How Do I Respond To Critiques?

images-3So I’m about to submit the first chapter of my novel for a critique. I  have to admit I’m a little anxious, scared, and excited all at the same time.  This is my baby I’m putting on display what if people don’t like it?

I keep reminding myself that this is a good healthy part of the process. Other readers, other than family and friends, and hopefully members of the writing community, are going to give me their first impression and what works and what doesn’t. But what if they don’t like it?

Well if they don’t like it and can explain why it isn’t working, I’ll take them seriously  especially if more than one person is saying pretty much the same thing. Some times we get too close to our work and fall in love with certain scenes that shouldn’t be there. If more than one person says something isn’t working, we need to take a closer look.

With this being said, you really need to look at the critique closely.  Is the person doing the critique trying to offer suggestions to make the story better or change it into what they think it should be? Remember this is still your baby. You need to be pliable enough to accept feedback but strong enough to stay true to your vision.

If you disagree with a critique, explain what your were going for, don’t argue. In doing so the person critiquing your work may get what you were trying to do and offer suggestions that will make it read clearer and more true to what you initialy had in mind.

Above all be humble and polite. Remember these people are taking time from their busy schedules to read your work and tell you what they think.  They’re not getting paid and want to see you succeed in your endeavors.

I would love for you to join me on this journey to becoming published. I have been writing for five years and I am using this blog to provide information that I wish I had known when I first started writing. It is my hope that this blog will enlighten you and make the journey a little easier. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I made.

-Jan R




How Do I Respond To Critiques?

How Do You Join Writing Groups?

images-2It’s really easy. Really. Once you’ve identified one just go to the site and register and you are in. Most are free with the option of upgrading and paying a small fee for additional support. I thought about joining an online critique group for years but kept putting it off.

This past week I took the plunge and joined Scribophile. I have only been a member for a few days but am already connecting with and talking to other aspiring authors. Scribophile offers critiques on your work also but you have to earn a spot by doing critiques for other members and accumulating points. Once you’ve accumulated enough, you can trade them in for the opportunity to post your work.

I enjoy doing the critiques.  I have to admit I was a little intimidated at first. Who am I to read other people’s work and tell them what’s wrong. But after the first one I realized I could help  and hone my own skills by exercising what I’ve already learned.

I’ve seen great work and I’ve seen work that was obviously written by newbies. There will probably be people on the site (whichever one you choose to use)that are further along on the journey than you but there will also be a lot of people who are new and need your help.

My only regret is that I didn’t join a group earlier in my writing career. I can now see the benefit and help you get from being a part of a community of writers who want to help and welcome you with open arms.

While I’m trying out Scribophile, there are other critique sites out there.  Wattpad and Critique Circle are others I may look into. If you want to find a group closer to home, try

You will find one that works for you and the sooner the better.

-Jan R

How Do You Join Writing Groups?

Common Pitfalls To Avoid In Your First Chapter


  1. Unknown1Starting your story with the mundane. You want to provide a picture of your characters everyday life but it should be clear, concise and short.  Provide just enough information about normal so that when the situation changes, there is a notable difference. Don’t bog your reader down with page upon page of happy normal character or backstory. Get to the action. Create the potential for conflict from the very first page-even while sharing normal and backstory. If your story takes forever to warm up, your reader might not make it to the good parts.
  2. Information dumps. I hate to get bogged down with description overload. I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about. I could care less how many yards of silk and lace went in to making that dress or that it had three gold buttons on the front and pearl closures on the back. Unless it’s playing a large role in your story don’t go there. I’m impressed that you researched but I don’t have to know everything you learned about the era. The most common dump  is introducing to many characters in the first chapter. That’s one I didn’t think about. The more characters you cram into a scene, the harder it is for the reader to keep up with. Makes sense to me.
  3. Lazy Language. With your first chapter you can’t afford to have careless mistakes. Cliches, mispelling, structural and grammatical errors-if it’s something you can catch while proofreading, then there is no reason for it to be in your first chapter. Don’t give agents a reason to toss your work to the side.

There is so much to writing. While these three pitfalls are keys to writing a great first chapter, you can’t just forget everything else you’ve learned. You are including dialogue in that first chapter. Make sure it is seamlessly integrated into your work (I have previous blogs on writing dialogue-check them out). Make sure you have established your POV(see previous blog). You should never have more than one POV in a scene. If you do you are head bopping. No on the nose writing-the number one mistake of new writers (I have a post). What about pacing? Is it moving the reader along or has it stalled? So much to keep up with but you can do this 🙂

Hope this helped someone on their journey to being published. There is so much to keep up with. That’s ok though it doesn’t have to be perfect after the first draft. Remember-get it done then get it good.

Common Pitfalls To Avoid In Your First Chapter

What’s The Most Important Part Of Your Novel?

It’s the beginning and more specifically the first sentence, then paragraph, then page, then chapter. You have to grab your reader the minute they pick up your novel.

If you’ve moved far along enough on your journey, you’ve probably sent your manuscript out to a few agents or are making last minute adjustments in preparation for sending it out.

One thing I’ve noticed with all of them, they don’t want to see your entire manuscript. Don’t try to be bold and overconfident by sending them the entire thing. They probably will toss it to the side for your failure to follow instructions and even if they do read, they won’t get very far if the first pages aren’t compelling enough to draw them in (which was the part they wanted to see in the first place).

Agents as a rule, only want your first few pages. Some will ask for more but none want to see the entire manuscript until they know you can write and write a compelling story. You have to make them want to see more. Leave them hanging on the edge of their seat. They will ask for the rest of your manuscript just to find out what happens next.

That’s the same thing that will happen for your readers.  You want to do it in an e-book and bypass the literary agent, that’s fine but your readers will do the same thing the agent does. They will read a sample prior to buying the book. It had better be compelling from the beginning or you lost a sale. Remember you’re asking people to invest time and money when they purchase your work. Make it worthy of their interest.

Look at your first chapter as a promise to your readers. Remember your first pages set the tone and ground rules for how  you will tell your story.  No matter how polished your manuscript is, how compelling your characters are, how tightly you’ve plotted the story, that first chapter has to draw the reader in or they will never know.

I would love to hear from you. If you have any comments or suggestions please share them. I would also like to ask that you consider following me on this journey. I blog twice a week and you will receive an email whenever I post a new blog or edit an older one.

-Jan R



What’s The Most Important Part Of Your Novel?

Is My Novel Ready For Publishing?

images-4Enough already! At least that’s how I feel sometimes. I’ve been through my book more times than I can count. In my own defense, no one taught me how to write. I had a great story idea and decided to give it a whirl.

I thought it was ready and then real life happened.  My wonderful work was rejected by the five agents I sent it to. One of the them did see something promising and took it upon herself to provide me feedback about what I was doing wrong (there was a long list) and what I needed to do to improve my work.

I was totally humiliated. Grammatical and Structural errors are kindergarten stuff and completely unacceptable. Even I should have gotten those right. I could understand a little more my issues with head bopping and on-the-nose-writing. Those terms were totally foreign to me.  I wasn’t a professional novelist. I thought all you had to do was put words on paper and create a wonderful story that everyone wanted to read. And what was the deal with dragging dialogue? My people were talking. How was I suppose to know dialogue moved the story forward or had to have some significance?  I can’t believe I sent an agent such inferior work.

When you’re a newby you don’t know how bad your work is because you don’t have the knowledge and skills necessary to produce publishable work. You just think you do. While there may be a few prodigies out there, you probably aren’t one of them. Sorry!

Like myself and many others, you’re going to have to pay your dues and learn the craft. Then you will be ready to write that New York Times best seller.

I hope this got you newbies to thinking. After my slap in the face, I began reading ‘how to’ books, taking on-line classes, watching seminars and following blogs of people who were successful at their craft.

For the record just because it has taken me five years doesn’t mean it will take you that long. I lost some motivation after the initial rejections and took some time off. I regrouped, looked at the feedback I had gotten, and started educating myself on the art of writing fictional novels.

I would love your comments! I would also like to ask that you consider following me on this journey. It is my intention to provide you with useful information in every blog.

-Jan R



Is My Novel Ready For Publishing?

Working With Beta Readers

So you’ve completed your manuscript and want to have a beta reader review it prior to sending it to an agent or editor. Having your work reviewed by a new set of eyes is a great idea! We are so close to our work that we don’t pick up on things that a new set of eyes would see. You might think it’s great and it might be but odds are, it still isn’t where it needs to be.

Beta readers are a great option. Unlike family and friends, they are impartial and will tell you the truth. Also if you find the right beta reader, they will be experienced in writing and reading manuscripts. They will know what to look for and what works and what doesn’t.

Warning! While most beta readers are great people who want to help you out, because they are in the same boat, there are those who will steal your ideas. Choose your reader carefully. If you choose someone you’ve developed a relationship with, they may think twice before pinching your content. Loyal readers of your blog, or previous books would make excellent beta readers.

In my last post Beta Readers, I  pointed out a few websites you could follow up on as well. Wattpad and Scribofile are probably the most popular. If you want a local group, try

So if you do decide to work with a beta reader there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  1. Don’t give them a draft. Give them your very best work. Give them the manuscript you thought was ready to submit. You don’t want them bogged down in structural and grammatical errors. You want them to see the content.
  2. Ask them what format they would like it in (mobi, epubfile or pdf). They may want to print it out or read it on a kindle.
  3. Let your beta reader know what kind of feedback you are looking for. If you create a list, they want spend their time punctuating sentences.
  4. Don’t take it personally. Your beta reader may not come back with platitudes. Thank them for their comments and move on.
  5. Return the favor. Most Beta readers aren’t being paid to read your book. They are offering input because they want to help or are interested in your books premise or topic.

Hope this helped you on your journey. I would love to hear from you. If you have any comments or suggestions please let me know. Also I would like you to consider following me. I post on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week and you will receive an email whenever I enter a new blog or revise and existing one. Thank you for your consideration.

-Jan R

Working With Beta Readers

Beta Readers

So I’ve been at this for five years and thought I had a good idea how things worked and the tools available to assist with publication.  I was wrong. I read a blog by Joynell Schultz this past week that mentioned using a Beta Reader. I had never heard of that term.

I can talk all day about dialogue, settings, character development, on-the-nose-writing, head bopping. I think you get the idea. I’ve been so busy learning how to write and getting my manuscript ready that I haven’t put a lot of time and effort in to the getting it published side of things.

So I am hoping to have my work ready to go in about three months. I am doing one more read through with minor revisions and then hope to have it reviewed before I send it in again.

With this in mind I thought I should follow up and find out just what a Beta Reader is. I have had family and friends read my work in the past but they are not always the best people to ask to read your work.  They care about you and have a tendency to overlook flaws in your work. Also, most of your friends and family probably don’t understand the craft. If you’ve been writing for a while you know there’s more to it than putting pen to paper.

So Beta Readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context. Elements highlighted by Beta Readers include things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterizations or believability, in fiction or non-fiction. Beta Readers might also help the author with fact-checking.

A good Beta Reader would be a person who would buy and read your book if it were on the market. This person would also know more about the writing craft than you.

Places to find Beta Readers include Scribofile, Wattpad or a local writing/critique group ( You may have to pay a small fee for a Beta Reader but many will review your work for free.

I do plan to discuss Beta Readers a little more in my next post. Hope this helped someone on the journey.  I would love to hear any comments or suggestions to make my blog more useful.

Please consider following me and press the follow button at the bottom of the page.  You will received emails whenever I update or write a new blog.

-Jan R


Beta Readers

The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts

I wish I could claim this post but it was actually written by Jerry Jenkins. I love his blogs. If you haven’t visited him, I would highly recommend you do. He did put a disclaimer at the end of this article saying it was ok to share with friends so I am in no way stealing his work. Hope this helps some one and hope you consider visiting his site.

It doesn’t sound fair.

It doesn’t seem right.

But here’s a dirty little secret of the writing life you need to hear:

Any veteran editor can tell within two minutes whether they’re going to reject your manuscript.

It takes longer to decide whether they’ll recommend it for purchase, of course, but—sad to say—it can, and often does, go into the reject pile just that fast.

“What?” you say. “Before I’ve had a chance to wow them with my stupendous villain? Before my mind-blowing twist? Before my plot really takes off?”


And I’m not exaggerating.


Because the competition is so stiff and editors have so many manuscripts to read, you have only nanoseconds to grab them by the throat and hang on.

Every writing mentor hammers at this ad infinitum: Your editor is your first reader.

Every word counts. You get one chance. You must capture them from the get-go.

Am I saying editors look for reasons to reject your work?

No, no, a thousand times no! They’re looking for the next Harry Potter!

Editors want you to succeed!

Then how can they know so quickly that your book won’t cut it?

In my lifetime in the business I’ve heard dozens of reasons, but let me give you my personal top five from my experience as both an editor and publisher:

  1. Throat-clearing

This is what editors call anything that comes before a story or chapter finally, really, begins. It usually consists of a page or two of scene setting and background. Get on with the story. Get your main character introduced, establish and upset some status quo, then plunge him into terrible trouble that reveals the engine of your story. Is it a quest, a journey, a challenge, what?

There’ll be plenty of time to work in all those details that seemed so important while you were throat-clearing that would have cost you a sale. For now, your job is to start with a bang.

  1. Too many characters introduced too quickly

I’m usually wary of generalizations or hard and fast rules, but almost any time I see more than three characters within the first few pages, my eyes start to swim. If I feel like I need a program to keep track of the players, I quickly lose interest.

Your reader is trying to comprehend the story, and if you ask him to start cataloguing a cast of characters right away, you risk losing him. Keep things simple till the story has taken shape.

  1. Point of View violations

Maintain a single Point of View (POV) for every scene. Violate that cardinal rule and you expose yourself as an amateur right out of the gate. Beginners often defend themselves against this criticism by citing classics by famous authors or citing J.K. Rowling, the exception who proves the rule.

Times change. Readers’ tastes evolve. This is the rule for today, and it’s true of what sells.

  1. Clichés, and not just words and phrases

There are also clichéd situations, like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock, a character describing herself while looking in a full-length mirror, future love interests literally bumping into each other upon first meeting, etc.

Avoid, too, beginning with an evocative, dramatic scene, and surprise, surprise, the main character wakes up to discover it’s all been a dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreams, but having them come as surprises has been used to death and takes all the air from the balloon of your story.

It’s also a cliché to have your main character feel his heart pound, race, thud, or hammer; and then he gasps, sucks wind, his breath comes short… If you describe the scene properly, your reader should experience all that and you shouldn’t have to say your character did. Put your character into a rough enough situation, and the reader will know what he’s feeling without having to be told—and hopefully he’ll share his distress.

  1. Simply bad writing:
  • Written-ese

This is what I call that special language we all tend to use when we forget to Just Say It. I recently edited this sentence from a beginner: “The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

I had to read a few more paragraphs to have a clue to what it even meant. That’s written-ese.

Hollywood screenwriters coined this term for prose that exactly mirrors real life but fails to advance your plot. There’s nothing wrong with the words themselves, except that they could be synopsized to save the reader’s time and patience. A perfect example is replacing all the hi’s and hello’s and how are you’s that precede meaningful dialogue with something like: “After trading pleasantries, Jim asked Fred if he’d heard about what had happened to Tricia. ‘No, what?’”

  • Passive voice

Avoid state-of-being verbs. Change sentences like “There was a man standing…” to “A man stood…”

  • Needless words

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words,” which follows its own advice. This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Example: The administrative assistant ushered me through the open door into the CEO’s office, and I sat down in a chair across from his big, wood desk.

Edit: Obviously, there would be a door. And even more obviously, it would be open. If I sat, I would sit “down,” and naturally it would be in a chair. Because I’m seeing the CEO, a description of his desk would be notable only if it weren’t big or wood.

Result: The administrative assistant ushered me into the CEO’s office, and I sat across from his desk.

Re-examine these 5 common mistakes, and study more self-editing tips here, then share below your tips on how to turn rejections into sales.

-Jan R


The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts

More About Settings

So in my last blog I discussed the use of settings to include: setting the scene visually, providing information about your character, evoking mood and establishing the time period the novel is written in. It also can be used to foreshadow and to provide a metaphor(Animal Farm and The Majestic are  good examples).

How you use setting, depends on the purpose of your narrative.

You should provide lavish detail for  important scenes, settings that you will be going back to time and time again, and settings that are new to the reader requiring more detail to visualize in their minds.

Use only a line or two for less important settings that you will only be visiting once or settings your reader is already familiar with.

The novel I am writing is set in  modern day and uses settings that are familiar to the people who would be reading the story. i.e. They ate at IHOP. When I say IHOP, I don’t have to provide a lot of detail because everybody knows IHOP and immediately conjures it up in their mind.

While I am in no way putting myself on the same level as the writer Jane Austin, I found it amusing that in her book Pride and Prejudice, she didn’t put a lot of detail in her settings. Why you may wonder. She knew her readers at the time the book was written and knew they would be able to visualize the places she referred to without a lot of description 🙂

Remember if you are creating a world, you will have to stop the story and provide your readers with some details. Draw a picture in their minds so they can visualize where they are and what’s going on. That’s not a bad thing, just a lot more work.  Most SciFi is make believe worlds with make believe people and we eat it up. Draw us in and make sure we can keep up. Read some well known SciFi novels as a reference on how to set up your world.

Settings are important. Hope this got you to think about them a little more.

I would love to hear from you. Your comments are welcome. Like many of you I am in the middle of a revision and on the road to publication. I have spent the last five years learning how to write. It’s not as easy as it looks.

I would love for you to follow me on my Journey. I blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you hit the Follow button, you will receive notifications whenever I update my blog or make revisions.

-Jan R

More About Settings