Friday, April 21, 2017

Go Teen Writers LIVE: Episode Two

Hey all! Shannon here. Everyone had their doughnuts today? Friday is doughnut day around these parts.

Once you've got your doughnut in hand, settle back and click that PLAY button, because it is my absolute pleasure to bring you the second episode of Go Teen Writers LIVE!

If you were selected to ask a question for one of our episodes and you don't see your question featured this time, rest assured it's coming! We have several episodes going live over the next two weeks.

And remember, if you'd like to ask Stephanie, Jill and me a question, simply participate in the writing exercises as they become available, and use the Rafflecopter below each exercise to enter the drawing. We've been so impressed with your writing, friends. Thank you for choosing to write with us.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Power of Routine

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

You know the drill.

No questions required.

You have done or seen this many times.

You know what comes next.

You know what to do.

That kind of knowledge creates the ease that comes from having a routine. It makes hard things second nature.

The word "routine" is a French derivative of the word route. A routine helps you know the way to get somewhere or achieve something.


routine [roo-teen]

- a customary or regular course of procedure.
- commonplace tasks, chores, or duties as must be done regularly or at specified intervals; typical or everyday activity.
- regular, unvarying, habitual, unimaginative, or rote procedure.
- an unvarying and constantly repeated formula, as of speech or action, repetitious.

- of the nature of, proceeding by, or adhering to routine: routine duties.

Did you know that your mood, resilience, and performance are greatly determined by your daily actions? How you spend your time can affect your entire day. The choices you make when you sit down to write are a big deal.

If you start by procrastinating, by the time you finally do get to work, you're often working with an underlining tension. You know you're behind, so you feel anxious when you should be in the zone! And this anxiousness often makes it more difficult to get into the zone. So you've not only sabotaged yourself, but now you're struggling to get the job done as well.

It can be really difficult to reach your daily word count goals when you first have to overcome obstacles, distractions, and all kinds of random "surprises" that interrupt you from your work. Wouldn't it be best to at least try to set yourself up to succeed?

I'd like to suggest coming up with a work routine. Once you have a routine, if you repeat these actions each time you sit down to write, they should help you get into the zone and be more productive. The routine will train your brain to focus more quickly. It should keep you from getting sidetracked and help to make your work become second nature. A habit.

You might be thrown off by some of the words in the definition above. Words like: unimaginative, repetitious, or rote procedure. I in no way mean to imply that your writing craft should be these things. Not at all. I am suggesting that you create a routine to set yourself up to do your best work.

Charles Duhigg says in his book The Power of Habit, that once you're in a routine, "the brain can almost completely shut down [and you'll] have all of this mental activity you can devote to something else."

That would be creating a wonderful work of fiction.

The goal is to move on autopilot. Remove all distractions, get to your writing space, sit down, and start creating. This will likely involve some trial and error. Some things will work for you, others won't.

Here is what my current routine looks like. I'm still perfecting it. But I think this will be very helpful.

1. (Ahem.) Visit bathroom so I have no reason to get up from the chair once I sit down.
2. Gather my necessaries. (Full water bottle, map from story, any notes I need for the scene, etc.)
3. Put cell phone of vibrate and leave it in the living room where I cannot hear it. (I will get up to walk the house at least once an hour to stretch my legs and arms, so I can peek at the phone then for emergencies.)
4. Remove all snacks and candy from my desk. (Snacking keeps my fingers busy not writing, so I instead choose to bribe myself with food. When I complete my first writing goal, I may have X. Second writing goal? I may have lunch, etc. I sometimes even set the snack on the other side of the room where I can see it. Ex: A Cadbury Creme Egg, glimmering on the distant dining room table, can be a great motivator.)
5. Close the internet--or at least close out of Facebook and email. Turn off that Facebook notification that pops up on my computer even when I'm not on Facebook to tell me someone did something. (Talk about a distraction . . . )
6. Read through my plan for the scene I'm about to write/edit.
7. Walk laps around the inside of my house until I come up with the first sentence I want to write.
8. Sit down and write that first sentence, then keep on going for a thirty-minute word war with myself. The "time race" will help me keep on task (and hopefully also keep me from biting my fingernails, another thing that keeps my fingers busy not writing.)
9. When I finish the word war, I may get up (if I want to) and walk a lap around the house to stretch. But if I'm into the scene, I can go another thirty minutes.
10. Every hour I must get up and walk a lap around the house (and stretch my arms) to keep me healthy. If I'm in the middle of a scene, I'll work on the next line in my head so that when I sit back down, I'm ready to type.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, share in the comments. If not, do you see how one might be helpful?

Monday, April 17, 2017

What is it like to be an author?

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.

If you read our publication stories last week, maybe, like me, you noticed a common theme that being a published writer was not Jill, Shannon, or I thought it would be like.

I imagine this is normal for most, if not all professions. Maybe you've even found it's true for events like going to college, having your driver's license, or getting your first phone. You thought you would feel a certain way, or have some kind of specific freedom, but the experience is different.

In my post last week, I made the statement, "I had spent all these years learning how to get published, but I didn't know a thing about how to be an author." Melanie left a comment asking, "Any advice on how to be an author?"

I had already planned to talk today about life as an author but I had really struggled with the post, honestly. I wrote a thousand words that bounced all over the place. Until Melanie asked her question, I just couldn't figure out how to approach what being an author is like. So, thank you, Melanie!

***Quick note about my use of the terms "writer" and "author" throughout this article. I chose to use writer when talking about being pre-published and author when referring to someone who is paid for their writing.***

The Writing

The obvious piece of being an author is the writing. This is the reason we wanted to be an author in the first place, our love of writing and stories. As we did all our striving to write a book that was good enough for others to want to read, we kept thinking, "Wouldn't it be amazing if I could get paid to write stories?"

It is amazing. I feel grateful nearly everyday that writing stories is my job.

But what does the reality of it actually look like? I've said it before that when I originally imagined my life as an author, it meant living in NYC, writing when I felt like it, sending my finished manuscript to my editor, and then starting on the next one.

It's certainly not that, so what does the writing piece of being an author look like?

Selling your ideas: One thing that surprised me about being an author is the need to sell my stories. My first taste of this came in the form of describing the story I had already written to agents in a way that I hoped would convince them to represent me. Then later, it was trying to describe my story in a way that would excite editors enough to ask to read more of my book.

I thought after I received my first contract, my days of trying to sell my story were over, when actually they were just beginning. I needed to learn how to sell my novel to potential readers, whether it was on my website, on social media, or in person at signings or my day-to-day life.

Maybe you've heard the hardest book you sell is the first one, but I don't think that's true. With every book you want to write, you have to convince your agent and your publisher that this book is worth their investment.

Juggling projects: Another piece of the writing life as an author that surprised me was the need to juggle projects. Before I received my contract, I had trained myself to stop chasing shiny new ideas and focus on one manuscript until it was completely finished. This discipline served me well for learning how to finish a book.

My first contract was for a three book series, and since I hadn't planned on the book being a series, I had two books that needed to be written from scratch. As I was writing book two, my editor got back to me with content edits for book one, and they were due in a few weeks. So I set aside my draft of book two and made the changes she requested to book one.

Then I got back to working on book two, only to have my agent ask me to put together a few more contemporary YA ideas that she could pitch for after this series released. Again, I paused work on book two to brainstorm new ideas. Then while I was editing book two, the copy editor sent me line edits for book one, and again I had to stop to pay attention to those.

Sometimes (often, it seems) when you have a deadline you have AN AMAZING STORY IDEA and you want to go run after it so badly. But you can't because you're lucky enough to be an author, and you have deadlines.

You're not just writing stories: In addition to writing stories you love, you now have lots of other things you need to write. Including, but not limited to:
  • Your author bio: Before I became published, I always thought authors had assistants who did this for them. Nope.
  • Back cover copy and a hook sentence: Back cover copy is self-explanatory, but a hook sentence is your book boiled down to a sentence or two. Like for The Lost Girl of Astor Street, mine is, "When her best friend is abducted during the spring of 1924, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail will hunt for answers amidst the corruption that strangles Chicago, but she will have to decide just how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the truth when her amateur sleuthing skills lead her back to her own front door." If you're traditionally published, these things often get tweaked or rewritten along the way, but you're still responsible for providing it. If you're self-published, obviously this is up to you unless you outsource it.
  • Story synopsis: When you're pitching a book, whether to agents or editors, this is often the first thing you're asked for. Even if you've written multiple books for them. My editor likes me to turn in 2-3 page synopses. Not everyone in the publishing house is able to read every book, so sometimes this is all they have to familiarize themselves with your story as they put together marketing campaigns and sales copy.
  • Social media posts: Content for Twitter, Facebook, or wherever you like to hang out online.
  • Blog posts, articles, and interviews
  • Website copy for your author site
  • Classes: I teach at several workshops throughout the year, and those all involve writing out my talks.
  • Emails: With my agent in Portland, my editor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and my closest writing friends living everywhere from Calfornia to West Virginia, I write a lot of emails. Writing good emails is also important for asking for favors, like endorsements or help from other authors.
With that lengthy list of not-stories to write, you might be asking, "If I do all that, how will I have time for writing stories?"

It's not about finding a balance, it's about identifying seasons

I spent the first few years of my career chasing balance.

I wanted to balance writing with marketing, and my career with parenting, and I frequently felt like I was failing at all aspects of my life.

As I prepared for my debut novel, Me, Just Different, to come out back in July 2009, I was completely unprepared for how much of my time launching a book would take up. I was a real grouch about not being able to find time to write. 

Somewhere along my journey, I started to understand that balance wasn't going to happen. That not everything could be a priority all the time.  I learned to identify seasons when different aspects of being an author became my highest priority. 

When The Lost Girl of Astor Street released in February, for about three months my focus during my work time was marketing. I said yes to every interview, every opportunity to promote the title, and I set a date for when I got to start writing again. Whenever I felt grouchy because I missed writing, I could look at my calendar and say, "This is when my promotions schedule clears up enough that I can start writing again." At first, I would only allow myself to write for 25% of my work time, and then I made myself shut things down so that I could take care of all the marketing work. But eventually I was able to go back to the split that I like, which is about 50% writing and 50% "other stuff" like social media.

A few other surprises I experienced when I became an author:

Money is inconsistent: For most authors, it takes several successful books before checks start showing up on any kind of regular schedule. Even then, a lot of publishers only pay out royalties 2-4 times a year. Indie writers get paid much quicker, of course, but they're also fronting the money for cover design, editing, formatting, and so forth.

Being published doesn't cure insecurities: Every writer I know has similar insecurities to what they had before being published. Sometimes, if you've had a book do really well, insecurities only grow. (What if they don't love the next book like they loved this one???)

Being a writer is like being a small business owner: Not many writers or artists go into their craft for the love of the business. I'm an author because I love writing. But because I make an income from it, the government views me as a business whether I do or not. I pay taxes, have inventory, hire professional services (web design or hosting, etc.), and other businessy things. Some writers are an official business, with a staff and everything.

Few writers stay with one publisher or agent forever: I had very idealistic notions about finding the perfect agent, who would then find me the perfect editor, and then we would all live happily ever after when I hit the bestseller lists.

The truth is, I hardly know any writers who are still with their first agents. And even if you're lucky enough that your editor stays at the same house for several years, there are lots of reasons that authors and publishers part ways. 

Nobody cares about my career like I do: When I was an unagented, unpublished writer, I imagined that having one or both would feel like I was on a team. There's some truth to this. I adore my agent and my editor. Both of them care about me and my career ... but neither of them care about my books as much as I do.

If my book fails, my agent and editor both have other authors they're working with. They can just cut me from their line. I, however, am stuck with me.

Nobody makes sure I'm writing as much as I should be. Nobody reminds me to blog, network, or forces me to use Facebook Live. Nobody makes sure I'm take care of myself so that I don't burn out. While my agent certainly cares about my career, and while my publisher wants me to succeed, ultimately nobody cares like I do, because nobody is stuck with me like I am.

Even though being an author is different than what I imagined it would be, I absolutely love it and can't imagine walking away. Does anything on this list surprise you? Are there questions I left unanswered?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Shannon's Journey to Publication

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

It's been eye-opening for me to read Jill's and Steph's journeys to publication. Whenever I hear someone's story, I'm floored by all the different roads we took to end up on the same shelves.

Growing up, I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a missionary. I wanted to be an astronaut. I don't know that I ever said, "I want to be a writer" but I do know that I've always been a storyteller.

I won writing awards as a kid, but I was very social and writing is such a solitary endeavor. Throughout much of my high school career, I didn't do much more than journal. I wrote things here and there, but aside from a few poems, I didn't pursue publication.

College was much the same. I stayed busy, moved around, did some theatre. It wasn't until I was married and my priorities had shifted that I considered writing as a career.

Telling Stories at Home

My journey to publication began on a dark and stormy night (well, maybe). It was November of 2008, and my baby girl was just shy of three months old. She was a beautiful little thing, but she wasn’t nearly as good a sleeper as her big brother. I had stumbled into a work-from-home job that was a fantastic stroke of luck, but it was all numbers and accounting and though it helped pay the bills, it was not doing a thing for that creative heart inside my chest.

I really wanted to go back to theatre, but I was apprehensive about the time commitment--away from my husband, away from my kids. We were leading the youth group at our church and the thought of missing out on all of that was enough to make me sob. Remember, I'd just had a kid. I was a ball of goo.

So, as I wandered the house with my tiny insomniac, singing and rocking, I actually said the words, "God, why can't I tell stories from home?"

And then I realized: I can tell stories from home.

I’d started writing a few novels over the years--they're unfinished and around here somewhere, I'm sure--but there was something different about this moment. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up an immeasurably valuable nugget: I was learning to be patient with myself.

Maybe it was the gauntlet of parenting, or the sheer lack of sleep, but whatever it was, I knew I had the ability to be patient through the brainstorming process.

That night, I walked and I walked, and I sang a bit, but mostly I thought and thought and thought. Before the night was over, I had a handful of characters and a fairly good idea of just what I wanted to say and where I wanted my characters to go. I had a mental outline and that was enough.

So, I sat down to write–and yes, that’s how I do it. I’m not a big plotter and sometimes that works against me, but I’m learning. Still, by February of 2009, I had a first draft. It was awful, of course, but I was proud of it.

That Time Twitter Really Was The Answer

2009 was full of parenting and editing whenever I could. I enlisted the services of an editor--not to edit, but to read and give me his honest opinion on what he read. He was fabulous and encouraged me on my road to publication.

I found a group of writerly souls to bond with, Inspire Christian Writers, and I committed to attending Mt. Hermon Writers Conference the following year. I even queried a few agents. I got a big round of chirping crickets though, and decided to hold off until after Mt. Hermon.

I continued editing, continued reading about the craft, keeping the conference ahead of me like a crunchy carrot. The time rolled around, and I was devastated when I had to pull out. My gorgeous cherub still wasn’t sleeping and things had actually gotten worse. Leaving her just wasn’t realistic.

So, now it’s spring, 2010. I’m several drafts into my novel and no real goal in sight, except landing an agent. But, the idea of sending out query letters and getting only silence in return was gut-wrenching.

And then Twitter! Yup, I said it. Twitter happened to me.

Agents were tweeting. Oh, yes they were. They were tweeting their likes and dislikes, their rants and raves. They were giving the world–and more specifically, writers–an idea of what they were looking for.

I started to pay attention and I got more specific about who I queried. And, I branched out a bit. I started looking for agencies that didn’t specialize in Christian Fiction. The reason for this is simple: the agents I was attracted to most on Twitter weren’t with Christian agencies. Maybe those guys weren't tweeting? I don’t know, but after just two mainstream queries, I got a bite.

Agents and Submission and My Dream Publisher

In August of 2010, Jason Pinter of The Waxman Agency in NYC (gasp!) requested my full manuscript. Of course, we had just moved and our internet wasn’t even fully operational, and I really wanted to rewrite my Afterword, but it didn’t matter. I had gotten a request! So, I scrambled and got it to him the next day. The day after that, he offered representation.

Voila! I had an agent.

We made a few tweaks to my manuscript, re-titled it, and started the submission process that fall. We queried a handful of mainstream houses and one Christian house. We had some great feedback, and some interest, but it wasn’t until we submitted to Thomas Nelson that we had a hit.

I had always been partial to Nelson. One of my heroes, Ted Dekker, was on their roster, and they had a reputation for knowing how to do Christian Fiction that was outside the box. And my book definitely felt different than most of the books on the Christian fiction shelves.

And then, THEN!

I heart you Jason Pinter, but then, my agent left The Waxman Agency. So, here I am, on submission with my dream publisher and I’m left in a lurch. My agency was great and kept me on, but I was in limbo as to which agent I’d be assigned and whether or not they’d even like my manuscript. It was an agonizing few weeks but the speed bump led to one of the most important professional introductions I'd ever have.

I was paired with super-agent Holly Root, and in the spring of 2011, Thomas Nelson made an offer. FOR THREE BOOKS! That’s right. My night wandering the house, babe in arms, was the start of my dream publisher acquiring a YA trilogy from ME. A mom. A wife. A youth pastor. A really bad bookkeeper and an actor without an audience.

Angel Eyes hit shelves in May of 2012. Three and a half years after a dark and stormy November night when I decided to write a book.

Learning To Be An Author

One of the things you'll notice about my journey, is that the first book I'd ever completed was the one that got me on the shelf. It's an exciting thing, you guys--I won't lie. But I want you to know that because of that, I did a lot of my learning AFTER I was officially a published author.

See, I had very little experience with the book community. Outside of my local writers group, I hadn't attended a conference or entered many contests. I was new to the whole criticism and review side of the industry and I had zero friends who wrote YA. Not one.

And while certain things came very naturally to me--I'm a rock star at edits--I struggled with the emotional ups and downs of an industry constantly in flux and a Christian market that had no idea how to handle young adult fiction. Even now, five years after my first book hit the shelf, Christian bookstores aren't sure what to do with it. And while my experience with Thomas Nelson was fantastic, they were going through a massive acquisition process that I understood little about but has entirely changed the landscape of Christian fiction.

It was a lot for a new author to process, especially one who'd just agreed to release a book every six months. Something I survived, something that forced me to grow, but something I absolutely won't do again.

If you take away anything from my story, I hope it's this: Deciding to write a book was the easy part. Learning the craft was and continues to be a process--some of which comes naturally to me and is a task I enjoy immensely. The career side of the whole thing takes a different skill set, and when you get impatient and you get frustrated and you think you'll never see your books on the shelf, remember that timing is everything. While you wait, do what you can to prepare.

If I could go back and do it over again, I'd hit more conferences. I'd make more writing friends. I'd practice taking feedback. For reals, there's nothing like learning as you go. It was a hard way to do it, but it certainly accelerated the process and I have very few regrets. I'll learn from my mistakes and I'll grow. I hope you'll do the same.

It will be different for you than it was for me and for Jill and for Steph. We all have different journeys and I hope our stories have encouraged you and have given you a glimpse into a vitally important and constantly shifting career that is both rewarding and challenging.

Keep writing, friends.

Your stories matter. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Jill's Publication Story

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

My entire childhood, I had a dream. I wanted to be a fashion designer. Why? Well, I was obsessed with making or remodeling my clothing--anyone's clothing. My mom used to get on my case for taking things from storage and cutting them up without first asking permission.

The Fashion Designer

I loved haute couture and prêt-à-porter. Haute couture is high fashion, those one-of-a kind creations that sit in museums or are loaned to movie stars to wear to the Academy Awards because they're worth $60,000. Prêt-à-porter is ready-to-wear, fashion that the regular people can afford. My favorite to design was evening wear. I loved the idea of a hand-beaded gown, and I made all my fancy dresses for homecoming, prom, and even my own wedding. But I'll be honest. I also loved the attention I got from making my own clothes. I'd tell people, "I made this," and they'd be so impressed. Or my mom would tell people, "My daughter made that," and I'd feel so good about myself.

I chased this dream all the way to New York City to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. And after graduation, my husband and I moved to Los Angeles where he could pursue an occupation in film. Two unpleasant jobs and five years later, I wanted out! Fashion wasn't quite what I'd built it up to be. And working where I did was a bit like that book/movie, The Devil Wears Prada. I've never been a very good suck-up, and to succeed in fashion, knowing how to work people is a big help.

So I got out. I had two kids and played around with starting my own businesses for a while. I designed wedding gowns, created a handbag business, and designed jewelry. All that was a lot of work for pennies. Plenty discouraging.

The Motivational Speaker

So I was home with my little ones, which gave me lots of time to think. My husband was a youth pastor then, and I helped him with the teens. One day we took our leadership group down to Saddleback Church to see what they do, and Doug Fields gave the message. He urged us to "tell our story." This really hit me hard, and I left eager to do just that. I had such an interesting childhood growing up in Alaska, and I'd made so many mistakes, I thought I could tell my story in hopes that hearing it might help teens. I spoke for free a few places, but wasn't really sure how one gets invited to speak. I took my kids to MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and learned there that sometimes speakers are hired because someone read an article the speaker had written for a magazine.

I could do that, right? How hard could that be?

The Magazine Writer

So I looked into writing articles and found out how challenging it really was. But I was determined, so I wrote and wrote and wrote. But I couldn't simply write one article and sent it to twenty magazines because every magazine had its own submission guidelines and style. Some wanted nonfiction at 1500 words, some wanted nonfiction at 750 words. Some wanted fiction at 2000 words. Some wanted fiction at 500 words!

I worked and worked and worked.

As I was working on all that, two other things happened. One of the girls in our youth group loaned me a novel, which I read and thought, "Whoa! What's going on here?" in regards to some of the content. Now, I love YA books that are real and deal with brokenness and sin and what it's like to be a messed up, imperfect teenager on this planet, but I don't like books that glorify sin and ignore the consequences of it. I had read a novel as a teen that really messed up my view of love and I'm still working through the damage that book did to my heart and mind. Life has consequences--good and bad--and I felt if YA authors were going to be real about the temptations in life in their books and doing what feels good, they had a responsibility to be real about the consequences of life as well. Anything else was unethical and potentially damaging to young readers who are looking for truth in the world, not lies dressed up as truth.

 Anyway... so that happened, and I was deeply pondering it all.

The second thing that happened was a new Harry Potter book came out. I think it was Goblet of Fire. And I saw on the news that some Christians were burning copies of the book, which they had deemed evil. This annoyed me. The Harry Potter books might be about "witches and wizards" but they're really about good and evil and how everyone must choose between the two. And here were some Christians missing the point, entirely. I am a Christian, and I believe there is a place for correction and a place for peaceful protest. But with this situation, I felt like there were a lot of people who hadn't even read the series getting all red in the face about it. It wasn't honest or fair. It wasn't loving or respectful. It was a bandwagon. A so-called "plank in the eye."

That's how I felt, anyway.

The Novelist

Well... that got me thinking. I love novels. Why didn't someone write a really cool book for teens that all Christians would like? ( Yeah... I was SO TOTALLY naive. I have since learned the hard way that no one likes every book, Christians, especially.) But I decided to write my own teen novel. One that would deal with real life issues but wouldn't ignore consequences or the existence of a loving, creator God. I wanted Christian teens to see how they sometimes look through the eyes of a nonbeliever, and since I had some experience in that realm, the book was just a tiny bit autobiographical. That book was what would eventually become The New Recruit.

And that's how I got started writing fiction. And it was so much fun!

The Conflicted

I struggled for a bit, shortly thereafter. I had started out wanting to be a motivational speaker. That's why I was learning to write articles. I wanted to allow my testimony to change lives. And here I'd dumped that plan for writing a story about a spy kid. Was I being completely self-absorbed, or what?

I confessed this to my pastor, and he reminded me that Jesus used stories in his ministry. Think about Nathan, prophet of King David, who used a story to convict King David of his sin of stealing Uriah's wife, then killing Uriah. And it worked! That story hit home and David was changed. Stories are powerful. They can go places nonfiction cannot go.

My pastor also asked me why I felt like my calling in life shouldn't be something I truly enjoy? I didn't know. I guess something about telling my life story felt pious and lofty--worthy of pleasing God. But for some reason fiction felt selfish because it was so much fun. My pastor corrected my thought process. He wasn't going to tell me what to do, but he did say that God gives us talents and desires, and there is no reason not to make a living at something we love, if that is at all possible.

So I took some time to think and pray, and I knew overwhelmingly what I wanted to do. I wanted to write that spy kid book! I wanted to finish it and see what happened.

At that point, I went ALL IN!

When a writer’s conference came to town, I signed up. I just KNEW that when the agent heard about my brilliant story it would be "Move over JK Rowling, here I come!"

Yeah... God humbled me really quickly. And he used literary agent Steve Laube to do it. (Thank you, Steve!) Steve gave us all a change to pitch our stories, and taught us how to do just that. And when my chance came, I babbled on and on, unable to describe my story succinctly. Steve was very nice, but he rejected me. I went up to my hotel room that night and cried. The reality check was a brutal shock. But I realized something. I hadn't respected my dream. My book wasn't even done! No wonder I couldn't describe it very well. No wonder the agent couldn't understand what I was trying to sell. I barely understood it!

I mean, I'd been sewing clothes since I was nine. I could tell you the life stories of a dozen fashion designers. I'd gone to school for five years to prepare to work in the fashion industry. I did work in the industry, for two separate companies, and then I started my own business. I knew fashion. I had put in the time to excel in fashion. So what made me think I could take two months, write half a book, and get published?

My ego, that's what.

But I was a tough cookie. And I really felt like this was where I was supposed to be. But believing wasn't enough. I needed to work hard! And I couldn't believe how much I had to learn. When I got home, I did everything Steve Laube and the other conference speakers had recommended. I finished my book. I edited it. I joined a critique group. I read all kinds of books on the writing craft. I read my competition. When I finished the book, I put it aside and wrote another book. And I saved up for Mount Hermon, a larger writer's conference.

I also kept on writing articles. In Stephen King's book On Writing, he'd had over 100 rejections before he sold his first piece. So I told myself that I should expect at least fifty rejections before I was allowed to freak out. And I sold my first article to Brio and Beyond Magazine in 2006 after only about ten rejections. I was a published author!

In the spring of 2007, I attended the Mount Hermon writers conference. I got my first and second requests for fulls on The New Recruit at that conference. It was pretty exciting. I took James Scott Bell's fiction mentoring clinic, which was a wonderful experience. I also met Jeff Gerke there. He's the fellow who taught me what genre I wrote. It was called Speculative Fiction. I was relieved to discover this because I'd been starting to worry that all the books I'd written were too random and that I didn't have a brand--something I kept hearing throughout the conference that I needed. But Jeff cleared all that up.

I knew then that I was a young adult spec fiction writer! Whoo hoo!

Some things happened in my life over the next year. Both my submissions that I'd gotten through Mount Hermon were eventually rejected. My husband got a job in Oregon and we moved. But once I was settled in our new home, I remembered that Jeff Gerke did freelance editing. So I paid him to edit my little spy novel to find out why I kept getting rejections. I learned a ton from that edit!

I could not afford to attend Mount Hermon that year, so instead, I went to the 2008 Oregon Christian Writers Summer Coaching Conference. There weren't a lot of editors looking for YA fiction that year. But guess what? Jeff Gerke was going to be there, representing his new company Marcher Lord Press. They weren't publishing YA, but I submitted my manuscript to Jeff anyway, to see what he thought of my new fantasy novel, which I had tentatively titled Bloodvoices. I just wanted to glean a little Jeff Gerke wisdom, if I could.

When I got my manuscript back, Jeff wanted to meet with me. He'd written, "Why does it have to be YA?" on the feedback form.

So I met with him.

"Is it done?" he asked. "All the way done?"

"All the way," I said.

Turns out Jeff had been looking for a fantasy novel to complete his fall 2009 releases. He liked what he read of mine so far and wanted to read the full.

So I sent Bloodvoices to Jeff and waited. Not too long after I was sitting at my computer, and Jeff sent me an email that said, “Do you happen to be by a phone right now so that I can call you?”

That email pretty much floored me. I’d been rejected enough to know that editors didn’t tend to call up an author to say no thanks. I figured Jeff wanting to talk on the phone was a good thing. I ran and told my husband to keep an eye on our daughter, then emailed Jeff back, and he called right away.

He wanted to publish my book! We talked about that a bit, and he said he’d email me the contract. I couldn’t sit still. I was so excited.

I pondered very briefly if I should submit the book to anyone else. I had always wanted to be traditionally published, and Marcher Lord Press was a brand new POD publishing house. If it had been that alone, I might have turned down the offer. But I believed in Jeff Gerke. He knew his stuff, and so I decided to sign with him, more than this new press. That turned out to be a pretty good idea.

The Published Author

I started writing in 2004. I received my first offer in the fall of 2008. I'd respected my dream, put myself through four years of "writing school," and now I was going to have a book published.

How cool was that?

By Darkness Hid came out in April 2009. Jeff changed the title of the book, concerned that with the vampire craze, readers might be disappointed to read a book called Bloodvoices and find no vampires. By Darkness Hid won several awards, which led to my signing with an agent, which led to my publishing other books with Zondervan and Bethany House. And I'm still at it.

Some closing thoughts on pursuing publication:

It helps to define your goals. Do you want to be published? Does it matter how? Do you want a traditional contract and to have your book sold in bookstores? Or do you think about self-publishing? If you don't know, that's okay, but it's a good idea to think about it and figure it out. Goals are easier to work toward if you know what they are.

If writing is your dream, respect it. Learn what you need to learn. Practice. Work hard and don't give up!

Make other writing friends. You need writing people in your life!

Learn to take constructive criticism. Also learn to know when it's okay to disregard criticism.

Be realistic. It's wonderful to have dreams, but you also might need to pay bills someday. So think about what else you might like to do in case you have to be bi-vocational for a while. Because after eighteen published books, I still don't make enough money to support myself. If it wasn't for my husband's income, I'd have to get another job to support my writing hobby. That might seem kind of sad, but that's what it sometimes means to have a career in the arts, hence the term "starving artist."

Enjoy it. If writing isn't fun, then maybe don't force yourself to do it for a while. (Unless you have a contract, then you need to learn discipline.) Also, remember, even if you're not getting published, you're still creating stories, and you are improving yourself in the process. You're investing in a wonderful skill. That in itself is a fabulous undertaking, so don't make light of it. You're an amazing, talented, creative person who has something to say. Keep on finding new ways to say what you must, because there are people out there who need to hear the stories that only you can tell.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Purple Manuscripts, Genre Ignorance, and Other Pieces of Stephanie Morrill's Journey Of Getting Published

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.

Like Shannon mentioned on Friday in her "In 10 years, I'll be writing..." exercise, this week all three of us are sharing our individual publication stories.

I knew I wanted to be a writer from first grade on, and as I grew up, I was always writing bits of stories. Usually they involved horses or band members from New Kids On The Block. But it wasn't until high school that I began to get really serious about writing:

High School: Trying to Get My First Novel Published

My junior year, I wrote a story from beginning to end. It was probably about 30,000 words, but I didn't know that word count mattered. Or that there was a genre for young adult fiction. (I was so ignorant, I was pretty sure I had just invented a new genre.)

What I knew was that my book had chapters, I had edited it to the best of my abilities, and I was really proud of myself. I was sure it was time for me to be published.

This was in 2000, well before ebooks and the indie publishing revolution. For which I'm thankful, because I know I was impatient enough to design a cover in Word and slap it up on Amazon.

There weren’t even blogs that told you how to get published, but there were websites. So I got on publishers' websites, found their addresses, and then I printed out my manuscript and sent it to them.

I even printed it out on purple paper so that it would stand out. (Here's a video on how a manuscript should be formatted.)

When I never heard back, I started to do more than just dig up addresses. I started to actually read instructions, and I learned all these new vocab words. Like how to correctly query. And that big publishers didn't accept unsolicited manuscripts. Unless my manuscript was submitted through a literary agent, it would go to a slush pile, and the chances of it being read were slim.

I started looking for publishers who accepted unsolicited manuscripts and found there were a few, none of whom I had never heard of. I figured that publishers were more or less equal. (Um, no...)

I sent out another batch of purple manuscripts, and this time somebody wrote me back. Not only that, but they had actually read the book. The longer I’m in this industry, the more I’m convinced that this was the grace of God breaking through. Honestly, they should have taken one look at the purple paper and recycled it.

The feedback they offered was that my book was good for my age, and that it lacked a satisfying ending.

I knew that both of those were true. I stopped sending the book out—I didn’t care enough to fix the ending—and I started working on other manuscripts.

After high school: Wandering

Once I had graduated and had a bit more time on my hands, I started researching the idea of getting a literary agent. I read that you should make a list of the agents you were interested in, and then send letters out five at a time. That's what I did, and I actually had 3 out of 5 agents request the first few chapters and a synopsis. (Insert frantic scrambling to figure out what in the heck a synopsis was.)

The agents all rejected me after reading the chapters, and I lost my confidence in the story and walked away from it. Which was a good choice, honestly. I still believe there's a lot of value in quitting manuscripts.

I was learning that publication was harder than I thought it was. That I wasn't really sure what genre I wrote. My stories were all about teens, but I thought I might outgrow that. I wanted to write serious novels, like the kind you would study in English class. I didn't have any ideas for those, though. Maybe I should go to college...? Maybe I should try to write for TV...? Maybe I should become a literary agent...?

When I wasn't at my full time job, I spent a lot of time writing. I wrote fan fiction, screenplays, stories I wanted to write, and stories I thought I should want to write.

Early Twenties: "I Write YA Fiction."

I drove a stake into the ground and decided that YA fiction was my genre, The online world had become more social. I found writer specific email loops, forums, and writing organizations (like American Christian Fiction Writers or Romance Writers of America) that I could join.

And I married a really supportive man, which is critical to my publication story. My desk took up about half the living room of our first apartment. It was there that I started writing what was going to become my first published novel, Me, Just Different.

When Ben got his first job out of college and it was enough to support us, we decided that I wasn’t going to look for a job. Ben suggested that instead I could treat writing like it was my full time work, so I was fortunate enough to write 40+ hours a week for two years before we had kids. The combination of his belief in me and the time and space to write consistently made a huge difference in my growth.

Age 24: I stumble into my first contract

I was really pregnant when I went to my first big writers conference, American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). (I actually met Roseanna White at this conference, because not only was she pregnant too, but we had identical leather briefcases.)
I had gone to several smaller, regional conferences, but this was my first one with multiple hundreds of writers. One of the biggest perks to going to the conference was that I had two fifteen-minute appointments, one with an editor and one with an agent. You go into a room, sit across from them at a table, and tell them about your story. It's one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

I had been granted an appointment with the editor I had hoped for. I prayed and prayed and prayed, and I practiced my pitch for Me, Just Different about a thousand times.

And it went awful. These poor editors are trapped in the rooms all day, and they hear writer after writer, so I don’t want to be too hard on her. But I went in there, shook her hand, and told her I wrote young adult fiction. She asked me, “Do you have an agent?” and when I said no, I basically watched her tune out.

I did a lot of crying, because I was pretty sure that I had just screwed up my opportunity for getting published.

But we were in the middle of moving back to Kansas City, and I was due with McKenna in less than two months. I decided that I was just going to focus on having a baby, and that I would getting back to writing and pursuing publication at a later, undetermined date.

Several months later, I was holding my one-week-old daughter when I had an email from a literary agent who I had met at the conference. I had accidentally sat at her table at lunch one day because I was chatting with a friend and didn't realize the whole room had filled up. Because this agent had already rejected Me, Just Different once before, I gave her a half-hearted pitch. And I told her that I had made a few changes to the book thanks to her suggestions. When she asked all the others to hand in their pitch sheets, I turned mine in and never thought about the meeting again. (A pitch sheet is like a flier that you make about your books. I don't know if this still happens at conferences.)

She emailed me and said she’d been going through the pitch sheets, remembered she liked me, and that I had made changes based on her feedback. She wondered if I could send her the first couple of chapters. I sent it to her without feeling much hope that it would turn into anything. (I had a one-week-old, so really all I cared about at that time was stringing together a few hours of sleep.)

But by the time McKenna was 6 months old, the agent had read the manuscript, loved the story, and used her enthusiasm to sell it to Revell Books. Who wanted not just this book, but for it to be the first in a three-book series. I hadn't even planned on Me, Just Different being a series.

I couldn’t believe the turn in events. That somehow I had gone from deciding to indefinitely set aside publishing to signing a multi-book contract.

Age 25: I realize that I have a job.

All the choices I had made about treating writing like my job really paid off, because for the first time ever I had writing deadlines. Trying to meet those deadlines during my first year of motherhood led to a lot of stress.

On paper, I had achieved my goal. I had an agent. I was published, or at least contracted.

But holding my first book didn't feel like I had accomplished my dream. Rather, it felt like false summit. I thought I had reached the top of a mountain ... only to realize how much more of a climb was ahead of me. 

Not just writing more books, but developing a presence, a platform. I didn't have a website. I didn't even have a Facebook account, y'all. 

I had spent all these years learning how to get published, but I didn't know a thing about how to be an author. That has been a journey of its own. One of learning time management, setting boundaries, pursuing the elusive balance of creative writing and marketing, navigating disappointing sales, genre changes, and more.

Some closing thoughts on pursuing publication:

While I had many advantages along the way—encouraging parents, a supportive husband who understood the idea of investing, the luxury of taking two years off from working to write—I hope you can also see that I was clueless and bumbling for a lot of my journey. 

There was nobody in my life who wrote or knew anything about getting published, not until I was older. I researched what I could, learned from mistakes, and dedicated myself to growing as a writer.

You can't worry about pursuing publication perfectly, or you won't pursue it at all.

The reason exists is because of the loneliness I encountered early in my journey. That's why Jill, Shannon, and I care so much about honesty and shepherding you guys on your own unique writing journeys. That's why you bless my socks off every time you speak words of encouragement to each other in the comments or on the Facebook group.

I hope you're able to learn from my journey, and I hope you'll continue to let us partner with you on yours.

Read Jill's Story of Getting Published
Read Shannon's Story of Getting Published

Friday, April 7, 2017

Writing Exercise #8: In Ten Years

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Good morning, my lovelies! I hope you have fantastic weekend plans waiting for you. If not, write something thrilling for yourself, alright? There are all sorts of ways to go on an adventure when you're a writer. Major upside to the hours and hours of alone time.

Next week, Jill, Steph and I are going to take turns sharing our journeys with you. We're already a pretty transparent bunch--we talk about the ups and downs here, the challenges of being a writer--but we thought it would be eye-opening for you all to see what it took to get our books on the shelf.

As we prepare to do that, I've been thinking about the process. And it is a process, publication. It's a cycle. A puzzle. An ever-evolving wheel and, even if I put all my brainpower into the effort, I have no idea what the next ten years looks like for me.

So, I thought we'd play with that today, and lay our exercise out like a good, old fashioned, elementary school prompt. Sound fun? I thought so.

Remember, when you participate in our writing exercises, you're entered into a drawing. Winners will have the opportunity to ask Jill, Steph and me a writing question on an upcoming episode of Go Teen Writers LIVE. Keep your eyes open for those, by the way. We just wrapped up a recording session and we'll be sharing soon.

A little change: Because we're having trouble locating some of our random winners, we're going to be using the Rafflecopter to keep track of entries. Super easy, you guys. As always, leave your exercise response in the comments section and then use the Rafflecopter to tell me you've done so. And be sure to come back throughout the weekend to see what your friends are up to.

Okay, here's that prompt. Now, scoot! I'm dying to know where you'll all be in ten years.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Too Busy To Write?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I missed you all. A big thanks to Roseanna White for stepping in and blogging in my absence. I needed a break. As I often do in life, I took on too much, and was drowning.

Why do people do that? I think it comes from several places. Being responsible. Volunteering to help when help is needed, especially when the need is important. It could be necessities, like health or car troubles. Many have the desire to accomplish many things. The joy we get when we help others. Being people pleasers. Plus, there is this idea that the busier we are, the more important we are. And sometimes, we just don't know how to say, "No." Every offer that comes our way seems important. So we try to do it all. And we burn out.

I'm living in the burnout zone right now. A couple things have eased off, so that's helping, but I'm still in too deep. This requires a new way of thinking. A new way of making choices. It's not going to be easy to re-train myself. But I must. If I don't make some changes, I'm going to lose my mind!

And then there is writing. If I'm too busy to eat and even breathe, where does that leave time for creativity? When do I write? I schedule it in. And I sit in the chair and force myself. But the joy is gone. It's desperately hard work. And a large part of that is that I have a deadline looming and I'm too busy to think, so I'm not giving my brain access to daydreaming time. I've crammed too much in, and there is no time to think. The writing suffers. It becomes stressful. It's hard to even fit it in.

Here's the thing: We have to learn to choose. Madeleine L'Engle said, "It is the ability to choose which makes us human." We should be saying, "No" a lot more and being picky about what we say, "Yes" too. We need to choose how we want to spend our lives.

Most of us chose to start writing. The reasons varied, but when we started typing out words on a computer, we made a choice. And that's awesome. The problem is, there are too many options in life. So much is interesting. We want to do it all.

And then there are the things we HAVE to do. Eat. Sleep.

The things we SHOULD do: Work. Pay the bills. Study. Exercise.

The "must deal with" things that crop up here and there: Go to the doctor/dentist. Fix the car. Mow the lawn. Clean the house.

And none of that is the stuff we might actually WANT to do. Watch Doctor Who. Read Pride and Prejudice for the tenth time. Go to Disneyland.

When life rises up and threatens our writing time, how do we defend it?

Well, as Greg McKeown said in his book Essentialism"If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will."

So, we must choose, we must prioritize, and we must learn to say, "No."

Most of you have already chosen to write. That's great. But this choice needs to be more than a one-time decision. Each time you sit down to the computer, it's a choice. And if the day goes by and you didn't write a single word, that was a choice too. It's not wrong to have days go by without writing. But if you have a writing goal and want to succeed, at some point you're going to have to choose to write regularly.

For mefor Jill WilliamsonI have chosen to write and make a career of it. It's a high priority on my life list and my number one work priority. Everything else work-related should come after writing.

What are your life goals? Write them down, then rank them. Where does writing fit in? If it's at the top, then you need to treat writing like it's at the top. If it's near the bottom, then writing is more of a hobby, and that's okay. You shouldn't give more time and effort to a hobby or something that's a ways down on your list of priorities. So, decide what your priorities are and where writing fits, and that will help you prioritize how you spend your time.

I've been around a little while, and I've learned something about myself. I'm obsessed with Story. My own. My parent's. Other people's. My characters'. Story is a theme word in my life. It's my One Thing. I'm all about Story. I want to write stories, tell stories, teach people how to write stories, and write my own life story. Knowing that helps me weed out opportunities that might come my way. I can ask myself, "Will this opportunity help me further my cause of Story?" A lot of times I can easily see a yes or no.

That doesn't mean I can never do things that aren't about story. I served as a mentor on my son's robotics team. That has nothing to do with Story. But it has to do with my son. And my family is prioritized before work in my life, so I made that choice.

Say "No"
When opportunities come your way, don't ever answer yes immediately. If you must respond, say, "Let me check my calendar and get back to you." That will give you the time to pause and think about each opportunity. Measure it against your life priority list. As I mentioned above, knowing that my writing career is about Story, helps me decide.

Here are some quotes from the book Essentialism that might help you learn to say, "No."

"Protect the asset." (Hint: the asset is you! If you always say yes, you will run out of energy at some point.)

"If you're too busy to think, you're too busy. Period."

"Sometimes what you don't do is just as important as what you do."

"'No' is a complete sentence." -Ann Lamott

"If it's not a definite "yes" the answer should be "no."

"Fewer things done better."

"Which problem do I want?" (Choose the problems you want to have and say "no" to things you'd rather not deal with.)

How are you doing? Are you too busy to write? Too busy in general? What are some things you can say "No" to that will free up time in your life for writing? 

Do you have a One Thing that you're all about, like I'm about Story? What's your One Thing? Share in the comments.

Also, if you're still thinking about the Realm Makers writing conference, I've got a $50 off coupon for you right here:

Monday, April 3, 2017

Tips for Getting Feedback on Your Writing

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.

I have never been a particularly thick-skinned person. I embarrass easily, I have issues with perfectionism, and receiving feedback on my writing often feels like I'm bracing for a punch.

But feedback is an important part of turning your manuscript into a book that people want to read. My editor and I were talking recently, and she commented that she can tell when a manuscript has already had lots of feedback before landing on her desk. This intrigued me, so I asked if she could be more specific. She said:
A lot of it is the level of polish (no typos, clear transitions, etc.), but what’s most evident is usually plot. By the time I’m getting a submission, I shouldn’t be seeing gaping plot holes or finding confusing/unnecessary scenes—rounds of revision and a good critique partner would catch those things. I may still have changes, of course, but manuscripts that have strong flow and a well-executed plot definitely show signs of hard work.
Maybe you are the fortunate writer who looks forward to getting feedback so you can improve your story. Maybe you have loads of writing friends (or at least reader friends) who are happy to read your manuscripts.

Or maybe you're like I was as a young writer. I felt anxious about being told what was wrong with my story. And even if I did want feedback, I had nobody outside of my parents to ask.

Wherever you are on that spectrum, here are seven tips for soliciting, preparing for, and incorporating feedback:

Ask only people who have your best interests at heart.

Showing somebody the writing you've poured your heart into is a vulnerable thing, especially when you're just starting out. Even now, nine years after my debut novel hit shelves, I hesitate just a moment before submitting a new book idea or a proposal to my agent. 

From experience, I can tell you that if the reader doesn't have your best interest at heart, they can say things that leave you wounded for years. 

Maybe you're thinking, "But when I start submitting to agents and editors, they're not going to be gentle with me. I need the practice." 

There's truth to that, but it's different when you're submitting your best possible work to a professional versus when you're trying to get feedback on a piece that you know still needs help. At that vulnerable creation stage, you need people who will be honest but kind.

If you're looking for other young writers to build critiquing relationships with, you can leave comments on this post, or join the Go Teen Writers Community Facebook group. (To expedite your acceptance, send an email to GoTeenWritersCommunity(at) to say you'd like to join. We try to be extremely careful about who we let in!)

Consider starting small.

If you're just getting used to receiving feedback, I wouldn't recommend sending your entire manuscript to someone. Especially someone who has never critiqued for you.

Rather I would suggest something as small as a story description. It's helpful if the person who's critiquing for you is interested in your story. If they like the story description, then consider asking them to read and provide feedback for the first 1-3 chapters.

Be specific about your needs.

When I first grew brave and started soliciting feedback from writing friends, I would send out chapters with a, "Here they are! Tell me what you think!" kind of email. Some critiquers would nitpick writing rules, like backstory or POV violations. Others would line edit the whole thing.

I hadn't told them what kind of feedback was helpful, so they didn't know where to focus.

Finally I figured out that I needed to be specific. That I needed to enclose my chapters with an email that said something like, "Here are my chapters. I don't need line edit stuff yet because right now I'm wanting to make sure the character motivations make sense. Would you pay particular attention to the transition of my character's motives in chapter two? I'm not sure about how that's coming across."

Not only was I receiving the kind of feedback I really needed, my critiquers weren't wasting time and energy on edits that I didn't need.

Be respectful.

Unless you're in a writing group where you workshop raw material, don't waste time having first drafts critiqued.

The readers have to dig through so much that they can't offer as strong or clear of feedback. And unless you all are swimming in time, there's only so many read-throughs of a book that a person can do. Only look for critiquers when you've invested time in cleaning up the draft, which is when their feedback will have the biggest impact.

If the other person is a writer, I would encourage you to offer to read for them too. There's no need to try to make everything perfectly fair, but if you ask them to read your chapter, then it's respectful to read their chapter as well.

If the other person is in more of a mentor role (they're already published or contracted, for example), they might not need you to critique for them, but you can still show your appreciation. You can do this by following their social media accounts or leaving a review for one of their books.

One last thing note about being respectful: As a critiquer, it's frustrating to offer feedback to someone, only for them to argue every point you make. While there's no need to agree with everything they say, this person is giving their time to help you. Even if they're completely wrong or misguided in their feedback, there's a way to respond that isn't argumentative. ("I'll consider that suggestion, thank you.")

Give yourself time to hang out with the feedback before you do anything with it.

Feedback elicits a variety of responses from me:
  • That's so obvious, why didn't I see it?
  • What an interesting insight. But if I make that change, is it changing the story for the better, or just making it different?
  • No, I'm going to ignore that.
  • Ugh. That comment bugs me. 
That last one is the slipperiest reaction of them all. Sometimes I'm annoyed because I was misunderstood. In that situation, I have to look at how valid the comment is, and if I need to change pieces of my story to make myself clearer.

Other times I'm annoyed because I think they might be right, and I don't want them to be right because that sounds like a ton of work.

This is when it can be very valuable to have several readers. If multiple people make the same comment, you know you need to pay attention. But sometimes only one person makes the suggestion, and you can't tell if you need to make the change or not. Then it's helpful to be able to discuss the dilemma with others who read the story.

Don't feel like you need to immediately jump into edits. Sometimes when I receive feedback, I have to let it soak in for a few days before I feel ready, and that's okay.

Make a list of the suggested changes.

If you're using a word processing program that allows tracked changes, you might have an overwhelming mess that you're trying to sort through.

I know that's what happened to me when I was in critique groups. Everyone would read from the same document, so I had not only a ton of comments to read, but also others would respond to comments that people had left, agreeing, disagreeing, or suggesting alternatives. 

I found the process of incorporating all the feedback so overwhelming that I wasn't at all sad when the group dissolved!

What I wish I knew then was how to make a list of suggested changes. Jill talked about this in her post on Two Ways To Tackle A Major Rewrite, but the best way I've found to start making changes is to start by listing all of them, and then arranging them in the order of biggest change to smallest.

Instead of tackling the issues chronologically, I take care of all the big changes first, and then work through the small ones. 

If possible, stagger your readers

Even though I had written a lot of books before The Lost Girl of Astor Street, this was my first historical mystery. I was so nervous about failing or abandoning it, I wrote the entire first draft without mentioning it to my agent.

After completing my second draft, I asked Roseanna White to read it for me. I asked her because she writes historicals, so I figured she could tell me what I had screwed up genre wise. I also asked her because she knew how nervous I was, and I trusted her to express criticism with kindness.

After making Roseanna's changes, I told my agent about the book, and she asked to read it. After she read it, I made her changes, and then I had Shannon and Jill both read it. (Normally I would have had Shan and Jill read before my agent, so I think that just had to do with timing.)

The great thing about staggering readers like this is I didn't have four people coming back to me saying, "Your villain doesn't show up until 3/4 of the way through the book, and you need to revise it." I could make that change just based on Roseanna's feedback, and then I could test out how my changes worked on the next few readers.

If you have the luxury of staggering readers, I highly recommend it.

How do you feel about receiving feedback? Love it? Hate it? Wish you had good critique partners? Let me know in the comments!