Friday, September 28, 2007

What do you want from a critique?

I think it's important to know what you want out of a crit group. I belong to 3, but on one of them we rarely crit these days. Still, I wouldn't miss it for the world. We're getting on with our careers, and a lot of what we do is to support each other.

Another is for erotic stories that go over the m/f not graphic rules set up at the large crit group I belong to. Hugely helpful. Most of us there are about the same level, and we pretty much know what we're looking for when we ask for crits (eg does it flow, have I got the pov right, etc) And the other is a big general group. A very good list, but there are writers at all levels there.

I have found that if I crit a newbie and I'm less than kind, I'm resented, as if it's my fault the work sucks. And when the writer finds a publisher (you can pretty much get a publisher these days if you can string a couple of words together) I get the 'nyah' response. So I'm careful who I crit there. Because I crit to publishable standards, ie something that might have a chance with one of the bigger epublishers or New York.

So decide what you want. And it's not a bad idea to ask for what you want, the areas you find troublesome or you need help with. I think the top of every sub should have the genre, the length of the book (ie novel, novella, category, not a specific word length) and perhaps the areas the writer wants critted. And if she wants to submit to a big house, or is happy to start with smaller pubs (as I did, btw. Nothing wrong in learning the ropes that way as long as you don't then think you're God's gift to publishing!)

For a very long time I was happy to write for me and a few friends, it was my hobby and my way of relaxing. Now it's very different, with a new kind of emphasis. I'm asking people to fork out their hard-earned for one of my books, so I can no longer afford indulgences I used to enjoy (like long, lingering descriptions of scenery and the like).

I just got my edits for my first release with Ellora's Cave. I'm telling you if you can't stand the relatively gentle heat of the crit group, you aren't going to last five minutes in the wider world of publishing! This book is sliced and diced and it makes me so happy to have an editor who will take the time to go through it in minute detail to help me make a better book!

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I've been at it for a few years now, and while there are advantages in that, you have to keep it up. Catching up with the latest thing, whether it's Facebook, Bebo or Youtube, finding out where people are and what they're doing.
Anything except write. I've had to sit down and make the latest book work, but I'm happy with it now.
We tend to forget the writing sometimes, but you know what? The most important thing about promotion is the book. If you don't write the next one, if you don't make it as good or better than the last one, no amount of promotion is going to sell that thing.
And starting with a new publisher? It's like starting all over again. But don't think I'm complaining, because that part is really exciting. I'm enjoying the experiences I'm getting at Samhain, Loose-ID and Ellora's Cave. I have 3 great editors with 3 different styles and requirements, all professional, all great people and they are pushing me hard.
So yes, it is a bit like juggling, but don't forget the basis of it all and do your 5,000 words a day, or whatever it is.
Or you'll never go as far as my friend Penny Jordan who has sold 84 million books worldwide, or so I heard today. 84 million.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

History, or fantasy?

Okay, so I'm ready to give up buying and reading historical romance.

Coming from me, that's like saying I'm giving up breathing. I love a good historical romance, but these days there are only a few authors I'll trust any more. And I won't buy a new author unless I can read a lengthy excerpt. After one more attempt to read a new book by a new author, that is it. I've just about had enough.

It's for self preservation, that's all. The number of historical errors is just increasing so much, that it's trampling on my history (because most historical romances are set in my country, the UK) and I need to save my blood pressure and my health. I feel insulted every time an author plays fast and loose with my history, calling dukes "my lord," letting an earl choose who is going to inherit his title, having people think in centimeters pre-1981. I've read them all.

I've just read another appalling hotchpotch and for now, that's my last one. I'm sticking to the writers I know get it more or less right, writers like Laura Kinsale, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney and Liz Carlyle. Not only do they get the facts right, they get the feel right, they understand the era they write about and the way men and women felt and thought then. I read historical romance to be spirited away to another era, not to read about a woman with a modern American mindset jumping in and out of beds with all the carelessness of a woman who has a reliable contraceptive method at her beck and call.

I think historical novels should come with a history warning, from one to five, where one is "Which era is this supposed to be?" and five is "You can relax, I know what I'm doing."

And just to save some of you putting pen to paper, here are my answers (not necessarily the ones others would answer, because this is strictly my opinion) to the questions and comments that come up over and over again:

"We're writing novels, not history text books."
Any book that recites long lists of facts and figures while purporting to be a novel is bad. Any book, any genre. There's nothing wrong with making an effort to get the facts right that you do use.

"It's all about the romance."
Yes, it is. But people loved and lived differently then, and that's one of the reasons I adore a well-written historical romance. Put a romance in context, make a real effort to get the history right, and it can bring a book alive. Same with any other genre. Make your Sci Fi alien real, give him a real world, and he starts to get three dimensional.

"The readers don't pick it up, and they don't care, so why should we bother?"
Because some do, and by not getting it right, you're already limiting your readership by putting off readers like me, who like a well written, well researched romance.

You're insulting the intelligence of your readership. If you're all about the money, then go ahead and write the thing, but if you love writing and you really care about your readers, do them the courtesy of getting it right. Many readers, although they might not know the details, can sense when a story is off. I've seen a few on lists asking if such-and-such a detail is right, just to confirm a gut feeling they had.

"Editors don't pick it up, so why should we?"
Editors IMO should be able to, but they can't always do so. Not every editor knows her way around a historical like my editor does. And editors have to edit all genres, there are few specialists these days. They move around, are given different lines to edit. Besides, it's your book, not your editor's and your name is on the cover.

It's a matter of pride in what you do.

And no, I don't think I get it all right, all the time. But at least I try. I really think the lack of ability to trust a historical author has led to the current dearth in the historical romance, a slump we're only beginning to climb out of. And now the historical romance is hotter, we'll have more "Sex in the Regency" style stories.


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Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I critique hard, if the person is wanting publication, because she's going to meet that sooner or later. But I do try to encourage, to find the good points. There are some critiquers who take pleasure in smacking a writer down, making her feel small, but what good does that do?
If you're going for publication, then the publishers will see your book as a 'product' and all they want is to make profit on it. If you can buy into that mindset, you can cope, but if you see your book as a work of art that requires gentle care, you're in for a disappointment.
I've had bitter setbacks, and some harsh words, together with a folder full of rejections, from good to form "thanks but no thanks" letters. But I've also had some success and I now have books with Ellora's Cave, Samhain and Loose-ID, together with some Stuff going on in New York of which I dare not speak.
It hurts sometimes, and you have to look at the market from the publisher's point of view as well as the writer's, if you want to be successful.
And watch out for the sharks and scammers. There are so many would-be published writers that there are a lot of them about. Would-be's and scammers both.
If you're a writer who just does it for the joy of creation (and I was that kind of writer for most of my life) then criticism isn't helpful if it isn't productive. And you deserve support and help because you're doing it to enrich your life. But if you're going for publication, it can get very nasty out there, and that includes critiques. I've met some wonderful supportive people, and I've also met some that really don't care about anything except ripping you to shreds and aggrandising themselves.
You decide which is which and go with the more helpful ones. Do your best to ignore the others.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Red flags

Red flags
It depends if you're already with them, or you're looking at them for prospective publishers.
First rule - there is no such thing as a free lunch. Repeat to yourself ten times a day.
You get in fast? The editing might be poor, or the sales are low. You are treated like royalty? They're making money off you. You get a great advance? You have to keep up sales for subsequent books, or you're out.
You have to consider the risks, the checks, the payments, and remember - there is no such thing as a free lunch. One way or another, you will pay.
And you will get out of it, what you put into it.
You think SEP, Linda Howard or La Nora have it made? They worked their way up, through category romance, through building readership. I have a best-selling NY author as a friend. She works her socks off, even now. Maybe especially now. She started well, but she goes to conferences, book signings, she never, ever lets any aspect of her business slip, from writing to cover design, to conferences.
Balance the risks against the gains.
You never, ever get something for nothing. Hard work, luck and chance all have their parts to play, but you'd better be prepared for the hard work.

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