What did they say?
They gushed, right?
When I finished my first book, the 489 pages of my tome filled two 1½ binders. To save paper, I’d set my margins to ½ inch and my line spacing to 1½. The font I chose was Helvetica. My estimated word count: 150,000. And, I’m being conservative.
When I finished that story, I experienced a surge of joy on par with what I’d felt on my wedding day and the first time I cradled our daughter in my arms. To say I was proud would be an understatement. I printed that story out and wept over the pages.
What did I do with that ream of brilliance?
I invited six friends to read it. Six friends to whom I will be indebted for the rest of my life.
Bless them, but they waded through that monstrosity, which boasted more newbie mistakes than I’m willing to admit. (At least a kind and tactful friend told me, after reading my first chapter, that she’d be better able to figure out who was talking—and when—if I used quotation marks around dialogue. Can you say “duh”?)
Those friends, without exception, raved about my story. “It’s wonderful!” one said. “I love it!” another exclaimed. Only one ventured a suggestion of how I could improve it, and she only did so because I pressed her for an answer.
Lesson #1 – Friends and family members are not the most objective readers.
Fueled by the exhilaration of achieving a lifelong goal of writing a book, I dreamed of publication. I bought a market guide and read the guidelines for publishing houses I thought would be a good fit for my story. I typed “romance writing” in Amazon’s search bar, bought every book I could find on the subject, and devoured them.
And I learned a lot. I learned that my story exceeded the standard word count for a single title historical. I also learned that one aspect of my story would raise an editor’s eyebrow and prevent me from having a shot at a publishing contract—even if I were to chop the extra 50K words.
What did I do?
And then, armed with my newfound knowledge, I started my second book. I joined Romance Writers of America® and read each issue of the Romance Writers Report cover to cover.
One section captured my attention. The contests. I entered my second story in the Golden Heart®. My scores were so low they put me in the bottom half.
The “good student” in me revolted. Less than 50% is an F. Unwilling to accept that I was a failure as a writer, I kept on writing, completing three more stories in nine months.
Between July and November of 2007, I sent off 33 entries, submitting four stories at a time to many of the contests. (No. Not my first manuscript, in case you were wondering.) I got to know our local postal clerks on a first name basis.
And then the white Mylar envelopes started pouring in. It looked like a blizzard had hit my home office. With trembling fingers, I would open a package. I’d take a deep breath to slow my racing heart and read the comments.
I wish I could meet those wonderful women (and men?) who judged my entries and made helpful comments and thank them in person. I’ve often said they taught me how to write. They exercised restraint, marking only the most glaring errors. I think they probably felt sorry for me and didn’t want to discourage me. Every one of them said something positive. Some even recommended craft books I might want to read.
I absorbed all those generous judges taught me. But there was a limit to how much I could learn from them. After all, they only saw a few pages of my story. I needed more in-depth feedback.
Lesson #2: Contest feedback can only help so much.
One of the contests I entered in the fall of 2007 was the Golden Heart®. I’d incorporated everything I’d learned from the chapter-level contest judges. I sent in my four entries, hoping at least one would come in the top half and prove those contest fees I’d been forking out hadn’t been wasted.
I did far better than I ever dreamed. Two of those entries finaled. Once newbie me found my way to the RWA® website and learned what the GH was all about, I was dumbfounded. I didn’t think my stories were that good. But I was happy with my final because it opened up a whole new world for me.
I’d written in isolation up to that point. I knew no other writers. I’d visited one blog to view a friend’s ultrasound picture and wondered how on earth she’d gotten it to show up. Aside from my monthly RWR fix, I’d spent the previous two years unaware of the wonderful community of writers just waiting to be discovered.
But they found me. I was invited to be a blog guest at The Seekers. Two of the other GH finalists issued an invitation to join the Pixies’ Yahoo! loop. I signed up for Nationals and wandered around San Francisco that summer in a daze.
And I met Anne Barton, one of that year’s Regency finalists. We got to know each other online and met in person at the conference. In the lobby of the San Francisco Marriott, seated on a plush sofa backing on one of the elevators, she asked if I’d consider being her critique partner.
I came close to weeping. Thankfully, I restrained myself. I didn’t want to scare her off. 🙂
I accepted Anne’s offer, and I’ve been blessed beyond belief. She’s not only an awesome CP; she’s a dear friend. She’s helped me take my writing to a new level, and I’ve offered her what help I can in return. Obviously, something is working, because we both have agents now and are getting closer to publication than ever before.
Lesson #3: Critique partners can help us grow as writers.
Critique Week is a dual celebration. I’m celebrating two years of having Anne as my CP, and I’m celebrating the fact that Romance Writers on the Journey is two years old..
Over the next six days, I’m going to have daily posts covering various topics related to forming mutually beneficial critique partnerships. Tomorrow, we’ll explore ways to find a CP.
Double the Fun Drawing!
In honor of my blog’s birthday, I’m giving away two prizes a day, one each to two winners. To enter the drawing, leave a comment on this post by midnight Pacific Time and leave your email address when prompted. (This way you don’t have to add it to your comment.)
I’ll hold the drawing the following day, post the winners’ names here, and contact them via email to get a mailing address (which I won’t share with anyone or add to any mailing lists.)
Congrats to the winners: Julie Robinson won the Dr. Seuss note cards, and Ramblings from the Left won the Wild, Wacky Woman dish cloth.Note: Offer void where prohibited. Odds of winning vary depending on number of entries. .
And here are today’s prizes:
I wanna know . . .
Do you have a CP?
How did you find one another?
In what ways has having a CP helped you?
What questions do you have about critique partnerships?