Tuesday, March 17, 2009

When to call in an expert

Last week I posted that my basement flooded because my sump pump failed and of course it happened on a day of record-breaking rain levels. Just call me Noah.

I knew the pump was failing but I thought I had a little more time and was working on getting a professional in the following weekend but the rain and the sump pump had other ideas. (I know in a rational world that inanimate objects allegedly can’t think but at times like these - when your basement is flooding, the world is anything but rational.)

I diligently researched the makings and installation of a sump pump and not because I wanted to do it myself but because I wanted to understand the process. The previous install was not done by a professional and that’s part of the reason there were problems, plus as the technicians who helped me this past week commented, it was a bit of a mess. So, I now have two brand new sump pumps and I rest much easier at night - two because I decided to replace the other aging one so I didn’t have to go through the water cleanup again; and hey, the guys were there already. They drove a white truck and I told them they were my knights in shining armor - okay fading jeans. One was older and the other younger and the younger one was being expertly trained and guided by the older more experienced one.

So, what can writers learn from this? Well, sometimes you have to get help from professionals, or at least folks in your field who have more experience than you do. BUT, how do you know who to contact? After all, it’s not like there are certified, state approved writing coaches like there are certified and registered plumbers? Or are there? Then, what about cost? How much do you spend and how do you know if you’re getting ripped off? I received several types of warranties on my new sump pumps and the labor and I’ll definitely know if they stop working because my basement will flood again - or hopefully, I will notice that the sump holes are filling up first and call before you have to call me Noah again.

Well, as writers we do have some choices, not all expensive but not all of that affordable either. The choices range from a writing partner, critique group, writing contests, writer’s group - preferably in your chosen genre, writer’s conferences, online courses, all the way to high-priced professional editors sometimes called book doctors. So, how do you know which one is right for you, or even which one to start with?

My first choice would be to join a writer’s group if you can, particularly one in the genre in which you write such as mystery, romance, etc. The reason for this is that a group gives you a chance to network and find out what other, more experienced writers are doing. Depending on how much writing you have already accomplished and what your skill level is, a critique group would also be one of my first choices of things to do, coupled with entering writing contests sponsored by organizations and/or publishers in your particular genre. All of these choices tend to be more affordable, especially in these slow economic times.

Writer’s conferences, especially ones that represent your type of writing, in my opinion are invaluable. Yes, they cost a little more, but depending on how organized and realistic about your writing goals you are, you can obtain a significant return on investment by attending a writer’s conference. Often you have a chance to network with agents, editors and publishers and often have a chance to pitch to all of the above. So, the money you spend may actually open the door to your first book contract. Again, you have to be organized and realistic and above all else, have a completed manuscript! You’d be surprised how many people go to conferences where they pitch and the agent, editor or publisher asks for them to submit and then they never follow through. A recent and informal query of agents, editors and publishers who asked for submissions indicates that only about 30% of writers followup with the actual submission.

Professional editors have a mixed reputation and rightfully so. It’s not a regulated field and there are no guarantees. He/she can’t promise you that your book will be accepted by a mainstream publisher or sale in the six figures - in fact if they do, that’s the first indication you should run. Depending on their experience and credentials, they will give you their insights to your written product and hopefully help you improve it on whatever level you’ve contracted them to do such as grammar, sentence structure, flow of ideas, etc. The right professional editor can provide you with an invaluable service and feedback but my advice is to first check their references and credentials carefully. Then send a sample chapter and see what kind of response you receive before committing to a large sum of money.

Writing is notoriously lonely and isolated, but every now and then we need to pull ourselves away from our writing to actually experience life and get perspective. After all, isn’t that what writers are trying to pass onto their readers?

For more information on writer’s groups in your area or online go to:

goolge or yahoo and type in writer’s groups + “your area”

www.meetup.com and sign up for this free service that let’s you know all types of events in your area to include writer’s groups.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Critique groups can be wonderful if you get into the right one. I've belonged to the same group for nearly 30 years. It has changed over the years, gaining and losing members. Right now we have about six who are superb critiquers--I think of them as my first editors.

After that I have different people read the book for errors and of course the editor at the publishing house.

Despite doing all this, my latest book, No Sanctuary, has three mistakes found by a reviewer (who gave the book and excellent review). The mistakes are fixed for anyone purchasing the book from the publisher or Amazon or on the Kindle, but I bought about 75 copies of the book.

On my website, I'm having a contest for anyone who buys the book from me and finds the three errors will be entered into a drawing for Amazon gift certificates.



Unknown said...

Marylin that sounds like a great way to liquidate that extra inventory.

This is a very interesting article, and blog. I stumbled across it while following JA Konrath's tour.

Being a writer in Alaska I have found it difficult to get into a writers group of the same genre. I write military thrillers and all the groups I ran into do literary works, and apparently the twain never shall mix.

Then I found a site called Gather a few years ago and posted my first few bits on there. Got some good advice via the virtual group that way. A well known editor offered to go over it for me, but her fee was much more than I could afford. As I polished the stories on my own I discovered the world of podcast audio and whamo! After podcasting my first novel as an audio book I got tons of feedback. With that I was able to work on my next couple of novels and develop a pretty large group of listeners (nearly 10,000)and among them a dozen serious critiquers who regularly comment and make suggestions at my website and forum www.basilsands.com.
Anyway, that's just another suggestion of a way to get help with the writing. And kill two birds with one stone by building a purchase ready audience at the same time.

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm in a great writing group at Chicago-North RWA. I go to conferences. I also have a great editor, Helen Ginger.

Now, all I need is a bestseller!

Morgan Mandel

Anonymous said...

Hey Terri -- great post. But I would like to say that groups are great if they have a strong leader who does not happen to be a meglomaniac himself or herself; a group can be nurturing or hurtful just as a class can, and so much depends on the person at the top who either controls it well or leads the lads and ladies into a cutthroat attitude of destroy and decapitate the others before they get me mentality -- yes, I have been in such a group and it ain't pretty. However, I have also been in nurturing groups. In fact, I lead classes that create a comfort zone for writers and still get the critiquing done. It's all a matter of sensibility and tact on the part of the leadership of a class or group. Much depends on the reason the leader is there in the first place. Good luck to all in finding a good one; quite often the best are run by persons who have published (oddly enough they are less eogtistical than many who are not).