Thursday, August 28, 2014

Do I Really NEED a Writers Group or a Critique Partner?

by Edie Melso@EdieMelson

Only if you want your writing to improve! Writing for publication is an endeavor built on forging relationships. And those relationships can ultimately determine your success or failure in the writing industry. Here’s a list of those relationships.
  • Between you and other writers
  • Between you and the reader
  • Between the reader and the subject or characters
  • Between you and the editor
  • Between you and your agent

I listed the relationship between writers first, because surprisingly, it’s often the most vital in your writing life. The actual act of putting words on paper is a solitary act and because of that it’s easy to lose perspective. 

The Lonely Vacuum Of Space (JD Hancock) / CC BY 3.0
Writing in a vacuum can give us a false sense of whether or not we’re effective in our endeavor. We either wind up thinking we’re a genius or sink into the depths of despair because we can’t string two coherent sentences together. Rarely is either perspective accurate.

We need others in our profession to give us feedback, keep us grounded and provide encouragement. You may be tempted, like I was at first, to insert friends and family into this role. Unless they’re also writers this dynamic just doesn’t work. They’ll unwittingly encourage you when you need a swift kick in the pants and administer the kick in the pants when you need encouragement.

That’s where a writers group, critique group or critique partner will help. But you have to be careful—some critique and writers groups can be toxic. I’ve visited some where the purpose appears to be to build up the one delivering the critique by tearing down the hapless author. You want to avoid these groups at all cost.

Here’s a list of what to look for in a group or a partner
  • An encouraging atmosphere –not all sweetness and light—nobody improves on false compliments. But I’ve almost never found a manuscript that didn’t have some redeeming quality.
  • A mutually beneficial relationship. You should both bring something valuable if it’s a partnership—you may excel at writing dialogue and your partner is a whiz at description.
  • A hunger to improve. If it’s a group there should be a movement toward growth in the majority of members. Even if you’re all beginners, if you’re all reading writing books and attending classes you’ll be able to grow and learn together.
  • A timekeeper. If someone’s not willing to keep track of the time not everyone will get a chance to be critiqued. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it!

So now here’s your chance—what experiences have you had with writing groups and partnerships?

Edie Melson is the author of numerous books, as well as a freelance writer and editor. Her blog, The Write Conversation, reaches thousands each month. She's the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and the social media mentor at My Book Therapy. She's also the military family blogger at, social media director for Southern Writers Magazine and the senior editor for Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My GPS Writing Life: Recalculating

by Elva Cobb Martin

Driving the other day with our GPS, I suddenly saw how my writing life resembles this navigational gadget. My husband looked on with raised brows as I burst into fits of uproarious laughter. If you read on, get ready to laugh and release some healthy endorphins into your system.

In writing I put in my goals and happily slam my foot on the gas doing what I love most these days—writing. But then I find the pavement running out from beneath me, and I must recalculate.

Goal: Write the Dream Novel
  • Fall in love with an idea, a genre, a character, a setting, and a theme.
  • Research, research, and read tons of novel-writing books.
  • Join a writers’ group.
  • Attend an expensive writers’ conference.
  • Plan like crazy getting the main plot points, conflict, and MRUs in order.
  • Gas up to the speed limit, and get the first draft down on paper.
  • Receive email feedback. “Cozy mysteries are no longer selling well.”


Goal: Get an Agent
  • Research sites, friends, writing groups, the kitchen sink, and the fence post.
  • Research query letters.
  • Research agents not on any predators’ list and their submission guidelines and blogs.
  • Revise, critique, and polish the query. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • Send it to The Agent.
  • Receive email feedback: “Sorry, The Agent is no longer accepting fiction clients.”


Goal: Submit to an Editor on My Own
  • Research and study fiction editors and publishers. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • Learn how to do a great One Sheet.
  • Join or start another writers’ group heavy on critiquing.
  • Attend some more expensive writers’ conferences.
  • Get editor appointments.
  • Get some nibbles.
  • Memorize every word the editors say.
  • Revise; get critiques; polish; check DPOV, pesky words, and tricky errors. Repeat until finished (or ‘til you hate the novel).
  • Send full to first editor ASAP.
  • First Editor Response, “I really like this, but we have just bought a novel with a similar theme and setting. Sorry.”
  • Repeat most of the above.
  • Second Editor Response, “I like this so far, but we are really looking for novels of 90,000 – 100,000 words. You’re about 20,000 words short.
  • Repeat most of the above.
  • Third Editor Response, “I like this, but it’s too wordy. You need to cut about 20,000 words.”


It's the thing I now do best.

What about your writing life? Ever feel like you are on a GPS merry-go-round?

The good news is that my real GPS (most of the time and sometimes with several recalculations) manages to get me to my destination. I hope the same holds true for my writing life, especially since I have the best model on the market—GHS. God's Holy Spirit.

If this article made you smile and feel less alone as a writer on the uphill journey to publication, please leave a comment, tweet it, and share it on Facebook.

Elva Cobb Martin

Elva Cobb Martin is president of the South Carolina Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a former school teacher and a graduate of Anderson University and Erskine College. Decision, Charisma, and Home Life have published her articles. She has completed two inspirational romances. In a Pirate’s Debt is being considered by a literary agency for representation. Summer of Deception is being considered by a publisher. A mother finally promoted to grandmother, Elva lives with her husband Dwayne and a mini-dachshund writing helper (Lucy) in Anderson, South Carolina. She and her husband are retired ministers. Connect with her on her web site, her blog, Carolina Romance with Elva Martin, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What Is Historical Fiction?

by Susan F. Craft

This is my favorite historical ever!
Historical fiction presents readers with a story that takes place during a specific period or significant event in history. It often presents actual events from the point of view of fictional people living in that era, but with actual historical people making appearances. Works in this genre often portray the manners and social conditions of the persons or times presented in the story, with attention paid to period detail. In historical fiction, setting and events drive the story.

Historical Fiction by Year or Time Period

This is one of my favorite novels. It
won 3 Christy Awards this year (2014).
Historical Fiction by Period Name (list taken from Historical Novel Society)
American Revolution
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Greece
Ancient Rome
Ancient World (Other)
Arthurian (ca 450-600)
Colonial America
Early Medieval (to 1337)
Early United States
English Civil War
French Revolution
Gilded Age
Great Depression
Jazz Age
Late Medieval (1338 to 1485)
Regency (1811 to 1820)
US Civil War
Victorian (1837-1901)

Some of the Major Categories of Historical Fiction
  • Alternate Historicals explore how history may have happened differently.
Another favorite novel!
  • Biblical Novels can be set with actual people, places, or events from the Bible; can be set in a different time period but the characters or events are based on scripture; or can depict an era of history from the Bible, although the characters may not be biblical.
  • Historical Fantasy Novels mix history with fantasy.
  • Historical Mysteries are a cross between historical fiction and mystery.
  • Historical Thrillers or Suspense put their heroes in danger.
  • Literary Historical Novels examine contemporary themes in lyrical or dense language.
  • Multi-Period Epics illustrate how specific places change over centuries.
  • Traditional Historical Novels emphasize a straightforward and historically accurate plot.
  • Romantic Historical Novels are love stories set in history; the relationship or romance drives the story. 
  • Sagas follow families or groups of people over time, usually generations.
  • Speculative fiction takes readers to the places between the realm of the seen and the unseen; contain angels, demons, visions, dreams, prophecies, vampires, monsters, and other supernatural phenomena.
  • Time-Travel Novels take their characters between epochs/time periods.
  • Western Historical Novels are set in the American West.

Word Count for Fiction
Microfiction—up to 100 words
Flash Fiction—100-1,000 (magazine article)
Short Story1,000-7,500
Novellette7,500-20,000 (difficult to sell to publishers)
Novella20,000-50,000 (perfect for e-publishing)
Novel50,000-110,000 (most publishers want a minimum of 70,000; over                                                    110,000 would give them pain)
Epics and Sequels—over 110,000 (trilogies) 

Susan F. Craft authored the SIBA Award-winning Revolutionary War novel, The Chamomile. The two sequels to The Chamomile, entitled Laurel and Cassia will be released January 12, 2015, and September 14, 2015, by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.  She is represented by Linda S. Glaz, Hartline Literary Agency.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Say Goodbye to the Exclamation Mark!!!!!!

by Andrea Merrell  @AndreaMerrell

With all the diverse forms of social media and texting, the exclamation point has become very popular in bringing emphasis to anything and everything someone is trying to say. I’ve been guilty of it myself, but the problem comes when we have the same tendency to overuse it in our writing. For all you serious writers, this is a definite no-no, so it’s time to execute the exclamation.

Execute—According to Merriam-Webster’s
  • To carry out and produce what is required or expected to give validity to. To perform the fundamentals properly and skillfully.

Execute—According to Agents, Editors, and Publishers
  • Kill it—wipe it out—put it to death.

Example from an Agent

To prove this point (no pun intended), let’s look at a portion of literary agent Chip McGregor’s blog post, What Drives an Editor Crazy? 

Someone wrote to ask a favorite question: “Are there certain editing errors that drive you crazy?”

Yes! Of course! Here’s one! Novelists who use exclamation points as though the period key didn’t work on their keyboard! I hate this! Really! What’s worse is the writer who needs to use several at once!!!!!

As an editor who battles with this constantly, I say a hearty “Amen!”

Are we saying you can never use exclamation points (EPs) in your writing? Absolutely not. The key is to know when and how to use them properly. They are appropriate when someone is shouting or showing extremely strong emotion.

As three-year-old Susie was about to wander into the busy street, her mother shouted, “Susie, stop!”

In most cases, writers use unnecessary EPs when they are trying to make a point (pun intended), or they are very excited and passionate about what they are sharing. I once edited a book that contained anywhere from 200-300 Eps. All but a few were deleted from this otherwise excellent book. Some publishers only allow one or two exclamations in a 50,000-word manuscript.

This is an issue that could cause immediate rejection of your manuscript by an agent, editor, or publisher. Don’t take that chance. Limit your excessive use of EPs to personal e-mails, texts, tweets, and Facebook messages (notice I said personal and not professional).

To eliminate this problem, there is an easy fix. Use strong verbs and more showing. Trust your reader to get it. If you need to emphasize a word, it’s better to use italics—just don’t go overboard. Anything in your writing that is redundant (exclamation points, italics, quotation marks, ellipses, en and em dashes, words, or phrases) will wear on your reader.

Bottom Line

Too many exclamation points can be hazardous to your manuscript.

Andrea Merrell is Associate Editor for Christian Devotions Ministries and Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC). She is also a freelance editor and has led workshops at the Kentucky Christian Writers Conference, Writers Advance Boot Camp, and the CLASS Christian Writers Conference. Andrea’s first book, Murder of a Manuscript, is available on Amazon. Her next book, Praying for the Prodigal, will be released by LPC in 2015. As an editor, Andrea’s passion is to mentor and encourage writers, helping them to polish their manuscripts and make them as clean and professional as possible. To learn more, visit or