Challenge Yourself: You Don’t Know What You Can Achieve

It’s the first Wednesday of the Month which means it’s officially Insecure Writers Support Group Day. Thank you, Alex J Cavanaugh, and thank you our Rocking co-hosts for the March 7  posting of the IWSG: Mary Aalgaard, Bish Denham, Jennifer Hawes, Diane Burton, and Gwen Gardner.

Several weeks ago I found this compilation of “11 Quotes for facing your fears” on www.Dictionary.com. They are still on the website as of this morning. There are some good quotes and I  wrote a few of them down and have them hanging beside my computer. I like to read them from time to time. One of my favorites is:

“Until you cross the bridge of your insecurities, you can’t begin to explore your possibilities.” – Tim Fargo.

Fargo has written some business books which I’m fairly sure I will never purchase or read. I do love this quote and little things like that can inspire me when I begin to feel like throwing all my writing out of the window like Harper Lee did with her manuscript for “To Kill a Mocking Bird” except without the snow. While I was browsing through the quotes, I  recognized many of the names to which the quotes were attributed. There was another quote I want to share.

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”—Natalie Goldberg

The quote and the name sounded familiar and I realized she is the author of “Writing Down the Bone: Freeing the Writer Within.” This book was published in 1986 and I read it when I was writing my first novel and really enjoyed it.

I looked at the quote and thought that was a tall order. I use my emotional experiences as a source to draw on when writing fiction. Several days later I found myself writing a poem about my very deepest pain. I’m not a poet. I haven’t written a poem, or rather I haven’t tried to write a poem since I was in junior high. That was a long time ago. I think there were still dinosaurs roaming the Earth at that time.

I poured so much of myself and my pain into that poem, but I used a lot of symbolism. I still can’t believe I did this, but I entered the poem in a poetry contest. The only person who came close to understanding what the poem was about was the person judging the contest.

It wasn’t a free verse poem but it didn’t really follow any of the standard forms of metered quatrains. The judge wrote that she could feel all the emotion in my poem.

I won third place.

I crossed the bridge and I explored my possibilities. I also feel like I allowed myself to be split open. I exposed myself even though it was in an allusive manner.

I cried a bucket of tears. I crossed another bridge. I achieved exploring another possibility.


If you would like to read more blog posts from the IWSG, you can find links to their posts at the bottom of the page after clicking this link.

Insecure Writers Support Group




A Good Review is Hard to Find – Part 4

In Part 3, I discussed in excruciating detail some of the steps you can take to find alpha readers for your manuscript. The last step I wrote about was sending your edited and polished Chapter 1 to a large group of people for critiquing. My suggestions were to keep busy on your next project, continuing with your critique groups, and I did mention reading groups back in Part 2, in case you’ve forgotten.

Even if this is your first novel it’s doubtful that you’ve come this far without some types of reviews, critiques or feedback. You might feel more anxious about these critiques than previous experiences. It might be your second or third book and you might feel as anxious as you did with your first book. That’s common.

It’s important to prepare yourself for the critiques and have plans for coping. One thing to keep in mind is that the critiques are not about you. They are about something you wrote. Negative criticism may not “feel” good but that is the feedback that is most likely to help you improve your writing. It doesn’t feel good to more experienced writers but they have learned its value.

I have another suggestion for people with less experience in having their writing critiqued. When you begin to receive your critiques, don’t read them. First, write a very nice email to the sender telling them you haven’t read it yet and express your gratitude. Print it out, making sure the name of the person that wrote the critique is on the page and put all of them in a folder.

If some of the people have not returned their critiques by the deadline, send them a gentle reminder. Ask if they will be able to send it within the next few days? If they can’t, be understanding and let them off the hook. Life happens. Just move on. If others don’t respond to your gentle reminder, send them an email that says that you’ll miss their valuable input but you understand that sometimes other things come up. You might receive a critique from them after that, or not. Again, just move on.

Critiquers can be divided into four categories and I’m going to describe each in a moment. There is a 5th group of people that I won’t call critiquers. I call them people you will never ask for another critique.

The first time you read your critiques you will be determining which of the 4 categories each critiquer best fits. This is important for identifying critiquers best suited for being alpha readers. A happy byproduct is a list of potential beta readers for the future.

Being involved in the process of categorizing the critiques engages the analytical part of the brain. Having that happening during the first reading of the critiques can help mitigate the effects of emotion and ego.

The 4 different types of critiquers:

  1. The Big Picture Critiquer- focuses on the big picture items like opening, hook, plot, pace, character, theme etc. They will give you the most in-depth answers to the seven topics that you sent with your chapter and they will add more big picture items to that like Point of View (POV), dialogue, point out information dumps and places where you could improve in terms of Show versus Tell. They will probably point out other issues but their main focus is on those big picture items. In this process, as with all good critiquers, they will point out areas where they think you did well as well as provide suggestions where you could improve.
  2. The Lover (aka this is Amazing) Critiquer –Their critiques are full of comments on how much they love this line or how that plot twist was amazing. Their critiques are usually full of happy faces. If they are any good, they will also point out lots of places where you could improve, maybe just as many as the other types of critiquers but they focus heavily on the compliments for all the places where they think you did well. They boost your spirits and help you keep going.
  3. The Detail Critiquer – Their critiques focus mainly on tense changes, typos, places where you typed hear instead of here. They will point out things like you used the same adjective 10 times in your book, filler words you missed when editing, and places in the narrative where a sentence should be changed because a passive verb was used. They also critique other aspects as well and like all other good critiquers, they will combine positive feedback with suggestions where to improve. None of the other types of critiquers will give you the same amount of feedback on the sentence level as the Detail Critiquer. They are invaluable in helping you polish your manuscript on this level.
  4. The B.S. Detective Critiquer – They will sniff out any place in your manuscript where you got lazy. If you got lazy and used a tired cliché instead of thinking of a creative way to say something in the narrative, they’ll find it. If you tried to bluff your way through something instead of doing your research, they will find it. If you have a character in a certain time using technology that hadn’t been invented yet, they’ll call you on that. Anything in your manuscript that doesn’t make sense because you didn’t take the time and effort to think through it logically will be found by this type of critiquer. The things these critiquers catch are things a reader would notice. Their input keeps readers from throwing your book down and saying, “This book is B.S.”


There are people you might get responses from but I certainly wouldn’t call them critiquers. The first, in spite of your questions, send a response along the lines of I read it and loved it. They’re not helpful but, it happens. The second set of people send responses along the lines of, “This story is just one big schizophrenic cluster of chaos with no plot and no dominant central motif and is just one major context flaw. Hope this helps.” Both of these responses go in the circular file and their names go on the list with a heading that says: “Never request critique from.”


After reading those descriptions, it may sound like an easy task to separate your critiquers into  4  categories, but as I said each one will do some things that will fall into each category. You have to study them to determine in which area each one spent most of their time and energy. You can’t get distracted, emotional or defensive by what the critiques say while doing this work.

If you begin to feel that way, put the critiques down and walk away until you can come back with a clear objective view. You need to be objective and use your analytical skills to perform this task. If walking away for a break isn’t helping, remind yourself why you’re doing this. Write it down by hand. Don’t type it.


I want to be a published author. Or maybe yours is, I want to publish my 3rd novel. I want my novel to be the best it can be. I’m going through this critiquing process because I know it can help me be a better writer. Am I strong enough to deal with some discomfort to reach that goal? This is not pain. It is discomfort. Am I willing to experience discomfort to achieve my goal?

Put that where you can read it every day, several times a day, or however often you need to read it. Answer that question every time until you don’t have to read it anymore.


All these critiquers serve a unique and valuable purpose. You want a balanced mix of all of them as beta readers. For alpha readers, what you need are Big Picture Critiquers. You need to get all the big picture items straightened out and nailed down through input from your alpha readers and rewrites. Only then is it time to get your manuscript ready to benefit from the other types of critiquers.


After you identify your Big Picture Critiquers, rank them according to how thorough they were in their critiques. (Not based on whether you liked what they said). Start at the top of the list and try to get 3-5 of them to agree to be alpha readers for your manuscript. Go through the same process you did when they critiqued your chapter1: timetable, your list of concerns, and make sure they know ahead of receiving your manuscript, that you have not performed a line edit.

When you send the manuscript, make certain that you include all of that in your email. Reiterate that you haven’t done a line edit so there will still be typos, rhythm/flow problems at the sentence level, tense changes, grammatical errors, and punctuation errors but you don’t want them to focus on those. You would like them to focus on:


Did the book grab your attention soon enough?


Is there enough description of the time and place to make it seem real to the reader? Is there so much that it slows the pace?


Is the main plot clear and believable? Was the main conflict clear? Was it introduced at the right point in the story? Are there major gaps in the plot? Are there scenes that don’t move the story forward?Are there too many subplots?


Are there enough conflicts? Is there enough conflict between the characters besides the main conflict? Is there too much conflict? Is there an additional conflict that could be added to the story that might improve the story?


Was there too much telling instead of showing? Was the writing tight enough? Did you notice any information dumps? Was the narrative clear?


Did the pace match the type of story? Were there any spots where the pace was too fast or too slow for a particular scene?


Was the theme fresh and original? Was it clear? Did it overwhelm the story?


Was/Were the main character(s) well developed. Were enough facets of the characters revealed to make then well rounded? Were the main characters likable or inspire respect or admiration? Did the reader feel connected to the characters to care what happened to them? Did them seem real enough?

Point of View

Was the POV that was used appropriate for the story? Did it detract from the story? Were there any places in the story where the POV changed in the middle of a scene?


Was there too much or too little dialogue? Did the dialogue seem easy to speak? Was it too much like normal speech? Did each character’s speech match their personalities?


If you have specific concerns or questions about anything regarding your manuscript, put them here under the proper heading. If you want to know if they connected with your protagonist, or if your antagonist was believable or seemed more like a caricature put those types of questions under character. If you’re concerned that a scene was too drawn out, put that under plot.

I know one of my weaknesses is descriptions. I’m so involved in getting the story down in the first draft and I see the scenes in my head so I write very little of the descriptions. I know I have to add that in my first rewrite but I may miss some. So one of my questions would be about places where I need to add more descriptions.

You should adjust the questions if needed to fit your manuscript. Add any and all additional questions about points in your manuscript that concern you. Make sure your alpha readers know that you welcome any and all feedback they can provide in their critique.

Send your manuscript to your little band of alpha readers. Enough time has passed that you can open your manuscript and read it with a fresh perspective. Don’t edit it. Take notes in a notebook or a separate computer file while you read it.


Thanks to everyone that has been following my series on reviews and critiques. I’d especially like to thank Charles F. French and K.D. Dowdall for reblogging my posts.

If anyone has thoughts on additional questions for alpha readers, I’d love to hear them. Any and all comments are welcome!




A Good Review is Hard to Find – Part 3

I apologize for taking so long to get to part 3. Part 4 will be posted by Jan.30th or sooner.

In 1917 The Inland Press printed “Mark Twain’s 3 Rules For Writing.” The article said the first was write. The second was write and the third was write. One of the most well-known quotes on writing by Stephen King is this one. “If you want to be a good writer you must do two things above all else: read a lot and write a lot.”

This is good advice and a great foundation but it is practically impossible to become a great writer in a vacuum. At some point, we all need feedback on our writing because it’s difficult to look at our own work objectively.

Too many times I have read writers lamenting the difficulty of getting thorough, in-depth, thoughtful, and helpful reviews. Many of these writers send out copies of their manuscript to anyone that says they’ll take a look at it and the only direction they give to the potential critiquer is ‘tell me what you think of this.’ With this approach, 99.99% of the time they will be disappointed. If the percentage is lower than that, they just got damn lucky and they should take note of anyone that didn’t disappoint them for future reference.

I agree that it is difficult to get good critiques but it’s much easier if the writer accepts their share of the responsibility in this process and does the work required. The three primary tasks for the writer are:

  1. Finding the correct people to be your alpha readers, beta readers, and advanced readers that are willing to dedicate some of their time and energy to help.
  2. Letting these readers know specifically what feedback you would like from them with a mutually agreeable timetable. The feedback will change some at each stage in the process.
  3. Reciprocity is the typical currency between writers but some of your critiquers will not be writers. Small gifts for your alpha or beta readers are appropriate and not prohibited as long as the gifts are not dependent on them posting reviews. I’ll discuss advance readers in a later post.


In my last post, I listed the most popular points in the writing process for writers to seek critiques. The first one is early in the writing process before doing a line edit. Some writers do this with their first draft but I recommend doing at least one rewrite before getting your first readers or alpha readers. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time on punctuation errors, typos, misspellings, etc. but you do want the draft you send to be intelligible. If it is difficult for your alpha readers to understand your writing, you will lose them.

The next step is to find 3-5 alpha readers that you know will give you thorough and helpful critiques. That number is just my suggestion. Some writers use more and some less. If you are lucky enough to know 3-5 thorough critiquers that will agree to be your alpha readers, cherish them and treat them well. If you don’t, then your search for alpha readers begins. Below is a list of recommended do’s and don’t’s and steps to take in your search. This list is very detailed and meant for writers that are new to the process so J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, you can stop reading at this point.

  1. Many new writers ask their close friends to be alpha readers. They are not likely to give you thorough and helpful reviews. If you don’t believe me, test it. When they come back and tell you it was wonderful, be thankful you have friends that didn’t want to hurt your feelings and move on.
  2. Family members are also not recommended. If your relationship is good, the result is the same as in #1. If the relationship is not so good, they are likely to shred you. That’s not useful.
  3. Join a few critique groups in your book’s genre or websites that have critique groups in several genres and get to know the members and their critiquing styles. Get involved and if you’ve never performed critiques, now is a good time to learn. You will be amazed at how much you learn about writing through critiquing. I recommend doing this well before you get to the point of needing alpha or beta readers. If you didn’t plan ahead, take this time to rewrite, edit and polish your first chapter. Then put your manuscript away and start working on your next project. Get involved with these groups, get to know the members, and learn and/or practice critiquing.
  4. After at least a month to six weeks (Don’t blow a gasket! The world is not going to end because you waited a few more weeks to start getting feedback on your manuscript. Well…it MIGHT end but it won’t have anything to do with you waiting and this time is well worth the investment. Having put your manuscript away and being focused on other things will also give you a fresh perspective on your novel.) you should be more familiar with the members. You should also have learned a lot about critiquing and understand how much work and time are involved. Hopefully, you will have begun to discover a new perspective on writing. Now you’re ready to take the next step.
  5. Now you’re ready to ask for people to critique your first chapter in each of the groups. Ideally, you would like to get as many people to volunteer as you can. One of the reasons for having them just critique your first chapter is so you can get these critiques back fairly quickly. Agree on a timetable and let them know that you have specific concerns that you would like them to assess and you will email that list to them with the first chapter. Also, let them know that you’re interested in any other suggestions or comments that they have.

Before I go to next step I want to point out why you only want to send the first chapter. You want to get these reviews back quickly so you will have the information you need to choose your 3-5 alpha readers. You will hopefully be able to assess which of the critiquers give the most thorough and helpful feedback and which ones stick to the agreed-upon timetable. The latter is not nearly as important as the former but it is important.

The second reason for only sending out just the first chapter is that once your little band of alpha readers has reviewed your entire manuscript you’re going to rewrite the novel. You are probably going to cut, add, shred and possibly stand on your head. And when you’re finished with the pulling out hair and gnashing of teeth, you are going to need beta readers that have never seen the original form of your manuscript. You want fresh eyes and you may want to get some volunteers from the groups to which you belong. Let’s face it. No one wants to read the same book again just after they finished it. Not voluntarily…for free! Now back to getting your first chapter critiqued.

  1. When you email your revised, rewritten, spit-polished, and edited chapter 1, in the agreed upon format (typically pdf), you want to attach it to an email thanking your reader for their time and agreeing to help you. Reiterate that you are including a list of specific concerns that you have but this list is not meant to be restrictive. Any and all feedback, suggestions, and comments are appreciated. Here is my suggested list of topics/questions for first chapters:


  • Hook – Does the opening have something that keeps the reader from putting the book down? If so, is it introduced quickly enough?
  • Characters – Are they well rounded? Is the Main Character likable, sympathetic, or do they inspire respect? Are there enough facets of the character revealed to give them depth and give the reader a clear picture of who they are?
  • Plot – Do you think the first chapter gives the reader a clear picture of the primary conflict or at least a good idea of what it is? Can you detect foreshadowing of the conflict to come? Too much? Too little? Does it cross the boundaries into telegraphing?
  • Pace – Does the story feel like it’s going somewhere? Is the story moving too fast or too slowly?
  • Language and voice – Did you “feel” the story? Is the narrative clear?
  • Setting – Is the reader grounded in real scenes? Is there sufficient description of the setting? Is there too much?
  • Themes – Is the theme apparent at this point in the story? Is it original? Appropriate for the times? Or some astounding new philosophy that can change the reader’s perspectives?


These questions can be adjusted based on your manuscript but you do want to include all 7 topics. Now you can send off your first chapter and you should get a lot of helpful feedback on this chapter along with the information I mentioned earlier. While you’re waiting for your critiques, go back to working on your next project and leave your critiquers alone.


In Part 4 I’ll discuss chapter 1 critiques, the 4 types of critiquers, the hunt for the elusive alpha reader, suggested questions for the successfully captured alpha readers when reviewing your manuscript, and other such fun things guaranteed to cure insomnia. Thanks for reading if you made it this far. Your comments, suggestions, and feedback are always welcome.

Thanks to everyone that read, liked, commented on, and reblogged parts 1 and 2.  I deeply appreciate it. Thank you, KC Redding-Gonzalez for posting the link to your Horror/Dark Fiction/Poetry critique group in the comments on Part 2. If anyone else would like to share links to critique groups they like, please feel free to post them in the comments.













A Good Review is Hard to Find – Part 2

Who decides if a book is good? I’ll give you 3 guesses and the first two don’t count. I’m certain you don’t need 3 guesses. Just in case you’re exhausted, running a high fever and the walls are talking to you, or you just woke up from surgery and you’re still groggy from the anesthesia, I’ll go ahead and say it very clearly. The readers. The readers ultimately make that decision.

You can write that first book that you think is great. You can market the hell out of it. You can learn all the tricks to get that book to top ranking on Amazon and you can even use all the ways to manipulate that book to the NYT Bestseller list. In the end, if readers that love the genre(s) of your book don’t like your book, that may be the only one you ever sell.

What does any of this have to do with getting and giving critiques, reviews, and feedback?  Absolutely everything. Identifying your target audience is the first step in getting and giving critiques that have real value. These are the people whose opinions matter.

In this post on review and critiques, I am primarily referring to those performed before publication. The value I’m  speaking of is the quality of the feedback in helping you improve your craft and your book.

Once you have identified your target audience, the next step is to identify individuals within the target audience that like or write books that are similar to your book. This is the pool of people you want to recruit from for critiques and reviews. To identify these people join some reading and writing groups in that genre if you don’t already belong to some.

There are no local groups available to some writers but there are plenty of reading and writing groups available on the internet. You may want to join some internet groups even if you are in local groups. Granted, some groups are better than others and some groups require membership fees. Those fees can vary greatly. Get to know the readers and/or writers in the groups. Look at what types of books within that genre individuals in the reading groups like most. Do the same with the writers.

Most importantly don’t join the groups just for this purpose. Be an active supportive member of these groups. You could enjoy it and learn a lot in the process.

There are also beta reader groups and reviewer groups. You do want to make sure that you get reviewers that love the type of writing you want to be critiqued or reviewed. I read and love a wide range of genres but there are a couple of genres I will not review for two reasons. First, I would rather poke myself in the eye with a needle than read a book in either of those genres. Second, I know I would be doing the writer a disservice because my bias would affect my review. Also, remember writer etiquette: Get a review, give a review.

There are at least 4 points in the writing and publishing process where a writer might want to seek  reviews or critiques:

  1. After the first or maybe the second draft, when the manuscript still has typos and grammar errors but the reviewer can still follow the plot and evaluate the other important aspects of the novel. This is done before any major time is spent performing line editing. Why waste time doing line editing of sections that may be cut or in need of major re-writes?
  2. The writer, at this point, has possibly done several rewrites and the manuscript has been polished and edited.
  3. Advance reader copies (ARCs) may be sent to advance readers when the writer thinks the book is almost ready for publishing.
  4. Reviews after publication.


In my next posts on critiques and reviews, I will discuss each of these types of reviews and how they differ. I’ll address what the writer can do to improve their chances of getting the feedback they need. I’ll also give some tips on how reviewers can provide helpful and useful reviews at the different stages.

I mentioned marketing earlier in my post and I in no way mean to diminish the importance of marketing. Before you spend countless hours and invest money in that marketing, it’s important that you at least have feedback from your targeted audience.


I do not claim to be an expert on this topic. I just want to share some of the things that I have learned. If you have thoughts on this topic, please feel free to share them in the comments. I’m interested in hearing any thoughts you might want to share.



A Good Review is Hard to Find – Part 1

It’s the first Wednesday of the month and so it is once again time for the IWSG Blog Hop. I would like to thank Alex Cavanaugh and also the other members of this wonderful group for making this possible and for the support they provide. Special thanks to the co-hosts of the January 3, 2018, posting of the ISWG:  Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria!


One of the most challenging steps for an insecure writer is putting your writing out there for reviews and critiques but it is also one of the best things you can do to help your growth as a writer. Conversely, giving reviews and critiques to other writers is also one of the best things you can do for your own writing skills. Giving reviews can help you develop your analytical skills and apply those skills to your own writing.

The most significant experience that helped me begin the process of overcoming the fear of putting my writing out into the world to be read, reviewed, critiqued, criticized, loved or hated was agreeing to be a beta reader for another writer. The writer was young and it was the first novel for this writer. I’m not sure if the writer was male or female so I’m just going to use the pronoun she for simplicity. She lived a half a world away but with the internet, I now know authors and writers all over the planet.

She was having trouble finding beta readers for her WIP (work in progress). I had no experience with being a beta reader at that time but I’m an avid reader, I’d written several novels, and I’d taken novel writing classes from successful authors. So, I thought, why not agree to read her book and I volunteered.  I also found several groups of beta readers and gave her the names and links to the groups. She ended up with about two dozen beta readers.

I received the manuscript and after reading the first two chapters, I wanted to jump out of a window of a very tall building for agreeing to do this. I slogged through 8 more chapters because I had made a commitment. At that point, I just gave up. I had read calculus textbooks that elicited more emotion. I tortured myself for days wondering how I was going to give her feedback on her novel without being a total jerk.

By putting myself in her shoes, trying to see the story through her eyes, and by assuming she wanted honest feedback on how to improve her work, I eventually found a method that worked in this case. I was thanked profusely for being the only beta reader that gave her useful feedback. I was told that the other beta readers that bothered to respond came back with responses like “looks good” or “sounds fine.”  Not being able to get useful and helpful reviews and critiques is an issue I’ve heard from a number of writers. I’ve decided to write a short series of posts regarding this issue.

This experience helped me to understand that I had to overcome some of my insecurities about putting my writing out there for reviews if I wanted to take another step in improving my writing.


Notes of interest:

Don’t forget to mark your calendar for the next IWSG Twitter Pitch Party – Thursday, January 18!
With hundreds of agents and publishers, this one will be ten times bigger than our first event.

To read blog posts from other members of The IWSG use this link because the HTML code doesn’t work on my site: