Books, Books, Writing, and Open Topics

Happy Thursday, regular readers. It’s time again for another edition of “Here’s a Bunch of Crap to Throw Against the Wall”. Consider these posts the Muse version of flypaper, hanging from a doorway to collect the buzzing ideas and events of the past week. Eliminates pests, cleans the house, and makes a nasty mess.  With no further preamble…

  • Work continues. Simple enough, right? Hoping to send the print version of Pathways to Createspace by the end of next week, which would put it in your hands by the end of the following week, weather and UPS permitting. As always, dates are flexible and may be  ambitious, as I’m knee-deep in an important work project at the moment. Broken Wing is coming along nicely. Fascinating to watch as a story that I nurtured from a rough outline transforming into a sleek machine with new pieces added  as its engine dictates. Revision typically follows this course, but Wing has taken on a life of its own in that regards and shown encouraging growth from its embryonic form.
  • In connection to that, and as a follow-up to last week’s request for more advanced writing books, I’m currently reading through Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. It’s a little winky in spots, with the usual overblown cruft about loving the sentence and the power of the written word and so on and so forth, but I’ve only reached Chapter Two and already found its advice useful in revising Wing. Worth the purchase, worth the time to read.
  • After taking some time off from reading (chalk it up to a series of sub-par books that sapped my passion), I’m digging into books again. Started with a few indie clunkers – good to see some things, like lack of an editor, don’t change – before settling into Detroit: an American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff. Admittedly, this one is non-fiction, but it provides a gripping narrative with strong, overarching themes. You may know LeDuff as the journalist who covered the epic of the poor homeless man found frozen in an abandoned elevator in Detroit and the difficulty of getting anyone to care. It’s a good shorthand for the problems he discovers when he moves back to his hometown and he uses it as a fulcrum around which the rest of the story revolves.
  • Next up is Silver Linings Playbook. Enjoyed the movie and am curious about the book. The subject matter relates to my current project, especially the recovery angle of things. May not mention it here again since everyone and their cat has read it by this point.
  • Started working out again the other day. Not a New Years resolution thing here, just a realization that I felt like crap and needed to do something about it. Now I feel like crap and am sore but at least I’m working toward something better.
  • The GIF on the rightShroomBear
  • You might have noticed that winter is here again. It made a subtle appearance in the last week in the eastern part of the country, maybe froze your fingertips off? Anyway, I bring it up because I’m quite stunned at my continuing writing output. The season has always been problematic for me, sapping energy and creativity and leaving a fog through which I trudge, hoping to find the more hospitable shores of March. This year, however, I struck back, arming myself with the mortars of sun lamps and mind-expanding powers of nootropics. I won’t lie and say that I’ve written as many words as I did in, say, September, but I’ve held my own and word counts look closer to normal than ever before. I may share my regimen in the near future for those who likewise struggle.
  • Finally, and this also relates to a recent post, Kristen Lamb recently wrote a great post about bullying, one that struck home after my experience last Summer. I won’t summarize the thing as you really should read it (seriously, do it), but she makes the point that we cannot allow these people to dictate what we do with our lives. When we hide, when we alter the way we live our lives, they win. This means that they certainly won a short-term victory over me, and while I’m tempted to feel a species of shame or guilt about it, I have to remember that I’m back out there, pushing into new spaces once again. Temporary setback, not permanent loss. I could write an entire post about bullying here, but will save it for the future.

Have anything interesting or exciting happen this week? Maybe finish a cool book? I’d be interested in hearing about it in the comments.  

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The Separation of Ego and Output

Happy Monday, all, if there is such a thing. Just a note that this post is a continuation of some of the thought processes that I’ve been playing out on this site over the past week-and-a-half. A way to mentally clear the gutters, so to speak, and wrap my brain around what I want to change in my career.

Last time I talked about writing versus “the writer” as a shorthand for a cluster of stereotypes. Also something about people clinging to the title as a means of defining themselves as part of a bigger purpose, something or other.

Deeper examination of these writer/person-who-writes issues revealed that they (mostly) stem from difficulties separating in one’s ego from one’s output. In some ways, in the early going, the “writer” or “author” persona created a suit of armor that could be deployed in connection to my work, and not the real me. I didn’t realize I did this because I had previously not thought this to be an issue for me. I come from the wilds of writing in Corporate America, where ego attachment to your work is a good way to find yourself jobless, and for good reason, tech writers need to be responsive and change quickly. It’s not in the job description, but it should be, and those who can’t hack that end up struggling for quite some time before deciding maybe the job isn’t for them. I’ve seen it time and again.

I believed it had toughened me up, and it had to some extent. I handle peer criticism well and am always looking to learn something new.  I won’t lie and say that a bad review here or there didn’t spin me into the pits of despair but that often reflected something that made me unhappy about my own work and insecurities about lessons that still needed to be learned. In the end, it made me a better – and harder – writer. All part of the growing process, or so I thought.

Unfortunately, we’re all familiar with the state of the Internet as a mirror of human nature. Sincere criticism of books can bleed over into attacks on an author’s person, the author retaliates, and the whole thing devolves into a microcosm of the high school environment. I’m referring, of course, to the author/reviewer wars that have been ongoing seemingly since time immemorial. They date back almost to the beginning of the relationship between the two, but it’s hard to deny that today’s flavor of the war has a nastier,  more personal nature  and an ability to hit someone where they live that would be unthinkable in the old confrontations between author and critic.

Even with these lowered barriers between author and critic, my own ego issue did not come down to Goodreads or a bad review . Mine came down to a handful of Internet trolls making personal attacks and acting like the grade-school bullies that they are. I didn’t rise to any of it, in fact, I’m quite sure they have no idea that I even saw their posts. Not that it matters. My ego might have been  toughened for attacks on my work, but I failed to prepare myself for that level of nastiness on a personal level.

This incident, combined with some of the other events that I witnessed and have referenced in previous posts, drove me out of the public eye as I struggled to come to terms with exactly what it means to put yourself out there. I mean, let’s face it, we live in a culture where anyone in the public eye is considered free game as a punching bag for someone else’s insecurities. Right or wrong, that’s how it is, and as much as I might wish that the world would act otherwise, it’s not going to change. At least, not during my lifetime.

All the lessons from Author 101 tell you how to handle the issue: be a professional, ignore it, carry on with what you’re doing. I did this, at least when it comes to writing novels. Put my head down and carried on. I know that well. On an emotional level, however, totally uncharted waters that needed to be processed behind the scenes. It has led to a different approach to public interaction, one that is hopefully wiser and more restrained.

I bring all this up because I feel that the indie publishing world on both sides, reviewer and author, are in a similar place in coming to terms with this dilemma: how to separate the ego from the content? How to co-exist when the old walls between the author and the reader have been demolished? I wish I knew. It would make this public outreach a lot easier. I can’t continue to ignore it, however, and have to get back on the horse if I intend to ride this thing out. We’ll see where it goes from here.

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The Curious Case of A Mirror Untrue

Did you know that I once spent over six years on a novel? True story. The first draft of the first chapter was completed on July 31st, 1998. I was 22 years old and living in Blacksburg, Virginia. I can still remember the day that I birthed the concept – a hot sunny July afternoon, when this character just started pouring out of me Kerouac style (of course, some drugs might have been involved in this process). This story would be the one to put me on the map, a contemporary fiction work that combined showed a man’s slow descent from idealistic naivete to cold-blooded murder, with plenty of questions about the nature of art along the way. Hell, that’s the nature of the title, that what we see in the mirror rarely reflects what we feel on the inside, and it’s even more true in William’s case as he’s convinced himself that he’s still an idealistic outsider artist when in truth he degenerates into something of a scumbag who needs to redeem himself.

Part of the book is set in 1972 and is a rumination on idealism and the loss of innocence. A pack of 1972 baseball cards represents an idealized childhood that the protagonist never had in the first place.

Part of the book is set in 1972 and is a rumination on idealism and the loss of innocence. A pack of 1972 baseball cards represents an idealized childhood that the protagonist never had in the first place.

I abandoned the book at the end of 2003, which makes a whole lot of sense, as 2004 kind of marked the beginning of what I see as my “fallow period”. Words would come off-and-on for the next seven years, but the unbearable pain and confusion in my personal life overrode artistic concerns. I suspect there was also a great deal for mourning for Mirror Untrue, this fabled story that would never be told.

I made a few attempts over the year to punch it back into shape – my writing files show a trail of tears from revision to revision. The last major version to be completed was the second draft, though there are six more semi-complete versions of it floating around out there. The most recent attempt to revive it appears to have dated to July of 2011, and even then my notes make it look more like a half-hearted effort rather than any real reboot. I had Corridors and I had Room 3 and I really didn’t need a third book that didn’t fit into that sort of genre.

Well, that’s changed. I’ve recently made the discovery that critiquing and revising a few pages before writing a few pages and then repeating the cycle is an incredibly effective way to get the creative juices flowing. I started by critiquing the work of an Internet stranger, then rolled into my critique group, and then found myself with nothing to critique. Why not open up some old files and see what was hiding in there, maybe put some ideas in and see where they go?

I started yesterday by digging up the last version of Mirror Untrue and reading through the first chapter. I didn’t expect much.

It shocked me. The writing itself is a bit raw and needs work, and I obviously hadn’t learned a whole bag of tricks that I now carry around, but by God the concept itself – and the characters – are good, if I do say so myself. My final concept had been to layer the 1972 story in between the “modern” story, which I’m now going to leave in early 2001, as it was such a different world. But by God I think I’m going to breathe life into this old project and get it out the door. I’m not sure when or how, as this is a side-side project, but it might make it out there before the 20th anniversary of its inception. We’ll see.

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A Busy Summer on the Horizon

Hey all. Quick little set of announcements for the five people who might care:

  • May is going to be a busy month. We’ll have:
    • A giveaway co-sponsored by Grammarly – look for details about that in the coming weeks.
    • An appearance at the Gaithersburg Book Festival in Gaithersburg, MD.
    • A blog tour for Room 3 with plenty of prizes.
  • I’m going to be releasing at least two short stories this Summer. The first will be an expanded version of my story from Somewhere in the Shadows, On the Air. I’ll be firing up on this one soon.
  • The Among the Dead trilogy is now the Among the Dead Quartet. That’s right, I’m splitting City of the Dead into two books: Pathways of the Dead (which will release this year) and City of the Dead, which should release sometime next year. The current process for writing these, along with having a decent chunk of this new City of the Dead, should mean for a more rapid release schedule on the series. I’ll keep you posted.

I think that covers everything for the moment. Nothing too momentous, but at least the fiction is coming along well.

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Fiction Wednesday: Announcements and New Cover Artist

I’ve decided to take a break from the usual Fiction Wednesday grind this week since the ongoing books are still…well, ongoing books (told you they were long) and I’ve hit an unexpected surge of creative energy. These surges usually don’t take hold until later in the Spring, around the end of April/beginning of May, so this one needs to go as long as it will possibly go.

This particular surge has pushed me well past the midway point on the current pass through City of the Dead and given me impetus to start another novel midstream. The City thing is weird, as it’s sort of a second draft, but I never finished the first draft completely due to a major change in the plot. I’ve never quite drafted a novel in this fashion, but it’s making the idea of discrete drafts something of a thing of the past. It’s nice because it allows me to react more quickly to ideas and issues that arise, rather than working in a straight line. The connections between story concepts become much more apparent, and themes arise more quickly. Look for a write-up on this process in the near-future.

Bottom line, however, is that the book is coming along well, and readers should enjoy it. It’s still a long way out, unfortunately, and will probably hit the same November timeframe that I seem to hit every single year. I hope to get some other work out there in the meantime.

Big news, however, is that I’ve engaged a very talented cover artist to do a refresh of the Among the Dead line – that means a new cover for Corridors of the Dead along with the upcoming City cover. I’ll miss having Ryan Bibby along for the ride, as he’s a great, super-talented guy, but his plate seems to be full at the moment. I absolutely want Ryan back for some other covers in the near future, but for now, Bulgarian artist Silviya “Morteque” Yordanova will be handling the art refresh.

I’ve admired Silviya’s work for more than a year now and I’m super-stoked to work with her. She seems to have a similar creative philosophy, and I think that her art perfectly compliments what I’m trying to do with my fiction. You can find her work at Deviant Art to get a taste of what’s to come. Drop in there and say hi, maybe give her a like on Facebook. I think she has a bright future in the business.

Wednesday Fiction returns next week with a review of Black Sun Rising and possibly The Knife of Never Letting Go. See you on Friday.

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Writers and the Just World Fallacy

BrokenClock

Monday morning after the onset of Daylight Savings Time is just the worst, isn’t it? Don’t get me started on the advent of DST, either. The whole thing seems like an abomination to me, and for whatever reason people have become more and more zealous about embracing it. Now I hear that the UK is thinking of going to DST full-time. I don’t even…I don’t think you can call it DST at that point, can you? Anyway, my point is that I resent losing an hour of sleep and my writing will probably suffer for the next week, so thanks for that!

Now I’d like to address an issue that’s been bouncing around in my head for the last few weeks and came to a head on Friday: the Just World fallacy.

You see this one a lot in political circles, the idea that people who are suffering somehow deserve it because they a. didn’t plan the way they should have, b. obviously did something wrong and this is karmic payback, c. are part of an inferior group of people, d. some other reason that makes the person an “other”. The fallacy, obviously, is that the world is always fair and if something happens it’s the result of a cosmic tally sheeting being balanced out by some divine accountant.

Rub

It’s an alluring idea; it’s comforting to believe that everything happens for a reason, that there is no such thing as dumb lousy luck or random chance. Just as it’s easy to believe that a run of good luck is evidence that we’ve been favored by some unseen force, we can also believe that we somehow deserve the bad that’s randomly befallen us. You can see how such an idea pretty quickly becomes destructive.

Author note: This is not to suggest that things never happen for a reason. I’m more a firm believer in a higher order of chaos, that what appears to be random chance does balance out at some level, but one that happens far above our own level – that accident that sets you back thousands of dollars isn’t retribution for something that you did wrong, but rather a result of a chain of events that are a larger pattern that we can’t perceive. I suspect that Buddhists have a rather keen grasp of this concept.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, there seems to be a somewhat pervasive mythology that some magic combination of factors can guarantee success for just about any author (when it seems that just about every author needs his or her own individual approach). One of the common tropes is to “just write, and it will all work out”. I certainly agree with the first part – doing the work is the most crucial thing. Write, write, and write some more until your fingers are about to fall off and you best position yourself for any opportunity that may come your way. That’s fundamental to being a good author.

The second part is more troublesome, the idea that “it will all work out”. Perhaps on that macro scale, yes, but the truth is that lots of extremely talented, brilliant writers get left behind by the industry every day. Recognizing this fact is imperative for your sanity.

Wrong

The implication here is not that successful authors don’t deserve it – that seems to be a common counter-argument to this observation. It certainly can sound like I’m implying that this is all blind luck, and any idiot who stumbles through the door can win a roll of the dice. It’s not, and that’s just as destructive a belief. Success is almost always dedication meeting opportunity; you have to be prepared, and busting your ass is the only way to be prepared. That concept underlies all of my writing, and it’s why I have things like weekly word goals and milestone requirements on novels. It’s why I write this blog. It’s why I schedule appearances, and all of that. You must be prepared for those opportunities.

The opportunities, though; that’s where chaotic chance hits. They are typically a function of circumstance and luck, a function of those cosmic patterns shifting in one’s favor. You need only scour thrift store bookshelves to see this principle at work. I like to sniff out obscure older sci-fi and horror to sell on Amazon, and the contents of those books are quite sobering. Some is trite crap, yes, but some is quite brilliant and it’s difficult to understand what separated it from the Asimovs or Kings of their day. The answer, of course, is that random stroke of opportunity. If Doubleday passed on Carrie, would most people even know who Stephen King is today? Difficult to say, but one has to wonder.

okayguy

This always draws me back to one particular story that grabbed hold of my imagination, way back in 1998. The Roanoke Times published an article about an elderly mid-list writer who had been waiting for his big break since his mid-30s; he was in his 70s at the time and still the cosmic wheel hadn’t come around to him. I wish I could remember his name, but alas I can’t, a face that continues to haunt me. You couldn’t help but admire his persistence. He still wrote because he felt the compulsion, like most of us, but he also hoped that this particular book would be the one to put him over the top. His work had received positive reviews, but as far as I know, that break never came, and surely he’s passed on by now.

It’s a sobering reminder of the reality of what “success” means in this business. There are no guarantees. A writer can crank out consistently sharp work for forty years and still only end up a bit ahead of where he started; it’s vital to keep this in mind every minute of every day. This isn’t meant as a discouragement, but a message to temper expectations and be gentle with yourself – you could be doing everything right and just not hit, for whatever reason. The most important thing is to do this for the love of writing, not for dreams of fortune and fame or, heck, a steady paycheck. It’s far too fragile a thing to be certain.

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So That Actually Happened…

I’d say good Monday morning, but is there really such a thing? I suppose if one won the lottery on a Sunday night, or maybe if, say, their football team won the Super Bowl last night (so close, but the Ravens are decidedly not the Redskins and never will be), then they might be inclined to call it a good Monday morning, but in general…

Where was I? Oh, yes. Something actually happened this weekend. Well, several somethings, really, but the most important had nothing to do with rediscovering my love for tea or picking up a few interesting items at thrift stores.

You see, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, I gave my first public reading on Saturday morning.

And I loved it.

Back things up just a little bit; I joined the Montgomery Writers Association back in September and have been attending meetings on-and-off ever since. I’ve participated in those events to which I was privy, such as the festival of lights sale in December, and have tried to make myself an active member of the community. I saw lots of folks giving readings of their own work and didn’t know exactly how the process worked – did the organizers hand pick people, or what?

Eventually I just decided to do the thing that has opened so many doors to this point: I simply asked, and learned that they accepted volunteers. Hey, I could use the experience and I enjoy public speaking (I’m a sicko, sue me), so why not? I offered my services and they accepted, tentatively slating me for April, something that I discussed not too long ago on this very site.

Well, a few weeks ago some lack of volunteers led to some schedule shuffling and, long story short, the chapter organizers asked me to speak in February rather than April. It would mean something of a mental shift, but it’s very rare for me to turn down such an opportunity, especially if it’s asked of me by another, so I grabbed hold of it and decided I wouldn’t let go.

Practice, practice, practice, and I was ready for Saturday. Flash forward to then.

A good friend of mine, Cathy Wiley, was the “official” speaker, and she got something like an hour to speak on how she had sold 35,000 books. I hadn’t counted on actually being part of her presentation (she flashed Room 3 up as an example of a good cover), but I joined in and helped her explain some of the scarier aspects of online marketing to the group. She gave an engaging presentation and I think we worked well as a team together. It may be a presentation that we give together in the future, hard to say for certain, but I think it could work.

We took a break, and I got myself set up and geared up to read. I mixed, I mingled, and whatnot. Got to talk to some interesting folks and hear some interesting ideas for stories. I’m going to keep my eye out for a few of them – I think they have great potential.

After the break I received a great introduction from the Chapter President, Alix Moore, and dove right in.

I read, of course, from Room 3, and presented the first scene where we see the effects of Room 3 and the hallucinogenic drugs. My nerves were on edge as I began, and my practiced presentation of the characters’ voices became a bit inconsistent, so I adjusted some of the attribution on the fly. By the time I hit the halfway point, however, things started to pick up, and I could tell that I had gotten the group’s attention.  I find that confidence builds on confidence, so the longer I went without a major flub, the better I felt, and so the better the reading became. By the end I had built up a pretty good head of steam and felt ready to read as long as I possibly could.

Of course, in the end, I had to stop, as another writer, Thomas Foote, followed me. I felt good, though. The whole thing felt right, in a way that other public speaking hasn’t so far. I suspect it has to do with reading my own fiction and working on the fly rather than sticking to a script. Not sure, but it felt a lot better to stick in the moment rather than worrying about missing some planned beat here or there. That’s where you get the real give-and-take with your audience, in the unplanned.

Afterwards, I sold a copy or two, handed out some more, and really got to talk about my book with a few people. To me, that was worth whatever money I might have otherwise made. I’m not going to lie and say I wouldn’t like to get paid for my efforts, but right now this is truly a labor of love, and I will take any opportunity that I can get to share this work, even for free. Provided, of course, that I’m not being exploited. So far, so good.

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The Gratitude List

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our day-to-day lives (especially the stress of our routines) that it becomes nigh-impossible to slow down and appreciate the moments that not only shape our lives but show us the beauty of the world around us. I’m ever-so-slowly coming to realize how important it is to – even in the face of stress and pressure – take the opportunity to stop and check the amazing gifts that I have in my life. So, simple as this post might be, it’s the right topic at the right time for me. Below is a list of ten people/places/things that I’m grateful for right at this moment, at least as they pertain to my writing career. Please understand that even if you didn’t make this list, it has nothing to do with you – if I listed every one of my friends and their influence on me this list would grow exponentially. You all mean a lot to me. I’ve also left out critique groups because I’ve written about them recently and my gratitude toward them should be abundantly clear.

Oh, and first I want to give credit where credit is due: this list began with an overheard conversation at a Supermarket in Herndon, Virginia, so hey anonymous stranger sharing a list of gratitude with his girlfriend and/or wife.

internet-bear

The Internet. This is a broad topic and some of my other topics might be included here, but humor me. The Internet has changed how writers do their jobs, from the very beginning of the idea through research and on to publication. I might capture the spark of an idea in my email account or on Evernote and later pull that information out to paste into a document on Dropbox. I then take that idea to Wikipedia or Google and research any topics that don’t immediately come to mind. I use Google Maps to plot the course that my characters’ travels take and can zoom down to the street level so I more authentically understand that part of the world. As I write, I maintain the document on Dropbox so that it’s available at just about any location that has Internet access (and I can plan for when that’s not available as well). Once I’m finished, I use online-based tools to clean up the document and prep it for release. When that’s done I upload the files to my service of choice, and customers can then purchase it through that service. The changes that the Internet have brought to the average writer’s life cannot be overstated – and I am incredibly grateful for these changes. Continue reading

State of the City: January 2013

Lazy

Hi Readers. It’s Friday yet again – the second Friday of 2013, of course, and I think it might be time for a status update. You know, I occupy a funny place as an indie writer. I consider this a job, and I take it very seriously, but there are times when I become tempted to think “well, I report to only myself (and possibly my wife), so who cares if I don’t do this or that?”

That’s the kind of threatening inertia that can take down a career before it even begins; I know, I’ve seen it happen with a few folks already. I want to avoid this kind of thinking, but it’s such a strange space to occupy that motivation beyond motivation “for its own sake” becomes a nebulous concept. At least, until I think about readers. That’s why I address so many of my updates to you readers directly. You’re the ones that (theoretically) pay my bills, and the ones who might possibly enjoy anything that I bring to market. In some respects, that makes you the ones to whom I report. And you know what? I’m pretty okay with that concept. Customers are king in my other business, and so customers must be king here. Thinking this way also helps when it comes to things that enrich my career, such as writers conferences or convention appearances.

Anyway, enough with the navel-gazing. It’s something that has been on my mind lately, and I just wanted to say something about it.

Now then, the good stuff: what’s going on? The answer is, a lot. Shadow Boxes, the short story collection, is still on the table. I had previously hoped for a February release, but a combination of factors (including aforementioned convention appearances) makes that highly unlikely. May might be a little more realistic, but we’ll see on that front. As I’ll explain in a bit, I’m currently very invested in City of the Dead and want to make that the highest priority. Still, Shadow Boxes is on my radar and will see the light of day in 2013, barring any major issues.

That brings me to the Among the Dead trilogy and, specifically, City of the Dead. I’m pleased to report that the first draft is at 64,000 words and counting. Forward progress is currently halted just short of the opening of Book 3 (which means I’m roughly 2/3rds of the way through) in order to return to the scene of the crime, as it were. I’ve gone back to page 1 and am revising from there forward. Continue reading

Thinking Around the Corner: Five Reasons You Need a Critique Group

Yesterday I hosted the first meeting of my critique group at my house and had a blast. My wife and I enjoy entertaining, and had fun setting things up so that the folks in the group could have a good experience. I mean, how can you go wrong with a spread like this?

2013-01-06 12.24.21

 

I’ve been doing this critique group thing for a few months now and finally feel a bit qualified to speak about it, especially since I’m seeing very material improvements to City of the Dead thanks to these folks who are so generous with their time and brainpower. I see now just how important a critique group can be for a writer and that writer’s career. That in mind, I thought I’d talk about the reasons that YOU (well, you the writer, maybe not the reader) might want to consider a critique group in addition to your beta readers.

Book

5. Beta readers are fantastic, but they’re not always writers. This is more important than it might seem. I do have some beta readers who are writers, but it is far from the most important requirement; that would be having people from different walks of life/who read different genres. Getting the perspective of someone who reads mainstream literary fiction is more important during the beta reading phase than talking to someone who better understands the structural significance of some choices. This is where the critique group comes in. A critique group can not only tell you that a scene is not working but why that scene is not working, and suggest improvements. Continue reading