I’m writing this post a little ahead of time; by the time you read it I should be comfortably settled at Justine’s house with all the 8 Ladies except Michaeline, who’ll be joining us from Japan via Skype. We’ll be congratulating, commiserating, planning, critiquing, brainstorming, writing, talking about writing, and generally having a fabulous time.
Some of the Ladies will have concrete goals for our writing retreat. I’m taking a looser approach. I’m sure I’m going to get a lot out of my trip to Arizona, and I think I’ll get the most by casting my net as widely as possible. Jeanne and Michaeline have already given me some fantastic feedback on Dealing With McKenzie, and I’ll be squirreling away any other comments, good and bad. I’ll be asking questions and brainstorming Cam and Mary’s story, but I suspect I’ll get my best ideas from talking about the other Ladies’ books. I’m also going on a side trip with Kay and Kat, and who knows what that will bring?
One of the big lessons I learned last year is that there are many kinds of feedback, and the way to end up with the best book you can write is to gather it all, and then decide which mixture to use.
Here’s the blend that worked for me in 2014:
Friends and family
These people are invested. Chances are they’re not your reader, but they’ll want to get involved because they care. Even if they are your reader, their feedback will be colored by their love for you. This is great. Lean on them for encouragement, support and morale-boosting when you need it most. Celebrate with them when the good stuff happens.
These people are also invested. It may take a while to find the ones that are right for you, but when you meet them, grab them with both hands. They’re invaluable. They’ll provide a much-needed support network and will give you feedback about your craft, as well as your story. They’ll tell you if your pacing is off, or there’s too much description, or your story starts in the wrong place. The downside is that they get to know you as a writer, so when they read your story they’ll already understand what you’re trying to achieve. Chances are they’ll also know a lot about your story before they read it, so they’ll miss stuff – but they’ll be brilliant at helping you to figure out how to fix problems you learn about from other sources.
RWA contests were one of my big discoveries in 2014. The judges are usually members of the local chapter sponsoring the contest, which means they’re romance writers, published or unpublished, and almost certainly romance readers. They judge and score entries purely for the love of it, and the whole process is anonymous. They know nothing about you and care less, but they’ll tell you exactly what they think of your story and they won’t pull their punches. Some of them will squee all over it and some will hate it. Some of what they say will make perfect sense and some will make no sense at all. Just like the real world. It’s incredibly useful, and unlike reviews on the interwebs, totally private.
Agents & editors
These incredibly busy people make their living from selling books. They’ll be interested in your book (and you) if they think you’ll sell. Otherwise – moving on. If you’re lucky, they’ll tell you why they think your book is sellable, or not. If you’re even luckier, you’ll get some feedback on your writing. A little over a year ago, an agent kindly sent me a one-page email explaining what he thought about my story in particular and my writing in general. It was an eye-opener. I’m so grateful he took the trouble. And then last year I dipped my toe in the Brenda Novak auction and won a critique of my partial from a well-known editor. She was generous enough to mark up my manuscript and to spend an hour with me at RWA in San Antonio explaining everything that was wrong with it. I got about four months’ work out of that hour’s meeting, and it confirmed everything I’d been told about the value of a good editor: a pearl beyond price.
The hardest thing of all is to use the information you’ve gathered wisely and well, and only you can decide what that is. Use the support of your friends and family as a morale-booster; don’t let it delude you into thinking you’re the next Nora Roberts. Take the feedback of your fellow writers, but remember that at the end of the day it’s your voice and your story, and you have to tell it your way (Jeanne and I discussed this recently in the context of some comments I gave her on Demons Don’t.) Decide which parts of your contest judge scoring sheets are actionable, and which aren’t. If something weird comes out of left field, you’re probably safe to ignore it. If something crops up repeatedly then that’s a pretty good sign that it’s tripping readers up and you need to fix it. And take the same approach to agent and editor queries. Stories are subjective, so give yours a chance and use the responses to build up a pattern before you do anything drastic. I’m still working on that 🙂 .
So – that’s what works for me. How about you? I’d love to know.