Rising, and my book is similar to that.”  That, Rebecca said, will make her love you.  “Our books are like our children.  If you compliment them you compliment us.”

Does location matter?

Located in New York, Rebecca is in contact by email and phone, but enjoys the convenience of meeting with editors.  “It’s fun to get drinks with them.”  With personal meetings, she feels they open up more about their editorial needs.  She meets with editors once or twice a week.

Sara’s son loves the New York taxicabs. She travels there for business but “I don’t wine and dine editors in New York.  You can live in the North Pole, but what you want to ask, if you are offered representation, is, ‘Will you represent my book and get it sold?’ Not, ‘Do you buy editors beer?’”

Rachelle loves being able to live here and do her job. She sells mainstream fiction to general markets and to Christian publishers. There are four major Christian  publishers in Denver and in Nashville.  She attends conferences and meets editors there. “When I pitch a book, the main thing is will it get read?” she said. “I don’t have any editors ignoring me.  It won’t be based on where I live.  If I were having trouble getting an editor to pay attention to me that would be a problem, but it’s not.”

Sandra noted that agents live all over the place, and editors know that. “Your job is to target the appropriate agent who is right for your book and our job is to target the right editor for your book,” she said.  “It doesn’t matter where we live.  We do also attend many conferences and meet editors, and go to New York and meet with the editors when we need to.  I have specific editors with whom I want to meet.  But I’m also very good at phone relationships.  Authors, too, are all over the place.  I have authors I haven’t met before.”

 E-publishing – panacea, or the death of publishing?

E-publishing is, they agreed, another format of a book, like an audio book.

We may have fewer printed books, but they’ll never ever go away. Yes, there’ll be lots of e-books, but it’s still a book.

Rachelle noted that everyone in the industry is trying to discover how all who are involved in publishing are going to continue to make money from the written word. We can try to re-invent the wheel every day but we still don’t know the answer to that question.  How much readers will pay for the written word is the new question.

Sara agreed.  “The question is: an author may have 25 rejections and ask, ‘Shall I self-publish?’”  Avoid making an emotionally based decision (To heck with you, I can publish and make my millions without you). Don’t e-publish because you don’t like New York, or don’t like not having control of your career.  “Be careful.”

Rebecca observed that we’re all trying to figure it out every day, trying to guess how we’re going to stay in business, all working hard to get negotiating language in contracts which limits time, where standing royalty rates are in effect and re-evaluate in two years.

Coming next:  bidding wars, age discrimination and surprising insights

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Editor panel reveals how submissions rise out of the slush pile and how to query

(Part two of editor panel news from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Conference)

by Janet Lane

The editor panel this year featured–

Moshe Feder, Consulting Editor for Tor Books

Latoya Smith, Assistant Editor for Grand Central Publishing

Angela James, Executive Editor of Carina Press (Harlequin digital)

Brian Farrey, Acquiring Editor for Flux, Llewellyn’s Young Adult (YA)

Lindsey Faber, Managing Editor for Samhain Publishing.

How submissions rise out of the slush pile

At Samhain, there’s an agent pile and a slush pile.  “One person logs and sends the sub to an initial reader,” Lindsey said.  “The acquiring editor can make decision independently and doesn’t need a committee. “

At Flux, submissions used to be open to unagented mat’l but it became too overwhelming.  Since March they accept no unagented submissions.  “I prioritize my in-box by what’s I’m looking for, not chronologically,Brian said. He was a book publicist before he became an editor, and this publishing background helps him. “I can put on my publicist hat and present a full package.  I’d love it to always be about the brilliant writing, but this is why I think it will succeed.  I ask myself, ‘How can I sell it if I can’t compare it to anything?’ I have the answers because I know publicity.”

“Our subs hit slush piles for 13 editors,” Angela James said. “We match it to genre and an editor reads it. We do have an acquisition board that includes digital marketing and sales.”   There are eight on the acquisition team.  “We discuss as a team if it’s a book we can get passionately behind.”  She said to think of the process as an  “America Idol” approach of approval.  It’s a go “if two or more people can get behind it, someone on the team who can market and say yes, we can market this book.”

If what Latoya Smith reads is not quite right for her, she passes it along to another reader. If she likes it, she brings it to the editorial board, to either the hard-cover or paperback editor or chief, or to a specific imprint project.  “If I can get them behind me, I can acquire.” Grand Central takes both agented and unagented material.  Every Thursday projects are presented.  And Latoya can’t just love the writing.  “I have to present at least two comparison authors before we can market it.”

Moshe Feder accepts unsolicited subs for Tor, which are read by editorial assistants. The majority of the submissions come from unagented authors.  He often meets writers at sci fi meetings and pitch sessions.  “I’m open to working with new authors.  “It’s not just a question of getting through the acquisition proess, but how I am going to most effectively market this book.  I publish from passion.”

 Nuts and Bolts – How to Query Them

If you wish to submit to Brian Farrey of Flux, you’ll need to have agent representation.  All of the remaining editors accept unagented submissions.  Before submitting, always check the publisher’s website because requirements do vary from publisher to publisher.

Attend conferences, like RMFW’s Colorado Gold, where these gems of information were discovered.  Read articles like these, from RMFW’s Writer newsletter, offered as one of the many benefits of membership in RMFW.

Another tool I find extremely useful is, where you can quickly check an editor’s website and other useful publishing websites and even, if you’re lucky, find interviews that reveal the editor’s current interests and needs.

Now armed with all this information, go forth and create! Write! Polish! And may all of us be blessed with a wealth of opportunity in our quests for publication.

During RMFW’s conference Janet Lane received requests for partials of Traitor’s Moon, her romantic adventure set in 15th century England. Did you receive requests during the conference?  Share your conference success story!



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Colo Gold Conference: Editor panel reveals submissions process

by Janet Lane

RMFW’s conference burst at the seams this year with informative workshops and panels.

For those of you who couldn’t attend, here’s an update.  Enjoy and employ these tips!  –Janet

The editor panel this year featured–

Moshe Feder, Consulting Editor for Tor Books

Latoya Smith, Assistant Editor for Grand Central Publishing

Angela James, Executive Editor of Carina Press (Harlequin digital)

Brian Farrey, Acquiring Editor for Flux, Llewellyn’s Young Adult (YA)

Lindsey Faber, Managing Editor for Samhain Publishing.

Where does your genre fit?

If you write Young Adult (YA), your work will be welcome with Brian Farrey.  He’s looking for YA stories that feature urban fantasy, straight up fantasy, teen romance, and sci fi, but no space opera or high fantasy. He would like to see more realistic books with no fantasy, just teens trying to relate to each other & themselves.

If you write mystery, Carina Press does digital imprints of all genres of adult fiction, so consider querying Angela James when your book is ready to market.  They’re big on mystery among other genres.  Latoya Smith is interested in all adult, commercial fiction.

If your pen produces romance or women’s fiction, your work may find a home with Latoya Smith at Grand Central Publishing.  She’s acquiring romance (mainly paranormal and romantic suspense), women’s fiction, and erotica and African romance, across the board.  Angela James’ Carina Press is also big on romance, as is Lindsey Faber of Samhain.

If Sci Fi’s your genre, do not pass ‘go’ and run directly to the post office (or computer) and send your ready-to-market query to Tom Dougherty of Tor in hard-copy or Angela James at Carina Press, where you can launch your career in digital format.

At the panel, Moshe pointed out that Tor publishes more Sci Fi per year–150 new titles per year—than anyone else.  Their stories run the gamut: epic, high, sociological SF, space opera, military adventure, paranormal romance.  Each of Forge’s three seasons includes 50 sci fi titles and 20 of all other titles.

Have a thriller to market?  Try Carina Press or Grand Central Publishing.

 What they can offer you

As authors, we’re concerned about being lost in the cracks, especially with a debut novel.  Are the publishers too small to afford any promotion?  Will we have to do it all ourselves?  If the publisher is large, are all their promotion dollars used on established authors?  The editors addressed these concerns during the panel.

Latoya Smith mentioned promotional themes and making good use of the online department at Grand Central. “Who are your contacts? How can we combine efforts to make a strong promo effort?”  The author will pay for some of it. “We usually focus efforts on bookmarks, postcards. Most all books get galleys and ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies printed at no cost to the author) to send for blurbs. Some authors go on tour. We offer all of our authors  an on-line blog tour and Twitter parties.” Grand Central also hosts a Forever Fan Page where authors can speak to readers during hour-long book club sessions.

Moshe Feder mentioned Tor’s large PR department.  “Every book has someone in PR who’s associated with it, arranging reviews, interviews, book stores placement.  Tor encourages our authors to participate in the website activities.  They do tour their authors extensively.”  Tor is large, but small, Moshe said.  “We are a family run company who happens to be part of a large corporation.  We work on an informal, friendly basis; no editorial board that has to be run through.  We have strong personal relationships with our authors.”

Lindsey Faber noted they use print, advertising, media, blogs, horror magazines and conference sponsorships to promote their authors.  They do banners and giveaways at Comic Con,  “And we’ve had lots of success with giveaways.” She explained how Samhain offered the first book of a series free for a week which was “hugely successful with many downloads.  Book giveaways are very successful. In a post giveaway week we sold over 2,000 copies.  The second book in the series hit the USA Today best seller list.”

There are advantages to being small.  Flux’s Brian Farrey said they work closely wth authors, doing lots of social media on-line—video streams, Facebook and Twitter.  “We’re a company of 110 years. We target the library market.  We’re all doing the same thing, just with different resources.  Flux prints targeted ARC copy runs of 2,000—more modest runs but more targeted.”  Further, Brian said Flux helps authors understand what they can do so they can have their own voice.  “We educate our authors on proper on-line etiquette.”

“We’re a small press within a larger company,” Angela James said. “We have tools to help you learn how to (promote) yourself because no one’s more passionate about your book than you are. We teach you how to do social media, how to build a web site, and you can take that wherever you may go in your career.  We utilize Net Galley – online digital ARC reviewers, librarians, bookstores – over 30,000 users for review copies.”  Through these resources they are able to reach many people. “Every release gets a release tour.”

Next:  How submissions rise out of the slush pile and how to query.

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Part 2: Top Ten Ways to Prepare for Conference Success

This blog is a continuation of the previous blog about conference preparation.

The RMFW Writer's conference starts tomorrow (September 9) at the Renaissance Hotel, Denver.

7.  Bring an idea collection kit.  Yes, it’s nice to have an emergency sewing kit, but not that kind of resource.  At conference, you learn important information about craft, marketing, story ideas, etc. This kit helps you FIND that information later. My kit is in a zipping plastic bag, about 8 inches by four inches, see-through so you can quickly find emergency supplies like paper clips, scissors, highlighters, rubber bands, post-it notes, stick-em ‘flags’ so you can quickly flag important pages and not lose vital business cards; Sharpies so you can post or add info on bulletin boards.  Drop this kit into your conference bag and you’ll be ready to gather important info.

8. Bring a thumb/travel drive of your writing.  No, don’t wave a 400-page completed manuscript at a passing editor or agent.  Travel drives (portable memory drives) are small and can hold query letters,  synopses, first chapters, partials and such of every novel you’ve written.  Should you connect in a meaningful way with an editor or agent who asks for a partial of your pitch story, or another story you’ve written, you can easily take that travel drive to the business office of your hotel and print it out.  It never hurts to be ready when opportunity knocks.

9.  Defeat self-defeating behavior and denial.  Avoid disaster thinking such as,

“I don’t need to practice my pitch.  It will all come to me when I sit down.”  Practice at home.  Prop a doll, a stuffed animal or even a potted plant on the owner side of your desk and take a seat on the public side.  Pretend you’re talking to the agent or editor, and be able to say, smoothly and enthusiastically,

“Thank you for coming the conference.  I’m (your name) and I write (your genre).  My completed novel is about (protagonist’s name).  S/he (describe the inciting incident that starts your protagonist’s story) and must (whatever s/he must do to get what s/he wants), but (describe the antagonist/villain and what makes her goal seemingly impossible), only to realize (describe the growth your protagonist experiences through the course of the novel.”

If you can deliver this information succinctly and comfortably, you’re home free.  The agent or editor may ask questions to learn more–questions like length, where the story is set, particulars about the story, but if you can deliver this small pitch, the publishing pro knows that you have completed the novel, and most importantly s/he knows that you know what your story is about.  You may want to elaborate.  If so, go for it, but not until you accomplish the short pitch above and can deliver it in your sleep because you’re so familiar with it.

This familiarity will give you confidence, and once you have that, your  appointment will be pleasant, not agonizing.

Final tip on the pitch:  save at least ninety seconds to ask a question, something you want to know about your story, the market for your story, whatever.  Allow the publishing pro to talk!  You have endured the many challenges of completing your story, and you have suffered anxiety over this appointment.  The least you can do is be prepared for the meeting, ask a pertinent question, and really listen to his or her answer so you can walk away with a kernel of information that will be helpful to you.

10.  Go forth and mingle!  Conference is time to re-charge your creative battery.  Do that by attending as many workshops as you can.  Conference Goddess Pam Nowak and her team have worked hard to assemble a fantastic assortment of workshops and panels just for you. Be there!  If you’re shy, work past that.  Sit down at a table where you know only one person, or no one at all, and introduce yourself to the person to the right of you and to the left of you.  Be genuinely interested in them and what they can share about their writing and the industry.

Wishing you a terrific conference, and be sure to stop me and say Hi!  I look forward to this all year long!

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