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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Get your writing critiqued

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

Every time I’d get a critique or some redirection, I’d always just take it very personally. Now I have no problem with it.

-Jessica Alba

Besides proofreading which I talked about in last week’s post, another tool for the writer is to get your writing critiqued by other writers. I have posted about this before but it is important enough to do an updated version.

Let me take you to yesterday evening when my East End Writers’ Group met at S. Walter Stewart Library in Toronto. We are basically a writing critique group and that is what writers come here for. Some new members joined us and we had some interesting writing excerpts from some very talented and intelligent writers.

Some of the issues that other writers picked up on and commented about:

For the beginning of a literary novel. Use more dialogue – the author knew this but needed some guidance on how to go about it.

For a non-fiction self-help book which was written in plain language. Some structural changes were suggested by other writers, such as use sub-headings, use more anecdotes and less instruction.
For a synopsis for an opera – yes we have a music composer who also writes short stories. We were all getting lost in all the characters. Suggestions were to make the synopsis shorter (as it would be going on the program) and list the characters and a bit about each separately.
So you can see how more pairs of eyes and ears can pick up what the writer misses. When we write we do so in solitude (we would hope no outside interruptions). We also have tunnel vision (subjective) with our work and sometimes “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Even when we know something isn’t working, we may try and try again, several times, and run out of options to fix it. Others can see what our mind may miss.

This is where a writing critique group comes in. I urge you to join one – online or in person – whichever you prefer. Just a few caveats. You shouldn’t have to pay for this – it is mutual writers helping writers. Maybe everybody can bring food or beverage for a snack. With East End Writers’ Group I ask everyone to bring a gluten-free snack or juice. I usually bring cheese, rice crackers, fruit and peppermint tea bags. Now if I just could get the kettle working at the library – despite being shown it just doesn’t work for me. It is not the straightforward plug in the electric kettle version.

Kettles no matter – what does matter is you pick a group that suits your needs. Find out if the group is open to all writing genres or just fiction or poetry, etc. Which do you prefer? Do you pre-submit your writing excerpt for critique or just bring it to the gathering? If online, how do you submit it – in a form online or as a Word attachment? What about copyright online? It should remain with you the author. If online, are you expected to critique other writers’ work? How many? Check the timeline for these and see if you can work within the group’s timeline. For groups meeting in person, look at when they meet and how often. Do you want to go every week (some do meet once a week and that can prove hectic and too much), once a month or? And do you prefer weekday daytime, weekday evenings or Saturday mornings or afternoons. Will you fit in with the group, i.e., are they giving constructive criticism? Are they negative? Are they nasty?

Give the group a test drive. Attend for a few sessions or sign up online for a few sessions and if you don’t like, bow out.
Where do you find these groups? For in-person, check your area library branches – their websites should have them all listed. Or check the library branch itself – often they have a flyer posted. Or ask a librarian. A librarian can often tell you what other branches are offering. Universities that offer writing courses often have writing groups as well. Check their bulletin boards. Also some writing organizations also offer writing critique groups, often online – these would be open to members. There is also Meet-up if you have that in your area, which has writing groups.

Or go to Mr. Google and just try “Writing Groups” (that one also gets you some links for info how groups operate and what to look for) or “Writing Groups (your location here)”. When I add “Toronto” to “Writing Groups” my East End Writers’ Group is listed as the top two and three. Guess that is good SEO.

You can read about my characters and their stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com.

More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

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Proofread your writing – always

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Click on the book cover to go to amazon.com

Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it’s all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well.
– Tim Berners-Lee

The manuscript of my first mystery novel Beyond Blood came back again for more proofreading. I didn’t complain but got right down to doing another proofreading. As a former proofreader for a legal publishing company for seven years in the 1990s I know the importance of many proofreads of a manuscript by several readers. Even the same readers having another crack at it.

Because the old eyes don’t always catch something the first go-round. And what one person doesn’t catch another person can. It is not something to be lazy about if you want your published novel to be nearly perfect.

I say “nearly perfect” because nobody is 100 per cent perfect. But you have to aim high or you might be embarrassed what gets published. True, with electronic publishing there is room for some changes later on. But most trade publishers publish both e-copies and print copies and it’s the latter which can land the author in hot water. Readers for the most part tend to be smart and will catch errors. However, it is the author they usually go after. Maybe the author is at fault, maybe not. But, if enough pairs of eyes haven’t proofread the manuscript several times, it really doesn’t matter who is to blame. The error is there.

Back in the days of my proofreading for the legal publishing company, a few things did slip through to print. We were reading from the galleys, often from manuscripts scanned and then printed out for proofing. In those days of the early scan, sometimes weird things came out. One (and this one was not from a manuscript I was proofing) was “the Crown Attorney” as “the Clown Attorney.” It wasn’t caught. As you can imagine that didn’t go over very well with the president and other big wigs in the company, not to mention the “Crown Attorney” himself or herself.

And my current manuscript?
Most of the snafus are apostrophes and backward quotation marks with a few mea culpa’s thrown in. I mean you would think that I, a “child” of the late 1950s and 1960s would know how to spell the late singer Bobby Darin’s name and his big hit “Mack the Knife.” I came out with Bobby Darrin and Mac the Knife. I caught it on this last round of proofreading. It doesn’t help that I know why I goofed. There is also a singer (still living) from the same era – James Darren (hence the two r’s) and some of you younger readers may remember him better as an actor on TV series such as T.J. Hooker (William Shatner and Heather Locklear also starred), The Time Tunnel, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Mac error comes from the more common spelling of Mac. I have to list all these proofreading errors in a separate sheet for my editor at the publisher’s to fix as he has done some formatting on the manuscript. Any that were my spelling errors like in this Darin case, and content errors (I also had one character sitting in a chair and a few paragraphs down she got up from the chesterfield), I have put “Mea Culpa” in brackets after it.

Proofreading your writing-in-progress before even submitting it is a very good idea. Editors of magazines and publishing houses, as well as agents, are turned off by a lot of typos and actual miss-spellings in a manuscript.

Happy writing and proofreading.

 

You can read about my characters and their stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Writing conferences help writers

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

This country’s crazy in terms of fame and what people think it means. They expect a writer to be something between a Hollywood starlet and the village idiot.

– Kent Haruf

Last weekend I attended the Bloody Words mystery writing conference at a hotel in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was Bloody Words’ 13th conference since 1999, but it is also their last. Bloody you-know-what. As an author I’ve found Bloody Words to be very helpful, the other authors just as weird (we are crime writers, after all) as me. And friendly and helpful. Two years ago at Bloody Words, I received a lot of encouragement and help for my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point. And at that time it was accepted for publication by Blue Denim Press but I hadn’t yet signed the contract, although I had a copy and was reading through it. I was also rewriting some of the short stories for the publisher. From this conference, among other things, I found a book reviewer for an Ontario city newspaper, for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. and my police consultant, also a mystery novelist (police procedures from the constable’s viewpoint), Brent Pilkey. Brent helped me sort out some police procedure and crime scene difficulties in two of those not-yet-finished short stories.

Fast forward to this year’s conference. My first novel, Beyond Blood, the prequel mystery to four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point, is being published this fall by Blue Denim Press. This time the contract is signed and the manuscript final is with the publisher. I also moderated a panel on short stories, Are short stories the new black? which went over well – lots of positive feedback, not only from the panellists but from the audience – there was good rapport among us all during the panel discussion. And I kept us on time – my big bugaboo with running panels. But it helped that for once I didn’t have a panellist who talked too much at a time. Ditto the audience with questions and comments. Great way to share info.

But one of the big pros with this conference is another way to help a writer – in a closer way. One of my editing clients also has his first mystery novel (first published work even) being published by Blue Denim Press in the fall. The editor at Blue Denim Press is calling it Blue Murder and my client, who is also a writing colleague and friend for 18 years,  and I will be doing some publicity under the Blue Murder from Blue Denim Press “banner.” So, I introduced my colleague to many other published authors and we asked questions about PR in different areas of Canada. I introduced him to one of the Crime Writer of Canada executive and she made it her business to get him signed up for CWC – because doing readings with CWC authors at various outlets is good for exposure and we might even sell a few books. I also introduced him to the book critic at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine who sat at the table next to us during the Saturday evening banquet. He was there with the Hammett (as in the late great mystery author Dashell Hammett – remember The Maltese Falcon?) awards also presented in conjunction with BW. He stated when he needs the books for reviews and in what format. So, he may do book reviews of our books. Also learned a few places to go in Montreal for readings, and I finally joined the Toronto branch of Sisters in Crime who are really good about promoting their author-members’ books and readings.

So all this networking and the panels (I did attend others) were also learning experiences. Among other things I learned that my short stories help other writers with the techniques in their short stories, how other authors create their characters, and had a lot of fun.

More information on Bloody Words is at http://2014.bloodywords.com/

Remember the two mystery novels coming out this October 2014 from Blue Denim Press:

Dead Wrong, a medical mystery set in Boston and Toronto by my friend and colleague Klaus Jakelski who is also a doctor in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada and Beyond Blood, a mystery with the two fraternal twin PIs Dana Bowman and Bast Overture by Sharon A. Crawford. More anon on these as we get closer to the publication date.

And as a follow-up to last week’s posts on writing contests I will be posting a link each week to another writing contest. Here is this week’s, which also has a writers’ and readers’ celebration in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada

Word Northumberland
Saturday, October 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The writing contest is just below the celebration deets.
http://spiritofthehills.org/word-northumberland/

Meantime, you can read about my characters and their stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Writing Contests a way to get fiction published

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

The real contest is always between what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing. You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.

– Geoffrey Gaberino

Short Story Writing Contests are a good way for fiction writers to break into getting published. Some of you may think it is a catch-22 situation but hear me out.

There are many short story writing contests – online or in print. They are run by writing organizations, magazines (particularly literary magazines), newspapers (the Toronto Star annual short story contest is well known), libraries, corporate organizations (such as airlines), etc. Most are open to any writer, although some are age specific (not discriminating, but more as an outlet for youth or younger and/or budding writers).

Which brings me to submission rules. Ah, here is the catch. You can’t just submit any old story of any old length in any old form. Some entries will accept electronic and even have an online form to insert your story. Some, including the Toronto Star, want hard copies. For the latter the entry date is the mailing date. And for some (I have done this for Toronto Star entries) you can roar down to their address at the last minute to hand it in. The Toronto Star has a convenient closed bin with a slot for this purpose. Keep the contest deadline in mind.

Most contests have maximum lengths for their stories. That doesn’t usually include your name and address. But for print it is usually double-spaced and what you put at the top for your running head can vary. If the stories are being blind-judged (judges don’t know the writers’ names with the stories) you better not have your name anywhere in the story itself – including the running head – or it will be disqualified. Don’t worry. They’ll keep track of you as you do a title page with your name and story title. And you do put the story title with your story entry and in the running head. Don’t forget to number your pages and double-space them or whatever the entry requirements are.

One more big rule. Many contest rules state this but even if they don’t – NEVER enter the same story in the more than one contest at the same time. I know of one case where one writer did – one to the Toronto Star and the Canadian Authors Toronto Branch contest. She won (not necessarily first place) for both, but the organizations involved did not take kindly to it. I don’t think she was disqualified, but that could happen. At the very least it could blacklist the writer, at least with the two contest organizers. The rule here is – once you get word from the contest organizer that you didn’t win, place or show, then you can enter your story elsewhere. Often the notification isn’t a blunt “sorry, but you didn’t win,” but a list of those who did win.

Some writing contests have an entry fee; some don’t. Many writers go by the rule of not entering unless they can do for free. My take is maybe pay a fee of up to $30 if the contest organizer is a literary magazine. Most literary magazines give any entrants (winners or not) a “free” one-year subscription to their magazine. The yearly cost is usually around the contest-entry fee. Outside of that you might want to give yourself a limit in what you will pay – especially if you are a prolific story writer and want to enter several contests.

Just visit Mr. Google for short story contests worldwide. For those in Canada writing instructor and editor Brian Henry offers for sale a calendar of all the writing contests (not just short story) in Canada. Go to Brian’s blog at http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.ca/ You can email him to subscribe to a monthly e-newsletter and to purchase the calendar at Brian Henry brianhenry@sympatico.ca.

I’m attending the dinner at one writing conference (MagNet) and also the big she-bang at Bloody Words Mystery Writing conference, both in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. At the latter, I will be moderating a panel on short stories at Bloody Words. Fodder for another post.

Meantime, you can read about my characters and their stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.

More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html
Sharon A. Crawford’s prequel novel Beyond Blood, featuring the fraternal twins will be published fall 2014 by Blue Denim Press. Stay tuned.
Cheers.
Sharon A. Crawford

 

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