For the love of CPs

I heard a crazy rumour the other day that some authors, once they sign with an agent, drop their Critique Partners (who will from this point forward in this post be referred to as CPs).

This was pretty much my reaction:

 
(or, are they NUTS?)

 Let me back up for a moment.

Getting an agent to like your book enough to want to sign you is, well, awesome. Knowing you’re out of the query ditch and one step closer to publication? Amazing. I felt a little like this for at least a few weeks (I actually still feel a little like this, to be honest):

 

However, I can’t say for sure it would have happened without my CPs. They read every page I sent them. Then read each one again, after I made changes. They offered critical feedback, telling me what wasn’t working (and why, if they could articulate it specifically). They pushed me, and questioned decisions I made for the characters. They came up with some excellent ideas for how to improve the plot, or up the stakes, or to add depth to a character. They gave me virtual high fives and plenty of “squeeeeees” when I got requests. They commiserated when the rejections came in. They told me not to give up. And now that I’m agented, they continue to give me great advice, read my words, and help me make this next story shine.

Basically, they helped shape me into a better writer, and I’m beyond grateful for every minute they spent with my words. Because that was time they could have spent working on their own manuscripts. Sure, we swap pages and I offer them the same support. But good CPs, writers themselves, spend HOURS of their own precious time on your words because they want to help you succeed. Simple as that.

Why would I ever give that up?

A few important things to note — of course, I can only speak for myself, but I imagine there are plenty of authors/agents who would agree with the points below:

  1. Yes, I have an agent. No, I can’t expect her to become my one and only CP. She’s busy. She has (gasp) other clients. Lots of them. Her job is to sell the book I’ve already written. So while I can certainly bounce ideas off her and let her know I’m working hard on the next story, it’s critical to find an outlet for all those unpolished words I’m putting down each day.
  2. It’s tempting when you’re writing a new story to want feedback from your agent early on. You’re a team, right? Of course she wants to read the super-awesome 250 words I just wrote this morning (even though this is a first draft and those awesome words are likely to get cut in revision 35), and the next 100 I crank out before picking the kid up from her school bus. Um, nope. Don’t do it. Resist sending your agent the 25 emails you want to each day, and send them to your CPs instead. It makes for much healthier and productive relationships, all around.
  3. Reading others’ work, especially unpolished/unpublished manuscripts, gives you insight into different writing styles and techniques … and can help you with your own writing. If you read a CP’s early draft and realize she just hasn’t taken enough chances with a character, it’s an opportunity to look at your own story and check it for the same. It can be tricky to see our own flaws — we’re so close to the story, we may not realize the giant plot hole we’ve created until it’s too late (okay, okay, it’s never *too* late but going back to fix a plot hole after you’ve written “The End”? Not the most fun way to spend your time and creative energy). I trust my CPs to see what I can’t.

If you have good CPs in your corner, consider yourself lucky. If you don’t, but want to find one or more, there are a few places to go looking. Twitter pitch contests are a good place. That’s how I found a few of mine. There’s also CPSeek, an online community of writers ready and willing to work on getting the words polished.

If you’re a writer and author, and are serious about getting your work out there, you should WANT critical feedback. Because trust me, having a CP point out an embarrassing grammatical error or the fact you made your protagonist short, brown-haired, and an animal lover in chapter one, and then a tall, cat-hating redhead by chapter eleven is MUCH better than having an agent find the mistakes.

So thanks to my CPs, who were with me before THE CALL, and who have committed to me for the long haul.

Tackle hug for all of you!

 

To pitch, or not to pitch …

If you’re a writer, on Twitter, and have at least one completed manuscript, there’s a good chance you’ve participated in a pitch contest (if not, why not?).

So far I’ve entered four: one was on a blog where you submitted your query letter and first 100 words, and an agent would give feedback and make requests; another was a ‘first pages’ contest, where you submitted your first 250 words; yet another was a based on query letter and your first 250 words (also for agent requests); and the most recent one is Pitch Madness (curious about this one? It’s running right now and you can learn all about it over at the amazing Brenda Drake’s blog).

In the first contest I didn’t get a request, and the agent called my query “confusing”, BUT I did get great feedback from her on voice. Excellent. I took this as a win.

In the second one, the first pages contest, I actually won. Which earned me a query critique (rewritten multiple times since the ‘confusing’ comment) from an agent, and she had lots of good things to say. Win, win.

In the third contest, I didn’t make it to agent round but once again got good feedback on both query and first words. Also, I met one of my critique partners through this contest. Win, win, win.

In the meantime, I shelved that first manuscript and wrote another one, The Doctor’s Daughter, which is women’s fiction with a dash of magical realism. You can read the excerpt here (reworked from the excerpt below, which is what I entered for Pitch Madness … also, I’ve changed my main character’s name, but I’ll post on that another day). There were a few GREAT contests running while I was finishing up my edits, and while I SO wanted to be the impatient writer and enter them, I’ve waited until now.

Why? Because entering an unpolished manuscript into a contest is like serving undercooked chicken at a dinner party — pink chicken makes you sick, and guarantees your friends will NEVER eat at your house again. Similarly, an unfinished or imperfect manuscript guarantees you’ll disappoint (anger) agents who might be hooked by your pitch/first words, and good luck getting them to request anything from you again!

Pitch Madness is still running, so I’m not sure how my entry will shake out in the end. I made it through Round #1, where slush readers (aka ‘slush zombies’) read through 420+ entries and whittled them down to 167 to go through to Round #2. I’m one of those 167, which is great, and I hope I make it into Round #3, which is when the final 60 entries get a shot at grabbing an agent’s attention. But whether I go through or not, there’s a lot of amazing stuff I’ve taken out of playing along:

  1. It’s FUN: Contests can be super stressful — especially when hints are being tweeted out, which amps up the excitement AND obsessive nature of querying writers. But for me, I find them more invigorating than stressful — it’s exciting, watching and wondering how your entry is faring, and ultimately it’s an opportunity to learn, learn, and learn some more.
  2. It’s GOOD PRACTICE: Getting ready for Pitch Madness meant polishing my 35-word pitch (and this is SUPER TRICKY, taking 80,000+ words and turning them into only 35), perfecting my query letter, and making sure my manuscript is as good as I can get it (read: polishing, not fussing). On the note of getting pitch-ready, I know my limits and enlisted help — if you’re looking for query/pitch critiques, Lauren Spieller is awesome (she’s a writer and agency intern, but runs a query critique biz on side).
  3. It’s EDUCATIONAL: Before I started paying attention to contests I had no clue what Steampunk / Speculative Fiction / New Adult / Fantasy vs. Urban Fantasy really meant. I’ve loved learning all the different genres, and what writers can do to make their books stand out — including within my own genre!
  4. It’s a COMMUNITY: I’ve talked about writers helping writers before, and what a kick I get out of that. I have been both on the receiving and giving end of this, and think it’s one of the VERY BEST THINGS about being a writer these days. And social media makes it easy for us to connect — to support each other, be cheerleaders, offer critiques, and celebrate successes.
  5. It’s MOTIVATING: When I know a contest is coming up, especially a big one like Pitch Madness, I push my Type A into high gear and am always amazed by what I can do with a deadline. Also, I love seeing the success stories … and there are plenty that come out of contests … because on those days where the writing feels impossible, or I’m sure it’s never, ever (ever) going to happen for me, those stories remind me to ‘buck up, buttercup’. Hard work trumps all. So don’t give up.

So on that note, here’s my Pitch Madness entry:

Title: THE DOCTOR’S DAUGHTER
Genre: Women’s Fiction (magical realism)
Word Count: 83,000

Pitch: Following an odd premonition and news of her father’s death, surgeon Penley Attwater is forced to return to her traditional hometown, only to become a surrogate for her late parents’ one remaining embryo—her sister.

Excerpt:

Like always, it started in my toes.

As if stepping into a too hot bath, the prickly warmth enveloped my feet before reaching into my thighs with fiery fingers. Then the heat wave crashed into my chest, quickly moving higher to mark my cheeks with blistering circles. Under the garish bathroom light my sweaty face glowed neon pink. I took a few deep breaths and waited. Soon it would be over.

Many middle-aged women know this well: the menopausal hot flash. But today was only my twenty-eighth birthday, so I was nowhere near the change. Besides, I’d been getting them since I was about six years old.

If only I understood why.

“Penley?” The soft rap of his knuckles against the cheap wooden door startled me, and I knocked over the toothbrush holder that sat on the edge of the sink. With a soft plop our toothbrushes landed in the toilet bowl and quickly sunk to the bottom.

“Shit!” I said, too loud for the small bathroom.

“Hey, you okay in there?” Bradford tried the knob and I was glad I’d locked the door.

“I’m fine!” I leaned heavily against the sink, queasy from the heat.

Silence. “All right, but don’t take too long,” he finally said, his voice retreating. “I have a surprise for you.”I held my breath, letting it out when our mattress squeaked Bradford’s return.

Back when I was a child the flashes always ended in a raging fever, which had been resistant to any remedy my physician father could come up with.

Why I love other writers, and Twitter.

I follow a lot of other writers and aspiring novelists on Twitter. And almost as many agents and publishers. Which means every day I’m seeing plenty of good news in my stream … writers getting agents and book deals, agents signing authors and sharing ‘happy publication day’ tweets, and a whole lot of publishing love.

And every.single.time I see one of these good news tweets I give a ‘congratulations’ shout out. Even if I’m having a bad writing day. ESPECIALLY if I’m having a bad day. Because these writers? They’ve worked DAMN hard to arrive at this good news place — whether it’s getting an agent or a book deal, finishing a new book, receiving a great review, winning an award, learning of a publication date … regardless, they deserve to be recognized for not.ever.giving.up. Plus, every time a writer gets her publishing wings I’m reminded what is possible. And I decide I’m never.giving.up.

I’ve heard rumblings of writers not feeling the love for other writers (market is tough and competitive, blah blah blah). That we’re sort of jealous and territorial about success, kind of like this:

But when I see a tweet about a writer getting ‘the call’, or read someone’s good news on one of the message boards I visit? I don’t feel all Black Swan-like. Nope. You’re more likely to find me doing this:

In my experience, writers love helping other writers, especially via Twitter. Stuck on a line in your query? It won’t take long to get some tips, or perhaps even an offer of a critique. Frustrated by your revisions? Add #AmRevising to your tweet and you’ll find out you’re not alone. Up at 5 a.m. writing, wondering if you’re crazy to be doing so when everyone else is sleeping? Check out the hashtag #5amWritersClub — used every morning by a bunch of super supportive, crack-of-dawn writers who will keep you company. I have been endlessly amazed at the kindness of the writers I follow on Twitter, and how willing they are to help one another out.

So when it’s my turn to announce the good news? Here’s what I imagine I’ll be doing:


And the best part? I know there will be a whole crew of other writers celebrating right a long with me … Kermit flail and all.