Monthly Archives: December 2011

Doing the work

Random Horse Picture -- deal with it.

When you know you’ve done it right, finishing a rough draft if a fantastic rush. It’s hard to come down from that feeling of euphoria–until you realize that you have a lot of editing to do.

I currently have 5 novels (and one screenplay) that I probably won’t finish, 1 that I might finish, 2 that need editing, and 2 that need rewrites.Basically, I have enough to keep me busy for the next 5 years.

I think a lot of amateur writers think revising their manuscript is some kind of admission of fault. I’ve found that no matter how many times I go through, I can always find something to do better. Then again, I’m not Stephen King. I’m not even Don King.

While I might not like editing as much as I like creating my rough draft, I come up with some awesome things that second or third time through a manuscript. So in the end, it’s totally worth it.

Gatekeepers aren’t evil

A couple weeks ago, I was talking to Adam Whitlatch, who has recently found himself wearing an editor’s hat and is refusing to give it back despite the infestation. In his short time reading slush, he has found himself uttering the most despised thing ever heard by a writer: “This is good, but I can’t sell it.” Adam’s not a bad guy, he’s been there himself. He just knew he couldn’t sell the story to the other editors.

I read writing forums, and I see a lot of complaints about gatekeepers.

Amazon has put new energy into self publishing (along with new money), and there is much talk about how books are about the author and the reader, not some third party arbiter. However, I also read a lot of fiction from authors that think they are God’s gift and could use a little more practice, or sometimes much more practice. Some may have to wait for the next lifetime.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t trash on other writers–even if they are hypothetical writers, but I know how I felt 3 books ago, and 5 books ago, and 7 books ago. I knew I was ready. I just needed to get noticed. Now, I’m not so sure I’m ready. I fear my editor has made a horrible mistake. I wonder if going with a small press which rejects 80% of submission instead of a megacorp which rejects 99.5% of submissions just means I should have waited, that I wasn’t ready.

A weak plot but some of the stuff inside is Caliente

As a reader, though, I enjoy having a gatekeeper. Don’t get me wrong. I know there are good indie authors out there. I know some of those authors. Still, I have to face the hard reality that I don’t always have time to read 10 first chapters so I can find a book I like. I know what I’m going to get from a Tor, Baen, or Harper Collins book.

Wait, I think Harper Collins owns Tor.

Anyway, were were we? Gatekeepers. Right.

I decided to wait until I could at least get a small press to publish one of my books. Yes, some of the reason was that I wanted to make sure I didn’t completely suck. On the other hand, if getting your work published is a Sisyphean effort, I saw no harm in trying to drag my boulder up a somewhat smaller mountain.

Hawkeye Point, Iowa's only mountain. Elevation 1670 feet

I think small press is really going to be the second breakout success story of the bloody e-book revolution. Small imprints have a style, a flavor, which will make them more accessible and brand desirable. In addition, they have an editorial process which guarantees a consistent quality.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong, maybe it will all be anarchy, and the next New York Times bestseller will be a photo book of cute cats.


Okay, It’s confession time. There’s a reason why I haven’t been updating this week. I’ve been sick as a dog. However, the reason I have been as sick as a dog is because of what I was doing last weekend.

Last weekend, I traveled down to Bentonsport, Iowa, to stay at Mason House Inn Bed and Breakfast. Mason House is a beautiful old Riverboat Hotel on the Des Moines river with a rich, antebellum history, and for that reason would be a nice destination in itself, but it is also one of the most haunted inns in America. My job was to watch over a group of student paranormal investigators for an evening.

Sometimes we won’t want to be mediocre, we have mediocrity thrust upon us, and having only been on 3 investigations previous to this evening, I felt horribly inadequate to the task. I basically did my best to make sure that they didn’t wander into the off-limits parts of the B&B (the areas the owners live in) and made sure that in their enthusiasm they didn’t endanger any of the antiques–most of the furniture in Mason House is original to the building or from the antebellum period.

So, did horrific things happen to me? No. Unlike on television, most paranormal investigation is downright boring. You walk around with cameras and recorders hoping something will happen. I have heard some creepy stuff on the recorder after an investigation, but I haven’t even had time to listen to the recordings.

On the whole, I was much more frightened of dealing with the students and my inexperience than I was worried about finding anything supernatural.


The artist working on the cover art for Minion of Evil just sent me this jpeg. I can’t wait to see it on the cover–upon editorial approval, of course.

The artist’s name is Kris Phillippe. In addition to being a great illustrator, she is a tattoo artist at Neon Dragon Tattoo and a talented writer. I’m jealous of her skills and pleased she is doing my artwork.


Over at Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig has written a great article about the seduction of self publishing. He makes some very good points.

I admit, I walked through the entire process of putting a book on Kindle Direct Publishing, and I didn’t pull the trigger for some of the same reasons that he touches on in the article.

However, as a soon-to-be-published author on a small press, I feel like I will be facing many of those same challenges. I don’t have to pay for my own editing and cover art, but I will have to do most of my self promotion.

Honestly, the idea of doing my own promotion is kind of scary. I hate new situations. I do not consider myself a people person. I am at my happiest when I am sitting alone at my computer writing. I stay home during my vacation time, only seeing other people on my terms. To me, this is luxury.

Oh well, I guess this is the price of (a complete lack of) fame. I guess I will just have to put myself out there, knowing that there is a chance the villagers will come after me with torches and pitchforks.

Critique Group Stuff*

After doing my post the other day on what makes a good critique, I thought I’d add a post on how my critique group works.

Different kinds of critique groups

I wanted to mention that my model is not the only model. There are probably even more than I have heard of.

1. Novel-at-a-time: The Novel-at-a-time group meets every 1-6 months. They critique entire novels at once. This is great for big-picture plot work.

2. Read-aloud: In the Read-aloud group, the group acts as an audience to the author who gives a reading of a section of their work. This is great for people without time to prep, and it really helps voice.

3. Chapter-at-a-time: The Chapter-at-a-time group looks at multiple author’s work every session, which they have critiqued ahead of time. This is the kind of group I am in, and I am going to discuss.


We are a group of peers, but there needs to be an organizational go-to person, so we have a moderator. In our group, this position is given out by succession, passed down in a direct line from the group’s founder. It’s maybe not the best way to do it, but we do it that way.

Our group is a drop-in group. We let anyone join, but the moderator does have the ability to ask someone to leave. During my 2 years as moderator, I never had to do this, but I did come close a couple of times. In both cases, the people decided they the group wasn’t for them before I had to step in. Over the course of things, we have met with as few as 3 people and as many as 12. In my opinion, 8 seems to be a good number for our group, as we always a a couple beginners.

We also have recently appointed a webmaster, who was the only person who could be talked into doing it. He’s very good though–don’t quit Dylan; we love you.

One trick I am really proud of: We always had trouble getting out the news on bad weather cancellations. So, I instituted a policy that if the local community college closed evening activities, we would not meet. The local CC is a commuter campus, so they err on the side of reason when it comes to bad weather. It also has a website, it’s own radio station, and it sends cancellation notices to the local TV station. If you don’t know whether or not they’ve cancelled, you’re just not trying. Also, it took away the burden of having to make the decision.

Before every meeting

Every week, the moderator sends out a newsletter to our email list, which is maintained by the moderator. The newsletter includes notes from the last meeting, any business that can be handled outside the meeting, and the schedule. Then people who have submissions for critique on the schedule that week do a reply-to-all to distribute their writing to the group. (Some people are a little paranoid about doing this and ask for a direct request. It works okay.) We critique 2-3 submissions a week of 5000 – 10000 words.

Start of the meeting

At the beginning of our meeting, we do three things: Introductions, Scheduling, and Victories. I am going to consider Introductions self-explanatory.

When the introductions are done, we talk about our Victories. A victory is defined a anything you do to advance your writing career, including rejections. This usually starts some interesting conversation.

Then we do Scheduling. We generally schedule out 3-4 weeks out. Sometimes, when multiple people are producing lots of pages, we have to make people wait for a turns.

The Critiques

Each critique is broken into four pieces: author setup, individual critique, author response, and general discussion. For us, the whole critique generally takes about 1/2 hour.

We start with Author Setup. Basically, the author gets a chance to tell the readers specific things that would be appreciated in the critique–this should also be included with their submission, making this more of a reminder. We mostly skip this part, as most people are looking for general response to the piece, rather than working something specific.

Then we move to Individual Critiques. We take turns giving our (up to) 3 favorite things about the writing and the (up to) 3 we think need the most work. This gives everyone a chance to talk uninterrupted. If another person agrees with what the reader says, they should call out “ditto.” We encourage the author to hold their peace during this time, but they can answer direct questions.

The Author Response is a time for the author to go over the suggestions made, and make any comments they might have. I think the key to this is to keep it (as) non-confrontational (as possible). Sometimes, things do get a little personal. Everyone has bad days.

General Discussion is a time to talk about specific ideas brought up in critiques, or to brainstorm. There are where you ask the, “Did anyone else think?” questions or “We all thought the chapter needed X. Does anyone have any suggestions?”

The Good and The Bad

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Occasionally, egomaniacs have joined the group, only to be disappointed that we didn’t love their work. We’ve lost great members because they felt ready to move on or had outside issues like health problems pull them away. We’ve had college students join to get us to grammar-check their homework and had to ask them to leave.

I’ve also seen one of the most abrasive, arrogant writers do a complete 180 and become a valuable member of the group and a much better writer for it. I’m glad he stuck with it, but it was a long road, and he was on double-secret probation more than once.

I’ve been with my group now for 5 years, during which I’ve become a reasonably good author (IMHO). I probably would have managed this one my own, but I’m not sure I would have done it as quickly.  Belonging to my writing group has also allowed me to make contacts and meet some really interesting people.

I would like to leave this as my parting thought. When you finished being critiqued, I think it’s important to remind yourself that the things said by your readers are only suggestions, that most** of them aren’t out to get you, and that most** of them want to become a better writer.

* I was going to call this article “Critique Group Nitty Gritty,” but I found out that Nitty Gritty is a racial slur. I’m still in trouble for saying gypped in front of my Romani-activist friend. I suck at titles.

**Hey, there’s always going to be personality issues.

Electronic Publishing Notes

I suppose this could also be called “First World Problems.” I’m only writing it here because I had to really search around to find this information.

The editor who is publishing my book is an okay guy, but  he’s not technologically savvy. He pays someone to put is books on Smashwords, which means they are available on Sony, Nook, and other miscellaneous sites. But to me, the most important thing is to get my book on Kindle. That is were I believe I will reach the widest audience. Other authors who are using both are seeing more sales through Amazon than all other sites combined.

Currently, the only way to get a Smashwords book onto a Kindle is side-loading, a not-difficult-but-tedious process compared to the direct delivery options. Many authors are releasing their books on Smashwords and via Kindle Direct Publishing.

Smashwords has a deal with Amazon, they do plan to deliver their books to the Kindle store, but the technology isn’t in place. They were saying that everything would be ready in November. Now they are saying “next year.” My book doesn’t drop until April, so I guess I’ll cross my fingers.

At this point, I guess all I can do is wait and see if Smashwords and Amazon play well together. If they don’t, because I do have a small publisher who’s willing to work with me, maybe I can work out some kind of deal.