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Monday, August 3, 2009

Get help!

Dear Liana,
I've sent out six queries this month, and I already have three rejections! All three said my word count was too long. I was thinking of getting my work professionally edited, but it seems really expensive.
Do you have any suggestions?

Looking for Help

Dear Looking,
There are quite a few ways to go with this dillema. Self-editing and patience are both key. But if you really are over the genre's limit for word count (you didn't mention what genre or the word count in your letter), and you've done all you can, here's the help you can go looking for.

Best of luck!

Professional Help
I'll admit, I would almost never recommend anyone pay for editing services. Yes, you could. Yes, you can earn money editing. But ninety-nine percent of the time this doesn't work. To many editing services are scams (check with Writer Beware before spending money), and you can usually get the same services free from a good critique group.

I know maybe a handful of authors who have professional, published, award-winning, mentors. They usually meet through other arenas of interest and the mentor will take the fledgling author under their wing, guide them through editing, help them with the query process, and show them around.

This works well for those people who like one-on-one, who already know published authors, and who maybe wouldn't be comfortable sharing their work with a larger group just yet. It is a bit of an elite category though, and you run the risk of having your work sound just like your mentors. But, if you can get, enjoy!

Critique Partner
This is something I think is essential for every single writer. You need at least one person that you can run to for all of your writing angst, needs, and questions. Like a mentor the critique partner is your constant companion. Unlike a mentor, they are probably at the same place in publishing as you.

Critique partners are also sometimes called Alpha Readers. You discuss your outlines, potential story ideas, and character development with them. They are doing more than just reading your drafts, their bouncing ideas around with you and probably know your characters as well as you do.

Your critique partner may not write in the same genre. As long as they understand the demands on your genre and you have a good personality fit it doesn't matter. Shower them with praise, be their sounding board, and make sure to send them flowers when you find an agent (or whatever gift would be appropriate).

Home-Grown Critique Group
These usually evolve out of book clubs or literary classes. They meet a few times a month, sometimes have assignments, and sometimes are just a place to read your latest prose.

I've heard of these working really well but I've never seen it myself. I tend to live to far away from other writers to join a live group. But, if the personalities and motivations are a match, there isn't a reason one of these groups shouldn't be a roaring success.

Have you ever been in one?

Online Critique Partners
This is the middle area between having one critique partner who is there for everything, and having a stable of reliable Critters you can run to for help. Like the Home Grown group this is a matter of motivation and personality fit; you find people who can critique you and give you the advice you need and you exchange drafts through some online manner.

Personally, I think that if you plan on getting published in the next five years you need the benefit of more than one critique partner. Especially for your later drafts.

I like to have one person who is very good at finding plot holes, several who can correct my slackerly grammar, one with a gift for tightening the narrative line, two or three who can help with the battle descriptions, and one or two who can fix emotional plot line problems.

Some of those job descriptions can get combined but I find 5-8 beta-readers is the right number for me. Some authors do it with less, others prefer a wider range of views.

Online Critique Group
This is where I found both my Critique Partner and my beta-readers. And I love my critique group. :o) (critiquecircle.com if you're wondering).

What you need to look for in a critique group is something that matches your current needs.
- If you're writing just for fun with no intent of publishing there are open writing forums or art forums where you can post your work and let everyone read... kind of like a blog.

- If you are writing fan fiction there are usually sites devoted specifically to fanfic where you can share your fantasies with other devotees. Other sites may have rules against fanfic because of copyright laws, so check it out before you post.

- If you are looking to get professionally published and are worried about plagiarism, publishing rules, or have other worries you need a site that makes you sign in with a password when you join and that isn't available to all the search engines. (CC is like this)

Once you find a critique group you think might work give yourself a few weeks to lurk, check out the scene, see how things are run, and submit a piece or two.

Don't assume that because your first week isn't perfect the critique group isn't right for you. Online groups tend to be large and it may take a full month or more to find the people in the group who are a good fit for you.


  1. Great post. I love how you broke down all the potential ways to get help!

    And CC is a great resource!

  2. Well said! You've got an award over on my writing blog

    nayus-realm dot blogger etc :)

  3. girl, are you blogging with a newborn in your arms? maybe you prepared these posts in advance...

    I had a give away at my blog and you are owed a prize..click over for the details and let me know your e mail address. you are the last one I need to send it out to and I think you have a pretty good excuse (think cute just born baby) - but wanted to be certain you did not miss the fun. :D

  4. It's a little early, as the site is still in development, but I'm hoping that TypeTribe becomes the perfect mashup for Alpha Readers, critique partners, and writing groups so you can get the best possible feedback as soon as you need it. Feel free to check out http://typetribe.com and let me know what you think.

  5. Tess- It's all posted in advance for the next few weeks :o)