Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Is it more prestigious to kill people in print than fuck them?

Is the romance genre so low that it's considered a publishing backwater? Is the crime genre really so prestigious that it can break all the rules?
I'm wondering the same thing...
I did something extremely stupid this week that I pray I never repeat. I critiqued a friend’s writing who was entering a short fiction contest I alerted her to. The contest deadline was looming and her ms arrived in the email. I read the 5k story carefully and spent a couple of hours creating edit examples.
Guess what? She really didn’t want an edit…
My first mistake was stepping out of friend mode and viewing her ms with detached eyes. I went on autopilot and told her what I was having a problem with.
My second mistake was applying rules of erotic-romance to another genre crime-suspense, which is a genre I don’t read and know little about.
The problem was within the ms there were at least three POV’s sharing the space and often sharing internal thought, actions and dialog in the same paragraph. It shifted from (two) first person POVs to third person, to narrative, past to present and all three main POV characters often in the same paragraph.
The basic story was good and interesting to read, but I thought it was being held back by unnecessary clutter. I strongly suggested my friend choose one maybe two POV’s and revise the ms in third person. Based on the time she had left to revise and still meet the deadline I viewed that plan as the path of least resistance.
It didn’t work. My friend was very upset and insisted I knew nothing about what she was shooting for. I got flooded with pages of examples of fiction and blogs where best-selling authors, agents and publishers encouraged breaking the rules (which I agree can be done by highly skilled authors who already know the rules.)
Unfortunately, I’m not a highly skilled author and either is my friend. The argument quickly became a disaster with unwelcome results far from what I intended.
My stomach dropped when I realized she didn’t want an edit at all she wanted a thumbs-up. When she emailed the ms and said, “Look this over before I send it… She actually meant, “Look it over and tell me to send it.”
It’s too bad because I know what a sour critique feels like.
Two and a half years ago, when I was getting my first manuscripts ready to submit to publishers, I asked my sister to proof one of my ms’. My sister is an avid reader and booklover who hates the romance genre. I thought it wouldn’t matter because I needed help with grammar and story flow. What I thought would be okay became a nightmare. My sister was very uncomfortable reading my erotica and our conversation went to some awful places including her comment that I should aim higher because the erotic-romance genre was so low… I was assured I would never be published because I was starting too late, I did not have any real writing experience or a degree in literature and the craft was far beyond me. She believed publishing was only for a rarified elite and I was warned those involved were very mean people. 
She also had lots of practical advice I badly needed to take.
At the time I was so hurt and shocked I didn’t speak to my sister for months but I didn’t tune out all of what she said. 
She was wrong about a few things but I knew I had to improve my basic skills. I made it my mission to do better. I went back to the drawing board with my manuscripts, submitted them and got three book contracts almost back to back. 
Those were mentally painful, intensely focused months but I learned enough to get my foot in the door. It was a huge victory for me and it might not have happened if my sister had not pointed out a few of the areas I genuinely needed to improve. (I do love my sister we email everyday)
I hope my friend learns something useful from her uncomfortable encounter with me.
My questions today are:
1) Have you ever offered help and had it backfire?
2) Am I completely wrong about the crime-suspense genre can the POV float that randomly? I don’t read crime-fiction and I don’t know what the current trends are.
I learned a horrible lesson about not offering cross-genre advice. It doesn’t work. No one respects romance authors except other romance authors.
I wish I were going to Romanticon more than ever.


  1. First, I'm offering you big cyber HUGS! I don't know much about crime-suspense, but my instinct is to say that many POV's seem unnatural. I'm sure there are some different rules with crime-suspense genre, but the general writing rules apply across the board - don't they?
    What you did, in offering the critique, is what I love about gave your honest opinion. Don't ever sell yourself short. You have given me so much useful advice and helped me move my writing forward.
    My guess is when your friend is judged and receives some similar feedback she'll realize you weren't trying to tear her down, but being helpful.
    I wish you were going to Romanticon so we could surround you with romance author love! :)

  2. Thank you Amber! I hope she and I learned what we needed to learn.

  3. Kat,
    It was unfair of your friend to ask for something that she didn't really want.
    You most definitely are a highly skilled, MULTI-PUBLISHED author whose honest critique should have been a very valuable tool for her to learn from.
    POV has nothing to do with genre, either it is done correctly or it isn't.
    When people disrespect a published author's work soley based on genre, I chalk it up to sour grapes and jealousy.

  4. Thank you Tessie,
    I'm a beginner who makes a lot of mistakes but I did not enjoying being dismissed simply because I write romance.

  5. 1. Don't feel bad. If someone asks for a critique, then they ask for a critique. It's like - be careful what you wish for. That being said, I make it a rule not to critique work from people I know, other than to make a suggestion for a word or two. It always backfires.
    2. The genre doesn't matter, head hopping is a problem. New writers always point to examples of famous authors who head hop - and some of them head hop a whole lot. But they are famous authors. They can get away with it, those of us existing on the margins cannot.
    3. My sister views herself as a writer - unpublished, but a writer. Because our tastes are so different, I would never ask her to critique or even read a work of mine. She'd rip it to shreds and our relationship would suffer. That's the kind of person she is. If she asked me to critique a work of hers, I would either decline or I'd try to see it from her point of view and make suggestions she would understand, that's me.
    To make a long story short, just say no next time, you poor thing!

  6. I've never had a crit backfire but I've had friends who loved me so much they weren't honest and when I ask for a crit I want a brutal shredding of my work. Because I'm new to do it right I need it tore down to rebuild myself. I am lucky to have an EIC and an editor in my circle who give prudent advice and don't worry about my feelings. Bottom line is I want to know I'm growing as a writer and putting out quality material that shows a trend in improvement. I've never asked for something just to be told it's great. I expected my friends to be honest and that they didn't want to tell me the numerous issues bothered me. An omission is the same as a lie to me. If they'd have told me from the get go what they felt Icould've improved on then it would've prob saved me some time. I'm sorry it backfired on you


  7. Sorry this happened to you! I usually tell people if you want a review, I'll review it. If you want a critique, I'm going to critique it. You decide up front which you'd prefer, understanding that I"m going to be brutally honest with the critique, regardless of our personal relationship.

    Since I'm also a "first reader" (of genres that I do not write), I can tell you that head-hopping is NOT okay (unless and until you're that famous and multi-published author who can get away with it because your fans are legion and will brook no argument that your writing style coud maybe use a little work! LOL)

  8. Thank you ladies! Personally I never want to be shredded but I do want real help and guidance to get past my blind spots.
    Hales you said it beautifully. BTW your descriptions are luscious.
    Julia I wish I was as wise as you! I expect your star to rise to the top.
    I am realizing that no matter who you are, publishing will present you with some difficult lessons and challenges.

  9. Ouch!!

    Nope, there's no genre that I know of (except maybe speculative fiction) where you can head hop indiscriminately or do what you said your writer friend did.

    Every genre has a story/plot (or hopefully so) and it's the writer's job to make the words flow easily so the reader can lose herself/himself in the inner world of the characters.

    If you have several POVs within a paragraph (how is that even possible?), and a lot of clutter, AND 2nd, 3rd, 1st person POV in the same story, it's gonna be hard trucking on the reader's part to trudge through the ms.

    Although your friend didn't like what you had to say, you didn't say it to be mean. And you weren't trashing the genre like so many trash romance.

  10. Kat, my friend.

    Your advice was sound and had nothing to do with genre. Good writing is good writing and bad writing is bad no matter what the category. I'll bet my birthday cake (yes, today is my birthday and I had chocolate
    dessert at lunch) that your friend doesn't final in the contest. If she didn't really want your advice, she shouldn't have asked.

    Whenever I'm critiquing with someone I ask to have the ground rules set before we start. That avoids pitfalls.


  11. I don't think it's you, it's her. Whatever the critique, however useless it is, you say thank you and move on. You don't crit the critter. Someone has given up their valuable time for free, and they deserve credit for that.

  12. Your friend should send something to Dear Author and their one page critique. Man. Did they tear my page apart! Your friend will appreciate you more.
    I critiqued one newbie and she had multiple POVs. Even had a big name author book tabbed with POVs...lots of them. I told her that BNA could get away with it, but we lowly authors have to stick to one, two, sometimes three POVs only. I don't think she believed me since her pages continued to show multiple POVs...some as short as one paragraph.

  13. Hi,
    I think it was like you said, she asked for a critique, but what she wanted was for you to say, "It's the most amazing bit of writing this century, submit!"
    I've offered critiques to non-published writers and some seem to resent it. I have a friend who writes Sci-fi, and when his peice was rejected again, he was complaining that editors never tell you what's wrong, blah, blah, blah. So I critiqued it. He wasn't happy. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees. I've done that myself, but I've learned to look at critques objectively and not take them personally. My friend took it personally. So now I agree with Adele. Ask them what they want from you and leave it at that.

  14. Thank you ladies for the good advice. I was seriously beginning to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake...
    Happy Birthday Adele!
    XXOO Kat

  15. I do read crime drama from time to time. I have never read any that head-jumped. I have read a few that changed points-of-view, but flip flopping willy-nilly is not changing point-of-view. It's head-jumping. Mixing monologue and third person is permissible, but if you are doing first or second point-of-view, you stick to that only. It's not a genre thing- it's a clarity of writing thing. You are allowed to "break the rules" of convetion but not of good writing.

    That's just my two cents...

  16. Thanks for the lovely comment on my descriptions you know Tess McCall I learned some great things from her when I first began to write at a forum she helped at. Transitions and Description was a must improve on :) So glad to have learned from her and Faith and the others who helped with other areas

  17. If you felt I couldn’t string a sentence together, why did you send the proposal/synopsis of your new series, STOLEN BRIDES, for my perusal before presenting it to Raelene? Did you just expect a 'thumbs up'? Well of course you did, considering your reaction to Raelene's initial response,
    "I can tell from her reply that she hasn't even read it properly. How dare she? Has she SEEN my reviews!!?"
    Apparently, in such circumstances, there is one rule for you and another for the rest of us. A little incongruous with the ‘humble beginner’ you’ve portrayed yourself as wouldn’t you say? I’ve grown used to the occasional diva-ish tantrum since you became a published author. Writing a blog like this, where our mutual friends can witness your mud slinging, is a new low. Couching it in terms of romance versus crime was a nice touch. Way to go to get romance writers on side Kat.
    Of course it was always about the writing, never about genre. Besides, I don’t write crime – I write short, literary fiction. And I’ve been published - you know that, just forgot to mention it here eh?
    My story was written from an omniscient POV, which allows some 'telling' provided the writing can support it. There is no head hopping, just three different characters, each given their own section within the story, all clearly delineated by asterisks between 'chapters'. The story was written almost a year ago and had already been critiqued by two accomplished, published authors. I sent it because you asked to read it. YOU decided you could do better than those who had edited before.
    I disagreed with your edit and your advice. Despite that, I thanked you profusely for your input and thought that was an end to it. It wasn’t. Apparently, you would never disagree with your editor and therefore I should not disagree with you. You are not my editor Kat, nor were you asked to be.


Thanks for leaving a comment.