Writers: How to Handle a Difficult Critique

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation,
 hard work, and learning from failure. Colin Powell

THE FIRST PAGE. The most important page in your entire book. A recent SCBWI Shop Talk meeting focused on the keys to a successful first page, or rather the necessary keys to the first page of your novel or nonfiction book, that will either interest an editor or agent . . . or not.

The text I took was the first page of my second book, Book Two in a middle grade mystery series. It was the best I could do at the time. Was I in for a shock when my entire attempt got kicked to the curb.

On the ride home, I felt wrung out. I allowed myself to feel this way until the garage door opened. Then I put the meeting's papers to the side and took up an enjoyable pastime to ease the tension. It worked. I had a good sleep. The next day I got to work.

This technique has served me well over the years, learned from one of my writing courses upon receiving a rejection. Of course, you're going to be upset. You can't deny those feelings, so you go with them for fifteen minutes, max. Then you either take a short break like I did, or you get back to work. If you're feeling especially low, get out any praises you've collected from editors, readers, and critiquers, and pour over them. Believe you're a good writer. Then get back to work.
Same could be said for successes. Gloat all you want, but keep it short. There's work to do.

Heed the Advice of the Pros
Even though it didn't seem necessary to me at first, the leader of our meeting ran through how to accept critique of your work:
  • Do not take your critique personally.
  • Separate yourself from the work.
  • Comments made do not need to be followed. Decide whether you agree with them or not before changing anything.
  • Duplicate comments need to be taken into account. If more than one person notices something, it most likely needs to be changed.
  • Give yourself a day or two before working on the comments.
For the critiquer:
  • Stay positive
  • Be respectful
  • Remember: It takes courage for a writer to share her work.
  • Remember: Someone has poured their heart and soul into their work.
Comments Gathered from the Group
The next day when I began work on my first page, the first thing I did was make a list of the comments. I have tacked it up on my bulletin board in an effort to learn from the critiquers and avoid making the same mistakes again. Interspersed are the positive along with the critiqued comments—to stay as positive as possible while restructuring my first page.
  • Has the tone of a mystery, which intrigues!
  • The two voices are very similar.
  • Save backstory for later—keep us in the action.
  • Seems like an info dump.
  • Has a Nancy Drew feel.
  • Dialogue not realistic—too formal for kids.
  • Thank you for sharing!
  • Deceptive beginning.
  • Cannot tell the difference between the two characters.
  • Likes how it starts with a question.
Am I going to allow this critique to stop me? Not by a long shot. Rather, I am filled with gratitude. I am grateful for the help. It means the difference between a failed novel and a successful one, I am convinced of that. You can bet, I’ll be coming back for more at the next critique meeting.

Illustration courtesy of : www.freevector.com

The quote courtesy of: https://www.brainyquote.com

Needlepoint that hangs on my wall

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, will be coming out in September. Currently, she is hard at work on Book Two in the series.  Follow Linda at www.lindawilsonauthor.com.

Write for Magazine Publication #4

Writing for Magazine Publication is a great way to monetize your writing and test your topic for readership interest. This series offers tips and ideas for magazine publishing: a list of genres or categories and where we find ideas (posted 5.25.18), research tips (posted 6.25.18), standard templates for essay and article pieces (7.25.18), query letters (#1 8.25.18), formatting for submission, and copyright definitions.

An essay is all about the writer, but an article is all about the reader. An essay is an opinion piece: an analytical or interpretative composition with a limited point of view. However, an article is non-fiction prose that is based upon presenting information to the reader.

Today, let’s talk about the How-To Article and a query submission. 

Several years ago, I approached an Art Magazine Publisher with an emailed “cold call” query after studying their submittal requirements and locating the correct editor. I included several photos of the subject artwork along with my query letter.  A copy of the email correspondence follows.

Note: First, How-To Articles are a specialty and include more graphics than other types of articles. From the approach below, you will note the lack of formality. This first “sale”, that also made the cover, has been followed by four additional articles. I am confident you also have some How-To Articles just waiting to be written and submitted. Go for it!

Submission Sample
Initial Query for Submission Review - Value Study Portraits Article
Subject: Initial Query for Submission Review
Art Quilting Studio Submissions:

Thank you very much for the opportunity to submit my work and technique to Stampington’s Art Quilting Studio for consideration.  I am attracted to the Series Showcase feature of the magazine.

I am a portrait artist working in watercolor and textiles.  I paint with ink on fabrics such as silk and cottons.

My value study portrait series has been of great benefit to me as I work through values of black, white and gray.  Value study is one of the hallmarks of an artist’s journey through design development.  I have received good feedback and enthusiastic response as I have shown this series to the art groups I belong to.  I am sure your readers will be encouraged to experiment as well!

I have found that many quilt artists sense the benefit of working in a series, but are at a loss when it comes identifying where to start.  My value study article will inspire your readers to apply my simple method to create their own art piece or open the door to create their own series.

Each piece is a workable size of approximately 11” wide by 12-14” high.  I have attached jpeg photo files for your reference.

I suggest presenting my method per the following steps accompanied by high quality photographs:
·         Fabric selection
·         Drawing or picture selection
·         Pattern development
·         Initial steps to begin the piece
·         (2) Steps showing progression and painting
·         Final step of machine quilting the piece
·         Completed project photo
Thank you for your consideration.  I would love to hear from you soon.
Best regards,
Deborah Stanley, Artist

Subject: RE: Initial Query for Submission Review
Hi Deborah,
Thank you for contacting me and sharing your art quilts. Wow! These are stunning!

If your artwork is selected, it will be sorted into an article that will both explain and showcase your art, giving you full credit for it; I can also put it into consideration for the Series Showcase. You will be compensated (if chosen for an article) and be given a free copy of any issue your artwork appears in.

Each article usually focuses around a common theme regarding the look, design, or technique of the pieces. I feel your combination of watercolors and textiles into portraits would make for a fabulous feature. Here is our website that explains our submission guidelines: http://www.stampington.com/submissions/

The deadline for this round is Tuesday, January 31, 2012. Do you think you can send in your pieces by then? We prefer submissions of original art, as it aids us in selection, and gives you a better chance of being selected. However since we’re cutting it close to the deadline, I will accept hi-res digital images (300 dpi at 8½" x 10"). You can just email these to me. If your art is selected from the photos, we will probably eventually need your pieces in our offices to keep photography consistent throughout the magazine. You can also provide step-by-step photos like you mentioned.

What do you think?

Subject: RE: Initial Query for Submission Review
Cynthia, I’m delighted. 
Thank you very much for your quick and favorable response.  Yes, I can make the deadline of January 31.
I live locally, so I can easily hand deliver the art pieces.  I do have the equipment to provide the hi-res photos with 300 dpi as required.

I would like to double check with you on a few items as I prepare for the deadline. 
My submission package for January 31st will include:
•    Actual art work pieces
•    Photos of the Step-by-Step Process presented digitally (and hard copy if desired)
•    Photos of my watercolor paintings used as the reference for the quilt art pieces, presented as digital copies (I can meet with the photographer to photo the watercolor pieces but I won’t be able to leave them as they are due at shows)
•    Text introducing the project and walking through the steps (I use Word) as digital and hard copies
•    I understand from the submission guidelines that if selected, editorial assistance will be available
Thank you again!  Please let me know if I am on track or if I have missed something.
Website address:
Phone number:

Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts.
Visit her web-blog: Deborah Lyn Stanley : MyWriter's Life .

Write clear & concise, personable yet professional. 
Know your reader. Use quotes & antidotes.

Are You Building Publishing Habits?

By W. Terry Whalin

If you are writing a novel or a nonfiction book or ???. What are you doing each day to succeed with this writing project? 

Yes, it is important to craft an excellent work with terrific storytelling and craft. We learn these skills through our own reading and continual practice. Writing should be a habit which you continually cultivate and practice on a regular basis.

Yet what about other areas of publishing where you need to develop habits?

Recently I heard from an unpublished author who was getting rejected or no response from literary agents. She was sending out a children's book and couldn't understand why she could not succeed. 

I wrote this author that she needed to do more to understand the marketplace. Only a few literary agents that I know represent children's books for several reasons. First, the advances are very low for children's books. 

Also it's hard to get a children's book published through a traditional publisher. It is not impossible but difficult and much of the writing work is Work Made for Hire or something an agent wouldn't be involved in. Finally agents are looking for writers who demonstrate that they have been published. You have to show this skill through writing for print magazines or other recognized forms. 

This unpublished author was floundering because she had not done the basics to understand the market. As a daily habit, she needed to be reading published authors and how-to books as well as connecting with someone to help her.

Reading in the field is another publishing habit that every author or would-be author should be developing. There are free newsletters and many ways to learn from others. Are you tapping into these resources? 

Another publishing habit is to constantly build your connections to others. It doesn't require tons of time but it does require consistent effort. For example, posting on twitter and Facebook in your area of expertise is a publishing habit. You can use tools like Hootsuite so it does not have to consume much time but the consistency will pay off.

I spend the majority of my days working with authors as an acquisitions editor at Morgan James. My personal goal is to help as many authors as I can to achieve their dreams of getting published. As a result of these goals, I'm on the phone with authors or literary agents. Or I'm answering emails or interacting with my Morgan James colleagues about book projects. I have a series of habits that I execute each day related to my work at Morgan James.

What goals do you have for your publishing life? Have you written them down and are you looking at them on a regular basis? What habits do you need to develop in order to achieve these goals? 

As you are consistent, it will pay off for you in the marketplace. I have a great deal of free information in my ebook, Platform-Building Ideas for Every Author. If you haven't read this Ebook, I suggest you get it and study it, then apply the lessons to your writing life.

What new publishing habits are you developing? Let me know in the comments below.


Publishing habits are important for every writer. Get some ideas from this experienced editor.  (ClickToTweet)
W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 books including his latest, Billy Graham, A Biography of America's Greatest Evangelist. Also Terry has written for more than 50 magazines and lives in Colorado. Follow him on Twitter where he has over 200,000 followers.
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5 Must-Use Tips on Writing a Powerful Thriller

While the title focuses on writing a powerful thriller, these tip are relevant to most other fiction stories also.

In Brian Klems’ Writer’s Digest Column on Writing, I read a great article titled, “The 5 C’s of Writing a Great Thriller Novel.”

Although I’m not a thriller writer, the information in this article is applicable to just about all fiction writing.

There are fundamental elements needed in all fiction to make it reader engaging and friendly. In other words, to make it ‘page turning good.’

The five C’s of writing a great thriller the article mentioned are:

1. Make Your Characters Three- Dimensional

The characters in your story need to be carefully chosen and they need to be three-dimensional. Your hero can’t be ALL good and your antagonist can’t be ALL bad.

Klem’s explains to create “complex characterization” and to “brainstorm a list of at least 10 inner demons your hero has to fight.”

2. The Name of the ‘Fiction Writing’ Game is Conflict

Every story needs conflict. Klems calls it ‘confrontation.’ The hero needs to overcome obstacles to finally reach his goals.

Having the antagonist battling his own demons or righting some wrong that makes his act unethical or even murderous is additional conflict you can season your story with.

You need to create ups and downs and interesting multi-faceted characters.

3. Twists and Turns

‘Careening,’ as Klems puts it, is about creating twists and turns that keep the story from being predictable.

This element of the story keeps the reader on her toes. Klems says, “Part of the fun for readers is thinking a story is going one way, and getting taken completely by surprise.”

4. Make Your Reader Feel
This story element is essential for all fiction, but especially in a thrill. You want your reader to feel what the character is feeling and you want it to read authentic, believable.

You need the reader to be scared or hold their breath with anticipation.

To do this, Klems suggests “recalling an emotional moment in your life, and recreate each of the senses in your memory (sight, smell, touch, sound, etc.) until you begin to feel the emotion again.” He calls this story element, ‘coronary.’

Once you start remembering, you will begin to feel what you did at the time. Then write it down. Write what you felt.

5. The Take-Away (intended or not)

Most writers want their stories to have some take-away value. It could be some kind of moral enlightenment, food for thought, or other tidbit.

The same holds true for thriller writers.

Klems explains that “you ought to spend some time asking yourself what your thriller is really about. Does it offer hope for justice? Does it end with justice denied?”

Another very interesting point Klems brings out is that some writers, especially “aspiring thriller writers,” don’t see the value in thinking about a take-away value for the story. “There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as long as you realize that you will be saying something. Why not be intentional about it?”

This is such a great point. Don’t assume the reader will be content with ending their reading with the thrill and action. Inevitably, they will take something else from the story, possibly something you didn’t intend. At least lead them in the right direction.

There you have it, five tips on writing a great thriller and on writing other fiction that will have the reader turning the pages and coming back for more.


This article was originally published at:
5 Must-Know Tips on Writing a Powerful Thriller (and most other fiction stories)

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author. She runs a successful children’s ghostwriting and rewriting business and welcomes working with new clients.

For tips on writing for children OR if you need help with your project, contact her at Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.

To get monthly writing and book marketing tips, sign up for The Writing World – it’s free!

(a middle-grade fantasy adventure set in 16th century China)


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