Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 7 – Avoid Open Onions)

No one gets to change your work but you

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.
Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness? shared some examples of improving sucky writing (my own).
Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts dealt with extracting actionable information from test audiences.

An important part of improving one’s writing is knowing whose suggestions to pay attention to. Notice, not what suggestions, but whose suggestions. Some people don’t have opinions – they’re not making suggestions – they’re opening onions – their goal is to make you cry, to make you suffer.

Avoid Lennys
About 3:45m into my interview I mention Lenny. Lenny’s goals were to destroy you, your work and your love of what you do. Nothing you do was or is going to be good enough. Example: In my story, The Settlement, the original opening was The needle thin Scimitar class asteroid explorer Vega was resting in a parking orbit over Mars’ northern pole.

Lenny spent 30m telling me and everyone else in the group how stupid it was to have a parking orbit over a northern pole. Not a word about verb tense, exposition, active voice, … nothing about storycrafting. Was Lenny correct that parking orbits can’t exist over planetary poles?

Absolutely!

Was the ship’s location worth 30m of scientific discourse?

Absolutely not! The ship’s location is mentioned once and only to let the reader know the story takes place away from earth. A 1,400 word story and 30m on a mistake that can be addressed with something as simple as “The Vega parked over Mars’ northern pole.”?

Lennys miss the story because they can’t understand the story. The first time you read The Odyssey you’re probably in school and reading a great adventure tale about gods and goddesses, magic, armies, wars, and sailors. Ten years later you read it and you’re reading about the battle of the sexes and marital fidelity. Ten years after that you’re reading about the decline of matriarchal societies and the rise of patriarchies.

Lennys can’t even get to the great adventure because Homer’s description of some knot on the ship isn’t accurate. Lennys can’t do what you do at the level you’re doing it. You’re better than they are, they don’t consciously know it and they hate it. More to the point, they will do everything in their power to make you focus on tying proper knots than telling your story.

Find a group that pays attention to your story while helping you correct your knots.

Avoid Lennys.

Avoid Fascists
Wa-a-ay long ago I attended a writers’ group that had a de facto leader, a fellow who always sat at the head of the table even when no table was present. Table or not, he would find the chair that allowed no one else to sit near him, a chair that allowed him to look out upon all others in attendance. When he critiqued others’ work, he sat in his chair. Not so everyone else. Everyone else stood and recited their critiques.

What makes me think they were reciting instead of reading?

Igor do good, Master? Master love Igor? Master say ‘Good, Igor’, yes?

 
The way they stood, their tone of voice, the number of times they looked at their leader after they’d made some point and sought confirmation/approval. Perhaps it was the sniveling, groveling, hunchedback “Igor do good, Master? Master love Igor? Master say ‘Good, Igor’, yes?” that often ended their recitement.

After they critiqued this fellow would correct and explain where they made mistakes in their critiques.

Should you encounter a group like this, get out while you can! This is fascism in the guise of a writers’ group.

No one can be more correct than the leader, no one’s opinion can differ from the leader’s and god forbid it does, the leader will bring the offender back in line, graciously if possible, with The Hairy Eyeball of Hades if not.

Most importantly, you’re only getting one person’s opinion disguised as a consensus. Not worth your time, that. If you want one person’s opinion, submit your work to editors and publishers. At least then you’ll be getting your name out there.

Avoid Fascists.

Avoid Queens, Kings, and anyone with an entourage
A close second to the above is the writers’ group with the designated star, the one person who has at least one recognizable publishing credit…and who quietly or otherwise lets everyone else know they have at least one recognizable publishing credit.

The star’s word goes. The star’s got it right.

The star has an entourage – The King/Queen and His/Her Court – that backs the star up all the time. Nobody argues with the star. Should someone argue with the star, the entourage provides defense. The King/Queen would never deign to do so. They are, after all, The Star!

There was a time when having one recognizable publishing credit meant the person’s work was recognized as having worth by those (usually) far outside the individual’s circle. You wrote something, polished it, sent it to an EDITOR (heavens open, angels sing) who bought it (god’s light shines on you!) and you have a publishing credit that tells other EDITORs at least one of their peers thinks you have talent (you’d often start hearing Also_Sprach_Zarathustra about this time).

Nowadays, anybody can self-publish and most do and it shows because the majority of self-published material sucks. And now the caveat: Most everything published sucks. Have you seriously read what’s on the shelves out there?

Avoid Queens, Kings, and basically anyone with an entourage.

Avoid editors/publishers who do these things
Editors are suppose to improve your work. This is not a fact, merely my opinion. My opinion was based on experience. Recent experiences with editors have left me re-evaluating my opinion. Examples follow and in each of these cases, demand another editor. If the publisher makes excuses for the editor, get another publisher.

  • You’re assigned an editor who’s completely ignorant of your genre: A romance editor will have tough going editing a thriller and vice versa. If you submit a military thriller and your editor wants to know what a BDU is, demand another editor.
  • You’re assigned an editor who knows less about grammar than you do: Your job is to provide as polished a manuscript to the publisher as possible, it is not to teach the editor basic editing skills. Some publishers have their own style guides that are…interesting. Forget Strunk&White, forget CMoS, some publishers create new punctuation rules as they go along based on god knows what.
  • Along those lines, beware of editors who believe the house style guide is the bible and adhere to it like Fundamentalists at a Saturday night dance-a-thon.
  • Your publisher gives you a publication/editing schedule and your editor unnecessarily blows it out of the water.
  • Your publisher doesn’t answer your questions regarding their business (sales, forecasts, years in business, growth rate, how many best sellers, how many employees, how many authors, a list of happy authors, a list of unhappy authors, …)
  • Your publisher wants to change (not edit, change) your work so that it fits a house imprint, ie, they bought a block of stone and are going to sculpt it into what they need. By the time they’re done, you won’t even recognize your own work.
  • Basically publishers and editors who make you feel uncomfortable. About anything.

Right up in there somewhere are

  • talk to other authors with the same publisher. Find out their experiences. First lesson, if the responses are uniformly good, run away. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. You don’t have to. Look for a few sour apples in the basket. Learn why they’re sour. Determine if their reasons are likely to become your reasons.
  • Find out if the publisher has put a book through their publication process then decided not to release it for reasons out of the author’s control. This is a big flag something’s not as it should be.
  • Make sure the majority of authors aren’t house authors, meaning they work for the publisher in other capacities. If your head of marketing has also written three westerns and none of them are doing well, there’s trouble in Dodge. If your senior editor has a series of cozy mysteries, make sure you put down the teacup. You’ve run into a self-publishing vanity press wanting to legitimize itself.

It’s something special when a publisher accepts your work. No questions there.

But remember, it’s your work, not theirs. They’re job is to make it better, not different, definitely not less. Any edits/changes that decrease the quality of the work are a big signal to get away. Now!

Avoid editors and publishers who do such things.

Lennys, Fascists, Kings/Queens, Publishers, Editors and all such who do the above are opening onions, not offering opinions.

They’ll make you cry if they can.

Next up – Keep Growing!

Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness?)

Tell the same story better

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.

Can I provide specific examples from other authors, no. I may think a given author’s writing sucks or an individual piece of writing sucks and I still respect the fact that they’re putting something out, that they got off the couch.

General examples, sure:
Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness?)”

Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – Ruled to Death

Beware the Sayer of the Law

This is the last installment of a thread covering critiquing methods I’ve encountered in my writing career. This post is a catch-all for any workshop/critiquing group that hands you a list of rules you have to follow. I highlight three distinct types I’ve encountered.

Review
Finding a critique group that’s good for you is based on one question:

What is your goal/reason for being in a critique group?

 
My goal is simple and direct; improve my storytelling and storycrafting/increase my skill levels/learn my craft.

Rules
Any time or place a group of people get together for a single purpose, rules will apply. The best rules are those shaped by consensus and accepted democratically. They may be spoken, unspoken, written, tacked on a wall, handed out, understood, …
Continue reading “Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – Ruled to Death”

Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – Forced Positives/False Positives

Does it count if I say “I love the font you used!”?

This is the fourth installment of a thread covering critiquing methods I’ve encountered in my writing career. This post discusses a critiquing method wherein participants have to say something nice about a submission before they can critique it.

Review
Finding a critique group that’s good for you is based on one question:

What is your goal/reason for being in a critique group?

 
My goal is simple and direct; improve my storytelling and storycrafting/increase my skill levels/learn my craft.

You have to say something nice
These critique groups vary from “You have to say something nice first” to “You can only say nice things”. This format falls under a larger format I call “Ruled to Death”. The You have to say something nice format occurs so often I’m giving it its own post.

First thing; if a critique group has this rule in place, it’s probably a reaction to harsh and perhaps abusive activity. Get out while you can!
Continue reading “Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – Forced Positives/False Positives”

Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – The Month Long Read

You’ve had it a month and all you can offer is “You use the word ‘blue’ a lot”?

This is the third installment of a thread covering critiquing methods I’ve encountered in my writing career. This post discusses a critiquing method wherein participants receive copies of work ahead of time (usually a month), read it, comment in writing, then meet to share their thoughts and suggestions once per month at which time they also provide the author with their written comments.

Review
Finding a critique group that’s good for you is based on one question:

What is your goal/reason for being in a critique group?

 
My goal is simple and direct; improve my storytelling and storycrafting/increase my skill levels/learn my craft.

Participants have a month to read and comment on a manuscript. No reading during the group (except for example purposes)
Most of my experience comes from groups like this. The majority of the sessions are devoted to critiquing. Socializing occurs after the critiquing session (although people often bring shareable munchies because the sessions are held in private homes or reserved rooms in libraries, et cetera).

The good is that people have had a month to read, comment, review their comments, come up with solutions to what they consider a problem, …, the negative is that people will get used to your style, genre, et cetera (something I mentioned in Writers Groups – Critiquing Methods – Read ’em and Weep).

Let me share an anecdote to demonstrate this.

I was a member of one such group for a few years. Another participant lived close by so we’d carpool. I’d submitted a 5-6k word piece. On the drive to the group, my carpooling companion commented on my submission.

I stopped him and told him what his comments would be and on what parts of the story he had suggestions/concerns/et cetera. I then told him what part of my story everyone else in the group would comment on and what their comments would be.

How could I know? Didn’t matter, just tell me if I’m mistaken.

On the drive home all he could talk about was how accurate my predictions were.

Long story short, this group stopped working for me. I stopped attending.

The Month Long Read format usually goes with genre specific groups; mystery writers, horror writers, romance writers, et cetera. Genre specific formats are good if you’re starting out. I don’t think they’re good for the seasoned professional. There comes a point where being around your own kind is only going to give you the feedback you’ve heard before.

Continuing the previous anecdote, I left that one genre-specific group for another group, specific to the same genre. Same comments, different people. I left that one, too. The same words from different mouths wasn’t making me a better writer.

At this point in my career, having a genre-mixed group critiquing is far more helpful to me. Mystery writers ask questions sci-fi authors would never think of, romance writers pick up flaws horror writers overlook and YA/MG authors pick up things that’ll amaze you. Of course, we’re now touching on literature or fiction without any genre specificity. If you can get a literature group or pure fiction group to critique your work, go for it. The lift in skills is incredible. My writing coach writes literary fiction. He picked things up in my genre-specific award nominated work that I didn’t know existed!

Variations on a theme
Participants are given manuscripts to critique ahead of time and the author reads a page or two before everyone comments. This format is a variant of the above and I have no clue what the purpose of the author reading a page or two is about or for. To me, it takes up time that could be better spent being critiqued, asking and answering questions and learning one’s craft. But that’s me.

Bottom Line
These groups can be great for the first few months if you’re a newcomer of if you attend sporadically (so that no one gets use to your writing). They’re not helpful once you become known.

Next up, Forced Positives/False Positives.