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The September edition of the Big Thrill is here!

This month we have an exciting line-up, including a Between the Lines interview with #1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs who talks about her life, her career, and her work on both a bestselling thriller series and a hit television show.

The September edition also kicks off a new series—International Thrills—where Layton Green and J.F. Penn will interview thriller writers from around the world. The first segment profiles Nele Neuhaus, a #1 international bestseller and one of Germany’s most popular crime writers. Fittingly, there are several other international stories this month, including the always exceptional Africa Scene and profiles on writers spanning the globe, from Melbourne, Australia to Tokyo, Japan to Manchester, England.

And, of course, we have 39 hot new releases from some of the best thriller writers on the planet, including debut novels from Matt Cook, Patrick Oster, Carrie Stuart Parks and Todd Moss.

CLICK HERE to read more!

By April 15, 2012 Read More →

April 16 – 22: “Besides your agent, spouse, or both, do you allow other people to see your work?”

This week we discuss alpha, beta or any other readers before publication, and ask the questions: “Besides your agent, spouse, or both, do you allow other people to see your work? How do you select who to show your new manuscript to?”

Join ITW members James Conway, Martin Bodenham, Clea Simon, Libby Hellmann, William Todd Rose, Kellyann Zuzulo, Linda Rodriguez and Brian Andrews.

~~~~~

Linda Rodriguez’s EVERY LAST SECRET (Minotaur Books), winner, Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, launches 4/24/12. For her poetry, Rodriguez received the Midwest Voices & Visions Award, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award; finalist, Eric Hoffer Book Award, KCArtsFund Inspiration Award, Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. She is a member of Latino Writers Collective, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime.

Linda and her novel, EVERY LAST SECRET, are featured in the April edition of TheBigThrill.

James Conway is a pseudonym for a hedge fund insider and a global creative director at a major advertising firm. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/@ByJamesConway or JamesConwayBooks@gmail.com

William Todd Rose was named by The Google+ Insider’s Guide as one of their top 32 authors to follow. He writes speculative fiction that lends itself to the dark, and often surreal, realm of the macabre. For more information, including links to free fiction, please visit his website.

William Todd Rose was featured in TheBigThrill’s April edition. Click here to learn more.

A former journalist, Kellyann Zuzulo is a published author, freelance editor, and a Curator for Daily eReads. Her most recent novel is THE GENIE IGNITES from Boroughs Publishing Group. As a curator, she identifies titles in the thriller and crime fiction genres for promotion on the Daily eReads site. Kellyann lives in Pennsylvania and is currently working on the next book in The Zubis Chronicles series.

Clea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz feline mysteries, Pru Marlowe pet noir mysteries, and Theda Krakow mysteries. Her latest books, out this month, are GREY EXPECTATIONS: A DULCIE SCHWARTZ FELINE MYSTERY (Severn House) and CATS CAN’T SHOOT: A PRU MARLOWE PET NOIR Grey Expectations: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery (Poisoned Pen Press).

Both of Clea’s new releases were featured in the April edition of TheBigThrill.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is the award-winning author of 9 crime fiction novels, including two series and several stand-alones. The Ellie Foreman suspense series, which Libby describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24,” includes four titles. Libby also writes the harder edged Georgia Davis PI series, (EASY INNOCENCE, DOUBLEBACK, and TOXICITY) and the stand-alone thriller SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE. All her books are available as ebooks and print. A BITTER VEIL, a literary thriller set in revolutionary Iran, will be released in April, 2012.

A BITTER VEIL was featured in April’s TheBigThrill.

From Martin Bodenham – Author of THE GENEVA CONNECTION: I am a writer of thriller novels, based around crime and the financial markets.  After university, I trained as a chartered accountant, working in the UK and USA. I have spent the last twenty-five years in private equity, working either as an investor or advisor. Today, I am the CEO of Advantage Capital, a London-based private equity firm. Along the way, I have been an investor at 3i and Close Brothers, and a corporate finance partner at both KPMG and Ernst & Young.

Read more about THE GENEVA CONNECTION in April’s TheBigThrill.

Midwest born and raised, Brian Andrews is a US Navy Veteran who served as an officer aboard a 688 class nuclear submarine in the Pacific. He graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University with a degree in psychology. He is a Park Leadership Fellow and holds a Masters degree from Cornell University. Brian lives in Tornado Alley with is wife and daughter. Please say hello on Facebook and read more about the CALYPSO DIRECTIVE.
Posted in: Thriller Roundtable

About the Author:

International Thriller Writers Inc represents professional authors from around the world. Learn more about them, their work, and the sources from which they draw their inspiration at the Official ITW Organization Website. Interested in becoming a member of the International Thriller Writers? ITW offers Active and Associate memberships.

42 Comments on "April 16 – 22: “Besides your agent, spouse, or both, do you allow other people to see your work?”"

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  1. I am a great believer in canvassing the opinions of a wide variety of readers, but only when I am happy the manuscript is at a fairly advanced stage and only from readers within the thriller genre.

    With my first novel, I learned there is little point in allowing readers who do not usually read thrillers to review the draft manuscript. I wasted time and energy taking in views which were often aimed at the genre itself rather than my particular story. The most relevant feedback for me came from people who love reading fast paced thrillers, but did not know me at all. That way, I was able to benefit from completely objective and informed feedback, without the complications of loyalty and friendship diluting their opinions. Sure, I shared my drafts with friends and family, but I had to disregard most of their comments as they were almost entirely positive. Whereas, when strangers read my work, they did not hold back, and I was able to ascertain what was working and what needed more attention from me.

    The difficulty is finding readers within the genre, who do not know me and who are prepared to devote their time. My membership of Litopia, the writing community, was helpful here. I submitted chunks of the book to Litopia and then waited for the barrage of comments. The trick was to pick out the consistent threads only and not try to address every comment. Another trick was to tell myself I would pick two points from every review and disregard the rest. If you listen to every point, you end up with a book designed by committee, and a complete loss of your unique voice and style.

    • Martin, are you still a member of Litopia? When you say you submitted “chunks” of the book, how much material would you submit? 50 pages, 100 pages, half the MS? I like the idea of this forum resource, but I would be a little uncomfortable submitting too much of a work in progress out to the ether.

  2. Martin, I couldn’t agree more. A writer does need a critique of his work but the soucee must be considered. An objective view from someone versed in the genre is perfect. And since this is your world, you only take from that crit what is helpful. The trick–as you point out above–is in knowing what is valuable to you and what is not. You keep the baby, throw out the bath water. Or is it the reverse? Hmmmm. .

  3. Before I wrote fiction, I worked in public relations, and everything I wrote was subject to approval by the “Client.” In some cases, those clients barely knew correct grammar or spelling. I’ll never forget someone correcting my use of the word “orient” with “orientate.” So I learned early not to invest much ego in my writing.

    As a result, I have no problem letting people read my manuscript when it’s done. Especially my writers’ group – I’ve been in the same group for 15 years, and they are my first-line editors. I couldn’t imagine turning in a manuscript without them. In fact, I strongly recommend writers join or create their own group. Of course, it can be delicate selecting members who don’t have an ax to grind, but even when people do have their own idiosyncrasies, over time you learn to filter out what’s not useful.

    I usually send the manuscript to my mother and sister as well. They’re not experts in thrillers, but they tell me what needs clarification or further explanation.

    Finally, I have one or two crime fiction writer friends with whom I brainstorm the manuscript while it’s in progress. They help me refine plot, credibility, and motivation.

  4. To date, I really haven’t used bet readers outside of my immediate circle (though I do understand the wisdom in doing so). The closest I’ve probably gotten is with my second book, Cry Havoc. I got the idea to see if I could write the entire first draft of a short novel within a consecutive 24 hour period; to keep me honest, I uploaded the chapters to my website as they were completed. Quite a few people followed my progress throughout that long night and as I posted each new chapter I’d check for comments on the message boards which tracked the work. Some of the feedback and constructive criticism I received were spot on and really helped improve the quality of the final work.

  5. James Conway says:

    I share a polished first draft with a reader who is amazing with the structure, pace and sensibility of the thriller genre. This time around, because the plot is about an attempt to bring down the U.S. stock market and I wanted every phrase and plot point to ring true, and because I am far from a financial “quant”, I vetted sections of the book and in several instances the entire draft with trusted financial/hedge fund insiders. I agree with Martin’s point about the risks of soliciting the opinions of non-thriller readers, and some of my finance friends were quite fiction averse, but I kept this in mind when considering their feedback, and focused on gleaning constructive category insights (as opposed to, say, thoughts on a character’s arc) from them. My favorite note came from a respected and semi-famous hedge fund CEO. I’d feared the worst — “You got it all wrong…a trader would never say…” etc. Instead he said he loved the book but, on page 138 I mention a late night flight from Berlin to NYC; he told me that no such flight exists. Happiest change I ever made.

  6. The most important type of feedback for a manuscript is honest feedback. And the honest truth is…not a lot of people you know are going to be honest. They will flatter, they will skirt, they will agree. Then there’s the obligatory criticism. When I first started writing fiction, I joined a writers’ critique group. I found that each person seemed to feel obligated to offer “constructive” criticism each week, even if you’d made all the changes suggested from the previous week. I realized that a writer could forever be rewriting in an attempt to please her “critical” readers.

    Bottom line: go with your gut. You know instinctively if what you’re writing is any good. Write it, set it aside, re-read it. Read it out loud. I find myself to be a helpful alpha reader when I actually hear the words I wrote. Sometimes, I cringe. That’s good. I know where to rewrite. Despite the truth of “too many cooks spoiling the broth,” I do benefit from two beta readings: my two sisters. And they aren’t bothered about hurting my feelings. They read my manuscript and they give me honest feedback. Once I do the final draft, I submit to my publisher at Boroughs Publishing Group, who is probably the best beta reader I’ve ever come across. She’s honest.

  7. I go along with Martin’s approach, and it pays to be selective not only with who you choose but also with the level of feedback that you’re after. I ask readers to focus on character, plot, dialogue, and highs and lows. That tends to filter out passive readers from the beginning!

    I’ve been lucky with the two writers’ groups I belong to, in that we all know one another well enough to cut to the chase and provide feedback that can be worked with. I also, with my completed and (as yet) unpublished Brit thriller, Standpoint, commissioned an editorial report, which lifted both my understanding of the craft and the standard of my writing.

    The most important lesson, for me, is that the first draft is for me; after that, every other draft is for the reader so whatever doesn’t work has to go.

  8. I think we’re all saying variations of the same thing… different people vet our manuscripts for different things…

    – a fellow thriller writer for structure and plot
    – an expert to make sure we get it right
    – trusted friends to tell us if it’s inherently “interesting” and “good”…

    So here’s a question for everyone:

    Say you’re writing, or thinking of writing, a subject about which you know very little. How do you find the experts to help you “fill in the blanks” and how do you know they know what they’re talking about???

  9. I read all the posts with interest and Libby’s made me remember how tough it was to write by committee. I did PR too and it’s a wonder anything got out of that office by the time we were finished picking over it. Although I worked with a critique group for my first novel (which never would have been written if I hadn’t been in that group) I never found another after that group disbanded. As someone pointed out, it is hard to find the right group. Whether I’m on the giving or receiving end, the tough thing is deciding whether the feedback is going to improve the book the way the writer intended to write it in his or her own voice, or just advice on how to rewrite the book in the voice of the person giving the feedback. Hope that made sense. I’ve sold four novels and still find it just as tough now to find holes in the plot (until I’m many months into writing the draft, which is painful). Lately I’ve been seriously considering whether it’s worth it to hire a professional freelance editor.

  10. James Conway says:

    Good question, Libby. I try to approach unfamiliar subject matter with the eye of a novelist, the research intensity of a historian and the skill set of a journalist. Finding and interviewing an expert prompts me to put on my reporter’s shoes. For me, identifying and authenticating the validity of the best expert is relatively easy, thanks to basic search tools and having a working knowledge of the most recognizable, authentic and accredited institutions, universities and media outlets. For instance, I’m rarely worried about the validity of people with proper titles such as Detective, D.A. or even, Bureau Chief, Chief IT Officer at Fortune 500 Company X, etc. However, getting that top level person to agree to talk with you, on or off the record, or to let you shadow him or her, is another story. That takes tact, perseverance and sometimes a bit of luck. In every case its incumbent upon us to win their trust, because their reputations are as on the line as much as ours. Being a brand name writer (which I, unfortunately, am not!) certainly helps — I recently read about how Stephen King was given full access to tons of locations in Dallas while research his JFK themed novel “11/22/63″, and Richard Price seems to have unlimited access to the squad cars, street beats and station houses that inform his amazing novels. The rest of us have to work hard and take what we can get, and sometimes settle for a lesser, more accessible source. The tricky part is when the “best” expert isn’t available and we have to go down the hierarchical ladder, to second best, to a friend who works in the industry to “a friend of a friend”. These contacts can absolutely help, but when I’m working with secondary sources like this, my BS radar is dialed up to high and I take extra care in my fact checking and confirmation of sources.

  11. James Conway says:

    And apologies for the typos! Wrote the above (and this) on a train…

  12. I never show the first draft to anyone. I don’t want to give anyone else input at that stage. I revise that on my own. After that first revision, I will show it to my husband, who happens to be an editor and publisher in his day job. He’s my best first reader, good at pointing out structural, big-picture problems. After I revise again, I’ll show it to my writing group if I have time. (Sometimes with looming contract deadlines, I don’t.) This small group of women novelists has been together for almost ten years. Then, it’s just my agent and my editor who have input. They are both excellent.

    As far as Libby’s question about finding experts for vetting parts of your book and for research purposes, My first stop always is to check with PR departments at universities. They have tons of top experts in lots of fields. If the kind of expert I need can’t be found at a university, I look for professional associations for that field. If that won’t work, I put the word out among my friends and acquaintances, tossing as wide a net as I can, and asking them to ask their own circles if anyone knows someone who does/is what I want. Inevitably, some connection is made.

  13. “The most important lesson, for me, is that the first draft is for me; after that, every other draft is for the reader so whatever doesn’t work has to go.”

    Derek

    I could not have put it better than this. My first drafts are somewhat self-indulgent. After that, I park my ego and put the shin-guards on, welcoming thorougly honest feedback so I can improve the journey for the reader.

    Cheers

  14. Vonnie says:

    I agree with Martin and Jean wholeheartedly. Having a couple of crit partners who also write and/or read thrillers is the ultimate. People who appreciate other genres often don’t ‘get’ why you’ve set a particular scene up. Or, as one of my crit partners who writes straight romance said, “Who knew her books could get so dark and gritty?”

    Definitely have either beta readers or crit partners read through either in big chunks or wholly, your second draft. (My first one is never satisfactory from my personal pov). And let’s face it, if you’re a writer, you’ll do 3rd, 4th and 5th drafts before you’re satisfied, particularly if you write thrillers where there are so many loose ends to tie up.

    Then when your editor receives it, he/she will expect you do at least one run-through of amendments. Better just to have one run-through than several, or to be rejected. Polishing your manuscript courtesy of crit partners and/or beta readers is important. But not too many people. Reading is subjective, so you have to have the grit to stand your ground if they all pull different ways. You know your own work best.

  15. How about the flip side of having your agent read your mss… have you ever made changes in a thriller — at the behest of your agent — but realized later they were wrong and you’d made a mistake? What happened? How did you resolve it?

  16. I agree with Derek and Martin that the first draft is just for my eyes. My rule of thumb is to revise until I’ve cleared up everything I can see is wrong or that I can figure out what to do to fix it. Once I’ve done that, I turn to my editor-husband and my writing group for feedback. They will see things that I didn’t see (didn’t want to admit to myself I saw), and they may have insight into some passage that feels wrong to me when I can’t put my finger on what the problem is. If I go to them before I’ve done all the work I can myself, it’s a waste of their time.

    As for Libby’s question, I’ve only had an agent for about ten months, so I’m not a good one to answer that. I did have a writing professor convince me to make some major changes once, and the editor who published it made me put it back essentially to what it had been. I’ve learned since those days to listen to my gut more.

  17. It’s a really great question Libby. When I was searching for an agent with my first thriller those who were interested enough to read it all suggested revisions. I jumped to do the first few (of course always saving the original). I began to realize there was no pattern. Every prospective agent asked for something a bit different. Some of those changes made no sense. I felt some were gratuitous, just so they could put their own stamp on my book. I knew there was a good chance I was being stubborn. But I was getting personalized letters so I knew I was close. It was very tough but I turned down the first couple of offers I received for representation. One was from a high profile agency in NYC I wanted to work with. The agent I did sign with in the end also suggested revisions. But her idea made sense, so I spent two months rewriting the book based on a single paragraph of ‘big picture’ feedback from her. I am so glad for how it worked out but it is always tough listening to my gut. I’m sharing all this because I didn’t know other published writers at the time and had no idea how to proceed. Hope it helps others to hear this from me.

  18. I don’t even show my first draft to myself.

    Three or four or seven drafts after that, though, when the thing that I wanted to bury in the backyard after midnight and never speak of again is somehow miraculously seeming like a real book that is actually getting me excited, I start trolling for beta readers. (So none of the rest of you bribe them with sex? Hmm.)

    It’s a wonderful thing to have enough books out to have enough readers who actually WANT to read early drafts, it’s one of the things I’m most grateful for about my life as an author, because OH MAN do I need the feedback. I’ve worked books with a writing group before, always a fantastic thing. Having another thriller author to switch books with and just be encompassingly brutal with each other is amazing – the supremely talented Zoe Sharp is being my guardian angel on this new one. I think, as with research, a book will draw the right readers when it’s ready to move to the next level. Yes, I am from California.

    Coming from screenwriting, I’m pretty good about taking all notes as possibly true, but also not getting hung up on the SPECIFICS of the changes suggested and focusing more on the emotional undercurrent of what people feel is missing.

  19. Clea Simon says:

    I’m pulling up to the table late, for which I apologize! Sounds like you folks have been busy. And Libby – good question. For me, the actual content of most suggestions is pretty ignorable. I mean, every reader will take a story in a different direction. What I try to elicit from my readers is a sense of where the problems are – so if my agent says, “your sidekick should be a dog rather than a cat,” I figure that means I haven’t made the sidekick believable, rather than that I should take her advice verbatim.

  20. Clea Simon says:

    What I’m wondering is how you all try to solicit the kind of feedback you can use? I don’t mean, “you like it, don’t you?” We can all use that, and really, that’s what spouses/partners are for. But do you ask for specifics, like: Does the plot work? Did you find the characters believable? Sometimes, I ask, “did you stop reading at any point?” Or the more leading, “What were the slower parts?” Curious to hear what works for others.

  21. oooo Clea… I like that question. Hmm, let’s see. I’m probably the most insecure writer I know. I am always second guessing myself, questioning, revising. At the end of the process, when I cant stand myself or the book any longer, I kind of know the sensitive parts, or at least, sensitive to me. So when I ask for feedback, I’ll be specific… “Did you think it worked when she slipped on the banana peel and it turned into a snake? Or was that over the top?”
    “What about the poison? Did he do it subtly enough?” That kind of thing. Because I’m usually asking other writers, they’re pretty honest with their responses.

  22. Clea, often when I’m sending something around to my writing group, I send a list of questions with it, such as “Does this character’s motivation for what he does seem believable?” or “Does the background come alive for you in this scene?” While I’m doing all my revisions with just me and myself, I fix everything I know is wrong. My beta readers help with situations where I’m not sure if something is working or not because I’ve been too close to the book for too long..

  23. I like to give beta readers permission to be ruthlessly honest, so I ask them an open question. If there was one thing you would change about the novel, what would it be? That way, I avoid asking whether or not they like it, and it allows the reader to cut to the heart of any issue. It is an approach that works for me.

  24. Excellent questions, Libby and Clea. I definitely ask for very pointed advice when I pass my manuscript to my “honest” (read, sometimes brutal) sisters. I’ll ask, “Does it make sense that so-and-so did such-and-such?” They’ll let me know if not and why not. When I pass along my ms, I’ve already worked through several drafts, so I pretty much know where the chinks are. By asking specific questions, I can find out where the continuity fails.

    My publisher gets my nearly final draft and will read it without any prompting from me. She had a good eye for things I may have missed. Then I can get to the final final.

  25. Clea Simon says:

    Interesting response! I think we’re all more or less on the same page in that we want to hear the brutal truth of what DOESN’T work, but we sort of want to fix it ourselves (rather than have our beta readers make actual suggestions as to HOW we should fix it). Is that what you’re thinking?

    That leads to another question, though: What do you do when you’re just plain stuck and can’t see a way out?

  26. This has been such a good discussion. It’s always good to know how others see things and what fixes and hacks they’ve found along the way.

    I think Clea’s right. Most of us, it seems, want to know where the story slows down or something sticks, but we want to figure out how to fix it on our own.

    A lot of times when I’m stuck and can’t figure out what to do about it, I will open a new document on the computer or pick up a notebook and just start writing about the problem. Mostly I ask myself questions about the situation. If I can write something under answer, I go with it for as long as I have anything to say there. Then, I move on to ask more questions of myself, always on paper–I think better that way. Once I run out of time or steam, I set it aside and try to do something that engages my body rather than my mind–walk, garden, clean (have to be in bad shape for that), knit, drive, spin, weave, etc. If necessary, I repeat this process. It usually isn’t, however.

  27. I get both types of input, Clea: 1) My reader may say: “Here’s what I don’t get and it would make more sense to me if….” I’ll take the suggestion under consideration but doesn’t mean I’ll incorporate it. It just gives me insight into an area that may not flow as well. If the reader is stopped, then there’s something in the road, as it were.
    2) My reader may say: “I really hate that this just happened and I have no idea what you should do about it.” Sometimes hate is good. Means the reader has become emotionally involved. I’ll read over it, but I may do nothing about it.

    Point is, after several drafts of our work, writers are so close to the ms, we may not see glaring inaccuracies. And, yes, sometimes I do take suggestions on how to fix something. After all, it’ll be my words doing the fixing. Then I just have to kill the suggester so there’s no evidence that every single plot point didn’t come from my brain. :D

  28. Clea Simon says:

    Following up on what Kellyann says, I’m also a big believer in creating distance – if I can, I’ll print out a ms. in a diff. font, give it a week or two, or even physically go someplace else to read it. That’s not feedback, but it’s how I try to get through some of my own blind spots.

  29. Clea Simon says:

    Linda – Just heard an author who wrote about creativity (Jonah Lehrer?) talk about this – about how we have to do the work, but then we have to distract ourselves so the creative leap can be made, almost despite ourselves. Thought that was right on. (For me, that spark hits in the shower after the gym, usually resulting in drippy notes as I trot towelled across the hall to my office.)

  30. I do what Linda does. I just started writing in longhand (so much for all the computer gadgets at our house) and it helps so much. Now when I’m stuck I start by writing what I’m afraid of with the plot or that scene and what I hope will happen. From there it (sometimes) flows naturally into the scene itself. I don’t know why this doesn’t work as well when I type on a keyboard but it doesn’t. The other thing – usually when I am smack in the middle of a first draft and panicking over the nitty gritty details I skimmed over when I first started writing the darned book – is I make a stepsheet backwards in longhand. I start listing scenes, beginning with the happy ever after scene, then back up to the climax, then the scene immediately before, and so on. I start listing them on index cards and lining them up on the floor somewhere (where they catch dust balls until someone walks over them and messes them up). But they sit there like a security blanket for me. By the end of a first draft I have piles of cards and loose leaf sheets all over the place. I don’t usually refer back to them more than a day after I write them. I just keep writing new ones every time I get jittery. Plus I buy lots and lots of rollerball pens. Going to Staples is a nice field trip (g).

  31. Love those rollerball pens. They’re the best! Remind me of the old cartridge pens we used in high school. (oops… I’m dating myself)…

  32. Clea Simon says:

    Dating oneself makes sense, Libby. It’s cheaper and you know you’ll get lucky! (rimshot, please).
    However, if we’re going to get into pen fetishism, I’m your gal. Current passion: Pilot G-2, the fine point.

  33. There is a Paradise Pen shop at a big mall 45 minutes away. I used a gift card to splurge on a fancy Italian one with a ceramic tip. After about 2 pages it stopped flowing. I drove back there and they changed out the ceramic tip. I got home and the same thing happened. I was so sad. They took it back with no problem. So much for fancy pens.

  34. Clea Simon says:

    Margaret – I did think it was interesting to read about your notes. I’m like that, too, though I tend to use sticky notes. I have a white board that I’m supposed to put them on, along a timeline (erasable for each book). Usually, I end up sticking them around my computer. I very rarely refer to them once I write them – I think the act of writing down an idea or bit of dialogue cements it in my mind. Also, my handwriting is atrocious, so it’s an effort to decipher them once more than a day has passed.

  35. Clea Simon says:

    So, another question: Do you ever talk out ideas with anyone before you write? Does that drain the idea of it’s energy, or help you see the kinks and problems before you start?

  36. Clea, I had to laugh. We do things the same way. I have a white board with erasable markers in every color, a giant pad of news print, a Mac that is loaded with Scrivener (best thing ever invented!) which has a virtual pin board. And still the only thing that works is writing everything on index cards and laying them out all over the floor. I do sometimes make word clusters on the giant pad. This usually makes me so tired I need a nap. Yes I do talk (and talk) my plots with just one person, my mother who is a librarian in a college library. She is a lifelong voracious reader. We talk on the phone every night. Until she is worn out, I’m sure. She knows my characters and their nutty traits, every detail of the plot. She knows why each and every one is named plus their backstory. She is a jewel in every way. I’ve read interviews with Mary Higgins Clark (my idol) where she said she sent a few chapters at a time to her agent and editor for feedback as she works through her first drafts. They are working for a slice of a much bigger pie so I guess they’re happy to help with the heavy lifting. Must be nice.

  37. I’m the last one to the party… unexpected “day job” trip obliterated my week. Question for the group: I’ve never been in a writing group. How do they work and how “genuine” is the feedback?

  38. I’ve been in a writers’ group over 15 years, before I was published. We only have one rule. We comment on what “stopped” us. Could be plot… could be prose…. could be lack of credibility… or just wordiness… or poor grammar. Three of us have been there the longest.. but there’s been a flow of others thru the years and we have a pretty good track record. Almost everyone who applies themselves and sticks it out has managed to get published.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t people with their own idiosyncracies. I don’t call them “agendas” because they aren’t. But after 15 years, I know whether to take abc’s comments seriously or simply figure they’re having a bad night. It just happens. I’m sure they feel the same way about me.

    After publishing 10novels, I know I will never leave the group. They are my first line edit, and I value everything they say, whether I take their suggestions or not. I couldnt write without them.

  39. It a tremendous time commitment to read a complete manuscript. Not to mention, reading it again after changes have been made to address feedback. My wife is the only person I have felt comfortable saddling with such a burden, but I need other outlet and opinions too. I think a writing group might be a good option for me.

    Libby, how did you find your writing group? Is a local group of folks you meet in person, or is it a virtual group and correspondence is primarily conducted via email?

  40. Brian

    I am a member of Litopia.com, which is an online writing group consisting of published and aspiring authors. Once you reach full membership, you can submit work for critique by other full members. I found it very useful in knocking my writing into shape and I am sure it helped me achieve my publishing deal.

    Good luck

  41. Brian, we are JUST a mystery/thriller writing group, because we have found that the conventions of the genre are unique enough that it weakens the group to expand out of crime fiction.

    We are totally local, and we meet once a week (at my house — although we used to meet at Scotland Yard books before it closed). The only requirement to join is that someone has to have completed a manuscript. Doesn’t mean it has to be good… just finished. That tells us the person is committed.

    Even so, we have a waiting list. People are (um, excuse me) dying to get in. Right now we have about 7 active members, and a few more who are “emeritus” and show up occasionally. We read our own material out loud to each other — we limit to 10 double-spaced pages per person. We’ve found that reading out loud is quite useful. While one is reading, the others are jotting down notes.

    Seems to work for us, but I know other groups have other ways of doing things.