Every time I finish a draft, I think I’m done. (Well, every draft since the third draft. You don’t want to be too hasty.)
This is my eighth round of revisions, and seeing as how I applied for a mentor in January, it’s only fitting that I should be revising again with her help.
I’ve been working with Leona Wisoker since February. And with her help, I’m adding a lot of sensory details and working on tightening my plot. My main character can get stuck in her own head pretty easily, and — for the sake of both the characters and the readers — it’s best to have her look up once in awhile.
I feel pretty confident in my characters, my world building, and my story. I just need help to take my second-world fantasy from a light read to something that will linger in the minds of the reader.
And Leona’s help is wonderful. I’m THRILLED to be working with her. (If you’re interested, she’s currently open to clients at firstname.lastname@example.org)
It means I’m doing another round of revisions when all I want to do is query and pitch and dream of The Call.
I wanted my story to be ready so badly. I’ve been working on this story since 2013, with a full draft in hand for nearly five YEARS.
You always hear about how most writers first novels are practice books that deserve to be in a drawer. I’m scared that the reason I’m still working this novel is because I won’t give up, when there’s no chance for this story to succeed.
The market is too crowded. Everyone has a book these days.
Yet, then I think back to those who have read it. My beta readers enjoyed it, my critique partners cheered for the story. The worst anyone’s ever said is “it’s clear this is an early draft” when I thought I was done. Back around draft five. (You thought I’d forgotten that, didn’t you. You know who you are.)
Everytime I want to throw in the towel on this round of revisions, I read my latest chapter and find myself filled with something warm and exuberant. Something that feels a lot like pride.
If I didn’t feel that sense of improvement, of rightness, after a round of revisions on a chapter, I would stop. But this is why I write.
As long as I feel at the end of the day that what I have after the effort is better than what I had before, I’m going to keep revising. Where I can take a chapter from merely telling a story to bringing the reader along for the ride.
Writing is often thought of as a solitary activity.
It doesn’t have to be!
There are a lot of writing communities out there: online, writer groups, critique groups, and more!
And sometimes? If you have the opportunity to reach out to someone at the next stage of their writing, you can find a mentor.
Not all mentors are created the same, and not all mentors are right for you.
What to look for in a mentor
1 – They Write In Your Genre
Before anything else, you need a mentor that knows your genre. Managing expectations is key. Yes, you want novels that have twists and turns. Yes, you can have novels that push the boundaries.
But. You should still write with a reader in mind, even if that reader is you.
A picture book is going to look different than a cozy mystery is going to be different than an epic fantasy. If your mentor doesn’t write in your genre, they might miss you overdoing a trope, or get confused with why there are dragons.
2 – What Writing Strength Compliments Yours?
Writers typically have a particular strength.
3 Main Writing Strengths:
World Building – these writers build worlds that are complex. Fully three-dimensional immersive worlds that fascinate, without breaking the readers sense of disbelief.
Plot – these writers have intriguing plots that carry you along for the ride. You just have to find out what happens next.
Character building – these writers create characters that you just can’t leave.
If you’re comfortable with your world building, you’re likely going to want a mentor who is strong in plotting or character building. You’re going to want someone who can bring your other aspects up to the level of your greatest strength.
3 – What Writing Style Complements Yours?
Besides looking at your strengths, you also have to be aware of your writing style.
3 Main Writing Styles
Sensory – these writers create meals you can taste, outfits you can feel exactly where they itch, songs you can sing. This often compliments a world-builder, but not always. The biggest thing these writers need to look out for is losing sight of the plot and having the reader lose the plot. These writers often need to trim words.
Screen play – these are the writers that show every stage direction, but don’t give you motivation or thoughts. These can have great action sequences, but can give the reader trouble connecting to the characters. These writers often need to fill in detail and round out their world.
Lost In Thought – these writers let you into the main character’s head (1st person or close 3rd point-of-view). They share the character’s thoughts, feelings, observations and rationalizations. But, sometimes the characters aren’t that observant and you miss sensory detail and action. These writers often need to both trim down the thoughts, and add in sensory and action.
Just like with writing strength, finding a mentor with a style that compliments yours can help fill in the aspects that you don’t focus on.
4 – What writing stage are you in?
You want a mentor who is ready to help you with the writing stage that you’re in. One that is comfortable with whatever stage you need to get through next.
We already know there are tons of writing stages and we all have our unique strengths and weaknesses.
Writing — looking for someone to bounce ideas off of
Revision — looking for someone who can recognize plot holes, pacing issues, and unneeded tangents.
Editing — looking for someone who in attentive to phrasing, word flow, and dialogue. Who can notice inconsistencies in voice and tense.
Querying — looking for someone who’s queried in the last 10 years: they’ll know the market, the trends, and the process better than someone who pre-dates the predominance of email queries.
Publishing — looking for someone who’s been published the way you’re being published. Indie, small press, and trad(itional) publishing all have different benefits and detriments, so you’ll want someone who can guide you through whichever publishing route you ended up going.
Marketing — looking for someone who knows what works, and what doesn’t work in your specific market — both genre and publishing-style-wise. Different markets work differently.
Some can mentor you through all stages, whereas others are more comfortable with particular aspects of the process.
Beware: Things To Watch Out For
All that said, even mentors that compliment you well might not be right for you. Here are some things to watch out for:
Mentors who don’t get your story, even after explanations. They won’t be able to offer usable feedback.
Mentors who are not responsive. This one’s self-explanatory.
Mentors whose feedback doesn’t bring out the best in you. For some? Some ignore soft feedback, some find sharp criticism either makes them want to give up or dig in their heels and justify themself.
Mentors who love everything or hate everything. There’s always stuff you can improve, but if they hate everything, it can be hard to figure out where to focus your attention.
Mentors who are abusive. If you leave conversations from them feeling personally attacked and beaten down, if they’re assholes to you or others — you do not owe them. You can end a mentorship relationship at any time. CAVEAT: The writing community is small. If you’re worried about repercussions, break off a relationship in whatever way makes you feel most safe. You can politely thank them for their time and tell them that you want to go in a different direction, or that you need a break from your writing. Or? You can tell them where they can shove it.
Where To Find a Mentor
There are lots of places to look for a mentor, but many organizations offer mentorship opportunities.
Twitter contests — such as #PitchWars, #WriteMentor, and more.
Professional organizations – the writing society for your genre. (Google knows the way).
Local Writing Clubs
Teachers – Take some writing classes and see if you find a teacher you work well with (or even fellow classmate).
Do you have a mentor? Where did you find them?
Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a mentor? I’d appreciate hearing about other warning signs but understand discretion.
Earlier this month, I sent my synopsis to my mentor. Sunday, she sent it back with feedback and I eagerly– spent the rest of the day avoiding it.
I had dived into her comments on my first chapter. I don’t usually hesitate to read feedback.
What was different this time?
The synopsis lay my story out cleanly. In 3 pages, my mentor could see my entire plot. My characters’ motivations. Everything.
My Top Five Fears:
5. Just didn’t connect
The most common and frustrating reaction from agents — the pure defeat of “I just didn’t connect with the story/characters/plot”.
But, as a mentor, she’s going to give some sort of feedback. What if she suggests it go in a completely different direction, that doesn’t work for me or my characters?
What if she insisted I was telling a different story than I had? Or thought a different story would be more compelling to agents?
4. Found it confusing
Sometimes agents don’t connect because they can’t understand what’s going on. What if my mentor didn’t get my story because my writing was confusing? The motivations didn’t make sense and the sequence of events was unclear.
3. Found it too formulaic
Perhaps, she could have thought it was decently written, but something she’s seen a thousand times, with nothing unique for us to build on, to draw the agents and publishers in.
2. Found it too contrived
A critique-partner had already told me back in December that one of my plot points felt a bit too contrived. What if my mentor agreed, and thought MORE of the plot felt forced and contrived?
1. Found a massive plot hole
What if there was some logic my story was missing that broke the whole thing?
That would be a LOT of work. I’m emotionally prepared for edits and polishing, but a MASSIVE restructuring of my story would definitely knock me back on my heels.
With all that weighing on me? I indulged my cold *sniffles hard*, binge-watched tv, and avoided reading her email.
Finally, just after midnight, I gave in and opened the email.
No plot holes, just some clarification needed and slightly better justification for an almost contrived point.
I cleaned up my draft, sent it off, and I talked with her just before I wrote this post. She likes my story, loves my world building, and was pleased that I could justify just about everything in that synopsis.
How do you handle feedback? Is the stress worse than the reality of it?
Well, that was more complicated (and a little $$) than expected.
Until Monday, I Thought I Didn’t Need An Actual Email List
If you’re like me, you keep hearing how you’re supposed to cultivate that whole ’email list’ thing.
I hate email. I like to read, archive, and keep my inbox under 25 items–aiming for Zero Inbox.
Besides! WordPress lets people sign-up with their emails, so they can get the updates that way. Right?
Apparently, I missed a small little detail.
When I FINALLY (after like 4 years) re-signed up to see what my email looked like? I learned You’ve Got To Have A WordPress Account To Subscribe!
Don’t get me wrong. When I set up my blog, four years ago, I checked out the first several emails, to make sure they looked fine. But? I had a wordpress account, so I didn’t even notice.
Besides? If I want to check out my blog, I view it on an RSS feed.
What’s an RSS Feed?
It’s a way to follow blogs and get all their updates — like Facebook, only you’re following Blogs, not individuals. Tumblr is actually an RSS Feed, but you can only follow other Tumblr blogs.
I know that’s gonna turn off people who don’t want ANOTHER account.
That’s When I Realized I Needed An ACTUAL Email Newsletter
I did some quick googling, and went with the one I saw most recommended, most used, and was FREE! (At least with my level of followers…)
So, next thing I know, I’ve got a freebie MailChimp account (so long as my mailing has fewer than 2,000 emails a month, I don’t have to pay a thing!) Plus, they promise a seamless experience when you switch to the paid levels. $10-$30 bucks until I have over 2,500 followers. [Sign up HERE!]
I went to the website, created an account, set up some groups, and then?
I created an automated welcome email and weekly RSS feed emails.
That’s when I notice something.
They’re posting my HOME ADDRESS. Eep! Not really something I want to provide to any online stalker. With a note that says US anti-spam law REQUIRES an address on any sort of mass emailing.
Fine. I’ll get a P.O. Box.
It needs a physical address?
A little research later and I found a nearby Post Office that also lets you use their street address. I sign up online, pay, and… need to go in, in person, to get the key and show ID.
I pop on over on my lunch break, during this gorgeous 68′ February flash-spring and present my Passport and Driver’s License. Only 2 people ahead of me in line.
After a short wait, I hand over my papers. Only problem. I moved last year and my driver’s license is out of date– despite me updating them.
I dash out to my car and rifle through my glove box. My insurance card doesn’t have an address on it. But wait, what’s this folded piece of paper. My voter information sheet, telling me where to vote? Does it count as my voter ID?
I bring it back in, fingers crossed. With no line, I beeline to the counter and hand it over.
Does she accept it?
A few signatures later (and $92 for 12+1 free month, otherwise known as $7 a month), I now have a PO Box. She gets me two keys to test and hands me the paper with the street address to use.
It’s a different zip code than the street address of the normal post office.
Long story short — I now have a PO box with a street address and an email newsletter.
(Now I can use THAT when I win random twitter contests, instead of giving my mailing address to strangers.)
Quick Humble-Brag Break
I’m well on my way to hitting my reading goal for this year, with 16 books already under my belt.
And? Last Friday, I talked to my new mentor on the phone.
Mentor? Tell me more, Morgan.
I sent in a mentee application just before New Years to the Broad Universe‘s debut program and found out I was selected two Saturdays ago. We’d been emailing back and forth for a week, before we finally talked to start making a plan and for her to critique my 1st chapter.
That poor chapter’s been critiqued SOO many times. But, getting enough world building that no one is confused, without overwhelming them with info-dumps is a hard balance — and likely in a different place for every reader. I’ve got a little more work to do there.
As you know, I was planning on a little polishing and tossing her back into the query trenches. I’m sighing a little and getting ready to delve back into a full revision. Oh well. I’ve got high hopes and a guide, this time.
But! Back to MailChimp.
Getting Started With Groups On MailChimp
After MailChimp walked me through setting up, I knew I wanted custom email levels. I HATE stores that send either 7 emails a week or NOTHING. So, I looked around and figured out how to set up GROUPS.
Step 1: Open the list
Go to the Lists tab (create one for everyone who’s received a welcome email if you don’t have one yet), and select the list.
Step 2: Manage your contacts
Select the ‘Manage Contacts’ drop down.
Step 3: Select ‘Groups’
Step 4: Create your groups
Click ‘Show Groups’. Then, select ‘Add Group’ and name it as you wish. If you do this early, like I did, you won’t have to add contacts manually, they’ll be prompted when they sign up!
And Ta-daaa! You’ve created groups, so people only get the emails they’re interested in.
My groups are:
Everything! (which I’m sure is what most people want *winks*)
Weekly Blog posts — which I plan to only send out once a week with all my newest blog posts inside
Occasional Updates — if I have news or such that I’d like to share with a targeted audience
And a group I like to call, “Actually Published Something“, for those people who support my writing, but don’t care about the details. Just let them know when I have something new coming out.
Creating The Actual EMAILS
MailChimp made this SUPER easy, with its built-in templates. But, there’s still a decent number of steps. You ready?
Step 1: Create A Campaign
We start off by selecting the ‘Create Campaign’ button.
Step 2: Select Campaign Type
In this case, I’m looking for EMAILS.
Step 3: Automate This Thing!
I set up 2 types of Automated emails, a simple confirmation/welcome email, and a weekly blog feed.
In this case, I’ll be showing the RSS feed, because it’s a bit tricker, but the flow is nearly identical. So, select the ‘Automated’ tab, and then pick your email type.
Step 4: Name Your (Email) Campaign
Set a name for the campaign and select the list you’re using. (Luckily, you’ve already got that list set up!)
Step 5: Map Your Feed and Schedule It
Enter the RSS feed address. Typically, your address plus “\feed”, but if you’re not sure, just put in the URL and MailChimp will check for you.
Set the email period – daily, weekly, monthly…, set the time of day, and set the days of the week you’d like to email (IF there is something new.)
I saw complaints about poor quality images in the email feed, and saw recommendations to UNSELECT the ‘Resize RSS feed images’, so I did that.
Step 6: Select Which Group Gets This Email
Decide who gets this email: everyone? a segment/tag? or a group? I’ve got my groups set up, so that’s what I choose.
Select the question under ‘Groups’:
“Which emails would you like to get”
Select the modifier, and the groups they’re in.
Maybe this email should only go to people who selected Occasional Updates AND Actually Published Something?
But no. I went with “one of” and “Weekly Blogposts.
Step 7: Select Your Campaign Options
To be honest, I didn’t know what all of these options were and just sort of used my best judgment.
I like stats (that are free)
I’m happy to have formatted contact names — especially if it lowers the odds I’ll be tossed in the SPAM folder.
As my blog already retweets to twitter and facebook, I didn’t need those options.
I did select auto-convert video because of posts like this one with youtube embedded.
Step 8: Select Your Template
I like the basic template. I don’t want fancy columns that end up with emails about 3 words across and an eternity’s worth of scrolling. I wanted it simple and clean.
So, I selected the basic template and hit ‘next’.
Step 9: Add Content To Your Email
For this example, I dragged the ‘RSS Items’ content block onto the email preview and then ‘Social Share’ (whoops, image has the wrong one circled), so people can easily share links to my blog if they liked the post.
Put it in an order that makes sense to you.
Step 10: Decide How Wordy Your Email Should Be
Decide how much of your blog post you want displayed in the email. I opted for ‘Full Content.”
I’m torn here: I’m not huge on busy emails, so I’d probably prefer the Titles, or Excerpts. But. This isn’t for me. People who want an email are likely people who don’t want to go to my blog all the time. I have to remember that not everyone consumes the internet the way I do.
Maybe I should set up 2 ‘weekly blogpost’ emails — one full text and one not?
Then? You just confirm the email and hit publish! And you’re email is ready to go. You can pause and edit it at any time, without messing up the feed.
AND! Best of all? You can preview the upcoming emails.
If you’re interested in signing up for this awesome newsletter/blog update, there’s a bar at the bottom of my webpage, and a tab-link on my facebook author page I also set up. But, I figured I gave you enough step-by-step directions for today.
Do YOU have an email list? If so, do you have any tips for a newbie? If not, are you contemplating one now?