Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Critique Wednesday: Respecting the Craft

I recently had a wonderful, erudite email discussion with my writer friend Bryan Russell about self-publishing, traditional-publishing, craft, marketing, and a zillion other fascinating things. Bryan is almost painfully brilliant, so I love engaging him in witty banter (wherein he provides the wit and I try to banter).

One idea that lodged itself in my brain was that self-publishers may be perceived as focusing too much on marketing and not enough on craft. I don't, in fact, believe this is true, because there's nothing like having the specter of your work published, out for everyone to read and review, to make you want to dot every i and double check the Chicago Manual of Style for the usage of hypens (or in my case, rely on my talented editor Anne of Victory Editing to know) - not to mention make the story AWESOME because anything less and readers will let you know. But as I look over my posts for the last six months, one could be forgiven for thinking marketing is the focus of this newly indie-published writer. In my defense, the general state of the craft hasn't changed much in the last six months, but the industry (and my experience in publishing) certainly has, so I've been posting a lot about that.

Craft...
However, I truly believe that craft and storytelling are paramount to success (as an indie or trad-pub author), so I'd like to focus a bit more on that while summer descends upon me. Not least because I have a book to write, and I'd like to keep my head in that game for a while. While there's a zillion posts on craft out there, you never know what tidbit that's rambling around your head will help someone else. Plus there's very few things I enjoy chatting about more than the craft of writing. So there you go.

...and Critique
I also believe that learning is doing and you can read all the craft books in the world, but without good quality feedback, you can't improve. I exchange critiques all the time with my lovely crit partners, and I'm always looking for someone new to add to my Critiquers of Awesome list. I have critiquers that I love and trust, but I also think you can't run the same piece of work past someone too many times (or even more than once) without them becoming desensitized to the flaws, just like YOU are. So having fresh eyes is important. Plus, you have to be careful about asking the same people to look at your work over and over. A good crit partner is worth their weight in gold! Don't wear them out. But too often, I hear people lament that they have a hard time finding good critique partners, and that's also something I'd like to help with.

So I had a brain spark. It has three parts, all of which will occur on Wednesdays on the blog through the summer:

  1. I will post something craft or storytelling related
  2. I will offer a 5 page critique
  3. I will offer up my comments section as a place for people to network and find critique partners
The 5 page critique
In 5 pages, I can tell several things: voice, craft, basic storytelling and tension-building ability. If the 5 pages are the FIRST five pages, I can see if you've got a high-enough hook/concept to draw readers into your story. Obviously, you can't critique an entire storyline in 5 pages, but openings are important to get right, and it's always helpful to have feedback on craft. So, my offer is this: I'll do a 5 page critique, randomly chosen by Rafflecopter each week. It's my little attempt to pay back some of the massive help I've gotten along the way. (Note: the critiques will be offline, not posted on the blog.)

BTW: My critique philosophy is "honesty with kindness." I believe someone can't learn while they're in pain, so it's important to temper the truth with gentleness. I also believe my job as a critiquer is to help you tell your story better, not change it to be the story I would write.

Finding Critique Partners
Looking for a critique partner? Leave a comment with your name, genre, and email. Think of it as a personal ad: Saucy young adult writer seeks same; must enjoy fantasy with science fiction elements, and not be adverse to a good (fictional) kiss. :) If someone sees your post, they just might email you and offer to swap critiques! My best suggestion: swap ONE chapter at first, critique honestly, then decide if you (mutually) want to extend the critique relationship to the next level (full manuscript). Not everyone is going to "get" your writing - it's important to seek out crit partners that like your style.

I feel like a matchmaker already!

(p.s. another good place to hunt down, I mean, match up with critique partners: critters.org)
(p.p.s. Rachael Harrie and I had the same idea today ... but she has a LOT of people signing up, so check her out to find critique partners!)

Enter for a critique from ME in the Rafflecopter - ends midnight today, 6/6.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

17 comments:

  1. I never tire of craft posts. You might say something that others have mentioned, but you might say it better or in a way that will stick with me. So I can't wait to read your post, Susan. :)

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  2. I agree. There are always new writers coming onto the blogging scene that need craft advice and tips. Always helpful. Posts on the industry is becoming just as done also but readers still find them helpful so looking forward to it!

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  3. You rock! Keep posting craft posts! You're blog is on my list of "must reads" for all your craft and publishing tips. Thank you, thank you, thank you. and now for my Crit ad:

    Hopeful Christian Fantasy and SciFi author with a quirky sense of humor looks for encouraging crit partners. Romance light, and strong female characters required, even if the protag is male.

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    1. I love your CP ad! Thanks for joining in! :)

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    2. Tyrean, if you're still looking for a CP, hit me up! I have one CP for my current WIP, but in my opinion more eyes = more ideas (and fewer mistakes!)

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  4. You've really said what is important here, Susan. No matter how you publish, the story must be written well with attention to the details of craft. Sharp-eyed readers with the goal of helping a manuscript be the best it can be are essential.

    Great post as always.

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    1. Thanks CLee! It's so easy to forget in the hubbub of things, but that's what it all really comes down to. :)

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  5. This is brilliant. As are you, and Bryan. Also, even though we've never exchanged (we've talked about it, and we still need to, but now my full is with agents, so I'll have to finish drafting this new WIP first (although I suppose we could do one chapter)), I happen to know (through a mutual friend, Ah-Adam-hem), just how very good you are at this.

    I'm off to tell the internet, and make sure this gets as much traffic as it deserves. Let me know if you want to swap opening chapters - it can be from anything you'd like, and it doesn't have to be anytime soon.

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    1. I would love to swap with you, Matt! I just need an opening chapter worthy of your critique. :) Or possibly a short story? Those should be a long in a month or two, but send me yours anytime you're ready. :)

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  6. I think the perception that self-published authors are obsessed with marketing stems from necessity. Marketing a published book is the time you hear from them.

    Right now, I'm knee-deep in a WIP, and I don't have any urge to take time writing about the creative process while the creative process is ongoing. After a work is published I'd be happy to get into details on how that specific work was crafted, but until it's done, I don't know what the full process will even be. And I am not predisposed to say that what worked for one book will serve as a bona fide template for all (or even any) future books.

    Personally, as an indie author, I pay extra attention to the craft, knowing that I can't slog off any bit of responsibility on an agent, editor, copy editor, etc. I do rely heavily on critique partners, and I have critters with diverse backgrounds to ensure I get back a variety of perspectives on my work. This enables me to find common trends in the criticism and prioritize my revisions accordingly.

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    1. I know you do, Rick! And I love your comment, because I think it reveals the true commitment that indie authors (the serious ones, like yourself) have to the craft - and the responsibility that goes along with indie publishing. I (secretly) (or not so secretly now) think that authors benefit with more critique partners, rather than relying on just their agent/editor's feedback. Even though that can feel like the most "important" feedback - it's still only one opinion. And authors need to be true to their vision, which is best honed by defending/changing that vision against a variety of opinions.

      Great comment!

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    2. I don't have an agent, and I'm not an indie or self-pubbed author, but I still know enough to know that Susan, Rick, and another friend of mine, Moses Siregar, are showing everyone that self-pubbed books can be just as good as traditionally pubbed ones, even if the authors with the talent and drive to make that happen are rare.

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    3. You're friends with Moses? I see him all the time on KB! I need to read his book ... it looks really good! :)

      p.s. I think the authors that have what it takes to be successful at any level are rare, just because it's so flippin' hard! Normal people go do something more reasonable. :) Who was it that said, "The only reason to become a professional writer is because you can't help it?" That.

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  7. This is obviously the best post ever. Just my impartial opinion, of course.

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  8. Wonderful idea, Susan! I'm looking forward to Wednesday :-)

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers