Are You a Lone Ranger Writer?
In publishing, we’re constantly asking writers—typically a rather introverted bunch—to get involved, to engage, to network, to join groups and go to conferences. I often find myself wondering how many of you cringe every time you hear that kind of advice.
Maybe you’re not into the whole publishing “scene.” Maybe you don’t enjoy being in a critique group where people discuss your work.
Maybe you don’t want to be part of a crowd, you don’t want to go to workshops, you don’t think of writing as a group activity.
Maybe social media is not your thing. The thought of promoting your book gives you hives. You don’t want to be a speaker or a blogger or a Facebook expert.
Can such a person find success in publishing?
Yes—but these days it’s rare.
You’d have to be pretty darned talented to begin with. If you’re not going to workshops to learn, and you’re not getting feedback on your work, then in order to snag an agent and a publisher, or even find a large audience through self-publishing, you’d have to be writing amazing stuff without benefit of the collaborative process. There are definitely some writers who can pull this off. You may be one of them. The only way to know is to try it and see what happens.
There are still stories of writers getting their agent through the query process, without ever networking or getting a referral or going to a conference. But eventually you’ll need to build an audience for your book, whether you’re with a publisher or doing it yourself. You are going to have to engage with your readers and potential ones.
Most of that can be done online, so if you’re at least comfortable with blogs and social networking, you should be able to market yourself just fine. You don’t necessarily have to be “out there” promoting except in the virtual world.
For all the emphasis on critique groups and workshops and conferences, we recognize the reality that not all writers are cut out for all that. While this kind of involvement does offer terrific advantages for those who are able to do it—and there are some people who would never find success if they didn’t avail themselves of every possible resource—all is not lost if you can’t.
In the past, writers have told me they can’t afford conferences, or don’t have access to them because they live in a remote location. Some have said they haven’t been able to find a critique group. I tell them it’s up to them to find success despite the limitations.
But I rarely hear from writers who say, “I am not interested in all that group stuff. I am a writer! I sit in my cave and write — by myself. I have no desire to do it any other way.”
Today’s your chance.
If you’re a solo writer who cringes at the thought of a conference, critique group, or workshop, or if you can’t stand the idea of promoting your work — it’s time to step out and try it!
If you should decide to invest in some personalized counsel, I offer coaching for unpublished authors here: My Coaching Services
I agree with the above. Another great resource is uploading your document to http://www.Prooffix.com for a quick expert proofreading before sending.
I’m lucky to be part of the Geneva Writers’ Group. Over 230 writers. We invite agents, editors, publishers to our conferences and a good number of us (me included) have found this way their agents and their publishing houses.
I have never done a workshop, but after my first novel (despite minimal success), I really need them. The problem is that I live in Pierre, SD where the buffalo truly roam. No writing groups. No reading groups.
I think of a lot of being with other writers, seminars, etc as chatter it is disrupting to my own energy. Although I know it would be good for me, I feel it a barrage of stuff I don’t need. I am now entering into more blogs, because I am finding many writers like yourself worth reading and getting good feedback. But your blog is a reminder that we need balance. Thank you for the reminder!
[…] Awesome post: Are You a Lone Ranger Writer? […]
I’m not a business man or a schmoozer. After I received my M.A. in English I put my true passion aside and went into the ministry with mixed results. Once I realized that a writer had to be both a business man and a personality, I threw it all away. I wrote some things over the years, published a few things, but gave up on the idea of writing novels. Recently I inherited a small amount of money that is allowing me to devote myself to writing full time, at least for a season, and I am giving it a shot. I’m having a wonderful time. I love literary novels and I am hoping to create something that fits that description, but I still experience great anxiety about the whole publishing business. My hands sweat just thinking about it.
It’s taken me 30 years of lone writing before deciding to let anyone, even my immediate family, read my writing. I have published 2 novels, with lots more to come (30 years of writing…) but I have no intention of joining a writer’s group of critique group. I am tweeting and blogging, but I’m not making any phone calls to book speaking opportunities or appearances!
Wow. This post came up on my Mention feed today. A long time since I posted here. Five years later, I will have published 52 novels by the end of this month. I have been on panels at writer conferences, appeared at schools and libraries, am active on a ton of Facebook groups, have my own little author network. I have definitely “grown up” in the writing community.
[…] Rachelle Gardner’s excellent blog poses the question – Are you a Lone Ranger writer? – in this post. […]
There are many of us writers who are handicapped that cannot get to conferences or out in the world to promote our writings, so what alternatives do we have?
CritiqueCircle.com was the only access point outside of my own head I’ve had the opportunity to share my work with. Also, the Query Shark’s online efforts have helped me tighten up my writing for both my query and my first MS. I was the D.M. growing up, so my writing reflected a LOT of telling. Some choice few but extremely helpful reviews on CritiqueCircle helped me understand where I was telling instead of showing but thought I was describing well. I’ve created a twitter last week(!) and have only just begun this whole….social marketing thing. I’m scared. Can I go back into my cave?
Yes, is there any other way, except those who use ghost writers?
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Maybe more of a Tonto than a Lone Ranger. I’m much more comfortable in a supporting role, maybe because I’ve been an English teacher, trying to inspire techies at a tech college to be creative. Horatio instead of Hamlet.
Regarding social media, I’ve been posting essays to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, just for kicks. It’s a “nifty” way for writers to immediately satisfy that itch to publish fiction and poetry, as well. Just don’t expect a lot in payment, unless you go viral by some odd chance. (I think it only pays about $3.50 for every 1,000 hits.)
When it comes to feedback, I look for hints in every agent’s response (the personalized ones, that is). Most have been a line or two of criticism. But I’ve had “ace readers” of literary agencies devote whole pages to ripping my submissions to shreds: a humbling experience, to be sure.
I know you’re not supposed to highly regard the critiques of friends and relatives, but I make an exception with my spouse. She served as a slush pile editor for OSU’s literary mag and wields a ruthless pen. When I took her advice to write a fantasy novel (a genre I enjoy reading), she lost interest halfway through and told me why in excruciating detail.
So here’s what I’m learning (20 years too late):
1. Make the first few paragraphs count. Do something, anything, to keep your reader from mouse-clicking or finger-tapping to some other form of entertainment (probably Candy Crush).
2. Make your protagonist active, not passive. My biggest hurdle is getting my lead characters to do something instead of just reacting to what’s going on around them … boring! (Unfortunately, this mirrors my actual personality.)
3. Know when to fold them. I tend to overwrite, so whenever I top 100,000 words, I start to cut back to something more marketable. Most descriptions can be whittled down, many conversations shortened.
4. Don’t overdo the revising. I’ve found that after five, six, seven, thirty-two revisions, my work usually begins to lose whatever original freshness and vitality it ever possessed.
5. Rein in your ego, especially when cold-calling agents. The worst response I ever get is silence, which I usually mistake for indifference. But when I do get some sort of personal remark about my writing, it makes my day. Instead of saying, Ah, well, it wasn’t accepted, I’m learning to say, Okay, at least I connected.
So back to the subject of connecting, I guess this kind of reply counts. It’s a way to feel you’re sharing, not just daring an agent to pick you up.
I went to a writer’s group for awhile… it was nice, but I honestly felt like it prolonged my writing process because I already had so much of my book written by the time I found the group. So rather than working on new material, I was taking time to edit, print, and then edit again for parts that were already written. I just work better by myself. I would like to attend more conferences, just to get my name out there a bit more, but I don’t have the financial resources at this time in my life. 🙂 I do tend to want to get things done all by my lonesome. 🙂
Editing is the most important part of the writing process. How many times did you edit BEFORE you went to the group? Also, it is important to think about what others say and decide if you agree before you make changes. One woman in my group has approx. 100 copies of every story because she re-writes them according to EVERYONE’S comments. I am the opposite; I think about it for a long time before I decide that the critiquer has a point. Even when they were college professors (of creative writing), it took a long time before I felt they might have a point.
Besides, show your WIP to 100 people and you’ll get 100 different feedbacks. If only one points to something in your story requiring a change, move on; if two or more point to the same thing, spend some time to understand the suggestion and its implications.
I fall under numerous categories depending on the genre. I’ve written YA both alone and with a writing partner, but currently I’m in cave dweller mode for my contemporary work. Mostly, it’s because I feel finding the right ‘match’ for a writing group has been difficult (my current location, Qatar, certainly isn’t helping). My one exception? I still occasionally write fanfiction and love the fandom writers I’ve connected with. Our relationships are virtual, but I’ve known many of the group for years and value their opinions and contributions.
Yes, I’d say I’m a Lone Ranger Writer. I wrote for nearly 17 years before I joined an online critique group for a short time. I spent the whole month critiquing while my book sat by the wayside. I actually loved to critique, got a few back, but realized it was either the critique group, or my writing.
Because I signed a contract with a publisher, I setup a website, joined twitter, and have made a few great writer friends. I love to read other websites/blogs, but after nearly every post I’ve made on my own blog, I wake up in the middle of the night and delete it; that may not be the Lone Ranger Writer in me but a symptom of why I’m the Lone Ranger Writer, I don’t know, but it’s something I’m willing to work on.
A retreat, or conference isn’t out of the question, but I’d rather stow myself up in my loft and write. Now days with about a million new books out each month that’s not the way to go if you want to have any sales.
I read that approx. ten editors went through Hemmingway’s writing before it went to print. I am not saying that we need TEN editors, but I was shocked to have one self-published writer tell me he edits his work himself. All I can say is I have learned tons from the hundred or more people in my MFA classes, then 20 or so writers who have come to my writer’s group and the fifty plus writers (some published, some best sellers) and agents and editors at the La Jolla Writer’s Conference.
Then there are my friends who read my work, the three coaches I hired. It has been a lot. This is my first major piece of writing and the story means enough to me that I don’t want it to be the throw-away that many writers talk about when referring to their first book.
We all have many ways of learning, and I know there were times when I was overwhelmed with info & feedback, but if I had published my ms the way it was in my thesis in 2009, it would have been a bleep in history. Now, I believe when it get it out there at the beginning of next year, it will be something I can be proud of AND, more importantly, it will lead to new areas of discovery in my life.
And I haven’t even mentioned all contacts made through the internet! 😉
yeah, it’s why I stopped notching My belt and started keeping a notebook.
I’ve yet to publish any of the books I’ve written but then I’ve
hardly tried. I suppose I’d like them published but I guess I really don’t care
one way or the other. I just love to write, to dream up stories, to see what
happens to the characters I create as they stare into the face of life. I love
to see them fall in love, marry, struggle against all odds and overcome. I like
to see how they’ll face the challenges that life puts in their path, and to watch
from a safe place when they are in peril knowing what the stroke of a pen can
do, and that I have to decide how they will respond. I like to put them in
danger and then determine how they will react to it, knowing that their reactions
mean consequences and those consequences in turn lead to more and more
consequences to what happens next in the story just like it does in real life.
I like to pit my characters against the odds and then pull from them inner
strength and fortitude to conquer and beat the odds.
The book I’m
presently writing – “The New Man from Burin” is about a tug boat captain who
rescues ships in peril during World War 2. Harry Brushett was real, he did
that, and did it magnanimously but then he disappeared. I did the research and
couldn’t find out anything more about him, so the rest of his life I made up. I
gave him a family, I brought them all to Tacoma
where he goes to work as a tug boat Captain for Foss Tug. He moves his family
to Gig Harbor and then the story becomes not so
much about a tug boat Captain, but how a tug boat Captain becomes a wonderful father
and husband. I build a family, a wonderful family, one that influences the
people they come in contact with in a good way. The story becomes more about how his family moving
to this quaint little bay on Puget Sound impacts
not only their community, but makes a huge impact on the fishing industry as
Was funny to come across your post because I’ve thought about this a lot, to the point of writing about it to sort out my thoughts (http://bookconjuring.wordpress.com/on-getting-there/))
It is not that writers are not interested in pounding the concrete to find networking opportunities: Real writers understand the power and value of networking. What has happened in the wake of digital revolution, that has liberated so many good writer, is that writing has been cheapened by the creation of a massive slush pile of shoddy writing. Today, every “hot and tot” in town is a writer; accordingly, the status of being a writer has declined considerably and so have the number of readers as well. We now live in the “anything goes” age that marginalizes just about every virtue in the world–and top notched markers who write slushy, crappy books are raking it in. It is a world that is filled with cynicism and intrigue–what are you going to do: Change it! Don’t get me wrong: I am with you and completely agree with you But you see: times have changed, and the bar has been lowered wayyyyy down to the ground. Goody two shoes like us are on the endangered species list–suckers in the way of those who fill the world with a dangerous tsunami of trash. Oh my, can’t we just all get along!
My question is: can a great writer stand out in this messy pile of slush? I am hoping that we can as I have finally decided to self-publish (tho if I get a request today for a full, that could change! ;->).
But I also wonder if it has changed that much in terms of the great writer being recognized. How many of the books being taught in school made the author millions while s/he was alive? I suspect, very few.
It seems that often, some time has to pass before a writer gets recognized. We are often ahead of our time. Now, the thing we need to know is whether we are the crap writers or the ones ahead of our time. Hoe do we figure that one out? 😉
By how many readers take the time to send you “thank you” personal notes. 🙂 Count more than reviews 😉
I have been to ACFW conferences. I have never been to a critique group. I tried one of the online sites a long time ago and it came across to me as petty.
would I like to be more involved in blogging, critiques, and conferences. absolutely, but like others money is a issue. Will i continue to go I don’t know at the moment. Will I keep writing that too is up in the air. I would like more support but can’t get any response.
So It’s all up in the air.
Well there are many trade-offs in this business. How many of you women prefer jewelry to the money to pay for an editor? How many of you men prefer to drive a BMW to going to a writer’s conference? I just asked my husband for $$ toward my editing costs. He asked how much am I talking about. I told him it is just a request; he can do whatever he wants, including giving me nothing.
I shop at 2nd hand stores and seldom go out to dinner. We bought most of our furniture at the furniture consignment store.
We all have many choices, not just about money, but also about time and space. We will make the choices according to our passions, HOPEFULLY.
I really appreciate this article. I think as writers we’re like fingerprints. At a glance we all look alike, but there are unique points of difference. What identifies one writer excludes the next, and throw a personality, job, income and lifestyle into the mix and you are really opening a proverbial can of proverbial critters.
I juggle family responsibility, a job and find it nearly logistically impossible to get to the couple of conferences within a five-hour drive or two-hour flight from home. I’ve seriously considered trying, but the last one was simply not in the budget after the bills were paid.
I have invested time in social media and blogging, and also created a website, which is a challenging effort, because I have no published work to point to, so I give hints and updates on progress and write about writing.
I have to say, that personally I fit the introvert profile quite well. People who know me will say that I am likeable and even intelligent, which is nice, but when I get around people I don’t know, my over-sized foot usually ends up squarely in my mouth. I can blurt out the dumbest things. Still, I want to tell stories for a living. Even for a supplemental living, but I have created a bit of a shell around myself. I write somewhere for varying periods of time between the hours of 9 pm and 1 am because for some reason, that fits withing the shell.
I can say this though, your articles have been chipping away at those shell-building sensibilities, and I keep learning, so please keep them coming. I’m not sure you may know how valued the help and information are.
I’ve not found many conferences helpful though there have been some exceptions. I enjoy interacting on Goodreads and Linked in and have run writing workshops which I enjoyed. Don’t go near Facebook or Twitter. I belong to a local writers group and several online groups.
It’s true, a lot of writers are loners and introverts, myself included, although I’m not so reclusive that I shun meetings, social media (that should be obvious if I’m typing in here) critique groups or just talking to people in general. But the problem I see is that in today’s publishing world, with it’s emphasis on the writer doing all the marketing and selling as well as the writing, everything is now being dropped on the writer’s shoulders, and that is precisely the person on which it doesn’t belong. Publishers have abandoned their responsibility to the writer at just the time when the lonesome writer needs it the most. Most introverts aren’t very good at selling, and I speak from experience. I know nothing of marketing. I’m not enough of an artist to design a book cover. I’m a writer, not a sales associate. I’m glad at least one agent understands the situation we loners find ourselves in, but it took you long enough to get around to it.
I’m an oft-published writer, and I continue to be published without attending lots of seminars and workshops. I don’t join critique groups, I don’t post my work to the various forums devoted to same. I don’t write in a cave exactly…but my family would say that the way I hole up in my room to do my writing is just about the same thing!
I honed my writing and found my voice as a reporter many years ago, and I maintain that the best way to “learn” to write is to write until you do the same. When I need it, I also take advantage of a wealth of material on the craft that can be accessed online. I do consult writer friends when necessary to get advice on a “need to know” basis. Two of my most beloved friends and mentors were Roger Ebert and Blake “Save the Cat” Snyder, both no longer with me. But I hear their voices in my head as I write. I attended only one of Blake’s workshops because he asked me to. He acknowledged to others that I didn’t seem to need them, though it vexed him no end!
As for social media, I’m a Huffington Post and Open Salon blogger, and I have Twitter and Facebook accounts. Readers who follow me through those outlets buy my books and read my other writing without being asked. I’ve noticed throughout my writing career that readers find me whether I look for them or not, and the royalties trickle in steadily.
I may have a different mindset than many modern writers. I’m not writing to be on the best seller lists. I’m writing to say something that needs to be said, or that interests me, or that challenges me in some way. If others come aboard, I’m grateful, and feel that I must’ve said it well.
Perhaps that’s one of the biggest differences between us hermits and others–our goals and reasons for writing differ. I would write if no one read a word of it. I’m happiest when I’m writing. Anything that takes me away from that too long makes me unhappy.
So…I write, instead of doing a lot of the other things today’s conventional wisdom insists we must.
I don’t know if I would still be a writer if I didn’t find an online community. I love knowing other writers. They make the whole process a lot easier. However I do find going to conferences and workshops to be stressful but I still do it. I’m terrified every time I send material off to my critique partners but I still do it.
To be honest, I did the whole workshop, conference, writers’ group, etc., thing twenty plus years ago when I was first writing. I’ve pitched to Melissa Senate. I’m glad nothing came of it, because I wasn’t ready and neither was the story. It’s important to do that and I’m glad I did, but now I know I can write pretty well. I do have others read it and edit with a fine-toothed comb, but I’m good and don’t really need validation from a critique group constantly second guessing me. I’m planning on self-publishing next year and will do plenty of publicity on-line. I can do the speaking engagements or TV/phone interviews if needed, because I did them in previous “real world” jobs. I ran our local writers’ group for a dozen years and I can honestly say it’s great experience. I’m just at the point where I don’t feel I need that investment in time and energy. I’d rather spend it writing. Thanks for asking!
I really have enjoyed connecting with other writers. I’ve gone it solo for a while because of raising children, home schooling, writing for a magazine … trying to keep my head above waters there … but it’s like the scales have fallen from my eyes, so to speak. I can’t believe the support from other writers. I have never felt more welcomed by any group in my life. So grateful.
It’s been hard because I’m not the social butterfly some are. I live in a small town and was forced to reach out online for a crit group. It turns out there are several. Bit by bit I learned to blog, tweet, and build a platform.
It’s working for me, but I’m not in a hurry. I have one story coming out in a few weeks and feel very accomplished. Yeah, it a short and I still feel like I’m on top of the world. 🙂
It’s the little things that matter.
Anna from Shout with
My blog is really quiet, but I have people write me confidentially. Considering the nature of blog, it’s understandable. I will often write about my alcoholism/sobriety/addiction, depression, and spiritual doubt. Sounds like a real downer put that way. But people do write regularly. I haven’t taken the step of responding to everyone in a deep way, the way I would face to face. I write a simple thank you usually. Perhaps that’s the next step for me.
I would find it challenging to do public speaking although I did it in my work. With preparation almost anyone can handle it, in my opinion.
I think facing these issues is good for writers. I collect people being active on twitter, fb, and my blog I just wouldn’t call them relationships.
Melody—we all struggle with something. In our society, admitting it is viewed as a weakness. I know I feel that way, others may too. Keep up your blog!
I’m am completely comfortable with engaging online with people, but I definitely cringe at the thought of…talking (gah!) to people about my book in person. I have been in a writer’s group, and found it to be extremely advantageous, but I haven’t found one I feel comfortable in since. I don’t have the means of attending a conference, but I would love to go! I would even…talk to people, but this makes me feel nauseated just thinking about it. Ha. I love to get feedback and find critique helpful, so it’s not that. I’m just so awkward. Painfully awkward. I wouldn’t have a clue on how to approach an agent in person and strike up a natural conversation about my novel. Writing a letter feels better because I have time to think before I put it out there, and I know they will take a look when they are ready.
I’m a cave writer. My cave is a coffee shop. I walk down there each day and write, edit and revise with deliberate focus for one to two hours. I’ve tried critique groups but genre readers and writers seem to have different opinions on ‘what will work’ and not. I’ve been in groups where a third say, change it, a third says, don’t change it and the other third says, it doesn’t matter because I’d never read it – it’s outside of my tastes. After going through that with several critique groups through the years, I decided to write with my number one reader in mind – that’s me.
BUT – and this might be critical – my years and experiences in critique groups help me edit and revise myself. Learning to critique others objectively and state not just, ‘this doesn’t work’, but to understand why this didn’t work for me was helpful understanding my shortcomings and become more insightful and objective about my efforts.
Michael, you raise what I consider an important point – critique groups are great, provided they have some savvy with the work’s genre. I had a book attacked viciously, and I patiently pressed for specifics, and finally, in an exhausted, frothy huff, the person said that the world of my novel left no room for Judeo-Christian traditions. As someone who knows the “world” of that novel quite well, I thought this was odd. My first series (of which, I’m speaking about Book 1) deals with human relationship struggles, our desire to find someone right for us (and for whom we are similarly “right”), and the games and deceptions that can accompany the struggle when we are trying to force someone into that role.
Yes, the backdrop of this is a supernatural tableau that includes reincarnation, hauntings, vampirism, and witchcraft, though it works in the mythology of the books. (Nearly everyone who’s read the first three books concur that it works!) However, there is nothing that in my opinion that displaces or precludes a single Judeo-Christian notion. These are not novels ABOUT God or angels (Anne Rice has done both), but they’re not subversive either. Everything in the story is there to support the plot and the various sub-plots, and is necessary to bring cohesion and suspense.
I could have saved a good deal of time by simply qualifying my compatriots better, ensuring that their own beliefs were secure enough to go unchallenged by a simple piece of supernaturally-tinged fiction. It would have been no different if we were talking about a murder mystery and the reader became terribly fearful for their own mortality upon reading of such a crime. Too fearful and distracted, perhaps, to offer you any useful feedback.
Though it also would have been wise to verify that said folks were even open to a work of fiction that delved into supernatural concepts to begin with. Lastly, as you suggested, if this was simply not their cup of Earl Grey, their feedback would necessarily have an asterisk beside it, limiting its value as being constructive.
You see how difficult I myself can be? Now I feel compelled to challenge my own notion! Seriously, while I believe the points above are valid, there is another side to it that a new writer (hopefully most of us won’t have this problem) must embrace: Criticism is good. If you were to get negative feedback from a reader or critic, yes, it’s possible that my above concern is at play. It’s possible, if you didn’t screen your audience well enough, that you will be speaking to someone who, while they have nothing against YOUR book, actually detests ALL books in that subject area. It’s true – when they say they hate it, it may have nothing to do with your own book. This is why I say it’s important if you are choosing your audience, as in a critique group, that you qualify their feedback before you even solicit it. You must prevent wasting any time with someone who not only hates your book, but ALL books, even the classics, in your genre(s).
That said, there is another possibility… It really does need improvement. This is potentially true of any of us, at any time, even the greats. Bear in mind that in our own minds, the work is perfect – as we envision it, it’s flawless, the scenes flow, the dialog crackles, the climax builds exactly as it should, and our ending is satisfying and wonderful. That’s in our own heads. And everything works in the perfect world of ideas – Plato taught us that.
Our craft as writers is to translate those ideas to words, and things always get lost in translation – so much so that it’s become a cliché. Our task is to become great with these tools, to communicate the ideas to the readers so effectively that they can easily experience in their own minds what we did in ours.
There have been many great examples of this, though an early one I read was in Stephen King’s “On Writing”. He calls it “A Memoir of the Craft” because he shares in the book many of his own ideas on editing, improving prose. He has a page or so from his short story “1408” in which he shows us the original draft, then how he edited it. The difference is remarkable, and whether you like him or not, there is little room to argue how much better the second draft is. This from a guy who, again, regardless of how you feel about his work, publishes roughly two books a year without co-authors.
Going back though your own work after a short separation (hopefully to keep you honest) can be eye-opening. I’ve been startled by how clumsily I jotted an idea onto the page, and re-writing it was a no-brainer. Then revisiting again, finding a much better way of saying the same things. It leads to a very satisfying experience where, when the work is unfamiliar enough to you that you can be somewhat objective (debatable, I know), we re-read the work and it’s good. Damned good. It is as good as it will become on our own. If we then run it by critics we trust, it can improve further.
This may all seem obvious. Though the truth is we can easily become defensive of our work, disqualifying all criticism – even when that criticism could help us improve the work, greatly.
My litmus test, by the way, is to watch people’s expressions as they read. If their eyebrows furrow and the look of confusion never fades into an “Ohhhhh, I get it!” expression, I have not successfully translated the idea into words. If your reader didn’t make the logical leap you wanted them to, it’s not their fault. If your character’s motive doesn’t seem sufficient to your reader, it’s not that the reader missed something – and you don’t have to rely on the reader thinking the same way as the character, of course! – you have not fleshed out the character so that the reader, despite possibly disagreeing with the motive for her- or himself, entirely understands why that motive would be good enough for the character.
I love the social aspect of writing. My critique group points out things I just haven’t thought of, my editor asks me questions I don’t know the answers to and best of all is interaction with my readers. This week I challenged them to come up with a plot for a Christmas short story. They gave me so many good ideas that I am combining four of them into one story. I’m writing it this week, my editor will edit it early next week while my cover artist is working on the cover and it will be on the market next Friday – Nine days after I thought of the project. As an indie, my advantage is in nimble response times to changing trends – so I use it.
The first writers’ conference I attended was sponsored by a small community college, and I was so frightened that I couldn’t sleep most of the night before, but the feedback I received was priceless. The encouragement I received was amazing, and I formed friendships – with other writers – that have lasted for decades. Now, it’s my joy to attend conferences as a presenter, but I also love to be a mouse in the corner and listen to the wisdom of agents, editors, and other writers.
I started out as a cave-lurking writer, one who experienced extreme emotional turmoil whenever I received constructive criticism. (In the beginning, that criticism came from my husband, who was also the brunt of my emotional reactions. Poor guy! So thankful he never allowed my feelings to hinder his honesty!) And conferences? Whooo! Halfway through my first major conference, I called my husband in tears (yes, while standing in the beautiful, elogant hotel lobby the confernece was held at, most likely with streaks of mascara cascading down my red and blotchy face) telling him I was in sensory overload, and I didn’t care how much it cost, but I absolutely needed my own room! Which I did, at a hotel a few blocks from where the conference was hosted, and I spent that evening in my room, in the dark and silence. (I also had an appointment with you, Rachelle, during this conference, and I’m pretty sure I looked rather insane. Because I’d reached some level of insanity by that point. lol)
Since then, I’ve become a feedback addict! So much so that when I sent my debut novel to my editor (one that had been through at least 4 crit partners), I was full of angst that I hadn’t had time to send the edited novel once again through my crit partners. I was immensely relieved to hear the edited novel would still go through a substantive edit. 🙂
There are ways I take care of myself, so to speak. I’ve learned I cannot share a room with anyone at conferences. Spending so much time around so many people, however lovely, drains me, so I need to have an escape route in place.
I’ve also learned I’m better off being selective with my classes and workshops, knowing I’ll need some down time in between.
Finally, and I think this just comes with time, it really helps that I’ve gotten to know other writers (and crit partners) on a more personal level. This means when their comments sting, I can remember who delivered them and why–namely, because they care about me and my work and only have my best in mind. I can also speak honestly, letting them know when I’m overwhelmed, etc. I’ve found the friendship level to be necessary when it comes to forming a critique parntership. It provides a level of trust, support, and safety.
In regard to the costs of going to conference, I’ve seen authors handle this numerous ways. Some ask for help. Others do editing work to pay for them. (I’ve done this before and was able to cover all expenses through freelance editing.)
I will say, in my opinion, conferences are a must, for sooooo many reasons from connecting with agents and editors (I wouldn’t be contracted now if not for attending the CWG conference), and other authors to learning (not just in classes but in conversations over meals, during breaks, in the classrooms filled with other students).
you need your DOWN time. I feel the same way. These are great comments!!! I have never attended a conference. So nervous to take that first step.
Thanks, Denise. 🙂 One thing that might help, *when* you do decide to go to a conference, is to go with friends you feel comfortable with. (Not necessarily rooming together, but deciding to attend the same conference. I did that with some special ladies this last spring. We all decided to go to the Blue Ridge conference. It was wonderful. I’ve also brought my husband along before. 🙂
And I’m pretty sure if you ever made it known you were going to a conference and that you were nervous, a jabillion writers would encourage you and look out for you, determined to help you feel comfortable. 🙂
I need quiet and solitude and that is a rare commodity. However I do go to writer’s conferences. I just pace myself and pick and choose the sessions that I attend.
Yes, I am a loner. It’s unfortunate for me that I am uncomfortable receiving critiques or sending queries. What is it – fear of failure? I’m not sure and it is a conundrum. I have self published one novel and am working on a couple of others, which I love as much as the first one. Crafting the story in my head into a published novel was #1 on my bucket list and I am happier than I thought I would be at the accomplishment. I’ve been met with very positive feedback but without the money to afford marketing, I haven’t made much money off of it. Well, that plus the self-pub company I went with gets most of the income earned. (Won’t do that again!) All this time I thought I was happy with where my book was and was fairly unconcerned that I hadn’t produced a literary phenomena. At least until I met a very colorful novelist who had also self-pubbed. The difference is(aside from the fact that she is a delightful writer) she has a publicist who has given her more opportunity and exposure than she could have done for herself. And she’s making a s-pot of money. I published in February and she in September and has by far surpassed me in terms of sales and income. She is a very entertaining writer and I am compelled to read every little word she will ever put out.
Back to me…I am really uncomfortable peddling my book but at the same time, love speaking engagements. Go figure. Too shy to approach anyone but jump at the chance to speak to a group. It’s crazy.
I have to say, I really felt that I’d “made it” when I saw a post on facebook – a cluster of about 15 women, perfect strangers to me, huddled up on a Florida beach with a copy of MY book in hand!
Would say more but Disqus just deleted my post.
Basically have Multiple Sclerosis so severely restricted in how much able to do each day. Have to choose between writing or editing or social media or life. Some days just do very little. Facebook keeps me going, but time is against me.
Good luck everyone else.
When I was first published, I had been writing away in secret for years, until I thought I was ready for the world. No-one ever saw my work, even my closest friends didn’t know I was writing, and I had never met another writer. So when I was published it seemed to everyone that I had come out of nowhere, whereas in fact I had secretly been honing my skills for year after year. Of course, once I had come out of the closet, as it were, I had to face the prospect of umpteen speaking engagements at literary festivals and so on, and was dreading it. But I soon found that I actually rather enjoy it – meeting my readers and other writers is actually a lot of fun. And now I have a network of other writers that I meet with in real life or online to compare notes with.
I’m not quite sure why I was this way – I suspect the psychology of it was that I didn’t want to call myself a writer or even admit to writing until after I was published, for fear that I would never make it, for fear of failure.
I can relate 🙂
I know for a fact I would have been VERY intimidated at my first major conference if I hadn’t known other people going into it. I met all of those writers online and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Actually, some of my closest friends now are those I met online who live in altogether different states. I couldn’t do without the support and encouragement they give me.
So, if anyone is reading this and afraid to reach out, don’t be. I’ve found fellow writers to be some of the friendliest people on the planet. And it’s not quite so scary to reach out via email or a Facebook friend request as in person. 😉
The conference I go to has only 200 attendees and we get to know the presenters and it is all very unintimidating. I heard there are even couple of conferences with only 100 attendees. I would love to go to those!
I am a solo writer in that I’ve never attended a work shop, conference or been part of a critique group. I do have a blog and I’m on Twitter. I am not financially solvent enough for the workshops, etc, but do like to blog about my writing journey. I’m not a huge fan of Twitter…, I suppose that could change. But in my opinion, tweets last about as long as a raindrop on a hot sidewalk. And…, I’ve heard/read how annoying repeated tweets, “buy my book! it’s got five stars on whatever…” are to others. I’d be willing to bet 99% of those are ignored.
Here’s what I think is a tried and true way to promote one’s book, and it’s old fashioned. Word of mouth. That’s it. And how to do that if you have a book out? Engage with your readers/potential readers. How to do that? Get yourself invited to book,clubs to talk about your book. Ask your library if they would like you to read…visit indie bookstores, big box bookstores (if you have one in your town) and offer to do a reading. TI think I could get in to that..even though I am the reclusive sort.
Indeed, Donna. Tweets like those come from bots, not real humans, and are useless.
Tweet yourself, “tweet different.” Word of mouth is also the right tweet.
I actually love to be in touch with my readers, and whenever possible I encourage local readers to discuss together the themes and the visions of my fictions.
In todays hyperconnected world it is unthinkable to isolate and not be open to every possible means of interaction. Times are a-changing, both in the publishing industry and in the way readers can interact with writers.
I’m surprised the Lone Ranger is alive still.
I wonder sometimes if it’s just life that gets in the way. I have two young kids, a part-time job and I’m caring for elderly parents. To say I don’t get much writing time these days is an understatement!
I couldn’t possibly leave the family for a few days to attend a conference. My husband has an unpredictable kind of job. With sick parents and a aister that lives in another state, that leaves me without options. This is something I unfortunately have to back burner until the kids get older.
A critique group? Would love to be part of one. I have been putting out calls for months for area writers with no luck. Now we have Skype and all sorts of fancy schmancy tools at our fingertips, so now it’s time to go outside my local area. I do enlist my husband to read from time to time, which is helpful.
I do attend webinars if they fit into my crazy schedule and they are easy on the pocketbook. So what’s a writer to do? Just keep writing, just keep getting better. I write for a local ethnic newspaper with deadlines every week, so I do write and I do engage regularly. My writing has definitely improved over the last eight years that I have “officially” been doing it, but there’s always room for improvement. So I just keep plugging away, doing what I can and trying to stick with it. Maybe I’ll get lucky and there will be a writer’s conference in Chicago that I can attend during school hours!
We all need support, so thank goodness for social media. I get a lot of great tips, and connect with many great people and resources that way.
I wish you all a good writing day!
Hah! I guess you could call me a lone ranger writer…though I don’t really think of myself that way.
I don’t go to writer conferences, mostly because writing is not the vocation by which I earn a living, and my ‘real’ job demands a lot of time.
I’m not part of a critique group, simply because I don’t know of any in my little corner of rural Arkansas.
When I published my only book, thus far, I checked into conventional publishing just enough to realize that a non-fiction book written by an author with no official credentials and a platform consisting of a very small Sunday school class wasn’t going to pique the interest of any agents or publishers.
So, I read everything I could find on the topic of self-publishing, did my own layout, my own cover design, my own editing, etc. I used CreateSpace to launch my book as a POD, then figured out how to configure it as an e-book for both Kindle and Nook. I read up on websites, bought my own domain and configured my own blog. Then I started a face-book account and a twitter account.
All that (including writing the book) across a single summer. So, yes, one could say that was definitely a lone ranger approach, and I did a lot of things backwards, and have learned a lot along the way.
However, I also enlisted the help of friends, family, and professionals to critique the book, to offer feedback on what worked well and what didn’t, to tell me where it bogged down, and to mark up copies with recommendations for improvement. AND, I listened…every input I received from every source resulted in some sort of change in the book.
Since that crazy summer, I have become reasonably adept at social media (at least the blog and Facebook), and have used social media to build and strengthen a lot of relationships.
Perhaps, most importantly, I have continued to remain aware that writing is all about communicating. Whether a book, a blog, or a Facebook post, it’s all about connecting with readers.
In the end, it’s not about what I write, but about what someone else reads, and what they get out of it.
You sure pegged me! I write in my log cabin in the woods and can stay there only on weekends, but in that time I’m at it like a ship before a gale. I gave up on queries and self-published 4 sci-fi books working on the next. My books won or placed in each contest I entered and I have great Kirkus reviews; all is on the book covers. I started an Author’s Blog at the start. I try to do the social interaction stuff, but failed so far. I just submitted a character interview for a popular blog last week and am on Goodreads. After my 2nd book contest win, Penguin contacted me but I’m sure she drifted away since my blog had few subscribers and the books aren’t selling. I was built for the traditional publishing era and have great difficulty with this social marketing business. The commenters who talk of the glory of interaction are like musicians who can’t understand why everyone can’t play gigs and sell t-shirts – they love the interaction but don’t.
My lone-wolf tendencies are more from the reality of my situation than from my personality. We work in France. I use social media often but it’s hard to be a part of a writer’s group or workshop when it’s thousands of miles away. Any suggestions on networking when you’re isolated geographically?
While I agree that a certain amount of networking within our profession and with readers is profitable, vital, encouraging, and great fun at times, and that authors need online social media to become known and sell books, there’s a balance. That balance is sometimes skewed because of the emphasis on marketing to social media and conforming to other author’s marketing methods. A certain amount of conformity is necessary in every business, but as writers, we are artists and individuals. Some folks are everywhere online – all the time, re-tweeting and networking themselves – at times it borders on annoying. One wonders how they get any quality work done. I’ve known writers who grew overly stressed and anxious because they were told they must do this or that to be published, and they go overboard on marketing, at the expense of their art and craft. No, we’re not lone wolves, we need readers, but on the other hand, it’s important to find one’s own balance between marketing and creating well-crafted work.
Oh…if there were only more hours in the day. Balancing a full time job, family, and writing is tricky business. I write in the wee hours of the morning, sacrificing sleep to pursue my passion. It leaves little time for marketing and mingling. Right now I’m content with building my body of work (6 novels). In a year I will retire from my day job and relinquish my lone wolf mentality.
I’m a lone writer, but it’s not by choice. I live in a fairly remote area, and I’m disabled; it’s very difficult for me to leave the house. We’re below poverty line (I’m reliant upon SSDI, and my husband can only work part time because he needs to care for me.) I’m also extremely sick at random intervals, so it’s very difficult for me to take care of email and the responsibilities I have. I’m not willing to tell a critique group ‘Hey, I’d like you to critique my work, but it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to critique yours.’ That’s just not fair to them.
So, I’m just kind of stuck. I’d love for life to be otherwise, but I don’t see a way around these obstacles, no matter how I love working with other people. :/
You can join online critique groups, or start one yourself. It’s very easy and you can do it from the comfort of your home. I write for children of all ages and joined CBI Clubhouse which is a mewsletter geared to writers and it has also become a network for all of us who joined. We have online critique groups. Maybe you could scout on the internet for critique groups dealing with your genre. Not only does my group do critiques, but they have also become my online buddies.
I think the idea is to reciprocate critiques, and that’s not something I can reliably do. Otherwise I would love to join a critique group, and online would be better.
While I like blogging and Twitter, I’ve never been to a critique group, workshop, or conference. My CP’s are my husband and a friend who’s an English teacher.
This year, I queried my third ms of the last five years. With the two previous mss, I’d only gotten two requests (one each) for fulls. So I got some professional help with my query (an online charity drive), because I knew I needed it.
I had always told myself that I’d be one of those authors signed from the slush pile. But I was starting to get discouraged. I knew I finally had a project with a good hook and a good query to accompany it. I told myself that if I didn’t find an agent with this ms, it was time to put aside my stubbornness and discomfort, and start looking into conferences.
Twenty-five queries, six full requests, and a few months later, I got The Call. I’ve signed with my agent, whom I already adore.
And while I would never knock conferences, workshops, or critique groups, I’m glad I was signed from the slush pile. It makes me hopeful that the dream of a book deal might not be a pipe dream.
Congrats, Carrie! It’s really hard to balance all the demands coupled with all the demands at home. So proud for you!
I think attending workshops and critique groups is very different from engaging on social media or going to book clubs or libraries. In one, you network with other writers and publishing professionals; in the other, with readers. I think it’s very possible to be successful without the former, but I think it’s vital to engage with readers. They are the lifeblood of the business.
But you should also keep in mind that other writers, agents and publishing reps are also readers. They are discerning readers, and while some will argue that the general readership has lower expectations of literariness, a well-written ms that is appreciated by writers, authors and others in the business will most likely have a readership too.
Good point. Very true.
I have to admit the idea of going to conferences and work groups does intimidate me a little, but that’s because I’m shy when it comes to sharing my writing in a face to face setting. However, when it comes to social media I am a little social butterfly, so when I read about your advice on engaging an audience that way I was greatly encouraged to do so. I am now in the process of getting my website set up, and soon will be establishing a Facebook page for my writing as well. I just want to thank you so much for blogging and giving advice to all of us. I can’t tell you how many times your blog topic has spoken to me and whatever issue I am currently having that day. It has been a great form of support for me and has pushed me to move forward with confidence 🙂
I don’t know if I would describe myself as a Lone Ranger because I have gone to a conference to meet an editor (once), and I do have a blog, but when it comes to my writing, the idea of critique groups or beta readers makes me cringe.
First of all, when I am writing a novel, I have a pretty good idea of what the ending will be, and I work towards that. Things may happen along the way that I didn’t expect, but that is what happens during the writing process. Until I reach the end, I don’t want to hear what anyone thinks about it.
I have one friend who read my work throughout the process, and she did not give me any suggestions or ideas. I guess you could call her a beta reader. She was merely there to keep me writing. I knew she was expecting more work, so I had to produce more work, but she did not read it and say “why are you doing this?” or “it would be great if you add this.” All she did was point out non-American language (I’m literally a Lone Ranger – I’m from Texas but living in Ireland since 2007 and have forgotten colloquialisms.)
Once my novel was finished, then I said to her – make as many red marks as you want, tell me everything you don’t like about it – but that was only because it was finished and I could argue for this or against that.
To me – who has never been part of a critique group or had more than than one beta reader – what I picture when I think of the aforementioned is a group of writers talking about book ideas, reading chapters and discussing what to do next or what to fix. I did this during a fiction course in college, and the only thing I enjoyed was hearing the professor’s comments on my work. The professor decided my grade. The professor wielded the power.
Now that I have a finished manuscript, I want to send it to agents and hear what they think. The agent wields the power. If agents do not like my work it’s either because it’s not good enough or they are not the right agent.
Maybe I don’t know enough about critique groups, maybe my impression of them is wrong. Living in Ireland, I don’t even know of any critique groups of American writers to be involved in. Do you have any suggestions?
Hey there Anna–I would just say it’s great to kind of shop around for a crit partner. It does take a bit of networking, but it can be very enlightening. Sometimes when we start querying, we don’t know what we don’t know, if that makes sense.
When I first queried, I thought it was perfect, until I let someone read it. She thought it fell flat (it did). Because of her tweaks, the query caught more than one agents’ eye. Now, you don’t want to let TOO many cooks spoil the soup (or change your writing voice!), but having 1-3 trusted critiquers, who have strengths you might lack, is so important. Most agents don’t edit for you, so having a crit partner who can help you get things as perfect as possible PRE-submission is a wonderful thing for your career.
Something I’ve heard of is authors doing a few chapter “sample” critiques–you crit each other’s work, then decide if your critting style “clicks” or not. So there are no hard feelings.
And online crit groups are a great way to go about things–you don’t have to do small talk, just critique. It’s great to find other authors in your genre. However, they can be time-consuming. One thing I’ve enjoyed is following blogs like this, honing in on authors whose writing/comments I respect, following their blogs, and then eventually asking them if they’d be willing to crit a chapter or two. Or just finding an author a couple steps ahead of you can help–authors who’ve been edited tend to know what agents are looking for.
Hope this helps! I’d just recommend getting other eyes on it pre-query or at least query in small batches. That way, if rejections start coming in, you’ll know you need to work on it without spoiling many of your opportunities to get snagged by an agent!
All the best to you!
hello! yes, I am a alone writer, but I do my conferences and I sell my books alone! Well, I live from my books. Alone. Thank you, Rachelle, for your teachings. With all my love, Isabel.Motta
I agree w/Andrew, that being a loner isn’t going to bring you any support or helpful crits–and both are definitely necessary to keep plodding along this author path.
However, I can attest to the fact that you can get an agent without having to meet them face-to-face. I’ve actually gotten three agents through queries alone. I’ve never been able to afford conferences, much as I’d love to go and meet my peeps. But you can do all kinds of networking via internet.
The outside input from crit groups/beta readers/crit partners will get your writing where it needs to be to stand out. And the support and prayers of fellow writers/spouses/friends (and finally, readers!) will hold you up when you’re in a miserable, rejected writerly heap on the floor. Because the key is perseverance, and even the strongest people need some encouraging words or gestures from time to time to just hang in there.
There are still times I wish I could just go completely dark and write like a maniac, forgetting platform and marketing altogether. But I’m so thankful for agent blogs like yours and others that bring issues authors deal with to the fore. There weren’t many of these available when I started out, and I spent lots of time wondering if my writing path was “normal” (whatever THAT is!). Feedback and advice are crucial to staying in the writing game, especially as the publishing world keeps morphing.
Being a lone wolf is for the birds.
First, the peer involvement issue –
Writing, more than almost any other profession, requires some sort of support system. Unlike painters, sculptors, and musicians, we create things that are expressly designed for others’ enjoyment. Without feedback and peer support, the whole thing can seem like a dark night’s patrol without a compass.
Encouraging others helps them, and it helps us. Exercising compassion and love opens our hearts to people, and the characters that we create that lie beyond the people we meet.
On connecting with readers –
Without readers, what would be the point? The brief connection with people you’ve never seen before, and whom you will never see again, can give rise to honest criticism that is almost painful
Unlike painters, sculptors, and musicians, we create things that are expressly designed for others’ enjoyment.
Unlike? You got to be kidding me. Painters, sculptors, and musicians create things expressly designed for others’ enjoyment. Why do you think their work is displayed and performed for other people?
It would have been more accurate to say that painters etc can enjoy their own work more than writers can.
I used to paint, and when I got the essence of, say, a landscape I got a big kick out of it, and would hang it on the wall. It was fun to look at the things. It didn’t matter that I was rejected by practically every juried show I tried to enter; I liked what I created, and could enjoy it even if no one else did.
I’m not sure that writers can meaningfully do that.
I think they do. Writers do not (should not) write for fame and money as main motivator. They write because they must, to silence the voices. It’s the only form of madness society is willing to accept.
A story burns inside and, like with an open wound, it oozes out. It is reward per se when a writer becomes the first reader of the story.
Yes, I suspect most writers sometimes write just for self-expression…to put into words what we feel in our hearts. I know I do. Poetry, especially, for me, is about expression rather than communication.
However, most of my writing is about communication. I’m not concerned with fame or fortune, but I am very concerned about communication. And no matter how brilliantly or coarsely I write, at the end of the day, it’s not about my talent or skill, but about whether or not a reader gained new insight from my words.
I think this is what Andrew was getting at…
I can agree with that. Readers are the most important people for a writer. I write for myself but I have in mind every single old and new reader because I care.
But isn’t in part the same with all artists? But of course a certain Michelangelo when he hammered his Moses.
I tend to write as if I were a third person, talking to me, explaining the how or where or who and why to ME. Then I read it as my SELF. So I can edit it to make my point a whole lot easier that way because I am READING it as an observer, not as a creator.
“It’s the only form of madness society is willing to accept.”
Even that is not guaranteed. I recently watched a movie about the Marquee de Sade. I wish I could remember the title (it was the last movie I watched with my mom). There may come a day agin where people are institutionalized for what they write. Hopefully not, but one never knows.
Let’s hope happens after I’ll get a posthumous Noble prize for Literature. 😉
It wasn’t WHAT he was writing as much as that he could even THINK IT UP! I have groupies for some of My moves, and the pleasure-pain confusion is a winner most of the time, but De Sade’s rabid addiction to his lusts was what caged him until his death.
I write because I’m fascinated and I want to and love to read what I write. I thrive on feedback from other readers and write best within a community. I cannot find any NONparallel between these forms of art. One is visual, one is textual. That’s about it.
Note: I do not REQUIRE a support system; I enjoy having a community of like-minded readers/fans.
Andrew, they may not “meaningfully” do that, but they do, do it. I am always shocked by the number of people showing up at critique groups with books they already published. Maybe they get a kick out of showing people they are published, I don’t know. One guy showed up to my writer’s group with a book, and I asked “Is that Print-on-demand or ?” He just stared at me. He finally admitted it was the ONLY copy.
I will say I do commend those who did publish and are now trying to figure out how to make the book better. Geez, I thought I was bad doing all the social networking BEFORE getting published, but that is nothing compared to deciding to edit AFTER your book has been put out to the universe.