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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Categorized: Critique Groups

We’re all hunters here, searching for the elusive, nearly mythical creature known only as the Good Beta Reader.

The feeling of finding a good beta reader is a lot like what Japanese marine researchers felt when they caught the first image of the giant squid in 2013. Read about it here because it’s just so cool. It’s a whiff of the miraculous and literally inspiring.

beta reader squid
Image courtesy of The Malaysian Times, January 7, 2013

Yet, it took a three-man crew more than 100 missions and 400 hours crammed into a tiny submersible to capture that image. We can totally, relate, right? I mean, we writers patiently paddle through the depths of the interwebs and wade through endless writing group cafe meet-ups in order to find our very own giant squid…er…beta reader.

It would be so easy to just settle for smaller squid, a couple of octopus, or even a cuttlefish. Anyone here immediately think of the South Park ‘Human CentiPad’ episode when I said that? There are lots of people out there who seem willing to be our sounding board.

What we want with a good beta reader is a squid who will become delicious pan-seared calamari with a side of chipotle aioli—enjoyable with a bit of bite. All too often, though, we end up tangled in tentacles, with suction cups stuck to our words, and hooks buried deep in our psychological soft spots.

Well, today, I’m going to teach you how to navigate treacherous waters and avoid getting mauled by predators. How? With the Reynolds & Lamb Field Guide to the North American Beta Reader.

The Beta Critic

It is easy to identify Beta Critic tracks by the copious amounts of red ink. The Critic often camouflages itself by wearing sophisticated scarves and dark nail polish. These creatures subsist mostly on coffee, white wine, and the tears of writers.

The Critic’s mating call tends to attract newer, more idealistic writers. Mates are drawn in by warbled promises of help in improving their writing. During the gestation of the draft, the Critic stays by its mate’s side, crooning a melodic mix of condescending encouragement and passive-aggressive critique.

beta reader

Critics are extremely protective of their mates during the gestation process. They will snap in warning and attack to fend off any other beta reader who wants to offer a different opinion. The Critic considers itself a solitary apex predator and expects all other writers and beta readers to agree with it.

Mates must often try several times to leave the Critic, needing to recover from the failed escape’s emotional mauling. Permanent and debilitating scarring is often prominently visible on survivors.

As writers, we need criticism, and not just the ‘constructive’ kind. Hard criticism forces us to face and work on major flaws. It re-energizes us with a little healthy anger or challenge. Tough love is tough, but it’s the love that makes it so powerful and transformative.

The Beta Critic takes a good thing like tough love and strips it of the ‘love.’ They turn blunt honesty into blunt-force trauma in order bolster their own insecure egos by breaking down someone else’s. Even if they promise us to be better, to be kinder, we need to remember that a Beta Critic can never really change their spots.

The Beta Gusher

This friendly little fuzzy creature is easily lured out into the open with promises of being able to read stuff for free. They are known for their distinctive chirping noises and an unnatural perkiness.

One theory posits that the Beta Gusher evolved from the primordial camaraderie of the book club, developing in a petri dish of chardonnay and bad chick lit. Another school of thought believes the Gusher is a result of Amazon KDP’s tinkering with literary quality DNA.

The Gusher is highly adaptable to any genre, as well as to both in-person and online critique groups. They lure writers by emitting pheromones designed to trigger feelings of being empowered and encouraged.

Gushers are not without their defenses, should they receive actual criticism. It only takes an astounding .006 seconds for them to go from bubbly to blubbering. The Gusher’s guilt trip can induce temporary paralysis in the author. Prolonged exposure to Gusher guilt can result in extreme fatigue, depression, and social anxiety.

All fun aside, I get why we fall for Gushers. They deal praise like crack. Nothing is as addictive as validation of our dreams. And, we DO need our cheerleaders for those moments when the world gets rough with our dreams.

But, when it comes to being a critique partner, what we need most is honest feedback, kindly given. Support and critique are not mutually exclusive concepts. In the long run, a Gusher becomes a serious drain on our time, emotions, and energy.

Speaking of creatures who drain time and energy…

The Over-Committer Beta

The Beta Over-Committer is a multi-habitat creature found in all climate zones…all at the same time. Tracking the Over-Committer requires a specialized set of skills, such as the ability to smell broken promises a mile away and having the patience of a saint.

Of all the beta reader species we have examined today, it’s the Over-Committer that can actually do the most damage to authors. They are unique in their near-viral ability to take over its host critique partner.

Like insects flashing their eyespots to deceive predators, the Over-Committer flashes moments of thoughtful feedback and productivity to attract their prey. Authors are lured by the promise of useful critique and a partner with enough energy to power a small café of aspiring writers.

However, once the writer has taken the bait of a partnership, the Over-Committer attacks. Armed with incisors of sincerity, they go for the jugular, injecting their victim with multiple manuscripts to review. Afterwards, they administer small doses of gratitude as boosters to keep the prey docile and compliant.

beta reader

Personally, I’ve been a victim of the Over-Committer many times in my life. I’ve also over-promised and under-delivered before, but the difference is that I didn’t defend myself by creating a cult of personality to justify or excuse my failures. Over-Committers combine the worst of the Critic and the Gusher, leaving us diminished, depressed, disenfranchised.

And the hardest part is that we never see it coming.

Good beta readers both give and take in equal measure. They put aside their ego and needs to invest in our work, and they expect the same from us. That kind of balance requires trust, compassion, commitment, and expertise…

Which means that good beta readers are basically unicorns.

The Unicorn Beta

So…does that mean we give up trying to find a good beta reader?

NEVER!

They are out there, and together, we can not only find them, but we can become better beta readers ourselves. To that end, I’m teaching a class this Friday where I’ll be handing out maps, equipment checklists, and freeze-dried wisdom to help you be successful in your hunt for the ever elusive Good Beta Reader.

Go Fish: Finding the Right Beta Readers

beta readerInstructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, August 24, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m.

REGISTER HERE

Whoever said that writing a book is a solitary job is an idiot.

It takes a village (or at the very least a Facebook group, some friends, and possibly a bottle of wine) to write a book. As writers, we need other writers…and non-writers. But, how do we find the right mix of people to support us? What do we do when they don’t? How do we communicate what we need effectively to beta readers and crit partners? And what the heck is an alpha reader?

What’s more, how do we take the feedback from beta readers and use it correctly? It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of spinning our wheels on endless edits of the draft of the first draft, to react big and badly to criticism, or to drown in the obligations of reciprocating beta reading for our seventeen new best friends and their manuscripts.

Fear not! This class is going to show you how to hunt down beta readers like big game, befriend them in a way that puts Dale Carnegie to shame, and create long-lasting, mutually-beneficial beta and crit partnerships that are so Hufflepuff/Gryffindor, it makes my Slytherin soul cringe.

This class will cover:

  • Wherefore art thou?: Where to find beta readers;
  • Alpha betas, beta betas, omega betas: The different types of beta readers, and why we need them;
  • Fish or cut beta: What to do when a beta reader relationship isn’t working – fix, fight, or flight?
  • I’m looking at the beta reader in the mirror: Are you the best beta reader you can be, and why improving your own skills will make you a better writer;
  • Gospel vs. grain of salt: How to balance thoughtful consideration of critique with Pavlovian instant tweaking, and why beta readers should never be the one holding the map on the hike.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


MORE CLASSES!

(Check out our page of current classes!)

Also, a small house-keeping note: if you’d like to see more of our shenanigans, check out our video page


When Your Name Alone Can Sell

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: General Admission $55.00 USD/ GOLD Level $175
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Thursday, SEPTEMBER 13th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

LEARN TO BE A BRAND BOSS!

All authors need a brand, so this class teaches how to locate and cultivate your audience into passionate fans who BUY YOUR BOOKS!

How can you grow your platform and turn your name alone into a bankable asset? Not as hard as you might have been led to believe.

You DO NOT need to be a tech guru/mega-high-pressure-sales person to excel at this. In fact, best you aren’t.

Yet, the reality is that in the digital age of commerce, consumers rely on brands more than ever in human history. They’re overwhelmed and we can help them out….by finding US.

Consumers (which is code for readers) buy from who they know, like and trust. In a sea of infinite choices a powerful NAME is a tremendous asset.

Can you say “James Patterson”?

The single largest challenge all writers face in the digital age is discoverability and connecting with our audience is a challenge but nothing we can’t handle.

This class will address:

  • What is a brand? How to make one uniquely your own.
  • How to BE YOU! You’re a writer, not an insurance salesman!
  • Harness your imagination & creativity for better results (No one likes SPAM, so don’t serve it!).
  • How to use this information to locate, engage and cultivate an audience.
  • Myths about exposure.
  • Common scams that will wreck your brand and earning ability.
  • Why most promotion is a waste of money.
  • A list of expensive and not-so-bright ideas for reaching readers.
  • Knowing when and HOW to promote.

Overall this class is about working smarter not harder. This class is to teach you to think strategically so all energy is focused. Sure, we have to hustle, but why not hustle and there be an AUTHENTIC PAYDAY for all that hard work?

GOLD LEVEL AVAILABLE: This is you working with me (Kristen Lamb) for 90 minutes building, defining, refining your brand and putting together a PLAN! Time is money and professional consulting saves BOTH.

****A FREE recording is included with purchase of this class.


More Than Gore: How to Write Horror

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $40.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: THURSDAY, August 30th, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Humans have always been fascinated with what scares them which is why horror fiction is a staple genre. It is also, quite possibly, the most challenging genre to write. Giant bugs and chainsaws just don’t get the screams they used to.

Blood, guts, gore and shock factor are low-hanging fruit (and always have been) and worse than that? They simply don’t have the impact they used to.

Audiences are too desensitized. This means we need to work harder to dig in and poke at what REALLY frightens/disturbs people.

Though this genre is extremely challenging to write well, there is an upside. The horror genre lends itself well to the short form (novellas and short stories).

Believe it or not, some of our staple horror movies–and the BEST horror movies—were actually adaptations of short stories and novellas (1408 by Stephen King and Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker being two examples).

Meaning, if you want to go Hollywood? Hollywood loooooves horror.

In this class we will cover:

  • The science behind fear and why people crave it. Why fear is even healthy!
  • Psychology of fear, thus how to locate the pain points.
  • Why audiences are craving MORE horror (Yes, this actually does go in cycles).
  • The different types of horror fiction.
  • The importance of character in horror.
  • How horror can actually resonate much like literary fiction.
  • How to generate page-turning tension that will leave readers with a story they can’t stop thinking about…and that might even give them nightmares.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Keywordpalooza: Tune in, mellow out, and learn to love keywords for Amazon

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, September 7, 2018. 7:00—9:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s one of the universe’s great mysteries… the same word can both boost and drown your book in a category (mind BLOWN, man!).

Keywords also seem to evolve every five minutes…or are we the one evolving, like a butterfly having a dream of SEO (trippy, dude!)? Like gravity and Jane Fonda’s hair in ‘Barbarella,’ the popular rules for using keywords value over-inflation and the slavish following of fads.

But, like Talbot’s tweed and mother’s pearls, certain marketing strategies and techniques are enduring classics that stand the test of time. They’re not flashy like bellbottoms, nor do they yield dramatic overnight results like ironing your hair. Yet, ignore trends, and we risk getting left behind…kind of like buying electric typewriter ribbon because that whole ‘computer word processing’ thing will never take off.

This class won’t just help you turn on, tune in, and drop out of the keyword rat race. We’ll also cover:

  • Fully body contact SEO: when and where to use keywords, and what publishers know that you don’t;
  • Fantastic keywords and where to find them: which websites, lists, search engines, and Magic 8 Balls yield the best keyword research results;
  • Mix and match like a Parisienne: no, seriously, how to mix consistent ‘classic’ keywords with the latest trends like a Frenchwoman wears a crisp white shirt with this season’s Hermes scarf;
  • Same bat genre, same bat book, different bat keywords?: learn the differences between keywords for ebooks, print, and audio;
  • And so much more!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Building Planet X: Out-of-This-World-Building for Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—12:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction may be a way of seeing the world ‘through a glass darkly,’ but it can also be one of the clearest, most pointed, and even most disturbing ways of seeing the truth about ourselves and our society.

It’s not just the weird stuff that makes the settings of speculative fiction so unnerving. It’s the way ‘Normal’ casually hangs out at the corner of ‘Weird’ and ‘Familiar.’

But it’s trickier than it seems to get readers to this intersection without letting them get bogged down in the ‘Swamp of Useless Detail’ or running them into the patch of ‘Here be Hippogriffs’ (when the story is clearly about zombies). How do we create a world that is easy to slip into, absorbingly immersive, yet not distracting from the character arcs and plots?

This class will cover:

  • Through the looking glass darkly: How to take a theme/issue/message and create a world that drives it home to the reader.
  • Ray guns and data chips: The art of showing vs. telling in world-building.
  • Fat mirror vs. skinny mirror: What is scarce in the world? Valuable? Forbidden? Illegal? What do people want vs. what they have vs. what they need?
  • Drawing a line in the sand: What are the laws, taboos, limits of this world? What is unacceptable to you/the reader/the character? How are they the same or different, and why it matters.
  • Is Soylent Green gluten-free and other vital questions: All the questions you need to ask about your world, but didn’t know…and how to keep track of all the answers.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Populating Planet X: Creating Realistic, Relatable Characters in Speculative Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 1:00—3:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

It’s a time-honored tradition in literature to take an ordinary person out of his or her normal life and throw them into a whirlwind of extraordinary circumstances (zombies/tyrants/elves/mean girls optional). After all, upsetting the Corellian apple cart is what great storytellers do best.

It’s also that very same ordinariness and normalcy that first gets the reader to identify then empathize with the characters and stick with them (and the book) through to the end.

But, what do we do when our ‘ordinary’ protagonist lives with a chip implant and barcode tattoo, and our antagonist happens to be a horde of flesh-eating aliens…or a quasi-fascist regime bent on enforcing social order, scientific progress above ethics, and strict backyard composting regulations (those MONSTERS!)?

How the heck is the reader supposed to identify with that? I mean, seriously. Regulating backyard composting? It would never happen in a free society.

This leaves us with two challenges in creating characters for speculative fiction: 1. How to use the speculative world-building to shape the backgrounds, histories, and personalities of characters, and 2. How to balance the speculative and the relatable to create powerful, complex character arcs.

This class will cover:

  • Resistance is futile: What does normal look like for the characters? What’s different or strange, and how to get readers to accept that retinal scans and Soylent Green are just par for the course.
  • These aren’t the droids you’re looking for: What are the discordant elements around the characters? What are their opinions about it? What are the accepted consequences or outcomes?
  • You gonna eat that?: Whether it’s running from brain-eating zombies or fighting over dehydrated space rations, what is important both physically and emotionally to the character? What is in short supply or forbidden?
  • We’re all human here (even the ones over there with tentacles): The basic principles and techniques of creating psychological touchpoints readers can identify with.
  • Digging out the implant with a grapefruit spoon: In a speculative world, what are the stakes for the character? The breaking point? The turning point?
  • And so much more!!!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


Beyond Planet X: Mastering Speculative Fiction

Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 4:00—6:00 p.m. EST

REGISTER HERE

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to describe narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes but it not necessarily limited to fantasy, science fiction, horror, utopian, dystopian, alternate history, apocalyptic fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction.

Basically, all the weird stuff.

Gizmos, gadgets, magic, chainsaws, demons, fantastical worlds and creatures are not enough and never have been. Whether our story is set on Planet X, in the sixth dimension of hell, on a parallel world, or on Earth after Amazon Prime gained sentience and enslaved us all, we still must have a core human story that is compelling and relatable.

In this class we will cover:

  • Discovering the core human story problem.
  • How to plot these unique genres.
  • Ways to create dimensional and compelling characters.
  • How to harness the power of fear and use psychology to add depth and layers to our story.
  • How to use world-building to enhance the story, not distract from it.

***A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


The XXX Files: The Planet X Speculative Fiction 3-Class Bundle

Instructors: Cait Reynolds & Kristen Lamb
Price: $110.00 USD (It’s LITERALLY one class FREE!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, September 8, 2018. 10:00 a.m.—6:00 p.m. EST.

REGISTER HERE

Recordings of all three classes is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Kristen Lamb is the author of the definitive guide to social media and branding for authors, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. She’s also the author of #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She’s just released her debut thriller The Devil’s Dance.

Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

 

 

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WHAT do you MEAN I am head-hopping? THAT is my VOICE. You are ruining my ART!
(Image via Carniphage Flikr Commons)

Several months ago, in my Enemies of the Art series, we discussed Psychic Vampires. Psychic Vampires are all around us, and likely, we will never be rid of them. PVs are most likely to show up at a number of critical junctures. They sense the energy shift, and since that energy is no longer all about them, they will fight tooth-and-nail to bring balance to The Force (of Manipulation).

While many of my posts are directed toward writers, most people have these same issues. If we don’t learn how to guard against and handle PVs, we will always be their victims. Psychic Vampires will always feel renewed and refreshed, namely because they just sucked the life out of their victims (us).

Psychic Vampires abound in the arts, and they’re also prevalent in many writing groups. They are vamps dressed in writer clothing. Often they are so self-absorbed they can’t even see the reality of what they are.

This is why confronting PVs is almost always fruitless and will simply lead to conflict that only further feeds them at our expense. Our best option is to be able to spot them, then ignore them or RUN.

Beware the Psychic Vampire Critique Partner

I wish I could give all of you a nice, easy website to find healthy, professional critique partners, but unfortunately those don’t exist. We will have to trust, then use trial and error, then set tough boundaries. Some CPs will make it, but likely most will not.

Why?

Too many writers get into this business for the wrong reasons. They really aren’t interested in the life of a professional and just enjoy “playing author.” Writing is for attention and ego-stroking. Their goals are about THEM and this means anyone on board with them will go the wrong direction.

They will keep steering the ship the wrong way…toward the rocks.

Some PVCPs are touchy, sensitive and unwilling to learn and grow. Mistakenly, they believe that their art is just genetically coded into their DNA and that any feedback is just trying to sabotage their “art.”

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What do you mean too many flashbacks? YOU ARE SO MEAAAANNNN!

If you have a critique partner who refuses to listen to honest feedback. If she is touchy and oversensitive? Move on. You won’t grow. You’ll spend too much time propping up an ego that can never get enough propping up. The PV will be a continual vortex of need and if you don’t jump ship while you can? Expect to crash on the rocks with them.

This writer won’t make it unless she changes, and if you’re enabling her to be a PVCP, why should she?

We Are Who We Hang Around

I cannot recommend attending writing conferences enough. Yes, even WANACon counts.  We are having another WANACon the first weekend of October and deliver top tier NYTBSA talent right to you AT HOME. Right now we are having a special, the ENTIRE conference and recordings for $119 (which will expire soon). Just like a writing conference only no travel and at YOUR convenience.

We can arrange a TSA feel-up, but they work for tips :D.

Anyway…

The reason we need to choose friends wisely and surround ourselves with professionals, is that these writers have invested cold hard cash into getting better. When we forge relationships with writers who are professional or stronger, we grow. Water will always find its level, so make sure you’re rising, not sinking. Habits are contagious. This is one of the reasons I cannot recommend joining an RWA chapter enough (even if you don’t write romance).

RWA is full of professionals who work their tails off and understand craft and the business. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the other. Refuse to be in a place that dulls your creative edges.

PVCPs Waste Valuable Time

I’ve been in critique relationships where the other person never learned to think for themselves. Why bother reading Story Engineering, The Writer’s Journey, Hooked,  Save the Cat or Plot & Structure when we can get Kristen to so all our thinking/plotting for us?

I recall two members of a critique group who attended every week with their crappy writing to be critiqued. Instead of learning, they just barfed down junk on a page and let the group “fix” it. Odd thing was, after over a year of enduring the world’s worst writing, nothing changed. When these individuals self-published? NONE of the writing had changed.

This ticked me off. How many hours had we dedicated to helping, when the writer had zero intention of listening? The critique wasn’t a place to grow; rather, it was a captive audience who had to listen to their dreadful “story” vomit.

Most of us are short on time. We often have day jobs, kids, chores, bills and we have to do social media and MOST IMPORTANTLY we need to be writing more books and better books. It’s easier to tread water if we aren’t dragging a PVCP anchor around our necks.

The PVCP Test

1. Is the writer touchy. Does she want every bit of feedback to be handed with a box of chocolates?

2. Does she attend regularly? Or does she always have an excuse of why she can’t be there—great-nephew’s birthday party, helping a friend’s garage sale, washing her hair?

3. Does the writer actually READ? Does she read fiction and LOVE storytelling? I’ve met writers who claimed they wanted to be NYTBSAs, but said things like, “Well, I just don’t like to/have time to read.” Reading is FUNDAMENTAL to what we do. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t listen to music. TIME WASTER.

4. Does the person give back? Critique partners should be partners. I’ve had writers who took and took for months. They wanted me to plot, then re-plot, then they had a new and BETTER idea they needed “help” plotting. Never once did it occur to them, that we hadn’t talked about my book in months.

5. Does this person ever grow? Or do they keep making the same newbie errors over and over? If they are? They aren’t listening, so move on. This is a PVCP. RUN.

What are your thoughts? Have you been the victim of a PVCP? What did you do? How did you handle it? What are your horror stories? How did you stake the PVCP? What might be some other ways to spot a PVCP? What might be some good resources for finding a good CP? I recommend trying WANATribe, join RWA or attend conferences. But, maybe you guys have some better suggestions!

BTW, Image number two courtesy of best movie ever Army of Darkness.

I love hearing from you!

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Since it was such a HUGE success and attendees loved it, I am rerunning the Your First Five Pages class SATURDAY EDITION. Use the WANA15 code for 15% off. Yes, editors REALLY can tell everything they need to know about your book in five pages or less. Here’s a peek into what we see and how to fix it. Not only will this information repair your first pages, it can help you understand deeper flaws in the rest of your manuscript.

My new social media book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE. Only $6.99.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU. If you REGISTER NOW, you get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE (and all recordings) for $119 (regularly $149). Sign up today, because this special won’t last and seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Wonderlane...
Image via Flikr Commons, courtesy of Wonderlane…

I am like cerebral flypaper for cool anecdotes, but one that stood out to me was the story of the crabs in the bucket. When fishermen trap crabs, they just dump them in a bucket on the pier. No lid. Nothing to trap the crabs and keep them inside. Why? Because if any crab tries to climb out of the bucket and escape, the others will pull it back inside.

Many of us, when we decide to become professional authors face “crabs in the bucket.” They often look a lot like family, friends and even fellow writers. They fear failure, so they fear our success. If we actually accomplish something remarkable, we prove that success is more choice than fate.

Leave Toxic Relationships Behind

We have to let go of the old to grab hold of the new, but that’s often the most terrifying thing we can do. The past might be destructive, stagnant or even toxic…but it’s familiar. When we decide to do something remarkable, we face the unknown. It’s easy to be lulled into the idea that the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

As artists we need to guard our emotions and our muse. Negativity, doom, gloom and drama can rob our energy, erode our (often) fragile confidence, and undermine success. Refuse to hang out with whiners, complainers and lazy people. Bad habits are contagious.

No company is better than bad company.

Writing Groups Can Be Filled with Crabs

As a neophyte, one thing I didn’t understand was that just because a group meets and professes to be a “serious writing group,” doesn’t make it so. I can say I’m the Queen of England. Doesn’t make it truth.

Many years ago, I joined my first writing group, but I was naive and didn’t know that Show, Don’t Tell applies to life as well as fiction. At first, I was just a member and a lot of people actively attended and participated. My skills grew exponentially.

Then, gradually, most of the published authors stopped attending and attendance dropped off. It wasn’t at all uncommon for me to be the only one who showed up for the meeting. Most of the remaining members only attended when they wanted line-edit. They took but rarely gave (unless they wanted something).

I failed to see the climate shift in this group and stuck it out. I thought that maybe, if I became president, I could resurrect the club.

Yeah.

Instead, I fielded years of complaints, hate mail, and personal attacks, often from people who attended quarterly (we met bi-weekly). They didn’t want to help, but sure had a lot to gripe about.

They didn’t like the day, or the time, or the location or that we only met once a week or that we couldn’t meet weekends or that we met both weekdays and weekends and why can’t we do this or that or both?

The pettiness and stupidity was simply EPIC. I nearly lost my mind with the churlish politics of running a volunteer organization. Many of the members did nothing but criticize everything I did and everything I didn’t do. Yet, when I finally walked away and decided not to be a punching bag president another year? I was an @$$%^$# for that, too.

Crabs are never happy and they LIKE being in the bucket. They can’t see they will soon be made into crab salad.

Original image via Nathan Jones Flikr Creative Commons
Original image via Nathan Jones Flikr Creative Commons

Joining a writing group is one of the best things you can do as a new author, but please learn from my stupidity. If the group isn’t producing published writers? If people say they want to be professionals, but can’t bother showing up? If all they do is complain and backbite? If they never finish anything?

RUN.

I always recommend finding a Romance Writers of America chapter in your area (even if you don’t write romance). RWA is full of professionals who take their craft and jobs seriously. They can help hone your craft and be a system of growth and emotional support. You can also find peer support on WANATribe, #MyWANA or even the WANA Facebook page.

Choose Friends Wisely

We are who we hang around. If we hang around flaky amateurs who don’t keep their word, who consistently fail to honor their commitments, and who never finish anything? People who change their minds every other day what they want to do with their lives? People who whine more than work?

We’re letting them drag us back in the bucket.

Want to be successful? Professional? Hang around those people. Stalk them on Twitter. Comment on their blogs. Digital relationships are just as powerful. My closest friends (all PROS) I met on-line. I learned to be a professional by escaping the bucket, then looking to the pros. I read their books, their blogs and immersed myself in their energy.

What about you? Facing some crabs in the bucket? Have you escaped the bucket? How did you do it?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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WHAT do you MEAN I am head-hopping? THAT is my VOICE. You are ruining my ART!
(Image via Carniphage Flikr Commons)

In the beginning of my Enemies of the Art series, we discussed Psychic Vampires. Psychic Vampires are all around us, and likely, we will never be rid of them. PVs are most likely to show up at a number of critical junctures. They sense the energy shift, and since that energy is no longer all about them, they will fight tooth-and-nail to bring balance to The Force (of Manipulation).

While many of my posts are directed toward writers, most people have these same issues. If we don’t learn how to guard against and handle PVs, we will always be their victims. Psychic Vampires will always feel renewed and refreshed, namely because they just sucked the life out of their victims (us).

Psychic Vampires abound in the arts, and they’re also prevalent in many writing groups. They are vamps dressed in writer clothing. Often they are so self-absorbed they can’t even see the reality of what they are.

This is why confronting PVs is almost always fruitless and will simply lead to conflict that only further feeds them at our expense. Our best option is to be able to spot them, then ignore them or RUN.

Beware the Psychic Vampire Critique Partner

I wish I could give all of you a nice, easy website to find healthy, professional critique partners, but unfortunately those don’t exist. We will have to trust, then use trial and error, then set tough boundaries. Some CPs will make it, but likely most will not.

Why?

Too many writers get into this business for the wrong reasons. They really aren’t interested in the life of a professional and just enjoy “playing author.” Writing is for attention and ego-stroking. Their goals are about THEM and this means anyone on board with them will go the wrong direction.

They will keep steering the ship the wrong way…toward the rocks.

Some PVCPs are touchy, sensitive and unwilling to learn and grow. Mistakenly, they believe that their art is just genetically coded into their DNA and that any feedback is just trying to sabotage their “art.”

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What do you mean too many flashbacks? YOU ARE SO MEAAAANNNN!

If you have a critique partner who refuses to listen to honest feedback. If she is touchy and oversensitive? Move on. You won’t grow. You’ll spend too much time propping up an ego that can never get enough propping up. The PV will be a continual vortex of need and if you don’t jump ship while you can? Expect to crash on the rocks with them.

This writer won’t make it unless she changes, and if you’re enabling her to be a PVCP, why should she?

We Are Who We Hang Around

I cannot recommend attending writing conferences enough. Yes, even WANACon counts. The reason? These writers have invested cold hard cash into getting better. When we forge relationships with writers who are professional or stronger, we grow. Water will always find its level, so make sure you’re rising, not sinking. Habits are contagious. This is one of the reasons I cannot recommend joining an RWA chapter enough (even if you don’t write romance).

RWA is full of professionals who work their tails off and understand craft and the business. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the other. Refuse to be in a place that dulls your creative edges.

PVCPs Waste Valuable Time

I’ve been in critique relationships where the other person never learned to think for themselves. Why bother reading Story Engineering, The Writer’s Journey, Hooked,  Save the Cat or Plot & Structure when we can get Kristen to so all our thinking/plotting for us?

I recall two members of a critique group who attended every week with their crappy writing to be critiqued. Instead of learning, they just barfed down junk on a page and let the group “fix” it. Odd thing was, after over a year of enduring the world’s worst writing, nothing changed. When these individuals self-published? NONE of the writing had changed.

This ticked me off. How many hours had we dedicated to helping, when the writer had zero intention of listening? The critique wasn’t a place to grow; rather, it was a captive audience who had to listen to their dreadful “story” vomit.

Most of us are short on time. We often have day jobs, kids, chores, bills and we have to do social media and MOST IMPORTANTLY we need to be writing more books and better books. It’s easier to tread water if we aren’t dragging a PVCP anchor around our necks.

The PVCP Test

1. Is the writer touchy. Does she want every bit of feedback to be handed with a box of chocolates?

2. Does she attend regularly? Or does she always have an excuse of why she can’t be there—great-nephew’s birthday party, helping a friend’s garage sale, washing her hair?

3. Does the writer actually READ? Does she read fiction and LOVE storytelling? I’ve met writers who claimed they wanted to be NYTBSAs, but said things like, “Well, I just don’t like to/have time to read.” Reading is FUNDAMENTAL to what we do. A writer who doesn’t read is like a musician who doesn’t listen to music. TIME WASTER.

4. Does the person give back? Critique partners should be partners. I’ve had writers who took and took for months. They wanted me to plot, then re-plot, then they had a new and BETTER idea they needed “help” plotting. Never once did it occur to them, that we hadn’t talked about my book in months.

5. Does this person ever grow? Or do they keep making the same newbie errors over and over? If they are? They aren’t listening, so move on. This is a PVCP. RUN.

What are your thoughts? Have you been the victim of a PVCP? What did you do? How did you handle it? What are your horror stories? How did you stake the PVCP? What might be some other ways to spot a PVCP? What might be some good resources for finding a good CP? I recommend trying www.WANAtribe.com, join RWA or attend conferences. But, maybe you guys have some better suggestions!

BTW, Image number two courtesy of best movie ever Army of Darkness.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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Doing critiques….

Being a writer is great fun. We are storytellers and we love entertaining people. The new paradigm is AWESOME. Suddenly, if you want to publish your work, you can. We no longer have to go the traditional route and self-publishing is certainly an option. Yet, we MUST be careful. Our product should be AS GOOD as anything out of NY. I see a lot of writers who rush to publish when they aren’t ready.

They don’t have a core story problem, or don’t yet properly understand the role of antagonists and how to use them. Many don’t yet grasp narrative structure or POV. There is A LOT that goes into writing a novel a reader will enjoy. Just because we made As in English doesn’t automatically qualify us to create a work of 60,000 or more words that can keep a reader riveted. There is a lot of stuff “behind the scenes” that readers don’t know about, but they can sense when those elements are missing.

Writing Group Nightmares

I was part of a couple critique groups for a few years, and there were certain writers who I’d just ignore. In the past, when I’d pointed out they had 47 adverbs on page one, they threw a fit. If I mentioned they had no plot? They went berserk. Eventually, I just left the pages unmarked and kept quiet.

I tried running an on-line writing workshop to help writers with this big picture stuff, and I finally gave up. It did less teaching and more “ego babysitting.” There were participants who acted so badly, I just had to ask them to leave. They came to me (me being an expert) claiming they wanted to learn, and yet instead of learning they argued every last little point and acted like toddlers, wailing how I was “trying to destroy their art.”

Um, no. Narrative structure is pretty basic. Being in ONE head at a time is basic. No flashbacks every thirty words? Pretty basic.

One writer, upon being escorted out of the group, blogged about how we’d “wasted her time” because we wanted her to have a core antagonist.

*head desk*

There is a learning curve in writing, just like EVERY art form. I played clarinet for many years. I started by learning how to read music, then how to finger the notes, proper embrochure (mouth position), etc. I didn’t start out playing Flight of the Bumblebee. I started with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  I didn’t scream at my conductor that he was ruining my music when he wanted me to learn how to read music.

I happened to be president of a writing group years back. During a critique session, one of the participants brought an article she wanted to submit about how eating from home was healthier and less expensive. Her target readers were retirees with limited income.

In critique, my only comment was that, to perhaps make the article stronger, she might choose some restaurants her readers might frequent and add up the cost of some of the meals. This way, in black and white numbers, she could show them how much money they’d save using her recipes. Later, at a board meeting she lunged over the table, wagged her finger in my face and screamed how I was abusive and had called her a fat cow in critique.

Huh? Lady, WHAT are you smoking?

Obviously, I grew tired of lunatics and amateurs. I’d had my work critiqued, too and sometimes the critique was nothing short of brutal. Bring it ON! was my motto. I’d had critique sessions so blistering that I later cried in my car…but I tried harder. I relished every bit of feedback and worked my tail off. If something seemed off-base, I read craft books until I knew what I should ignore.

We ALL need good critique. We never outgrow it.

Just because someone tells us our words aren’t all unicorn kisses doesn’t mean they are trying to destroy our art. We need to be open to feedback or we can’t grow, learn, change, and become masters of our art. We need to toughen up. Reviewers can be great and give helpful feedback, but some can be jerks who have nothing else better to do than write a nasty comment guaranteed to make even the best of us cry.

The downside of publishing outside the traditional model is that we haven’t been vetted. It’s probably easier to dismiss a ranting review if Simon & Schuster published your book. You know editors have looked at your work and it passed the test.

We NEED Threshold Guardians

If you want to be a non-traditional author? Join good critique groups. If you are in the DFW area, DFW Writers’ Workshop is full of professionals, not a bunch of people who want to play writer so long as all the critique is a fluffy kitten hug. Listen to beta readers. Hire professional editors—content editors and line editors. Content editors will help with the overall structure of the book and the characters, how the story reads. Line editors will make sure you don’t embarrass yourself with mass amounts of typos.

Toughen Up, Buttercup

This is one of the many reasons I encourage writers to blog. Blogging helps us build that rhino skin we will need to be successful. A lot of critique will be subjective. But, we are wise to listen without letting it unhinge us. If we go nutso every time someone points out a problem, then we can’t grow. People will eventually just remain silent and let us fail publicly.

Have fun storming the castle! *waves*

I’ve had people I have tried to correct on very basic things who just ran and self-published. Okay, but likely the reviews are going to reflect advice given but ignored. We will all get critique. It’s our choice whether or not to listen and what advice to take. Yet, brutal feedback will happen and it comes with the job (even with great books). We are wise to take most of the tough stuff in private so we can fix it and save the embarrassment of that same criticism being in a one or two-star review that is out for the world to see.

Professionals get tough. It’s how we mature and keep getting better. It isn’t the world’s job to babysit our egos.

Have you ever had someone go nuts in a critique group? On-line? Argue with reviewers? Have you ever had a critique that left you in tears, but you were later grateful?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!