Thursday, January 19, 2012

So Your Critique Group's Awesome. Now What? How Do You Decide Which Notes to Implement?

Just about every writing blog I follow has at some point addressed the importance of critique groups, and I couldn't agree more. They're vital to making your work shine. A good critique group can mean the difference between signing with an agent or not, or even landing a book deal or not. We all need other writers to point out inconsistencies, plot holes, info dumps or just plain bizarre/bad writing. We also need cheerleaders to encourage us and point out the moments they loved. The best beta readers are a combination of the two.

Assuming you already have a core group of committed critique partners whose opinions and advice you respect, it's still difficult to decide which notes to listen to, and which to ignore!

Here's how I go about figuring it out:

1. Is there a consensus about some aspect of the story? (Do 3 out of 3 AI judges agree?) Then take another look at the problem, even if you don't want to, even if it's a pain in the butt to fix. There's a reason they all brought it up spontaneously. It's a problem. Consider this a bonus. It makes things easier.

2. What does your gut tell you? Even if only one person sees a particular problem, that doesn't mean you can automatically disregard it. You can usually tell right away if he or she has hit a nerve. Did you feel defensive or self-concious when it was brought up? Were you secretly hoping nobody would notice it? It's probably worth changing or you wouldn't have had that reaction.

3. What does your gut tell you, part B: Is the reader trying to help you tell your story, or are they trying to help you tell the story they wish you had written? If the former, give it serious consideration. If the latter, don't worry about it and move on. Luckily, it's been a long time since I've run into this dilemma; my beta readers all seem to "get" my style and help me see it through. I'm super grateful for them!

How do you handle critiques? Do you follow the above guidelines or do you think I'm nuts?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My New Website & The Amazon Dilemma

So in a frankly scary burst of energy last Saturday, I made myself a little website.

I'd had the domain name for years but hadn't done anything with it, and it was time to admit I was never going to code a site from scratch, no matter how much I pretended it was going to happen. I have basic html skills but no patience when it comes to design. I wanted something clean and colorful, where I could introduce myself and my book to the world, or at least to a corner of the web.

Next order of business: I know I'm late to the party, but I think this topic is worth revisiting.

Remember that super-annoying, condescending Slate article ("Don't Support Your Local Bookseller") late last year? I found some excellent rebuttals to it I'd like to share:
In Los Angeles, we have a thriving indie bookstore community (Skylight Books in Los Feliz; Vroman's in Pasadena; Book Soup in Hollywood; Diesel in Brentwood; and Libros Schmibros in Boyle Heights, to name a few). The Borders in my town has closed, and the Barnes & Noble near my office is about to. Driving 40 minutes to the nearest indie isn't always a possibility for me. I'd like to support local booksellers and I often do, but sometimes the convenience of Amazon lures me away.

How do you balance Amazon versus indie stores?

Do you have access to local booksellers in your neck of the woods?

Edited to add: for some reason this post went out twice, so I deleted one version. Sorry to lose the comments :(

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Scout vs Francie: A Coming of Age Smackdown

To kick off the new year, I decided to ditch YA for a little while and re-read some classic "adult" books. So of course I chose coming-of-age novels, ha. (YA wouldn't let me go so easily.)

Both are historical and both feature strong-willed young protagonists. As you've probably deduced from the title of the post (and, um, the images), the books I chose were To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

Although Mockingbird won the Pulitzer, and is obviously well written, I (whispers) prefer Tree. It was a close call, but for me, Tree is a delight from the very first page, whereas Mockingbird takes a little while to get started. Don't get me wrong; the second half of the book is utterly amazing -- and pays off all the "slower" parts from the first half -- but it's not one I can read over and over the way I can Tree.

However, my opinions could certainly change over time, and once I'm older I might flip my position.

Have you read both books? Which do you prefer?

Need a refresher? Take my quiz and find out if you're more likely to dig Scout or Francie: