Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Two More Secrets to Getting Published

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I’d like to tell you two more secrets to getting published today. Obviously, I know there are many more, but I’m focusing on the ones that I get asked most about, and the ones I spend the most time encouraging aspiring authors to do.

The third secret (the first two were discussed last week) is getting feedback on your manuscript. Now, this can be done in many ways and if you do it right, it may be hard for you. The most common way to get feedback on your manuscript is to have a critique group, or at the very least, some beta readers who will read your stuff and give it honest feedback. You definitely want to get with people who will not just fawn all over you and tell you how great you are (hi Mom and Dad!) but you want people who are willing to be honest and say, I couldn’t understand your plot here, or I got bored halfway through, or I hated your heroine. It’s going to be hard to hear, because this is the baby you’ve worked on for months or years, but it can be very valuable.

For the past few years I have been involved in the LDStorymakers First Chapter conference as a judge, a committee member, or the person in charge of it. This is a contest where five industry professionals will evaluate the first chapter of unpublished authors, and choose the winners for some great prizes. The judges give fairly extensive evaluations that are given to each entrant, not just the winners, and to me, the feedback itself is more valuable than the prizes. Yet, every year I listen to a small group of entrants complain about the feedback. Judges were too mean, or they probably hadn’t really read the chapter since they didn’t like it, or one judge liked it where another judge didn’t so I'm going to disregard the comments that didn't like it. And every time I heard these complaints I told them, “you are the author. You can disregard any feedback you want, but the hardest evaluation will probably be the most helpful.” I wanted them to know that these judges were agents, editors, authors, and publishers who had taken a considerable amount of time to evaluate their work, and those comments, as hard as they were to read, were the ones that I would look at most closely in order to improve.

Of course not all feedback is going to be useful. There are some people who just won’t like your work or have anything constructive to say about it. But it is important to really look at your feedback before you discard any of it. Seriously looking at it all will ensure that you will definitely find those gems to help you make your story stronger, but it may hurt a bit while you’re rubbing the rough edges off.

The fourth secret is to be persistent. Write something every day, even when you don’t feel like it. Even if you only write a page a day, it might not seem like much at the time, but that’s going to equal to a pretty large book at the end of the year. Writing every day also keeps you in prime writing shape and it makes the ideas flow a lot easier if you’ve been flexing those writing/thinking muscles at least a little bit on a regular basis. Successful writers are hard workers who know that there are going to be good days when the words are practically jumping by themselves onto the page, and bad days when the cursor is blinking at you and you can’t think of much to say. But a persistent author can’t give up, they must press forward and finish that scene, chapter, or book. A little at a time, slow and steady, persistence and perseverance can do the trick for authors of any circumstance.

Persistence as a writer also equates to the business end when you get a rejection letter for your new manuscript. It is going to take a little while for the feelings that a rejection might evoke in you to go away, but ultimately, a persistent writer will dust herself off, rewrite the manuscript and submit it somewhere else. The same goes for when an agent doesn’t pick you up. Feel sad, but get up and try again.

Persistence is the writer’s over-arching key to success and every published author will tell you that being an author is full of ups and downs both on the creative side of things and on the business end. And, as I’ve said before on this blog, the only difference between a published author and an unpublished author is that one gave up and one didn’t. Don’t give up.

Thank you to everyone who commented last week, and to Tim who linked to my blog and added his own ideas of the first two secrets. I’ve honestly learned so much from my fellow frog bloggers and from the commenters. It’s a privilege to be here among so many wonderful people and authors. I hope you all are moving toward achieving your dreams in the writing business and that you’ve found something useful here that will help you navigate it. If not, you can tune in to LDSPublishers site tomorrow and read Jeff’s new entry. I know I’m looking forward to it!


At 2/10/2011 3:23 PM, Blogger Steve Westover said...

I want my beta readers and critiquers to "bloody me up" a bit. If they don't, I won't learn much. Take off the gloves, be honest and be specific.

Another good post Julie. Thanks.

At 2/10/2011 3:40 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Great post, Julie. Thanks! I remember some comments I got once in an eval that really stung-but man, they REALLY turned out to be helpful.

At 2/10/2011 3:57 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...


Is there anyone that I can email and ask a question about the LDStorymaker's first chapter contest?

Just so you know, I always learn something from you frog bloggers. I've copied and pasted many posts to my files so I can refer back to them when I need them. You guys are the best.

At 2/10/2011 4:02 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Thanks, Steve and Stephanie!

Debra, Heather Justesen and Rachelle Christensen are in charge of it this year. Do you have their email addys?

At 2/10/2011 4:06 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

No, I don't.

At 2/10/2011 5:20 PM, Blogger Anna said...

I love the 4th secret. Persistent. That pretty much sums me up. I just blogged today about how I'm going slow and steady. I want to hurry and finish, but that's just not realistic for me right now in life.

I really appreciate what you said starting at "Successful writers are hard workers....."

I've been trying to type something every day. Even if it's not for my WIP, it is a comment (like this) or a blog entry.

Today I worked on my WIP with a sleeping baby on me. But I did it. :)

At 2/10/2011 6:08 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Debra, if you scroll down to the bottom of this page it has a link for First Chapter Contest questions.

Anna, I think that as parents, it is always hard to find a balance between writing and parenting. Kudos to you in sticking with it!

At 2/10/2011 6:22 PM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

Unfortunately the link didn't work for me, and now I really need to talk to someone. I just bought a first chapter entry, yet after I got through paying for it I wasn't directed to a page for downloading my chapter. I'm stumped and discouraged.

At 2/10/2011 6:25 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Okay, I emailed you privately. Let me know if you got it.

At 2/10/2011 8:40 PM, Blogger Tamara Hart Heiner said...

excellent, excellent advice. I love getting feedback before I publish! it's awful when I get feedback afterwards for something that could be improved, and it's like, oops. too late.

At 2/10/2011 9:08 PM, Blogger Maggie said...

Wonderful advice! If I could just add one thing to the critique group or beta readers advice, it would be this: when you give them your MS to read, attach a few specific questions that are on your mind.
Nothing is worse for your growth as an author than someone who says "it was great" and leaves it at that.
You might ask them to keep in mind a few things while they read. For example:
-Were there specific points where the plot moved too slowly or too fast?
-Did you feel any characters were underdeveloped? Could you relate to any of them?

These are just a few examples. My critique partner has been so valuable. My first readers include one "good job to you" person, just to keep me feeling good, and others who can be brutally honest with me.

At 2/10/2011 11:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So when it comes to first readers, what's your "feel good to brutally honest" ratio? 1 feel good critiquer to 3 brutally honest ones? Just wondering.

And second question, can I be in your critique group, Julie. I'll bring cookies, wear sunglasses and sit in the back. I can also be a "feel gooder" or a "brutally honester" on demand. Tell me what you need and I'll deliver. I promise.

At 2/10/2011 11:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was voted best critiquer in my fourth grade. And my high school year book named me most likely to critique. I also come equipped with red marking pens, a stop watch for those long-winded authors who never stay within their alloted time, and I can read ten thousand words a minute out loud with fewer than five errors.

At 2/10/2011 11:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can submit a resume and references. Jeff Savage. Rob Wells. Stephanie Black. Kerry Blair. Sariah Wilson. And JK Rowling. I've never met any of them, but I can submit them.

At 2/10/2011 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone out there need another critique group member? Anyone?

At 2/11/2011 12:18 AM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Anon, interestingly enough, I am looking for another critique partner. Let me know if you're serious. :)

At 2/11/2011 12:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay. So what does "critique" partner mean? Is this a once-a-week meeting? Once a month? Is it a large group? A small group? Does two equal a small group? Do we just exchange work online? Are we two ships passing in the night? Funny thing, just today I was wondering who killed JFK.

At 2/11/2011 10:51 AM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Email me, anon, and maybe we can talk specifics. :)

At 2/15/2011 7:59 AM, Blogger Stephen said...

"Yet, every year I listen to a small group of entrants complain about the feedback."

Sheesh, if they aren't giving you advice on how to improve, what use are they? ;)

I really dislike people who are writing bad fanfic level stories and who only want feedback to serve as praise. Then are angry that tripe does not lead to publication.

Good advice.


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