Guest Post: “The Infinity of YA Youth: or, Why I Write YA” by Jenny Elder Moke

Guest Post

Meet Jenny Elder Moke.

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Jenny Elder Moke writes young adult fiction in an attempt to recapture the shining infinity of youth. She was a finalist in the 2017 Austin Film Festival Podcast Competition, and studied children’s writing with Liz Garton Scanlon.

When she is not writing, she’s gathering story ideas from her daily adventures with her two irredeemable rapscallions and honing her ninja skills as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Jenny lives in Austin, TX with her husband and two children.

Her debut novel, HOOD, about the daughter of Robin Hood and Maid Marien, will release from Disney/Hyperion on June 9, 2020. She is represented by Elizabeth Bewley at Sterling Lord Literistic.

Social Media Links
Website: https://jennyeldermoke.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jennyelder
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennyeldermoke/?hl=en
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jenny.eldermoke.3

 

The Guest Post.

The Infinity of YA Youth: or, Why I Write YA

 

Being a kid can feel eternal. Making it through the school day; waiting to be old enough to pick your own clothes or drive your own car or eat whatever you want for breakfast; waiting for the next season of your favorite show so you can binge it and immediately regret watching it too fast (actually that’s probably an adult thing, too). Everything just takes so long when you’re ready to go go go – ready to be done with school, to be done with homework, to be an adult where you can make your own choices and your own money and your own life. So much of childhood feels like waiting for your real life to start, and that wait can stretch on forever.

But there’s another type of eternity in childhood that first drew me to young adult novels as a reader, and then as a storyteller myself. There’s a line in my bio that says I write young adult novels to recapture the shining infinity of youth, and that infinity isn’t the tiny eternity you live trying to make it through a chemistry final. It isn’t the eternity of waiting for your birthday, or Christmas, or summer vacation. It’s the infinity of possibility. When you’re young, you’re on the edge of everything. You’re on the precipice of experiencing everything for the first time – first love, first heartbreak, first achievements, first year of high school, first year of college (VERY different experiences if you haven’t lived them both yet), all those life-changing moments that shape you into the adult you will become. You’re on the edge of forming your best, truest self, the butterfly you’ll triumphantly explode into after the transformative cocoon of childhood.

And all those firsts? Sometimes they hurt – horribly, worse than anything you’ll ever feel. And sometimes they are like sips of sunshine, a joy so pure and radiant it bursts through every pore in your body. Sometimes they fill you with a rage that makes you shake, and sometimes they make you so blue you’ll feel like you’re drowning on land. Sometimes they’ll feel like too much, like your skin will burst or your heart will explode from the pressure. You don’t yet have ways to protect yourself from them, from the immediacy and the intensity. You have no choice but to be present, to experience those feelings so deeply and fully that they overwhelm you.

But that’s what I love most about young adult fiction, far more than adult fiction. That immediacy of emotion, the importance of every decision, that feeling that everything you do is huge. What you wear today, what books you read, what hobbies you pursue, what schools you look at – every single decision feels like it’s setting you on a course for the rest of your life. Some of them do, and some of them don’t, but you can’t know which ones are which until you make them and live through them. And even though that living through them can be painful and messy and complicated, you’re fully living. You’re in the thick of it, your brain and your body and your spirit coming alive with possibility.

HoodIt’s the same decisions my characters face in HOOD – the same decisions all my characters face, because it’s one I’m constantly facing. Who do I want to be? Where do I fit in the world? What is my purpose in life? Isabelle, the main character in HOOD, is certainly looking for her place in the world. She doesn’t fit in with her old life in a priory (a place of chores and prayers and severely limited wardrobe choices), but when she accidentally shoots one of the king’s soldiers and becomes a fugitive, as terrifying as it is, the decision opens up her world. Suddenly she’s searching for the father she’s never known, fighting for her place among the Merry Men, battling the king of England – and finding her purpose in the world. It’s painful, and messy, and terrifying, but it’s also exhilarating. Because she’s on the edge of everything, the infinity of possibilities opening up before her. And I hope readers find the joy and heartbreak and hope in that shining infinity.

 

 

HOOD coming soon!

Stay tuned for more information by visiting Jenny’s social media links.

Author Interview: Isabel Ibanez Davis

Author Interview, Misc.

Isabel Headshot.jpgMeet Isabel Ibanez Davis.

Isabel Ibañez Davis is the author of WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT (Page Street, Fall 2019), an award winning designer, illustrator, wife to Andrew Davis of Portlandia, and mom to a golden-doodle named Piper Bramble Buns. She’s a Pitch Wars class 2015 Alum. She’s also the creator of the new Pitch Wars branding and mascot, Poe Warburton. Isabel is also mentoring for Pitch Wars in the YA category. This is her third year mentoring.

By day, she designs greeting cards for 9th Letter Press, a company she founded and sold in 2017. Her work has been sold in over 350 mom and pop shops around the country, as well as in nationwide brands like Crate and Barrel, Anthropologie (a dream come true),  and Paper Source.

By late, late night she writes YA fantasies featuring amazing food and strong Latina characters who are often running for their lives. Her favorite stories always feature atmospheric settings, far-off places featuring lush landscapes, kissing, and action scenes. When she’s not doodling or writing, Isabel can be found playing board games and talking trash with fellow players, or traveling with her husband to far-off places. She loves to cook, but is a terrible baker despite her best efforts. One day, she’ll learn how to make the best carrot cake on the planet.

In college she majored in Creative Writing and History, but never dreamed that her work might one day be published.

Isabel is represented by the tenacious Mary Moore of Kimberly Cameron & Associates.

Social Media Links:
Twitter + Instagram | @IsabelWriter09
Website: IsabelIbanezDavis.com

The Interview.

Pitch Wars has begun! Can you share what inspired you to apply to be a mentor and your experience so far as a YA mentor?

I’ve been involved with Pitch Wars since 2015 when I first applied to be a mentee. The community I found within it has been life giving and I learned SO much from my mentor, Megan Lally, and my PW sibling Sheena Boekweg. To this day we remain very good friends. The next year, I became a mentor and I haven’t stopped being one since. I wanted to give back and help writers with their own stories.

How does one become a “giant word nerd?” Frankly I need a t-shirt and design for that immediately!

Oh man, T-Shirts would be great—why haven’t I thought of that before? I became a “Giant Word Nerd” because of my parents. My first language was Spanish and growing up, I pronounced English words like my parents did—phonetically. It’s how one learns Spanish, by sounding out each letter. In English, that doesn’t always work and you may end up saying “Salmon” or “Epitome” wrong. 😉

This is when I really sought to learn English well, constantly reading, sometimes with a dictionary and I learned to looooooove words.

To follow up with my question – tell us your “word nerd story” in five words or less.

How about my favorite words?! Vellichor, Eloquence, flibbertigibbet, hiraeth, effervescence.

What was your first illustration project and how did you find the illustrator in you?

So, I majored in Creative Writing + History, but ended up going back to school for Graphic Design. I really wanted to become a children’s book illustrator, but ended up falling into designing wedding invitations. I love love and this turned out to be a great outlet, which lead to me founding 9th Letter Press, a stationery company that churned out greeting cards, wedding invitations, etc. I’ve since sold the company, but to this day I remain an avid paper lover.

How does your writing process look? Are you a plotter? Do you let your characters take the lead and see what happens?

I am SUCH a plotter. For a long time, I wondered why it was taking me so long to write books. Why some writing sessions took longer than others, and finally I figured out the problem. I am the most effective writer when I know where I’m going. Without direction, I flounder and spend too much time asking myself is this the right way forward. When I plotted and wrote an outline for the first time, I ended up finishing a polished version of WOVEN IN MOONLIGHT, my debut, in three months. This was a game changer!

My outlines are very detailed, and on top of that I actually block out each chapter, writing not only what happens but how my characters are feeling as well. In the moment, if something feels right I let myself go down that path, and that’s allowed for spontaneity. I actually think those moments exist because somewhere in the back of my mind I know if I get lost, that I have a map to find my way.

Name one book in 2018 that has stuck with you.Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?

One book!?!?!? That’s the hardest question ever. There have been so many that I’ve loved, loved, loved. The first one that comes to mind is SPINNING SILVER by Naomi Novik. Her writing is incredibly atmospheric and lush. There’s also this fairytale tone to her work that pulls me right into the story.

I also loved The Cruel Prince and it has everything to do with the main character, Jude. She’s an adorable, scheming, and vulnerable muffin and so well written, I can’t stand it!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?

I am around twitter (my DMs are open) and I always love to interact with avid readers to talk about favorite books. Don’t hesitate to say hello! 🙂

Author Interview: Cat Winters

Author Interview

Meet Cat Winters.

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Social media links:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/catwinters
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/catwintersbooks/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/catwintersbooks
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/catwinters/

The Interview.

Hi Cat! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you so much for hosting me! I’m the author of five novels for teens: In the Shadow of Blackbirds, The Cure for Dreaming, The Steep and Thorny Way, Odd & True, and a new novel about Edgar Allan Poe’s teenage years, The Raven’s Tale, which debuted this past April. I’m also the author of two novels for adults, The Uninvited and Yesternight, and I contributed to the young adult horror anthology Slasher Girls & Monster Boys. My work is heavily influenced by classic Gothic literature and strange, dark, and haunting history. I’m known for blending historical fiction with the supernatural.

What first attracted you to dark fiction? Is there a certain element that you enjoy more so than others?

In the second grade, when I was browsing the shelves of my elementary school’s library, I found a book about real-life houses that were purported to be haunted. The horrific accounts of hauntings and creepy photographs in those pages both terrified and fascinated me. Shortly afterward, I started believing that my own bedroom was haunted, and I became drawn to all sorts of stories about ghosts, including novels and short story collections I discovered through my school’s Scholastic book orders. Eventually, I started writing my own eerie stories and poems.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I love the rush of terror that accompanies a good, atmospheric ghost tale, even though I’m terribly afraid of being alone in the dark and would never sleep in a room reputed to be haunted. Psychological horror and suspenseful tales of haunted people and places are my preference for dark fiction. I’m not always a fan of gory horror, unless it’s done cleverly, like in Poe’s short stories.

Did any of your books (whether it was a certain character or plot point) surprise you after you had turned in your last round of edits prior to publishing?

Odd & True probably surprised me the most. It originally started as an adult novel that was very much historical fiction without any fantasy elements involved, beyond a main character’s belief in monster legends. Then it seemed to want to be a supernatural YA novel about monster-hunting sisters that also paid tribute to the power of storytelling. By the time I turned in the last edits, the novel had turned into a book about the pain of letting go of childhood magic and innocence, which I hadn’t initially realized would be a major element of the characters’ journeys. It’s actually one of my darkest and most personal works of fiction.

YA vs. Adult fiction. To you, how are they similar and different? Do you enjoy writing for one age group more than the other?

To me, the main difference between writing YA and writing adult fiction is the fact that protagonists in YA novels typically range in age from 15 to 18 years old, and protagonists in adult novels are usually older than 18. There are some books that blur the lines between YA and adult fiction, but truly the ages of the main characters are the key distinction. If the author is writing from the point of view of a character who currently is or recently was a teenager, then the book likely gets shelved as YA.

I don’t water anything down for my books for teens, and I certainly don’t hold back on exploring darker subjects. I honestly don’t prefer writing for one age group over the other. The stories themselves determine whether the novel should be YA or adult fiction, and I set out to write the strongest book that I can, no matter the target audience.

What was your first author event (be it a convention, signing, or school visit) like?

My first event as a debut author was the 2013 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, WA. While there, I quickly discovered the wonderful, infectious enthusiasm librarians bestow upon authors. My publisher, Abrams, invited me to sign free galleys for my debut novel, In the Shadow of Blackbirds, and when I showed up at the Abrams booth, I was stunned to find a long line of excited librarians waiting to meet me. They made me feel like a rock star! I’m extremely grateful for the support of librarians, teachers, bloggers, booksellers, and anyone else who spreads their passion for reading to others.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

Once a week I meet up with local author friends to write in an indie coffeehouse. It’s one of my favorite parts of the week.

Do you have a writing schedule or just find yourself writing when inspiration strikes?

During my entire career as a published writer, I’ve been the parent of two kids, so writing has always been very much been based around their school schedules. When they’re in school, I write as much as possible. When they’re home, finding the time to fully immerse myself in my fictional worlds gets more challenging. Thankfully, I have a home office with a door I can close and a helpful husband who likes to cook. To help pay the bills, I take on freelance work and teach workshops, so even when the kids are away, I can’t always write whenever inspiration strikes. Like most writers, I’ve had to develop the skill and the discipline to sit down and write productively when time permits, and when I’m working to meet deadlines, I’m often writing deep into the night.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?

I’d like to invite readers to visit my website, http://www.catwinters.com. I’ve posted special links and bonus material for all my books over there, and schools and libraries can find information about my author visits and downloadable teaching guides.

 

 

Thank you Cat for stopping by Bookish Looks!

Guest Post: “On the Benefits of Staying Busy” by Michael Chin

Guest Post

Author photo.jpgMeet Michael Chin.

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son. He has three full-length short story collections on the way: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue from Duck Lake Books (available for pre-order from the publisher here: https://catalog.ducklakebooks.com/p/you-might-forget-sky-was-ever-blue.html or on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/You-Might-Forget-Ever-Blue/dp/1943900167), Circus Folk from Hoot ‘n’ Waddle, and The Long Way Home from Cowboy Jamboree Press. He has also published three chapbooks: Autopsy and Everything After with The Florida ReviewDistance Traveled with Bent Window Books, and The Leo Burke Finish with Gimmick Press.

Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin

 

The Guest Post.

On the Benefits of Staying Busy

One of the more memorable moments of the original Avengers movie sees The Incredible Hulk reveal how and why he’s now able to control his transformation between regular ol’ human being Bruce Banner, and big green super hero—a shift formerly subject to his emotional state (i.e., when he was mad, the Hulk came out).

He casually explains that rather than having to get upset now, and rather than being subject to his emotions, instead now he’s always angry.

Full disclosure: I’m not a big fan of the Marvel movies for the low/contrived/artificial stakes and excessive action sequences that pervade most of them. This moment, however, teaches something valuable in the name of consistency and harnessing that which risks teetering out of control.

I write more than most people I know, which is a part of why this year and a half will see not just my first, or first two, but my first three books launch into the world.

I’m always writing.

Workaholicism is too often celebrated in our culture as people put achievement and money ahead of their families, health, and mental wellbeing—you know, actual happiness. Advocating for the practice of always writing might feel like an argument in this vein, but it isn’t exactly. I’ve found that consistently writing some—say, a half hour, five hundred words a day—is both sustainable for me and enough to have a lot of pages after every few months, every year, even in the typical case that while parenting and working at least one job at a time (usually more), I don’t have a ton of extra time or energy to give.

Staying busy in this style also facilitates diversifying my projects. I first drafted the collection of stories about circus performers that would become my second book, Circus Folk, in 2013. In between drafts, I wrote the stories that would become my first book, You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue. In the anything but linear process of drafting, revising, and organizing that manuscript, I wrote other stories and poems, and drafted multiple novels—some of which have been published as stand-alone pieces in literary journals, some I’m still re-working, and of course a fair portion of which will probably never see the light of day. (Though I should also note that those in between times included drafting over forty linked flash pieces that became the backbone of my third book, The Long Way Home.)

I say all of this not to suggest that my way is the way for everyone. Neither can I claim enough success to justify such bold pronouncements, nor does everyone have the same work style, nor resources that I have at my disposal (not least of all, more than one full-time job that has facilitated stealing time for my own work in between long stretches of doing the work I’m being paid for). It’s worth some food for thought, however, for those writers, like myself, who have also spent significant stretches not producing as much as they want or feeling disconnected from their writerly selves. Sometimes, it’s less useful to get busy than to stay busy.

Author Interview: Malayna Evans

Author Interview

Meet Malayna Evans.

MalaynaEvansHeadshot.jpg

Social Media Links:
Website: http://malaynaevans.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Malayna
IG: https://www.instagram.com/malaynaevans/
GR: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17571369.Malayna_Evans

 

The Interview.

Hi Malayna! Thanks for joining us today. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a single, working mom. I live just outside of Chicago with my two kids and a lovable but loud rescue dog. I grew up in the mountains of Utah and spent my childhood climbing, skiing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. Many years later, I earned a Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. I’ve used that education to craft a middle grade, time-travel series set in ancient Egypt. Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh is book one. With my book on the shelves and books two and three in the works, it’s exciting to chat with book supporters like yourself, so thanks for having me.

What has been your favorite bookish memory as a fan and then as an author?
My most vivid book memory is mourning Gandolph. I must have been in middle school when I read The Lord of the Rings, and when the wizard died I cried for days. I’m not sure why my big sister, who’d given me the books, didn’t pat me on the back and tell me it would all work out in the end. But then again, maybe my joy when he came back in a subsequent book was worth the pain.
As an author, my favorite memory so far is telling my kids the book was going to be published. This manuscript was a family affair—my two little people inspired the Jagger and Aria characters and we spent a fair number of dinners discussing plot twists and character arcs. So the day we learned Jagger was going to be a real life book was a very good day at my house.

If someone asked you to describe Egypt in three sentences, what would you say?
What we think of as ancient Egyptian history lasted for thousands of years—the length of time between the pyramids being built and Cleopatra dying is greater than the time period between the time of Christ and today.
Ancient Egypt really is as fantastical as it’s made out to be in books and movies, and it’s not just mummies and the mysteries of the pyramids but the culture and daily life and religious beliefs as well.
Ancient Egypt contributed to the systems we take for granted today, like our calendar and writing system, for example.

What was it about the middle grade reader level that spoke to you as a writer?
In part, I think my interest in having a conversation with middle grader readers about my favorite topic, ancient Egypt, stems from the fact that middle grade shaped me, perhaps more than any other period in my life. My passion for reading, fantasy, and interest in the different ways people could just be in the world, depending on when/where/who they were born to, started in middle grade.

When brainstorming for your debut, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, did you already know you wanted it to be a series?
Yes! I had an ancient Egyptian blessing in mind early in the process. Ankh, wedja seneb, which means (may you have) life, prosperity and health. I thought life, prosperity and health would make good book themes. So I set out to examine the concepts, one per book, from an ancient and modern perspective. So in book one, it’s not the princess’s life Jagger has to save, but her afterlife. Book two looks at prosperity (wedja) and book three considers health (seneb). I think the very different meanings these ideas held for ancient people is pretty fascinating and I hope it comes across in the series … in a fun, adventurous way with mummies and killer scorpions.

What is something you wish you could ask any of your characters?
Jagger and his little sister, Aria, are extremely well travelled. She’s an adventurous spirit so she loves that about their life, although he resents it. I’d love to ask Aria your question below—where, and when, would she travel if she could go anywhere, anytime. By the end of book one I know the answer—she’d go back and visit her ancient Egyptian friends again. But I have no idea what she’d say prior to that, although Jagger would no doubt choose ancient Egypt—it’s his favorite subject—if he was forced to make a choice and his bedroom with deep dish pizza was out of the running.

If you could live in one area, in one timeperiod, for the day, where are you headed?
Oh I’d definitely head to the Amarna Period, which is when/where this book is set. It’s the most bizarre periods in ancient Egyptian history. The pharaoh, Akhenaten, tried to replace the traditional gods and goddesses with a single god, the sun disk, the Aten. He moved the court to the middle of nowhere, developed an artistic style that departs dramatically from the rather static canon of Egyptian art, and basically upended culture in all sorts of big and small ways. As an ancient historian, it can be hard to get a beat on who the rulers we study were as people—the documents they left behind tell us about their building programs, wars they won, etc. but not who they were. But occasionally, an ancient actor stands out. I’d love to go spy on Akhenaten’s court. I wouldn’t want to stay long, but maybe a one week vaca in ancient Amarna? Yeah, that would do the trick nicely.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers today?
Just a thanks, especially to all those readers who’ve bought or read the book, extra thanks to those who’ve left reviews. It’s a surreal feeling having people spend time with your book and I don’t take it for granted. I hope there are a few kids out there who see themselves in my characters, or figure out that ancient history is fascinating, or just enjoy the adventure. That would make my little writer heart very happy!

 

Thank you for your time Malayna!

Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh is out now.

JaggerJonesCover.jpeg

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Guest Post: “Critique Partners: What They Are, Where to Find Them, and How to Make the Best” by Elysia Strife

Guest Post

About Elysia Strife.

img_6493.jpgElysia Lumen Strife has self-published three adult fiction novels and one children’s book. Strife keeps herself busy writing, critique-swapping, doing book reviews, and designing covers as she and her husband travel the country for work. She is a veteran, a fitness buff, and holds two Bachelor’s Degrees: Interior Design and Exercise Sport Science. With five books on the table for 2019, she’s hard at work. Strife writes in the following genres: Science Fiction Fantasy, Fantasy, Holiday Romance, Women’s Fiction, Romantic Suspense, and Children’s.

Website: elstrife.com
Amazon: Elysia Lumen Strife
Twitter: @ElysiaLStrife
Pinterest: Elysia Lumen
Instagram: Elysia Strife
Goodreads: Elysia Lumen Strife

 

A secret tip: Strife always publishes Advanced Review Copies of her books on Prolific Works prior to publication. Her next book, A Promise in Ash, will arrive in July. You can watch her page here: Prolific Works. If you like free reads, this site has a ton. Enjoy!

 

The Guest Post:

Critique Partners:

What They Are, Where to Find Them, and How to Make the Best

CPs can help you stay on target if you have trouble motivating yourself.

It’s like self-imposed homework. The concept might bring back bad memories, but it helps you achieve a goal you set out to reach.

We need to challenge our fellow creative-types in a supportive way.

This is one way we can do just that.

Stay tuned for a CP Question Cheat Sheet below!

 

What They Are:

A Critique Partner is someone with whom you swap written work in an effort to gain a crucial, fresh perspective on your story. Yes, this is necessary. I say this firmly from experience. You want other writers (people that study the craft and like to read) to let you know what they see. We all do our best to convey the message/themes/characters/scenes we see in our minds. But are we doing this effectively? How do we know? This is where Critique Partners lift the veil of uncertainty and help us pinpoint areas for improvement.

I’ve encountered some confusion between Critique Partners (CPs) and Beta Readers (Betas). Technically, a CP is someone with which you share a chapter or a few at a time as they are written—an ongoing process. You’re not co-writing; you’re sharing impressions to tune the work. These are writers that work with one another through the process of writing the book, offering tips and feedback as the story unfolds. Betas are people that read the book when it is one complete unit, providing overall feedback to check for consistency, plot holes, character arcs, etc.

 

Where to Find Them:

  1. Local Writing Groups – This one is a fantastic option if you can get into a group in your area. You’ll be able to meet face-to-face with others and talk about your ideas and concerns as you write. Some groups will have requirements for participation (like waiting for your turn/week to swap and bringing enough paper copies of your work for the entire group). That’s just one example. Sometimes, they’ll want you to hang out with the group for a few weeks or months before submitting work for the group to review (so they don’t get flighty drifters). I’ve seen a few that require you to earn points by critiquing other works before you can submit your work.

I use the MeetUp app to find local groups and take a look at their rules. Often, the public library will have postings if any groups have a schedule to meet there. Some of the bookstores may have writers events or rent out rooms for meetings as well.

  1. Online Writing Groups – Most of these are free, and you can find ones specific to genres.

Absolutewrite.com is a fairly large writing forum where you can connect with other writers and authors. There is a section where you can post a request for feedback partners, but you have to register to post. And in order to start your own thread, they require you’ve made 50 posts first.

Agentqueryconnect.com is similar to the above. It is a thread site but aimed at those more interested in traditional publishing and being in contact with agents.

Inkedvoices.com has a network of engaged people where you become part of a like-minded team and swap critiques. It is a paid membership, $85 annually, but offers a more constructive and timely environment. They also have online versions of NaNoWriMo camps.

Scribophile.com is a free website (with paid upgrades). You do have to earn points to post if you want critiques. They have free writing contests, a writing blog, and a forum for educational information. You can only post 3,000 words at a time for critique, and it requires 5 points to post that. It’s a great process with a high expectation of positive/constructive feedback. But it is definitely a time consuming process.

Examples of genre specific options:

Mystery Writers: mwf.ravensbeak.com

Science Fiction Fantasy: sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com

Literary: http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters

Christian: Kingdom Writers – angelfire.com/ks/kingwrit/

Sorry Romance and Children’s peeps. I searched but couldn’t find any genre-specific online groups for you. Try social media and the non-genre specifics listed above.

  1. Social Media – I have found the best crew on Twitter via Megan Lally’s #CPMatch hashtag. I love it because it’s FREE, and I’ve made a ton of connections with other authors this way. She runs events every month to month-and-a-half where people storm the hashtag with their short synopses and occasionally a mood board or book cover. Posting the genre of the writing helps find compatible works to swap with.

You can also use #critiquepartner, #cpmatchmaking, #betabustle and #betareader on Twitter, but I haven’t found a more loyal and excited group than the one listed above.

Facebook has a lot of writer’s groups as well. I’m not even going to delve into this one. But I will say this: many are tired of spammers – I mean the self-pubbed gurus that just want to drop their links and leave. (This isn’t effective, and it isn’t nice) Become an active member. You will make friends. Friends make a network. A network is how you will succeed.

Wattpad is a fantastic place to meet a lot of work-in-progress folks. It’s a place where you can post your upcoming works one chapter at a time and get feedback from your followers for free. That said, it counts as publication. So… if you want to maintain copyright, make sure you include a notice at the beginning of your book on Wattpad. And when you do officially publish for sale, you need to be aware of this when filing on copyright.gov. They will ask you if it has been published previously. But if you’re looking for a fast turnaround with feedback, this is a great way to do it. Wattpad is heavier on the YA and Fan Fiction side, so the crowd there tends to be younger. They give great advice on how something reads, plot, characterization, etc. But not always the nitty-gritty voice, line, and copyediting advice.

Goodreads is a good place to connect with readers. You can also find groups where you can post your work for review or beta reads. This is only as successful as you make it. If you want to be noticed here, you have to interact with lots of other people. There are numerous posts made every day to many of the groups.

Here are a few examples:

The Circle: for readers/beta readers/critiques/reviews/free reads size: 1,681

Goodreads Reviewers’ Group size: 5,846

Support for Indie Authors size: 14,401

Making Connections size: 11,932

Goodreads Authors/Readers size: 29,859

  1. Writing Associations and Organizations

Local organizations, like the Writers’ League of Texas can offer you a host of options for a decent membership price. Texas, of course, isn’t the only location. I’m just using this one as an example because I was a member when I lived there. The great thing about WLT was online classes. Yes, you can take courses online and not have to live in the state. Members get a discount on courses. If you plan to take several a year, it’s worth it. They also have a website where you can get counseling and one-on-one attention with your work. I met other authors at classes they had at St. Edwards University. This is one way to grow your living, breathing, human network.

There are quite a few online organizations, several of which you might be familiar with. This list is not all-inclusive. There are many more.

American Christian Fiction Writers

Erotica Readers and Writers

Historical Novel Society

Military Writers Society of America

Mystery Writers of America

Nonfiction Authors Association

Poetry Society of America

Romance Writers of America

Sisters in Crime

Small Publishers, Artists, And Writers Network

Society of Children’s Book Writers And Illustrators

Western Writers of America

Writers Guild of America

  1. There is always the Fiverr option if you’re looking for timely feedback and haven’t made many other connections yet. If you haven’t heard of it, Fiverr is a massive website where people can post their work-for-hire ads. Be very careful. Always read reviews. This site does not filter quality of work. However, there is a lot of talent to be found here from editing to cover design. Let me just stress this again: be picky.
  2. Some freelance editors will also work with you, but this depends on the editor. A lot of editors will provide an initial, free, ten page or first chapter critique as a display of their skills (and a way to find out if you’d be a good match for future editing). This critique is a little different. They’re expecting your work to be as refined as you can make it before they get it. The term implies different things depending on who you ask. So an editor is less likely to walk with you through the construction of the book. Maybe later, after you’ve sold tons of books and you and your editor are best friend. Then they probably would.

Keep at it. You’ll get there. I believe in you!

 

How to Make the Best:

There are benefits and downsides to both online and in-person critiques. Online is great (through certain methods) for quick turnaround and removing any personal bias a family member or friend might have. You can send digital feedback, collect all of the responses in one file or folder and look at it simultaneously. Google Drive and Docs is awesome for collecting group feedback. Just upload your book and share the link to whoever you want via their email address. Seriously, it’s awesome.

It’s difficult to gauge the level of importance an avatar/icon puts on the feedback they give you. It can lack the depth you may be searching for. The comments may also come across heartless and hard to read. Some might respond with something too vague like, “Great read, just move the ending to here.” Or they might never get to it and you find yourself waiting indefinitely. They could also redline your work to shreds and leave you feeling like giving up. With a personal contact, you can meet them face-to-face, get a feel for them as a person, and decide if you’re comfortable swapping. The human element is hard for a lot of introverts, but it can be a powerful tool in the long run.

A tip for people with unpredictable writing habits… isn’t that a vast majority of us? Finish your book first. Or at least be close to ready before you search for CPs. The reason I say this is because we often have life events that get in the way of completing our weekly or monthly goals. Instead of making your betas wait (This still happens to me because of lack of internet) you will be prepared to send the next chapter. You can still swap one chapter at a time and critique it, but you don’t have the pressure of having to finish writing each unit while you’re critiquing their recent work and holding down a job, dealing with family, fixing the car, etc.

The key to online critiques: SWAP A SAMPLE. Yes, I guess, I’m yelling. Never send your book in its entirety right off the bat. (This is a security measure.) Send one chapter or five pages, whatever you agree upon. Critique it the way you would normally. Then exchange your feedback. This way, you can see if they give you what you’re looking for in responses and also, if their writing is of content and a reading level you’re comfortable with critiquing. That said, people are ready at different stages, so I tend to prepare myself to work with wherever they’re at.

Giving feedback can seem like an easy thing to do. Anyone can say, “I like this,” or “This sucks.” But that doesn’t tell the other writer what’s wrong or missing. I’ve included a list below of possible questions to ask when critiquing work. I hope it helps tune your mind as you read so you can offer the best experience you can to your CP. If they enjoy working with you, they may stick around to swap with you in the future.

Try to keep it a mixture of what you like and what you think could use improvement. Every writer needs to know what works just as much as what doesn’t. We need to know our strengths to be able to build on them like we need to know our weaknesses so we can fix them. The ABA approach (good, bad, good) doesn’t always align with things as they happen in the story. Just aim for balance. And be kind with your words.

Example:

Don’t say – You picked a terrible character name. Change it.

Say – This character’s name reminds me of (…). This way the other writer can see what you see. If it’s not the imagery they were hoping for with the name, then they can see* why they should change it.

Offer suggestions and observations. Keep personal opinions out of feedback. Maintain professionalism.

Never criticize the other writer as a person because of something they wrote. If its fiction, they’re constructing a story, not living it. And if it’s nonfiction, then it actually happened so it’s a fact that needs to be accepted. Be mindful of your emotions and comments. We’re here to build one another up and help each other reach our goals.

On the flip side, it isn’t easy receiving feedback either. We all send it off knowing it isn’t perfect, but hoping the other person will find some things they enjoy. This is the biggest reason for swapping a sample. You want to make sure they are going to give you what you need and want and not too much of what you don’t. Keep in mind, not everyone is going to present ideas to you in an objective and impartial manner. Some people can be downright mean. (Which is why we have to be the mature ones and lead by example.)

Their critiques are only theirs. They do not represent the mass majority. They are one person. Don’t judge your work’s value based on one person’s opinion. You’re not being fair to yourself. This is why you need to get feedback from at least three different people. You will have critique partners back out from time to time. It seems to happen in waves. We all have a lot on our plates. Few of us are full-time writers.

Always ask more people if they’d like to swap than the number you think you need. Maybe you’ll get lucky and snag them all! Just be prepared to work through that number of stories if they do. Play fair, and it will work out in your favor.

Be encouraged by the feedback. It’s better to chop your manuscript up and rework it now, than let your readers do it for you on public websites. I know it can seem overwhelming sometimes. That’s okay. Cry it out. Get some extra strong coffee. Hug whatever or whoever is close to you.

Deep breath.

Take the news in stages if you have to. Look at the notes one at a time. If there is a consensus among your returned critiques, then you know what needs work. It can be a bit more ambiguous when it comes to the individual comments that don’t line up with the others. Filter them for anything confusing and ask for clarification on the comment if needed.

Sort the opinions from the facts. Opinions are subjective statements that contain assumptions, judgments, and beliefs. Facts are objective statements and are backed by evidence and reason. Some writers are very good at hiding their opinions in a factual statement. Fact checking is crucial in non-fiction but can be a component of many fiction genres. But, in truth, CPs are only able to give you their best observations of your work as it coincides with what they’ve been taught or researched is “correct.”

There is a level of differentiation to consider as you read their comments. If they explain why a concept/scene/character action doesn’t fit, you’ll want to consider delving into this. If someone is providing you an opinion on something menial, let it go. So they don’t like it, big whoop. It’s not worth getting upset over.

Critiques are recommendations. Be open-minded about what they’re suggesting, but don’t change everything just because others think you should. Instead, take their notes as help in deciphering what messages or concepts may not be coming across clearly.

Sometimes, we want them confused and misled. Maybe because of a Red Herring we carefully wove in, or we’re trying to make our readers think. Confusion would be a good thing in those cases. Otherwise, it may mean there is a deficit in showing of a component in your writing.

On the flip side, if critiquers feel bored, it may be a sign you’ve shown too much, and they’re not actively engaged. A little mystery is the key to a good hook.

Swapping critiques can lead to insecurity among writers. I hope you’re one of the lucky few that hasn’t had this issue. It’s been my experience that new CPs need a gentler approach. Find out the stage they’re at and see how it compares with yours. Swap the samples. Find out if they want a full critique or a traditional one, in chapter segments as they write. Make sure you’re on the same page.

I love ending with terrible puns.

Remember, when we write, we’re in our comfort zone. When we send off our work for its first critiques, we enter the zone of fear, doubt, and insecurity. Getting our feedback is when we are offered the chance to learn about our skills and how we can make our writing better. It is when we accept it and work on improving our craft and our stories that they shine, and so do we.

 

Framework for critiquing:

 

General things to discuss upon swapping samples of writing

Is this a finished book or a work in progress?

Is this the genre you like to read?

Is this the genre you write in?

Have you done critiques before?

How long have you been writing?

Who is the target audience?

What are you looking for in feedback? General (plot/scene setting/characterization) or more detailed (voice/structure, line edits/copyedits)?

 

Notes

If you’re doing a group critique, don’t read others notes while critiquing. You run the risk of bias.

Remember to provide professional and polite feedback

Point out what you liked as well as what you found problematic

Read through these questions before you begin the critique to help you hunt down critical issues and answer them as thoughts come to mind

Leaving in-text notes can help you with a final (overall) assessment and also point out specific problem areas to the writer

 

The Questions!!

First Chapter/Opening

Do the first few lines hook the reader with the main character and their problem/conflict?

Can you visualize the environment, the main character, and the problem?

Is the manuscript starting where you think it should?

Is there enough tension and emotion to draw the reader in?

Does it start with a cliché, or is it a unique and intriguing beginning?

 

Conflict/Tension

Was there a major resolution to the main conflict? Or did you feel something was missing at the end?

Were the stakes enough?

Did the tension ebb and flow in a way that made you want to keep reading?

Were there tense hooks at the end of each chapter?

Did the beginning of each chapter give you the premise with a subtle hook as well?

If this is a series, is there a bit of conflict left unresolved for the next book?

Could you understand the internal/emotional battles the characters were fighting? Did they contribute to the progress of the plot and the character’s overall change (arc)?

Did any details or events seem convenient/contrived?

 

Characters

Were the chosen names, dress, and ages appropriate for the genre and setting?

Could you follow along with the emotional journey of the character? Or did it feel glossed over or forced?

Did the characters encounter enough struggles, including between characters, to complete a transformation at the end?

Do you understand why the villain/antagonist is a protagonist in their own mind?

Does each characters’ behavior seem believable?

Are the characters three-dimensional in personality?

Do they experience all emotions?

Do they improve the story?

Do they have flaws/limitations?

Are their goals, morals, and desires understandable?

Are they relatable to a level that fits the genre?

Are their back-stories compelling and well-rounded?

Did you find the characters’ changes satisfying at the end?

Were the social relationships among the characters genuine and supportive to the story?

If any, was the hierarchy presented believable and beneficial?

If this was a character-driven piece, do you feel the work was appropriately saturated with detail?

Did you find the characters motivating, compelling, or inspirational in any way?

In general, were the emotions, actions, and dialogue shown effectively?

 

Plot

If this was a plot-driven piece, do you feel the work effectively tackled this as a priority?

Do you know what the main plot is/was? Was it consistent from beginning to end?

Is the sequence of events consistent and believable?

Were there too many dreams or flashbacks that detracted from the clarity of the plot?

Were any aspects predictable?

Were any events dwelled in for too long or not long enough?

If there was more than one plotline or any subplots, were they constructive to the storyline or the character arcs?

Is the influence of any “daily life” in the work helpful?

Are the twists realistic? Surprising?

 

Setting/Worldbuilding

Can you clearly visualize where and when the story takes place?

Do you understand the cultural norms?

Is each change of scene distinguishable?

Were there any environmental descriptions that were overwhelming?

Does the setting/world frame the plotline effectively?

Is the history/back-story of the landscape fitting and believable? (Why are we here?)

Was every scene necessary to the plot?

 

Dialogue/Language

Are the colloquialisms effective or overwhelming?

Did the language seem to fit each character?

Was the dialogue constructive in moving the story forward?

Were there too many formalities? Hi/Bye, Thank you/You didn’t have to

Any dialogue dumps?

Any moments that needed more?

Did it evoke emotions or thoughts in you as a reader?

Did the dialogue reflect the displayed emotions of the characters?

 

Point of View – Format of narration for the book

Is the point of view effective for the story?

First person – “I am telling you.”

Second person (rare in novels) – Narrator tells story *to* another (the reader). The “you” perspective.

Third person (limited) – Narrator is outside of character minds. “He read it to her.”

Third person (omniscient) – Narrator is in characters’ heads. “Josh hated the concept. This sucks, he thought. But he read the book to his little sister anyway.”

Was the point of view consistent? (Especially between third person limited and omniscient?)

 

Perspective – Comes from all characters telling the story as we meet them throughout it. This is their view on situations because of their pasts, prejudices, attitudes, and personalities.

For works with multiple perspectives, do the changes from character to character seem fitting or does the story head-hop too quickly?

Are there too many perspectives?

Is there a character whose perspective you’d like to see?

 

Craft

 

Pacing

Did the writing carry you along smoothly?

Were there any problematic slow/fast areas?

Did any sections of backstory/info/descriptions slow the story?

Are the transitions helpful in moving from one scene to the next?

Does the pace fit the genre? (ie: Action Adventure vs. Historical Romance)

 

Show vs. Tell

Any clichés used? Once upon a time…

Does the work show things where it is needed?

Are the moments of telling appropriate?

 

Format

Are the chapters broken up appropriately by scene/perspective/time changes?

If there are breaks within chapters, do they seem fitting? Or could pieces be joined?

Were any sentences or paragraphs too long or short?

 

Voice/Tone

Did the voice flow along with the story or did it seem choppy in calm moments and too calm during action?

Is the tone fitting for the genre? (ex: Humorous, dark, melodramatic, literary, mechanical)

 

Grammar

Was punctuation used correctly? (comma splices, run-on sentences, not too many ; or !)

Any misplaced modifiers?

Are there too many adverbs?

Are the sentences sticky with too many conjunctions?

If there are curses, were there too many?

Are there vague filler words?

Is the writing concise?

 

At the End

Did the beginning fit now that you know the ending?

Did you notice any inconsistencies in plot/character/scene?

Does the author have any redundancies, catchphrases, or go-to words?

What was your personal take on the story? (Keep this separate)