The Truth about Feedback

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Today’s topic is feedback and how to deal with it.  We all have to do it at some point.  Whether it’s from a critique partner, beta and gamma readers, agents, editors, or fans.  And as my husband so crassly put it: “Opinions are like butt holes.  Everybody has one.”

While it may be crass, it is most certainly true.  You take thirty people on the street and ask them their opinion on something you’ll get thirty different answers.  Unless, of course you ask a group of people, then some will agree with each other, just to fit in with the crowd.  But, for the most part, everyone has different tastes. 

So onto the topic.  You’ve finished your novel and you know how important it is to get other people to read it, so you’ve sent it off to friends and family, a few beta readers, and your critique group who’ve you been with since the first word of the first draft and you’re waiting for those five star reviews to roll in.  You’re super excited about it and you know it’s the greatest, and then the first one from you’re family comes in at agrees with you.

Then another, and another, and you’re on top of the world.  Then the report from a beta reader and she loves it, but there’s a lot of things she didn’t like or didn’t agree with.  Then another comes in saying she hated the first chapter and didn’t read past it.  And now your critique partner’s come in and says it’s great, but this, this, and this need to change and don’t worry, it’s not that big of a change she’d like to see.

So, what’s your response?  Do you a) yell at the ones who don’t think it’s great for their obvious stupidity for not seeing what a genius you are.  After all, your mom likes it, why don’t they?  b) You go run and hide in the corner to cry your eyes out and then give up.  Or c) you pick and choose at the advice and use it to make a better version and submit yourself to another round of heart wrenching criticism.

Well, if you chose C then you win the chocolate cookie.  Go on, you know you want it.  I’ll wait here until you get it….Done?  Great. 

Yes, in an ideal world C would be the correct choice, but is it the one we do?  Nope.  Not even close.  Most of the time it’s a combination of a and b and then, if we’re smart, we’ll move onto c pretty quickly. 

So, why did the critiques vary so much?  Well, the obvious choice is opinion.  It all boils down to someone’s opinion.  What they want to see.  But it’s more complicated than that. 


Take, for example, your friends and family’s critique.  How much of what they told you was tainted by the fact that they knew you?  That they were thinking the whole time they were reading it, that they’d have to live, or work with you after they told you what they thought?  Probably a lot, right?  You betcha.  So, you know automatically that anything they’re going to say is going to be tinged on the side of they-don’t-want-to-hurt-your-feelings. So, anytime you read their reviews, remember to take it with a shaker full of salt.
           
So, why did one Beta totally love it and the other hate it.  That’s probably personal opinion.  Did you get beta readers that read in your genre?  Or did you choose people at random?  It’s usually better to get someone who reads in your genre, who knows all it’s intricacies and quirks.  And who’s familiar with its voice.  Otherwise, you’ll end up with a person who doesn’t like what you write and will stop reading after the first paragraph.
           
            Now onto your critique partner, more than likely they’ve know you for a while and they know the story, at least in passing.  So, they’ll be similar to your friends and family, but they also want to help you. In this case, it’s best to look at the criticism with an eye toward the truth.  Did they really like your voice?  Or were they just being friendly?  Did they think you’re characters had depth?  Or again, were they just being nice?  Sometimes, even though you like your critique partner if you think they are becoming biased, it’s time to move on.  You want someone who’s going to be honest with you, even if it hurts your feelings.

            Even when you get lucky enough to get feedback from agents, you’ll see how much they’re opinions differ.  Because, for the most part, it is there opinion.  A lot of their job relies on their gut instinct.  So, again, everyone’s feedback will differ. Take for instance me.  The very first rejection I got, told me they really liked my story and I did a good job with isolating my MC from the rest of the world, but there wasn’t enough external conflict for him.  Another told me I did a great job with characterization and it was well written, did a good job with conflict, but they just didn’t fall in love with it, and the latest one told me my characters were flat.

            See how different they all are?  And how they all contradict each other.  Are any of them right?  Or wrong?  No. And Yes.  It just depends on what you take from it and where they are coming from.  The first agent doesn’t rep a lot of romance, so maybe the conflict wasn’t enough for him because of what he does rep.  The second just didn’t feel it.  It’s hard to qualify that, but would she have taken the time to tell me specific things about my manuscript, read the whole thing, and then lie about it?  Doubtful.  And the last, I’m not sure what this one was about.  Since I’ve never had that particular feedback before from anyone.  So, I’ve decided to go ahead and curb that critique until I hear something similar from other people.  If/when I do, then I’ll have to go back and flesh them out.  But until then, I’ll just pull out my ole salt shaker.

            But did I get angry about them?  One I did.  Did I cry and want to quit?  Sure, but I didn’t (well I did cry with one of those rejections, but I didn’t quit).  Am I remembering the critiques to use if I revise the MSS?  Darn tootin’.  How else am I supposed to get better?

            Now is any of these responses wrong?  No, not really; unless you go and take it too far and for instance, start arguing with the person.  Say I’d done that with the critique from agent three that I hadn’t agreed with.  What do you think he’s going to do?  Say, well I guess if other people didn’t feel that way, I won’t too.  Why don’t you send it again so I can have another go?  No, of course not.  He’s going to delete the email, block my IP address and tell everyone in the industry what an idiot I was.  Not something you want to happen if you want to be published. 

You have to remember they’re entitled to their opinion.  You may not like it and you don’t have to take it, but you can’t force them to change their mind.  The best thing to do, if you really feel like they were wrong, is not ask them to critique it again, or not submit to them again.  But, don’t take it out on them.  It’s not cool and it isn’t going to help you. 

If you feel like you absolutely need to vent, go talk with another writer friend who understands what you’re going through.  If you’re of legal drinking age, go get a beer with friends, but please before you hit the send button on that nasty email, think how you’d feel if you’d taken the time to offer advice and someone told you, you were an idiot for not seeing it’s genius.  You wouldn’t like it, and neither would they.  Take a few deep breaths and then hit the button.  The DELETE button. 

            Until next time, keep on truckin’ and go and buy yourself a giant salt shaker to douse those critiques with.  You’ll need it. 

            Tomorrow’s post:  The Writers’ Hate On For Agents and why we shouldn’t


My Way or the Highway

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As most of you know, I’m on Twitter, and lately I have found it to be an invaluable resource.  Not just for getting my name out there, but also for learning things I never knew.  

Yes, you heard me right.  I actually learned something from Twitter.  It isn’t just me wasting time as I hit writer’s block.  You see, I follow several agents and not just because they’re considering my work or I want them to.  Some of them don’t even rep. the type of work I write, or they have already rejected me. But I follow them because they give me an insider view of what’s going on in the world of agenting and publishing. 

Which leads me to my posting today.  A lot of them have been complaining lately of the queries they’ve been receiving, and it seemed so silly that they would be.  I mean most people research the agents they’re querying, right?  Most read the submission directions and only query one agent per query letter, right? They don’t get angry for responding too quickly or with a rejection, right?

Uh, no.  No, they actually don’t.

And my question is why.  Why would someone query twenty agents at once on the same letter?  Why would someone submit an adult manuscript to an agent that states they only take children’s literature?  Or send screenplays to an agent that only takes manuscripts?

Now I know none of you do this, so I’m probably preaching to the choir, but I thought I’d take time today to go over the importance of following the rules. 

First and foremost, research the agents you want to query.  Make sure they rep the genre that you write.  And then follow their guidelines.  Most agents’ websites clearly state what each particular agent is looking for and how they want you to submit.  Some want just a query.   Some want the query and the first five pages, or the query, a synopsis, and the first chapter, or some combination of the above.  That’s why it’s important to follow their rules and not what you think they want. 

If you can’t find their guidelines, and you’ve checked agent query, query tracker, and Publisher’s Marketplace and you still can’t find anything.  Send a query and maybe the first five pages. 

On that note, let’s move onto attachments.  Most agents don’t want them, so if they want the synopsis and the first 5 pages, copy and paste them into the letter.  When in doubt, copy and paste.  Don’t send an attachment.  There’s no quicker way to an autoreject than submitting an attachment when they don’t want them.

The same goes for when they ask for a partial or full. Follow their guidelines.  Make sure you know how they want it.  If they want it electronic, make sure to check what format. After you do your snoopy dance, please, please, please give your manuscript one more glance.  This is especially true if they want it snail mail.  Sometimes your printer can screw up and you’d never know.  So, make sure it’s perfect before you send it.  And follow their guidelines. I can’t say this enough. When in doubt, ask. 

Now onto the hard part: rejection.  It’s going to happen.  Even if you’ve done the research and think that the agent is a perfect match for your work, they may feel differently.  The biggest thing is don’t email back to argue.  Even if you’re MSS is perfectly written, and is the next Twilight and you’re sure of it, and you think they’re idiots for rejecting you, that’s their prerogative.  Their choice. 

They may not have connected with the mss like they wanted, or they already have a client that is writing something similar or—well there’s a million different reasons you might get the big R.  Just take whatever information they give you and move on.  Use it if you agree or other’s have said the same thing, or disregard it for later.

Please don’t be like the guy who bashes agents in his blog for reasons that escape me.  Or the guy everyone refers to as “The query stalker” who sends the same query over and over to the same agents several times a week.  This isn’t getting them anywhere and is in fact, making it harder 1) for the agents to their jobs and 2) for the rest of us that want to make it in this biz to get there. 

On a closing note, if by any chance you are one of these people, please, please, please stop.  You aren’t getting anywhere.  You’ve become a joke.  They don’t care.  Yes, they talk about you, yes you’re getting people to your blog, but if I can be so blunt, you’re morons.  Spend the time you’re taking pissing these people off and improve your writing.  Take classes, send your mss to critiquing sites(see my Links page for some excellent sites), do something other than what you’re doing.  It isn’t working.


Inspiration and the road to publication

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I’m thrilled and excited to have the opportunity to guest blog for J.A. Souders this month and truly hope she’ll honor me when it comes time!

I’d like to take the chance to answer some of the questions I’ve gotten in the past few weeks leading up to the release of my debut novel, ‘The Crescent’.

First, let me start with publishing a novel is not for the weak of heart. 

That being said here is how I came to pen ‘The Crescent,’ and some of my experiences with publishing.

The idea for my debut novel came late one chilly July evening.  I had gone into my large back yard to feed my German Shepherd (Biscuit), when an unsettling feeling rushed over me.  The fact is, it was one of those nights that you just expect something horrible is going to happen.  Biscuit, feeling quite frisky, decided to stop me from going back into the house.  He blocked the doorway with his massive body–now, this dog outweighed me by at least fifteen pounds and even on all fours, and he was more than half my height.  Biscuit easily kept me out of the house. 

Considering I already had a sinking feeling that was nagging at the fringes of my mind, it started to occur to me the dog insisted on not letting me get any closer to, let alone through the door.  And being the imaginative, hyper-paranoid type that I am, my mind started to wander over why the dog could possibly be acting this way.  The thoughts that ensued included a storm coming, an earthquake or worse… someone’s inside my house.  Since I was alone at home that night, and I live in the middle of nowhere, it obviously was the last on the list.  Someone, probably a serial killer, was probably in my home waiting to kill and dismember me.  I did say I have an overactive imagination, right?

I hastily tried to figure out how to get to the phone, dialing 9-1-1 and get to my bedroom to get a gun from my safe (yes, I know, all over a dog insisting on being petted).  After a few moments, the dog finally allowed me into the home, at which time I felt prudent to let him and Coco, my Queensland Healer, into the house for a full inspection. 

After a hearty laugh at myself, and a thorough search of every inch of my house, I let the pups back outside.  And I slumped onto the couch to begin working on ‘Benches’, my first fully completed novel that I was in the process of re-writing for submission.  That night as I slept, my Biscuit morphed into Grant, and the full story of ‘The Crescent’ lay out before me.  The next morning, I awoke and started working on this novel and the words flowed easily.  However, the editing was much more difficult. 

By the end of August, it was ready for submission and in the third week of September, I was offered my contract with Black Rose Writing. After contract negotiations and much discussion with my family, I signed my agreement and the rest, as they say, is history.

That brings me to the next section I’d like to cover- publishing.  At the beginning, I said publishing isn’t for the faint of heart.  Most beginning authors have this idea that the hard work stops once they write a novel… at least, I did.  I thought the writing was the hard part.  The fact is–that is the furthest thing from the truth.  The real work comes when you finish the novel. 

First of all, you’ve loved your characters and your story for months, possibly longer.  Then you put it out there to be judged by agent after agent, only to be rejected.  That starts another roller coaster ride, because the emotional ups and downs during this period can drive you insane, not to mention give you motion sickness.  Then, you get someone that bites and wants a “full” or a “partial”!  (This MUST be it- right?  Uh- No…)  Then you get a rejection off of that and you start to wonder if you are doing the right thing or if you are wasting your time.  But you trek on, and before you know it someone is interested and makes an offer to either represent or publish (this part could take months).  And you have an OMG! moment, and then you finally stop hyperventilating. 

Obviously- this has to be it- right?  Not quite. Now you have to negotiate the contract to acceptable terms, start the first of possibly many revisions, come up with jacket ideas, cover designs, possible promotion ideas (if you didn’t go with a large house), and the list goes on and on. 

The process is quite harrowing, but exciting none the less.  Even though there have been many ups and downs during my road to publishing, I wouldn’t change a thing.  I truly feel you can learn from every experience you have in life and every person you come in contact with.

Life is about the journey…

Much love-

Jordan~


Fashionably late? Or half dressed?

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So, I was editing my MSS FALLEN, and I was disgusted with myself.  I couldn’t actually believe I’d actually queried the silly thing.  It wasn’t ready.  And I couldn’t believe I’d been offered contracts on it, but then they must have seen something in it, and were willing to put a little editing into it, to make it truly shine.
But that brings me to today’s topic.  PATIENCE.  As most of my friends and family know, that is something I’m seriously lacking.  I want what I want, and I want it NOW! I’m not exactly Veruca Salt, but probably close to it.  The only difference between her and me is, I don’t sit back and make other people do things for me. I make it happen.  Or I at least try to.
But, in writing, patience is not a virtue; it’s a must.  Things happen on their own time and not a second sooner.  Knowing this, I had written FALLEN, proofed it and then sent it on its way, hoping to get a jump-start on the process.  Surely, the powers that be would see its genius.  That was, of course, before I knew what a beta reader or critique partner was.  Before I joined a writer’s group, and before I’d gotten ANY kind of feedback on it. 
Sure, I’d given it to my neighbor to read, but to be honest, I don’t think she ever read it.  I think she just kept telling me she loved it, because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. 
So, of course, I thought it would happen almost instantly, fame, fortune, an awesome agent, not necessarily in that order, but it WOULD happen.  And sooner rather than later.  After all, Stephanie Meyers did it. 
It never dawned on me that she was the exception rather than the rule, and that publishing is a whole world onto itself.  Most writers are not overnight successes and if they are, they have to have the right book, at the right time.   It’s just as much a game of luck as it is one of skill.
Sure, FALLEN is great.  I’m still in love with it, but the editing mistakes I made, made me shutter when I was going through it “one last time” before sending it to my editor.  I realized then, what they meant by write the story, but then shove it in a drawer and come back to it a few months later, when it’s not so fresh in your mind.  It really is amazing what you’ll catch. 
Writing is so much like my time in the military.  “Hurry up and wait” became the motto of most of my fellow sailors.  From “p-days” to “graduation day,” it’s filled with hurry, hurry, hurry to do this, only to wait for the next four hours while the other 500 recruits who were rushed there ahead of  you.
In writing, it’s the same thing.  Hurry up and write the next best thing, so you can get it out to the agents, before the other 500 writers who are writing in your genre come up with the same thing and then wait 3-4 months for the obligatory rejections.
But one MUST take their time when writing.  At least to an extent.  It’s better to be fashionably late to the party, then to show up half dressed.
So take your time folks, use your resources, make your mss and query a must-see.  And above all, HAVE FUN!!  Writing is more than a job, it’s a passion. 


And to all my awesome friends, fans, and family have a Happy New Year!  May this year be better than the last for ALL of us.  Remember “You can shine, no matter what you do.” -Mr. Bigweld

Book Review of Jordan Deen’s debut novel, THE CRESCENT.

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It’s that time again!  Book Review Sunday.  And this week I have a special treat.  For a few days now I’ve been commenting on Facebook and Twitter about a wonderful new author friend of mine who has her debut book coming out in January called, THE CRESCENT.

Well, I’ve actually had the privilege of reading an advanced copy of the book and let me tell you, I was blown away.  As a lot of you know, paranormal is my thing.  I love a good paranormal fantasy.  Vampires, werewolves, banshees, anything that goes bump in the night. So when I heard what her book was about, I read an excerpt and knew I had to read more.  And, of course, I asked if I could read an advanced copy so I could review it, since I knew my fans might be interested, too. 

She agreed and sent me a copy.  I quickly finished the chapter I was working on and then dived into hers and I’m glad I did.  I was hooked immediately and finished it within four hours.  

It is a story of war between two clans.  Both of which are trying to steer a prophecy in their own direction.  Where one girl has to choose between what is in front of her and something she never knew existed.  And what she thought was the truth and what isn’t.

If she follows her heart, one will die.  If she follows her destiny, everything she knows will be destroyed.

It starts off innocently enough with the heroine, Lacey, trying to escape from the drama her parents are causing her—they fight all the time–by pacing outside her family home, but she feels like someone is watching her and panics. Only to realize that she jumped the gun and no one was there.  Or so she thinks.

When two new gorgeous boys show up at her school, she finds herself attracted to the both of them and not quite sure what to do about it.  The first, Alex, is constantly by her side and it doesn’t take her long to realize she’s falling in love with him, but when the other, Brandon, shows up and touches her, there is an almost instant feeling of knowing. 

She wants to get to know him more, but he’s almost never around, except her dreams are filled with visions of him and something else only found in nightmares. 

I won’t go into anymore, you’ll need to read it for yourself, but I know you can see already this is an interesting take on an old legend and another must read.

There were several times I just had to turn the page and keep reading and not once did I want to stop.  Apart from a few minor grammatical errors and technical glitches, this book was well-written and well thought out.

The tension is a good mix of external, internal, and sexual, and kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. 

The characters are well drawn and relatable and the author did a good job of drawing me in and making me feel as if I were Lacey. 

I can’t wait for the book to come out, so I can make it a part of my collection.  I give this book an 8 out of 10 rating and two thumbs up.

To read an excerpt, see the book trailer, or order your own copy, please visit her website at www.jordandeen.com.