Editor retains right of refusal on delivery of manuscript sample/partial.
Nonrefundable deposit of 50% must be paid on signing of contract, the remainder must be paid within one week of delivery of edits.
Scheduling may change +/- 2 weeks without penalty, but a rescheduling fee outside the above is $50 per reschedule.
The editor’s name should not be used without signed agreement.
Sensitivity concerns will be flagged for referral to authenticity readers, and content warnings must be provided prior to editing agreement.
Payment plans are available but require paying in full prior to delivery of notes.
Full manuscript projects must provide a 5p sample, vision statement, and synopsis along with application for edits.
Line and copyedits will be returned with tracked changes, but author must apply changes themself.
Email communication outside of scheduling and contract count toward coaching time of package.
No money will ever be paid to client by editor.
I am a fiction editor, so please do not send me nonfiction articles, manuscripts, or memoirs. Of the following genres, I work in middle grade, young adult, new adult, and adult. I am willing to consider select picture book or chapter book projects.
Fantasy (soft or low, no epic quests please)
10% for underrepresented authors
5% for verified referral
5% for repeat client with new project
5% for booking developmental and line edits together
Q: BUT JESS! Can’t I just run betas or swap with my CP?
A: Certainly! Do that! But let’s not pretend that’s “free,” for you or your trusted readers.
Hiring an editor whose sole agenda is helping improve your work on your timeframe can not only save you a lot of time, but it can save you a lot of heartache and confusion too.
It takes a lot of time and energy to prepare a beta, from finding people willing and available, whittling those volunteers down to the right audience for the project, determining what questions to ask, to understanding how to process their answers. I will always encourage betas and CPs, just like I’ll always try to share my best tips for finding and utilizing them. Learning how to run a beta is an acquired skill, and it comes naturally to very few. That time and attention may be better spent learning craft and finishing projects.
Furthermore, in the case of swapping full manuscripts, that’s a lot of trust and commitment to put in a virtual stranger. Schedules often conflict, authors get ghosted, and that’s barely brushing the surface of difficulties that can arise from swaps. CPs (critique partners), while wonderful and you should get some, are people too. They may not be able to focus on your work with the attention you need in a given time. Even if they can, misinformation about “best practices” abounds in writing communities, and the feedback received can run the gamut between weak sauce comments and empty praise to misguided advice never intended for your target audience or relevant to your vision or project.
Q: Do you accept payment plans?
A: Yes! Please refer to policies for more information on payment plans.
Q: Do you do second pass edits?
A: Yes, but second pass edits are only included in the price of specific packages. For an individualized quote, please schedule a consultation through email.
A developmental edit includes reading and assessing your materials in light of your goals, then suggesting methods, techniques, and possible changes to elevate your work to better match your vision. This level of edits is best for projects in their early drafts before undertaking revisions, or for projects that have been through multiple revisions and have stalled out. If you don’t know what to do with a project anymore, I can help! Pricing ranges from $0.03-0.06 per word.
Line edits include a thorough reading of materials with inline markups and suggestions to strengthen the work’s clarity and impact. This level of edits is best for projects that have been revised and are almost ready for their final form. Another reason to perform a line edit is to learn how and why certain edits are made, simply to strengthen your craft for future projects and revisions. Pricing ranges from $0.06-0.09 per word.
Copyedits are final stage edits prior to submission or publishing, ensuring your materials are as error free as possible, because the story is exactly how you want it to be, as are the sentences. Pricing ranges from $0.1-0.27 per word.
Packaged Pricing for Edits
Developmental Proposal –$175– Pitch summary (300 words) + 25pp (6300 words) receive developmental edits, line edit summary, plus an hour of coaching
Full Manuscript for Self Publishing –$1500– Pitch summary (300 words) + manuscript (90K words) receive developmental edits, line edit summary, second pass developmental edits on first 100pp, plus an hour of coaching, with a 10% discount on line edits and copyedits
Partial Project for new writers –$500– 3 hours of coaching + developmental edits on synopsis (1500 words) + 25pp (6300 words)
Full Project for querying writers –$1000– Developmental edits + line edits summary for pitch (300 words), synopsis 1200 words), and manuscript (90K words), with 10% discount on line edits
Other packages available on request with coaching consultation.
As a writing coach, my goal is to help you find your clearest voice and strongest story. My role, as I see it, is to act as a tutor and a sounding board as well as a nurse for each client’s writing health for their project and their process. Writing often forces us to face the best and worst of ourselves, discovering parts of our identity and/or psyche that we never imagined, and these moments can transform our work and lives, or they can send us spiraling into writer’s block or depression. Coaching is not a substitute for necessary mental health care, but knowing what blocks one has can be of great benefit to more than just creative work.
Craft basics –These sessions are not “lessons” so much as they are a collaboration focused on assessing “where you are” with your craft and staging a foundation for you to take the next step. After providing a writing sample (5-10pp), we schedule a chat to cover the topic of most interest to you, be it grammar, story structure, character, standards of genre, or conventions in publishing. Craft packages are recommended for authors at any stage of their journey, whether they’re wanting to learn how to plot for the first time, or hoping to take their current process and reshape it to better suit a demanding publishing schedule.
Creative recharge — These sessions are extremely flexible, of use to authors at any stage to dump what’s stuck in their story brain, vent about publishing until a comfortable path is found, brainstorm a new (or old) project, or do writing exercises. We start by taking the temperature of how you’re feeling in your journey, discussing how you want to feel, and strategizing how to get you there with the least pain possible along the way.
Solution session — These are problem-solving sessions to address common (and uncommon) issues that arise for writers and their projects, such as breaking writer’s block, fixing a plot or character problem, solving a story dilemma, identifying existing or potential issues with a story, or even brainstorming worldbuilding, naming, etc. together. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for most of these things, but I believe all problems have solutions and share my arsenal of tools until we find what works for you.
Pricing & Packages
$150/hour with 30minute minimum over text or phone
New writer package –$750– 6 sessions over the span of three months
Second book sorrows package –$350– 3 sessions over a month
Stuck writer package –$500– 4 sessions over the span of three months
My main focus for vocal depth is finding places that need a boost to elevate the prose from (blocking and action) to “literature.”
Not just facts, but poetry.
The first layer is “What’s a cooler/more interesting way to X…?”
Second layer is “What’s a way to tie this description/phrase to the story theme/aesthetic/tone/plot?”
Third layer, and the only one that gets approval** for my own work into final drafts, is “How/what does X (description/phrase) mean to my narrator/speaker, and how would They frame X?”
**because no matter how awesome a phrase might be, if it doesn’t sound like it comes from my narrator’s voice, then it could throw the reader off at worst, but will weaken a reader’s connection to the narrator at best.
Page by page, I seek out a wide-angle thematic balance, and–when possible– book-wide character themes. Like, say romantic interest has a hard personality but a vulnerable ego, then I might craft their descriptions to relay that directly or indirectly by which devices I choose (maybe they’re compared to melons or maybe I just keep adjectives about their physical actions “crisp and brittle” while keeping descriptions of their voice “soft”).
I tend to go broad with these when it comes to characterization or repeat settings, sticking with things like seasons or basic elements (water, fire, +), so it doesn’t feel forced or too obvious.Also, the broader the theme, the greater span of sensory experiences and vocabulary range to use in expanding the character’s visceral reactions and word choice.
Random thing, but it’s best, for most readers apparently, to save the most intense descriptive language for moments when the narrator is first describing something (unless that scene is very active), or when it’s an emotional moment that the language can help bolster with “this is important” energy.
Hot tip: use your narrator’s zoom lens to spot concrete details, flaws, or specificity, rather than trying to describe everything anew or “completely.” Better to describe a character’s lone mismatched button than their entire outfit. Even when the narrative point is “excess,” attention can get lost easily in lists of facts, so the zoom is a writer’s best friend in that regard.
These tools work anywhere in a story, but I find they’re especially useful in early pages in forming a strong link between the MC and the reader, so that, by page 5+, the MC could just about do anything, and the reader will be like, “Of course they did that; that’s why I love them.”
Start the character with a clear goal and complication. I’m not talking about “Big Story Goal,” ie. Main Story Mission, I’m talking about a small scene goal that demonstrates who the character is and what they care about.
The bigger the conflict in the opening scenes,
the more personal that goal should be to balance it.
A quiet opening scene might get away with, “I just want to read this article and finish my coffee in peace without distractions.” A more active scene, with fighting, fleeing, and high stakes stuff, will need something much more personal to establish the reader’s link, like, “I can’t get caught/die NOW, just when I’m finally on the verge of X/personal goal.”
Some of the most common writing advice will seem to contradict this, things like “start in action” and “show don’t tell.”
But “start in action” actually means “start with conflict/tension” rather than, necessarily, high-stakes action. Without making us care about the character first, all that energy and action is likely to go right past the reader, who’s still trying to figure out why should keep reading *this* character’s story. Starting action-heavy makes that extra difficult for the reader to see, because we’ve got the “what” without a “who” or “why,” so leave readers as many clues as the prose can hold.
And “show don’t tell” is a racist construct for one, but it’s also totally unhelpful unless the character is fully established already and their motivations already made abundantly clear.
quick and dirty trick is
REGULARLY pair a show with a tell
to clue the reader into why and what XYZ means.
This is REALLY helpful if you’re ND like me, and your/your characters’ reasons for doing things aren’t the same as neurotypical people/characters expect.
When the narrator notices someone else gesturing a certain way, don’t just show the gesture, allow the narrator to interpret it for the reader. When the narrator makes a decision or reacts to something, tell why and what’s going through their head. It feels clunky at first, extra. But with practice, it can open up new avenues to connect with your characters and readers.
This especially matters when it comes to big character decisions; keep the reader close by making sure they know the narrator’s reasoning/logic train and sense the emotional complications that coincide.
For first chapters, and particularly first pages, no matter WHAT’S happening, keep the narrator in focus, front and center, because they’re the one responsible for ushering the reader into the world, situation, setting, scene, everything…
Start with them, even if it’s just a single line to establish POV and ensure that the MC is the reader’s first view of the story, and their narrative voice is the first heard.
If the character doesn’t have a natural goal in the opening scene, invent one. Or three. Play.
Write a bunch of sentences from the MC’s POV and voice, having them say who they are, what they want, and what they’re doing. I mean, a BUNCH. Push yourself outside the character’s comfort zone and experiment, in their voice, and play with how they’d explain their situation based on different moods. (My favorites– silly, regretful, angry, annoyed, sleepy, sad.)
Test it out.
Copy the first chapter into a new file and get to highlighting. Mark EVERY TIME the character makes a choice or reacts involuntarily. If the reason for the choice or reaction is undeniably clear, unmark it (ie. Character’s falling and they move somehow to protect themself).
If the reason ISN’T in the text, hit enter, and leave some spaces on the page to play with the question WHY? (The spaces actually help to carve out a breath for you as the writer.)
Insert an explanation. Doesn’t have to be perfect, just clear and in character.
Doing this sort of craft play often leads writers to identifying moments they rushed through, but remember you have complete control over the timing. A split second can equal a chapter’s worth of words as much as a short line can.
Usually these exercises open up a shitton of craft realizations, but YMMV.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that a story is never just about “what happened,” but “to whom it happened.” Readers care because they become invested in that Who, and character connection flows directly from your Who’s goal and what it means to them.
So, if you read the Spag page, you’ll likely notice I’m pretty confident about how things work on the page from a technical standpoint.
Imagine spag as another continent, and now we’ve traveled on a ship (poorly named “Rules”) and arrived in occupied territory, a whole new land in which our every move could prove dangerous to us and those already here.
We may not be welcome here at all, in fact, because this territory is Voice, and its population is (and should be) reluctant to trust our interference.
We must tread lightly, now, to do the least harm. You know, unlike the invaders who came before us and left a terrible legacy.
There are lists of words floating around the interwebs about words to avoid, especially in first pages. (Soft steps, come along.) A few of these are: just, even, seems (and all its variations), suddenly, that, really, very, etc.
43, 23, and fillers to cut. The reasoning for this is sound (we did not travel on ships without tools to survive, after all); these words are easy to overuse, misuse, and rely on to do our storytelling for us.
But for every reason not to use them, there can be valid reasons to keep them in. Rather than mass deleting lists of words willy-nilly, consider their purpose on your pages, for your story and its unique voicing. These words may, in fact, be living structures that belong in this territory and should be left undisturbed.
I don’t know; you do.
Some wonderfully-intentioned masters of craft have decided adverbs weaken prose. This is essentially trying to import a bizarre fashion trend into this new territory, where such fashion would be cumbersome, hazardous, or even ridiculous. What about prepositions, which are often also adverbs? Can you imagine a story without using up/down, in/out, above/below, before/after? Honestly?
Rather than striking out adverbs, consider your verbs (always in light of Voice). Are you choosing the strongest possible verbs while remaining true to the story voice? If so, congratulations! Then consider if what the adverb (or adverbial phrase) adds to the sentence is important; does it reveal character or tone or something else integral to your vision? If not, yeah, fine, toss it. If it does, though, be careful following the no-adverbs agenda, because it’s encroaching on something valuable, something that belongs here where we do not.
Show Don’t Tell
Oh. My. God. This is the worst advice in the history of writing advice, and it’s essentially bringing a nuclear bomb to a knife fight.
The whole point of this advice was to decrease critical thinking about our environment and societal structures, and it’s a mess and a disservice to writers everywhere to keep passing this trash around as scripture.
Look, showing is great. Do that, and do it often and well. But don’t neglect to tell the reader WHY we’re being shown things or what those things MEAN. We want to see and experience all the things in your story, but in order to fully connect–mind, body, and spirit–we need More. Don’t just describe; explain, express, evoke.
Please. And thank you.
Many advise avoiding backstory entirely in the first 5-10 pages, and I understand why… But I still disagree. The point is: don’t drop us out of the present moment to rewind time and info dump us UNNECESSARILY. In opening pages, writers have a huge task, and backstory can, and often does, complicate that task. Still, it’s awfully hard to understand and relate to a character we’re just meeting without knowing anything about what makes them “them,” and if a line or three will bridge that gap for readers and help us be grounded in the scene/world/setting/POV, don’t cut that out simply to honor a rule.
I mean, do try to stay present, and do save the flashbacks and three+ paragraphs of explanation about the past for later pages, but don’t fear ALL backstory information. Some of that is necessary context that will propel readers deeper and further into Story.
This is all excellent advice. But maybe we can trim it to just: don’t be boring? I dislike cliches and tired tropes as much as any readers, but I’m never opposed to being surprised by the many ways these can be twisted. Look up the opening tropes, and make sure your story only starts there if it’s unarguably NOT boring. Don’t let the readers feel like they’re in a cliche, and… Yeah. 🤷
People rail against prologues because new/inexperienced writers tend to overuse them. It’s common to write a prologue just to get the story going, to let the writer energy make friendly with a new story and get grounded in the world. Are they the terrible monsters so many make them out to be? Well, lol, sometimes (coughs:: often). They can also be perfect for the story.
The prologue proving test:
Does it setup an emotional problem that will drive the rest of the story?
Does it present ongoing world building, setting, theme, and character issues readers will grapple with for the rest of the story?
Does it align with the immediate situation and context for the protagonist in chapter one, in a way that chapter one requires to work?
If the answers are ALL yes, ignore the haters–your story has an effin prologue. If the answers aren’t a resounding yes across the board, maybe tuck it away somewhere special where you can love it privately?
I could go on forever–and would, honestly, if I didn’t need sleep.
If I’ve missed a writing rule you’re struggling with, please mention it in the comments, and I’ll follow up as soon as I’m able! Remember that these “rules” should not disarm your voice or strip it of what it needs to breathe and thrive.
You are you, a person and not a computer, and the rules don’t and can’t account for all that you are or the words you may need, particularly if you’re writing from a marginalized perspective that hasn’t gotten the literary attention white/cis/het/abled/Christian/males have had. Borrow from these rules when you’re certain they improve your story, but guard your voice against them taking control.
I hope you all feel empowered—emboldened even—to play with word choice, rhythm, and flow however best suits your story and artistic vision. You are awesome! Go be awesome on the page!!
**Also, I apologize for any discomfort caused by my colonialism analogy.**
Hi! I’m so glad you stopped by. For years, I’ve been laboring under the assumption that any writer with a story could handle their own SPaG, but I was utterly, terribly wrong. None of us come into this passion with the same background, education, or privilege, and we all learn this stuff in different ways and different times.
Because my adorably autistic brain gets hung up on SPaG issues (seriously, I TRY NOT TO), I want to do my best to share this information so no one (with my privilege or fixation) misses out on all your story can be. In three simple steps, you can massively level up your draft, and maybe a learn a tiny bit on the way to make editing easier the next time.
Please feel free to use this page as you want. And if you drop SPaG questions in the comments, I’ll rally forces to get you the best answers I can find. I suggest reading (or at least skimming) to the end before following the steps.
This one’s the simplest to manage, because we’ve got wonderful tools to do it for us.
JUST USE SPELL CHECK. It may miss typos or word switches, but in step two you’ll likely catch most of those. Most writing programs have a spellchecker included, but here’s a couple others.
READ YOUR SUB ALOUD. Listen to the way the words feel as you say them. If something sounds choppy or confusing to you, it probably will for the reader. (Yeah, I snuck this in here, even though it’s not really spelling, muwahaha; just do it and thank me later.) I like to use “Read Aloud” in word or a service like http://www.fromtexttospeech.com/ as well, because, being me, I self-correct as I read aloud, and that’s the opposite of what this exercise is supposed to help fix.
A) USE A PROGRAM. The other sites above will do the job, but here’s a couple more.
A sentence doesn’t need a comma unless there’s a good reason. If it’s a sentence with a joining word in the second complete clause (like “and, but, so,” or “or”), the comma goes before the joining word. This is a complete clause, and so is this. This could have two separate clauses but doesn’t.
When used with dialog, commas indicate a dialog tag, not action beats.
She said, “Don’t mix up tags and action beats, please, because I’ll have a brain fit.”
She exploded from a brain fit. “I warned you.”
I mean, do you really need them? Some writers do, and they use them to great advantage. They indicate a contrast of content, balanced on either side of semicolon; both are whole apart, but somehow they’re incomplete alone. If in doubt of using them correctly, my recommendation is just don’t use them. More than one on a page is likely overuse, but that’s only my opinion.
“It looks precarious; that is all that matters.”
–N.K. Jemisin, THE FIFTH SEASON
These are very special punctuation marks, like a breaking news symbol for prose. They announce that some special message is arriving next.
“What she thinks then, and thereafter, is: But he was free.”
–N.K. Jemisin, THE FIFTH SEASON
No lie, these are my most favorite marks to see on a page, despite them being misused and overused in almost all early drafts. These indicate an interruption, or break, in content—very fitting for my excitable brain and wandering thoughts—when the outer point hangs, waiting for the pause before continuing.
They’re used a lot in dialog, too, to show a speaker being interrupted—of course, if you use the emdash, there’s no need to tell us the speaker was interrupted. Also, they can be used to interrupt dialog for an action beat midsentence.
“I thought you had to—”
“I can’t leave until I find” —her glasses slid down her forehead— “my glasses. Ahem.”
Because my characters tend to be as wander-minded as me, I try to limit these on the page in the editing stage, so readers can follow with less confusion. My personal standard: no more than two interruptions per page (250 words).
For informal text, these are undeniably important for cheering, whining, and pretty much all forms of communicating strong emotion. In fiction, however, they’re a red flag that the words themselves aren’t doing enough work. I don’t recommend using them at all for prose, and only sparingly for dialog, because they can trick the writer into thinking that emotional spike has been earned when it hasn’t.
I suggest letting the words carry the weight on the page, and saving your explanation points for squeeing with your friends.
This feels weird to explain, but I assume that’s my privilege poking through again. If a character has asked a question, use a question mark. If your POV character is processing in prose, try not to overload the reader with more than two consecutive questions at once.
(Yes, I realize we do a lot more questioning in our heads at a time, but each question asked in prose puts a burden on the reader to maintain focus, and there’s usually a way to rephrase a question into a statement to ease that burden and keep the reader’s attention taut.)
Sidenote: Please don’t use a question mark next to an exclamation point. Pick one, and let the words do the work.
I’m not actually going to spell all of grammar out on this page, because there’s no end to this topic. Some great links are here:
Instead I’m going to spend a minute on a parallel points.
First parallel point: Formal American grammar is not the only correct grammar. Not only is AAVE (or BEV or BVE, whichever you prefer) a distinct language, it is correct and consistent, despite how different it may sound or look on the page. There are many other emergent languages—too many to list—that are also consistent to form and correct. Use the English that is authentic to you and your story, and fight like hell anyone who tells you it’s “wrong.”
That said, if AAVE, or another emergent language, is not “yours” authentically, please don’t insert it into your prose. I’m white and from the south, so while my informal speech may overlap AAVE in a lot of ways, it isn’t the same language, despite its proximity, and an AAVE speaker/reader would immediately spot the falseness the same way a native speaker of any language will hear a non-native speaker’s accent even if it’s “good.” Use the language you know best, and write stories that are yours to tell.
(You can take this point as policing creativity, if you like; I won’t deny it, nor will I change my opinion. One caveat here is that it’s much easier to write “up” in terms of privilege than it is to write “down” [though I hate using up/down here]. As a queer, white, femme-passing, abled-seeming person, I feel comfortable writing from the spectrum of these POVs as well as intersections that have more privileges than me, but I won’t write from POVs who have less. Consider your own power and make the best choices you can for your story and its readers.)
Second parallel point: This is fiction we’re discussing, not formal English (most likely). Characters don’t always speak in complete sentences, even in their heads, nor do they always use correct grammar or even the “right” words. Fragments are wonderful tools when used for impact. Don’t fear them!
Simple manuscript formatting basics
12pt Times New Roman font, double spaced, with 1” margins
First line of paragraphs indented .5” (except for the first line in a chapter, typically)
No space between paragraphs
Chapter headings are a godsend; standard is 5 spaces down from the top of the page, centered. (And apply “heading 1” to make reading easier?)
Insert page breaks at the end of each chapter
I hope this helps you!
If you’ve done steps 1-3 (whichever 3 you choose), you should be well on your way to having a polished submission. Hahaha, now do this for the rest of your story!
I welcome questions if you have them, and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll tell you before I go hunt it down. And if I’ve made some grievous mistake, please tell me! Also, if I or someone like me has ever hurt you for not knowing this stuff, and you really need to let out your feelings, my comments are open (and private). I will read them (privately) and take that hit, because I’m sure I’ve earned at least that much from someone, if not you.
I’m talking about the time it takes to read and write. (Hahaha, you thought this was going to be about queries and subs, but no. I mean, not exactly, but also yes? Agents and editors are human beings, too, remember.)
Reading and writing, though… I keep dancing around posting something about this, because I think it’s a huge part of book-life we often breeze past, both in reading And writing.
Just because a book can be slurped down in one sitting doesn’t make that the measure of “best.” Yes, a book is a product, and making more product is how things get done, but there are factors here that are, for me, too important to overlook.
I’m hyperlexic, and I read faster than I can think, and I type faster than most people can talk. So why do my books take a year to draft, and why doesn’t my Goodreads challenge reflect my awesome speed?
BECAUSE I HAVE FEELINGS, Y’ALL. (Also a life, but mostly Feelings!!!!!)
We deal in emotions. Some emotions take time away from the page to let the words seep in. This isn’t just about triggers (though they are certainly a factor in my own mental preparations for reading), but about ALL emotional processing.
I spent 8 months reading SPACE OPERA. This is the longest it’s ever taken me to read a single book (note: I was listening to an audiobook, which is totally reading).
Rushing felt wrong. I wanted each delicious sentence to linger and gel in my head before moving on, because it was so rich. There was so much there to sit with and experience, and I had to pause and replay often because my laughter or surprise would make me miss the next lines (cue more laughter and surprise). I also read 40 other books during this time, all while continuing with SPACE OPERA. Sometimes a line or passage would spur me to write or make some other art, or even just squeeze my children and marvel at their singular wonderfulness that is both part of me and incredibly Not-Me.
And, like, hell yes, I wanted to, and could have, gulped THUG (THE HATE U GIVE) in one day, but OMG. I had to sit in some serious feelings awhile, and let the words seep in and do their work on my heart and my thoughts. There was a lot of work to do!!
The heavier and more intense the content is, the more I may need to step away. I may need to think and stew, or heal and cry and dream and read something else before coming back.
Similarly, I read the whole Broken Earth trilogy in under a week (because N.K. Jemisin is a goddess AND a wizard, who dictated my thoughts for me onto the page and held my attention so thoroughly there was no time to look away), but I’ve reread each book thrice over, each reading going slower than the last, just to soak up all that goodness.
And if I LOVE a book, really, truly LOVE it, I might reread the same page or chapter 3 or 4 times before moving on, because the work is breathtaking and touches me on some level I won’t be able to revisit the same way again once the page turns.
This is not a flaw of story telling; this is its magic.
Some books take me foooooreeeeeveeer to read because I don’t want to fly through and miss nuance. OR THE HEALING. Healing isn’t streamlined and fast forwarded; it’s bumpy and scattered, and there’s a lot of looking backward to gain balance and clarity for the present.
Books are the one medium that give me this power to truly pause and reflect, to become a new me by The End. I can’t be alone in this. I imagine people, like editors and agents, who’ve made books their business, came to this industry because of that same power. Product, yes and good, but still: POWER.
My irl bestie is still reading the project I’m querying, Moon Dust In My Hairnet. No lie, I was annoyed and hurt at first; I wanted feedback fast, to know if she “liked” it and if it resonated. Two months later, I’m still waiting for her to finish.
But, look, she’s STILL reading. Because it’s so personal and cathartic for her, she has to take time to approach the pages and let them Work, so she reads in sips. I’ve learned to take that as a compliment, now that I understand. (Just like it took time from me, sitting with my own feelings and working on how to share them in a way to help the story do exactly that for people with her experiences.) See, she lost her big sister at a critical age, so that’s a major personal issue she’s processing THROUGH my story. That’s colossal to me.
She says, “It’s changing my life,” and I can witness that happening for her. And I think, “This. This is why I write!”
But if she slurped this story of mine in one sitting, it could catapult her into feelings she can’t process that fast. Feelings that could set off her emotional balance in destructive ways. I GET IT. I didn’t write this story to do harm, but to help heal, and I’m not in charge of the dosage on the way; I simply deliver medicine.
So, to people who draft a story in a few weeks, good on you! I’m not in your race.
To those who pump out 10+ books a year, holy crap, you’re incredible! That could literally kill me.
And to those who read 100+ books a year, I’m in awe of you. Still not racing.
Books are my lifeline, my passion, and my heart’s food, but each takes the time it takes.
If I don’t finish your book in a day or even a week, this is not an insult to you or your craft but a testament to my appreciation. And if you’re writing about difficult emotional and social issues, please know I am ready for the whole ride you’re bringing me on, no matter how long that takes me, because I want that change to happen inside me en route. I need it like air, and I’ll love you forever unconditionally for providing it.
The point of all this is: let’s dowse the judgment from these conversations and from our expectations. It’s curiosity and our story addiction that drive the one-sitting read of any book. While that’s a marvelous, thrilling experience, it is not, by far, the only worthwhile reading experience to value or chase.
Books are magic, and writers are wizards, and some spells do their work over time and space and inside readers’ beings, and none of this is easily or tritely quantifiable.
I’d love to hear about your favorite books to reread! Please tell me in the comments?
If you don’t love Liselle Sambury, I don’t think we can be friends.
Liselle’s a hugely talented author who writes young adult speculative and an overall lovely and driven creative. Today, I’m really excited, because she just launched her Authortube channel, and I got to see locations from her novel VOYA CALLING.
I apologize to readers who’ve been waiting patiently for me to follow up on my last blog about critiquing. Full disclosure, doing research into “red flags” and how many things can go wrong unearthed a metric crap ton of unresolved issues for me. I’ve been stewing all this time, allowing my thoughts to gel and my wounds to knit (closer to) closed.
Things can go very, very wrong in critique relationships.
Take what lessons you will from my experiences, and feel free to share any wisdom you’ve gained from your own journey in the comments below. These are things that have happened to me, presented here with minimal detail and fake names to maintain others’ anonymity.
Not What Some Think
The worst that can happen is usually not the problem most writers new to critique fear. Newer writers tend to share a worry about their words and ideas being stolen. Rumors abound about plagiarizing folks who wander the authorscape stealing precious work from the unwitting. To be fair, that may happen from time to time (though in a decade of meeting writers, I’ve never encountered one it’s happened to). Still, copyrights are easier to prove than ever if it comes to that.
Words and ideas are, generally, safe. Hearts and minds are much more vulnerable.
These folks just straight up disappear. They’ve asked to read, then *poof*; they never respond. It takes time to get used to this happening, but some portion of volunteer readers vanish once they get work. Whatever their reasons don’t really matter. No one can learn anything from silence, so let it go.
Being ghosted by a potential CP feels like any disappointment or rejection, but it’s a dull ache, like reading bad news regarding a place you’ve never been. It’s concerning but distant. Unanswerable.
But what if it’s a long-time critique partner who ghosts? It’s soul-crushing, confusing, and—in cases where the relationship was virtual only—frustrating as hell. Worse than unanswered, this feels like grief.
I worked with an amazing author woman, RED, for two years, through her first novel’s first draft and two of my own. We talked online every day about craft and process, spending hours on the phone (the actual phone, you guys!) discussing our stories and plans. We had the dream CP relationship, for me, at least.
She became my best friend. [RED FLAG: *ting ting* Here’s where I should’ve checked my boundaries, made sure both of ours were safe for each other.] Our friendship grew beyond stories, and we kept each other up to date on everything—family stuff, personal stuff. I thought of her as a sister, included her in my heart. Then Red stopped returning messages, stopped picking up the phone, stopped posting new work. My dream became a nightmare in an instant, and I was helpless to stop it.
Losing contact with her was like losing a limb, and it still aches to think of her after two years of silence. I don’t know if I did something to hurt Red, or if her life just couldn’t contain “me” anymore, but all I can do is hope she’s all right and wish her well from afar. It hurts every day, y’all. Not just the Red-sized hole in my life but knowing that I must have harmed her horribly somehow.
All critique is valuable, even shallow critique, but it can be super annoying to deal with in a long-term partnership. By shallow I mean these readers skim so fast, nitpicking at minor things that catch their attention but not reading closely enough to absorb any story. The questions these CPs ask are usually answered in-text, often on the same page, and it can be extremely aggravating going through to triple-check that each detail they worried over was, in fact, already on the page. [RED FLAG: If your readers are more concerned about comma placement than character or plot progress, they may just be a bad fit.]
In my experience, this specific disconnect between critique partners is hard to address. Being skimmed by the shallow readers feels like drifting in a void, untethered. Swapping chapters or stories with them can also feel like blowing into a busted balloon. Maybe these readers just aren’t into the genre or style they’ve offered to read, or maybe it’s just the way they read. In any case, if the reading is too shallow and unhelpful, it’s best to move on to deeper waters.
Please don’t get me wrong here: I LOVE REVISING AND READING REVISIONS. To me, this is the most important part of being a critique partner. But… there can be hiccups. A revision is a story overhaul, not a quick-shine polish. Don’t promise a full revision and deliver a meager, incomplete edit. It feels like ordering chocolate cake but receiving a stinky, wet slipper.
I read a book for a guy I’ll call GRAY (super guy, positive, and a joy to talk to), chapter by chapter, critiquing his story in-depth—making notes on character, grammar, phrasing, plot, worldbuilding, style, formatting—the works, really. It took ages and a lot of energy. My investment in seeing his special idea become a published reality was huge. I rooted hard for Gray.
Then many months later I was asked to betaread. I got so excited to see how he’d addressed the problems we’d discussed, how the world came together, how the characters had deepened and grown. [RED FLAG: I should’ve checked myself when my excitement flared here. I had Expectations, see, which means I had some fd up assumption that my and his other CPs’ advice was gold and Gray had fixed Everything. My hopes let me down!]Except… the “revision” repeated all the same problems as the original draft, and only about 100 lines out of 300 pages had changed in any noticeable way. The problems were still problems, and I felt used up, stalled out. I respected him too much, cared too much about his story, to stay invested. It’s one thing to ignore critique partners because of solid story and style reasons, another thing entirely to ignore prevalent craft issues and glaze over the work.
There’s no right way to handle this, and I’m not sure my way was even good enough for me. All I could think to do was say, “I’m afraid I have nothing new to offer” and hope he utilized the dozens of hours of work I’d already invested in his story. Needless to say, with him being a shallow reader of my own work, that partnership fizzled out, despite the years we’d both given to each other. It’s a shame, but it happens.
Self-hatred and/or Misogyny
I’m going to assume for the sake of this blog that the words above make you as sad and upset as it does me. Women writers hating on themselves, men writers hating on women—it’s just gross, and yet at least half the writers I’ve read for in the last five years have put this yuck down page after page.
I try to point it out carefully when I come across it. “This may be problematic,” I comment in my notes. Invariably the response I get from men is, “I didn’t realize that,” then they make no changes to address it. From women, the typical response is, “I don’t think so,” or “That’s the problem she has to learn to deal with better by the end.” And I think, “Oh boy, what self-respecting woman will read to the end to find that out?”
But that’s me, and I’m really sensitive because reasons. A polite “I may not be the best reader for this work” usually ends the partnership quickly. EXCEPT WHEN IT DOESN’T, which leads to the next red flag.
[RED FLAG: My life has sucked a hundred different sick and sad ways that I prefer not to repeat. Any story that plays similar experiences like they’re funny or “no big deal” are gonna rub me the wrong way into a DNF (did-not-finish)]
Sometimes these folks are obvious right away, if you know a draft is crappy and they have nothing but praise. But what if you’ve spent hours refining that draft and really do expect some positive comments to be genuine?
I exchanged queries with a woman, VIOLET, a few years back. She was new to the online writing community and wanted to create a critique group. I must’ve been in an extremely generous-with-my-energy mood (or I hadn’t learned better yet), because I walked her step-by-step through the process of creating a FB group, identifying places to find new members, helping her set up discussions, etc. She sent dozens of messages over the course of a few days, treating me like her personal help line. Meanwhile, she read my query and doted on it with comments like, “I don’t see anything to fix” and “This is such a strong query!”
Until I said the magically-cursed words, “I don’t think we’re a good fit” (because of her work’s misogyny and I didn’t want to keep defining and explaining every craft-term I mentioned). [RED FLAG: Here’s where I should’ve tuned out, because any sort of defensive posturing after I offered an easy out was guaranteed to be nonconstructive.]
Suddenly, Violet flew off the handle, verbally assaulting me, telling me my work was indecipherable trash, and that I was trash for quitting her group of old white women. Her unactionable praise became insults, and I was caught in this whirlwind of her anger, wondering what went wrong. She then blocked me and badmouthed me to who-knows-how-many people I have yet to cross paths with, and now she’s an agency intern. Go figure.
This ordeal felt like having my fingers caught in a garbage disposal. For months after it was impossible to trust my other wonderful CPs, and it threw me into a tailspin of doubting myself, questioning my commitment to the writing community, fearing my judgment of people’s character was worse than I ever imagined.
Racism, Ableism, Homophobia
Again, like with misogyny, I’ll assume these words stir your bile and get you in a resistance kind of mood. These unchecked -isms do more than spoil stories; they poison relationships. Though I’ll only dig into one personal experience (with racism specifically), these each present a veritable land mine of issues to wade through when critiquing.
My first-ever critique partner BLUE and I spent four years working together. I was a nobody who knew nothing and needed a good knock around. He was gentle with me as I took my first steps into critique and craft. If it hadn’t been for his encouragement and guidance, I don’t know where or who I’d be. He taught me so many things about publishing and story I can’t help but be grateful.
Somehow, I assume because I’m cis-presenting and white (read: often oblivious) and mask my otherness pretty well, I had no idea how problematic he was. Until I saw it and couldn’t unsee it. That 2016 election really shook the trees, it seems. [RED FLAG: I got warning signs and ignored them.]
I tried to carry on carefully with Blue after I found it he supported Trump by avoiding politics completely, but not only is that impossible, the toxicity in his stories kept bringing all that up. I tried to explain, to show how harmful things were, to give him a chance to be the “great guy” he’d always presented himself to be. Alas, sometimes it’s best to just call a racist a racist and move on.
It still freaking hurts to see a mentor and friend without the rose tint of my unchecked privilege. I feel complicit, guilty, and hyperaware of how my implicit biases keep blinding me over and over again.
These were all critique relationships that ended, most badly. I hope reading this helps someone else learn how to dissolve poor CP fits amicably, or to recognize in themselves what might trigger a disastrous split and avoid them.
It’s emotionally risky, this writing business, so please respect your time, protect your energy, and cherish those CPs you hope to keep.