What I did, and what I tell people as they consider joining an online critique group, is this:
(First, join one. There are a few online ones that are good and cost nothing. try them out and see which group’s rules, schedule, etc., work for you.)
1. Read a story,
and whatever you don’t like try to not just point that out but point out a suggestion to fix it. Also, point out the things you liked and emphasize those. Then,
2. Look at other people who critiqued that story
and see who was pointing out things you didn’t catch and/or who thinks along the same lines as you. Then,
3. Read stories from those people.
If they are good writers, then actively go after them to work with you.
That’s what I did.
You are not trying to find somebody to be your friend (but making a friend is a nice plus), and you are not trying to find somebody who tells you you’re great when you’re not. You’re looking for somebody who could help you get to the next level and who you can help get to the next level.
You want to support and encourage each other through constructively working on each other’s stories to make them the best they can be with the goal of both of you shooting for Hemingway quality.
You may not get that good but if that’s your goal and you fall a little short you’ll be okay.
The people you’re going to reach out to are introverts as well, so there’s that. Some won’t respond. That’s okay. The ones that reply are the ones who are interested in improving. And once you establish rapport, and you honestly put real effort into making their story better, then they will do that for you most of the time. You will benefit both from improved writing and also improving your eye for finding ways to improve other’s stories – that you can use to improve your own stories.
How do you find a group that’s right for you?
Try them. Ask for referrals from writer friends, but try the groups yourself.
How do you avoid bad information and trolls?
You can’t. There is a lot of bad information out there, but when reading critiques of your story, you’ll get a feel for who is being
passing along strict “rules of writing” that’s not relevant or helpful
helpful but self important
helpful without being self important
a good writer themselves
Look for that last bunch. They’re out there, and you’ll find them quickly if you look the way I instructed you to above.
Your writing will improve within a few weeks, and after a few months you’ll be surprised at how good a writer you are!
In a recent critique, I noticed something we all do occasionally. See if you can spot it.
Once in the solarium, they find a bench and sit down, continuing their conversation. The words flow between them, without the need to think or endure an awkward pause. Candace finds herself genuinely having a good time. It’s been so long since she took some time to have fun.
Evan interrupts her musings, saying, “I have really enjoyed your company, Candace. I hope we can get together again. We can take it one day at a time, no expectations. I would much rather go out to dinner with you than my sister.” He quietly laughs.
No big deal, but it’s the interruption.
Why broadcast it? We will see him do it when he speaks, so there’s no need to say he’s about to do what he’s about to do.
Candace finds herself genuinely having a good time, it’s been so long since she took some time to have fun. Evan seems –
“I really have enjoyed your company, Kelly. “Edward smiled, pulling away. “And I hope…
See? Don’t announce the interruption of her thoughts, just interrupt – and write in such a way that the reader reads it as an interruption.
That’s your tip for the day.
Don’t have a lot of interruptions in your dialogue? Maybe you should add one on occasion. It’ll make your dialogues snappier. (In real life, people interrupt all the time.)
Interrupting adds a tiny element of tension, too, as we
(a) wait for the point to be made or
(b) veer off wherever the interruption is taking us.
And if done correctly it will engage your reader better in your story!
If you find little suggestions like this helpful, you can get a bunch of them. Simply enter my Word Weaver Writing Contest, and each entry gets a critique by ME!
For details on how to enter and get your critique, click HERE
Let’s be honest, you have to be able to lift your own spirits sometimes. because those who’d like to help usually mean well but can’t actually help, and those who CAN help may be unavailable. It’s up to you. No one can write your book for you (and if they do, what’s the point?)
Now, you may or may not win the contest – it’s more fun if you do – but simply entering is a big deal. Other people are finally going to see your work. And in this case, if it needs help, you’ll get suggestions.
In my contest, I’m going to give EVERY ENTRY FEEDBACK that will help get their work to the next level.
Possibly, to get it ready to be published.
A lot of people who enter will get a share of $400+ in prizes.
That’s also good.
Now, the funny thing about bloggers is: often if they are going to sell you a book on how to do something, they have blogged about it, too. If you look through their blog enough, you will find basically everything in the book and not have to pay for it.
Or like me, you can put all kinds of crazy awesome MARKETING TIPS in a book they get for freeby signing up for their newsletter. Trade your email for a $20 book on marketing ideas and a promise not to spam? I call that a good deal.
Anyway, here are some of the things I’m going to look for.
A grabber opening.
NOT giant blocks of descriptions.
I tend to be lazy and any reading outside of a person’s job is supposed to be for leisure – as in, FUN. So when I see just pages and pages without the white space that indicates a paragraph break, I get a little twitchy.
Chuck Wendig once referred to dialogue as candy, and he’s right.
And let’s face it, a story that hooks the reader right away is gonna do better than one that waits three chapters to do it, right?
But if you can do it in the first paragraph, or even better in the opening sentence, that’s big. That’s why openings are hard to do, and even harder to do well.
The other thing you can do to help your story is not have too much going on in chapter 1. (I’ve addressed that before.) Now, I’m not saying you have to submit chapter 1 of your book to a contest; I’m saying whatever you do submit should be interesting. But if you submit chapter 1, there are five things you need to have happening in chapter 1 as referenced by my blog post about that – which you’ll see if you click that link.
Finally, it’s never a bad idea to ask a question in chapter 1 that we have to turn the page and start chapter 2 to find the answer to.
If you can do some or all of those things, you are going to thrill your readers a lot more than the average bear.
One last tip.
A writing contest is kind of similar to a chili cooking contest.
Each November I go to a neighborhood chili cook-off. Some of the people who host it are from Texas, and Texans are apparently crazy for chili, to the point where they are willing to fistfight you over whether it can have beans in it or not.
I’m not going to say if I if I am of the pro bean or anti-bean consortium, I’m simply going to say Texans are a little batty.
If you know any Texans, you know this. Nice people. Hard working. Loyal.
But kinda bonkers.
The key to winning a chili eating contest is not to prepare a bowl of chili that would satisfy somebody at dinner.
In a contest, you have to grab the chili judge’s attention with the equivalent of a taste. A tablespoon. That’s it.
And what you would put into a tablespoon to catch the eye of the chili judge – or tongue, I guess – is not necessarily what should be in a bowl of chili you are going to eat for dinner. The sample is probably spicier than the whole bowl. Meatier. Other stuffier.
Similarly, a writing contest offers the same challenge.
Your opening paragraph is really really really – really really really! – really really REALLY important.
If I can’t get through that, things do not bode well for the rest of the story no matter how gripping it is.
I know. It’s unfair. Talk to me about people who make an awesome bowl of chili and can’t win a damn contest. I totally get it. What’s the deal with those Texans? Beans are not illegal! And beans are good for you. Maybe if they incorporated an occasional bean into their cowbeef-laden maw they wouldn’t all keel over from heart attacks at age 50, you know? And what’s with that drawl, anyway? It’s 2018. You have TVs and cell phones. Learn to talk normal already.
Anyway, that’s kinda how it is with your story.
Not the Texan nonsense, the judge-sample stuff.
I’m not going to stop at the first paragraph of your story unless it’s really horrible and awful and terrible and bad. I’m just not. I’m nicer than that – but not much nicer. Because I’m a lazy reader, as are most readers. Your published book fights for shelf space against every other writer in the world, and possibly crazy Texans, too. It has to stand out.
Your first paragraph should grab the reader’s interest. That is the first taste of your chili.
After that, the rest of the opening should make the reader want to read on – just like a taste of chili should make you want to eat more chili, not run to the bathroom or guzzle a glass of water.
Okay, let’s get away from that whole chili comparison thing. It’s getting silly.
For me, I love a great voice.
Most of you struggle to find your voice, but those of you who do find it will engage your reader in ways you never knew possible. The reader will feel like you were speaking to them on a one-to-one basis, and it really doesn’t get much better than that.
Okay, there are some tips. You are armed to the teeth with writing advice AND advice on Texans. A twofer.
Get to writing
And go enter my contest.
REBLOG this! And please SHAREthis post on Facebook and Twitter! Your friends need to know about this contest, too.See those little buttons down below? Put on your glasses. There they are. Click them. (The FOLLOW button is now in the lower right hand corner.)
Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!
Available in paperback and audio book formats, too!
(all celebrity judges from 2017 and 2018 will be rotated out and will be invited back for a supercontest at year end)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
and a new bonus
ALL entries will be critiqued by ME!
Yep, I’m going to personally critique your submission.
Wow, I’m gonna be busy. But you’re worth it. Probably.
NO LIMIT ON HOW MANY TIMES YOU CAN ENTER
Enter your amazing piece of writing! Or two! Or more! I and my hand-selected celebrity judge panel of bestselling authors will decide the winners and award a HUGE prize package plus some other amazing goodies. (Last time, contestants entering multiple pieces allowed me to find a story I liked.)
YOU will have the month of MARCH 2018 to enter an amazing piece of your own writing to my contest.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? Yeah. It is. That’s how I roll.
Here’s what you do:
Yep, you guessed it. Enter a piece of your writing in the contest. I try to keep it simple.
The contest “theme” is intentionally broad:
Does that mean Jack the Ripper? Does that mean a boy and his dog? (Like, if one kills the other?)
I don’t know. That’s up to you! I’m pretty loose on these things.
I expect we will publish another anthology in 2018, combining bestselling authors and established writers with first timers again. (Our October 2017 “scary anthology” called The Box Under The Bed, topped the charts at #1.)
The first place winner of this contest will be guaranteed a spot in the new anthology.
Other contestants may be asked to join the anthology as well!
THE ANTHOLOGY PACKAGE INCLUDES:
edit & critique process,
collaboration with other published authors in a private Facebook group created for the anthology
book cover, showing the creative process
get beta readers,
the whole nine yards.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO EDIT YOUR BOOK (FROM RUSSELL) AND THEN EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO PUBLISH YOUR SHORT STORY (DIRECTLY FROM ME AND WITH MY HANDS ON GUIDANCE).
That’s kind of a big deal
You’ll have the whole month of March to create your masterpiece, OR EVEN BETTER – USE PART OF AN EXISTING BOOK.
The FIRST PLACE winner will also receive:
PUBLICATION of their winning piece on this website
A guest blog post or author profile to appear on this site
MASSIVE BRAGGING RIGHTS
Did you see that gold medal picture? You get that picture to display. (I think it was originally a chocolate coin we gave to my daughter for losing a tooth, but it’s really cool looking!)
You’ll get to refer to yourself as an AWARD-WINNING author. Because you’ll be one. How cool is that?
Now… there are critiques?
Yep. We’ll get to that in a second. Check out the other top prizes first.
The SECOND PLACE Winner will receive THIS prize package:
PUBLICATION of their winning piece on this website and consideration for publication in the anthology
$25 Amazon gift card
A guest blog post or author profile to appear on this site
slightly less massive bragging rights than first place (because that’s only fair)
Not a gold medal. Sorry.
FRIENDSHIP WITH ME, PROBABLY, because I wanna keep good writers close.
I think they get to refer to themselves as an AWARD-WINNING author, too. Second place is an award, right?
The THIRD PLACE Winner will receive THIS prize package:
PUBLICATION of their winning piece on this website and consideration for publication in the anthology
$10 Amazon gift card
A guest blog post or author profile to appear on this site
also bragging rights because why not, but try not to outbrag the first and second place winners, okay?
also no gold medal. That’s really just for the #1 winner.
And still, I think they’re an award-winning author, too. A little less so than 1st and 2nd, but it still counts. And who’s gonna look it up and give you crap, anyway?
Oh, and I may award additional places like Fourth Place and Honorable Mention, etc. Don’t worry, this isn’t the fine print your mom said to worry about.
EVERY ENTRY WILL ALSO RECEIVE:
A CRITIQUE OF THEIR WORK BY ME!
Yep, I’ll critique your work (up to 3,000 words), whether you win or not, just for entering.
I will spend an hour of my time giving you the Dan Treatment of your 3,000 word piece, just like I do in my private critique group. Don’t worry, I’m pretty nice and very encouraging. Most people like my crits. Not all, though. Some people are just babies.
YOUR STORY DOES NOT HAVE TO BE 3000 WORDS.
It can be shorter. If you get it in 1250, you’re good to go.
If it’s longer than 3000, I may read all of it, but I’m only critiquing the first 3000 words. And 10k submissions haven’t won yet, either. So there’s that. Learn to select carefully. Just the best stuff.
I might spend more than an hour if it’s really good! But again, if you send 10k – I’m only human and I’m not gonna be able to wade through all that from you for this contest, okay? Doing critiques is a LOT of freaking work. Try to keep it to 3000 words and under.
Many participants who wrote stories for my contests were later INVITED to be in an anthology we published.
THIS IS WHERE YOU WANNA BE!
Getting the information, the encouragement, the support, and the hands-guidance you need to GET PUBLISHED.
Almost everyone who was in the October 2017 anthology has expressed an interest in doing it again. That puts you in there with bestselling authors and other published authors.
That’s definitely a big deal, whether you’ve been published before or not. Heck, I get excited about appearing in an anthology with big name people.
EACH ENTRY will receive an in-depth critique of their story by ME, as I said. That alone is worth the price of admission.
BUT DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT!
“As the winner of the last contest, your help has been invaluable. The reason my books have not been published is I haven’t know where to start. I went through the whole “find an agent” and querying steps for my other book, but was tired of rejection. Now I have an author’s Facebook page, a blog, and a Twitter account that never existed in the world before. You walked me step-by-step through the process. We are nearing the end of the beta reader phase, so I think things are going to move pretty quickly now. Although I know the Moyhill package is going to be extremely helpful, you gave me an amazing critique of my book.
– Heather Kindt, author of Ruby Slips and Poker Chips
Wow, thank you so much for the critique. Amazing job, thank you. Dan, thank you so much for doing this. I feel as if I’ve found a great mentor, one who knows where my writing is coming from and hopefully to advise me where and how to get to the next level.
– Adele M
You really know how to make my day! I’m so grateful for your detailed critique of my story. It’s wonderful to get this kind of feedback, and totally validates all the hours we put in, alone at our desks, writing our hearts out. To be honest, I jumped up and down and cheered so much, my dog thought I had gone completely berserk, not to mention my husband.
– Heather H
And there are hundreds more who have received my input on their manuscripts via my unique critique process.
Some are bestselling authors who will not publish a manuscript without me looking at it first!
Where else can you find established authors willing to reach out like that? Nowhere, that’s where. Well… here. But nowhere else probably.
“DOOR PRIZES” just for entering!
ALL contestants not winning first, second, or third place will be put into a drawing to win one of these other prizes!
How awesome is that? Stuff for you to win from these cool authors!
Several autographed paperback copies of my bestselling books will be awarded
Several not-autographed copies of my eBooks will be awarded
OKAY, HERE ARE THE RULES
NO LIMIT ON ENTRIES BY ANY ONE PERSON. You wanna enter 10 stories? Pay 10 fees. I’m totally okay with that.
You must enter an original piece of your own writing and pay the entry fee. Please don’t exceed 3,000 words (but if you’re a little over, fine. If you go 10k, I know you aren’t even trying. Shoot for 3k. You can do that, but don’t ruin your story chopping it to 3k, okay?) Entries can be as short as you want. FEEL FREE TO USE A CHAPTER OF YOUR UNRELEASED BOOK. (That’s what I’d do.)
THEME: To coincide with a new book I’m writing, the theme is MURDER/MYSTERY/SUSPENSE. That can be happy stuff, cozy mystery, violent stuff, psycho killer stuff, crime stuff (I guess murder is already a crime) detective stuff, YOU NAME IT. Totally your call. Don’t feel limited. I’m pretty loose with this aspect. Wanna have some insights into what I like? Check out the prior winning entries from the last three contests (April,July and November) and not just the first place winners. In some way shape or form, your story must touch on the theme of MURDER/MYSTERY/SUSPENSE. Again, I’m pretty loose on this.
All entries must be submitted on or before midnight eastern time on March 31, 2018. There is a preset number of entries that will be allowed. When that number is reached, and it’s a LOT, no additional entries or fees will be accepted. When we get close, I’ll announce it on the blog – but if you get in early you’ll be fine. You’ll probably be fine anyway, but keep an eye on the blog just in case – or enter early, right? That will work, too. Did I mention to enter early? Because you should totally enter early.
There is NO restriction on genre other than murder/mystery/suspense – and I’m pretty loose on that anyway. Go crazy. You can have love in your psycho thriller.
You may submit a chapter or passage from your book if you so desire (I would – this is great publicity), but it should be an unpublished work.
HOW TO ENTER
You MUST submit your entry via the Contact Me button and pay your $20.00 entry fee (USD) via PayPal to email@example.com . PLEASE SEND A WORD DOCUMENT (WordPress text and PDFs mess up the formatting). Simply send me a message using the Contact Me button saying you want to enter and I’ll email you back; from there you’ll be able to attach your piece. IF YOU DO NOT GET A REPLY WITHING 24 HOURS, ASSUME AN EMAIL SCREW UP AND EMAIL ME AGAIN. (Not using Word? Attach it in whatever you used. If there’s a problem, I’ll let you know. But please try to use Word, okay?)
Void where prohibited. ALL entries will be subscribed to my email list. Don’t worry, I won’t spam you. (I don’t know how.) A lot of the entries’ email addresses don’t get on the list because it’s work and I’m lazy. Winners will be notified here on the blog in a big announcement, and they will be contacted by email, either by me or by the sponsor donating the prize, to make arrangements to get their prize – that might include a mailing address to deliver a paperback to. Winners who live outside of the country of the sponsor whose prize they won may be limited to a prize that can be emailed or sent electronically, like an eBook, audio book, PDF, or Amazon gift card. You still get your work published here, and the profile, etc., if you win those things, but sorry; mailing a paperback from here to Canada and other places is super expensive, so we’re letting you guys into the contest but we have to limit the costs that way. I’m sure you understand. NO LIMIT ON ENTRIES BY ANY ONE PERSON until our preset number is reached. You wanna enter 10 stories? Pay 10 fees. By entering you agree to all this stuff and that I pretty much get free reign in selecting the top 3 winners (along with help from our celebrity judges) but it’s probably gonna be stuff that appealed to me. Typos matter but content matters more. The rest of the winners will mostly be random drawing but I’m not above awarding stuff to a really great fourth place person. Or not.
WINNERS WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON OR AROUND APRIL 20, 2018
unless I get an overwhelming amount of entries, and then I’ll delay that part but trust me you’ll know way in advance because I’ll be whining about it here on the blog.
You are probably a better writer than you think. Time to launch your rocket!
Tick tock. March 31, 2018, will be here before you know it.
PLEASE TELL EVERY WRITER YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS CONTEST!
REBLOG this! And please SHARE this post on Facebook and Twitter! Your friends need to know about this contest, too.
See those little buttons down below? Put on your glasses. There they are. Click them.
Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazing paranormal thriller “An Angel On Her Shoulder.” Click HERE to get your copy of Angel – FREE on Kindle Unlimited!