It’s time for my next editing post, but in case you didn’t read the first two, please do so to bookmark the links that can help you edit your book to professional standards. First was “Mistakes that make me put a book down.” That post has editing links for each mistake I mentioned, plus you need to read the comments to discover which mistakes other readers hate seeing. Next, I posted, “Editing on the cheap, Step 1.” Besides more editing links, that post introduced critique groups and their importance in teaching both writing and editing skills. Emerald Coast Writers is the local group I joined, an excellent group that had great ideas and taught me more than I ever learned in college, but it didn’t have other children’s writers.
By the time I finished my YA boo, it had 114000 words. Since it came in under the 120000 words of Piers Anthony’s average Xanth book, I felt great–until I went to a writers’ conference and got rejected by one agent based on word-count. The same agent told me my YA book had to be middle-grade based on a gummy bear character and Boy Scout characters. She didn’t even care how old the MC was. I think she pictured all Boy Scouts at the Cub Scout stage. Needless to say, I was devastated. The only bright spot was winning first place for my short story. ECW’s president, Lee Thomas, is on the left and I’m between the other winners. We’re blurry, but look at the beach where we live!
Of course I realized how much cutting I would have to do to come within the range of middle grade books, which the agent said should be a maximum of 50000 words. It’s gone up a bit, at least for upper middle grade. But half the battle to minimize editing is knowing the rules before you start writing. What a lot of time and trouble I’d have saved if I’d known that the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) included writers of books meant for readers up through age 18. I had assumed the group was for picture-book writers and maybe chapter book writers for elementary school age children, tops. I was wrong.
Lucky for me, another ECW member posted a link to an online writers conference, WriteOnCon. I was too late to enter the contests, but the FREE conference was a great resource for agent and editor advice. Seeing the importance of SCBWI for writers of MG and YA, I gritted my teeth at the cost (over three times the fees for ECW) and joined. Now WriteOnCon is gearing up for this year’s conference in August. I already signed up for the newsletter so I don’t miss it again. As I recall, there were beta reader offers in WriteOnCon’s forums. Beta readers can be a great editing resource. They want to read–writers want someone to point out problems–it’s a match made in writer heaven.
I didn’t find my match at WriteOnCon though, and there were still no children’s critique groups in my area either. I had the genre specific info I needed, but what else could I do to edit my book on a shoestring? On the advice of other SCBWI members, I volunteered to start a critique group of my own. I got no responses, so I worked while I waited. That spring and early summer I cut my book using editing advice I Googled. Rick Riordan mentioned eliminating dialog tags. I also moved whole scenes into another book. After hitting a standstill at 85000 words, I realized I would have to chop my story in two. I invented a midpoint crisis, cut my book in half, took book two’s ending for the first book, and eventually came up just under 50000 words. Boy, was that hard without hiring an editor.
That was just the beginning. In the fall I went to school, not to take a class, but as a volunteer. The ECW critique group chairperson, Mary Brown, arranged for my book to be read in a middle school English class. Just before Christmas, I received a call from the 7th grade teacher asking me to visit and tell her class about being a writer. I loved it and they must have too because I came back about every two weeks the rest of the school year. I didn’t only read; I taught story writing and what to look for in a good story. For each chapter of mine that we read, I provided the students with a one page questionnaire. By the end of the year, I had a full book critique, made tons of changes due to student suggestions, and even ran a student story writing contest for ECW.
Next step was another round of adult critiques, but I was still stuck without any local children’s writers. That’s when I decided to get serious about building my platform. I started blogging regularly and posted my first follower contest. Almost nobody came. Then I found and joined Rachael Harrie’s Platform Building Campaign. I still remember how it felt to reach 10 followers. So awesome! I still want to cheer for each new follower, but that’s another subject.
Guess what? Rachael posted a beta reader and critique partner match-up. I did find a female partner and we worked for a while, but I really needed a male critique partner for a male main character. So I posted on my blog and twitter. I got a few bites but nothing that lasted. The best move I made by far was reviewing other indie author books and sending a list of errors to the authors. I couldn’t have done this without the solid skills I learned in ECW’s critique group. My requests for beta reads in return got me two detailed critiques that pointed out some serious problems. Yea for fresh eyes; whaah for the problems. It turns out middle graders take things in stride that are too wild for adults. The picture below doesn’t show the half of it, but it shows the feeling.
I went back to Rachael Harrie’s beta reader and critique partner matchup. Here’s the current link to meet your match and exchange editing for FREE. I found a great male partner who agreed to do a guest post later this week. Woot for Ken Rahmoeller! He even has kids to test-read my writing. So far he’s helped me make my writing smoother and my story structure better.
That’s not all. A year after posting my SCBWI critique group ad, I finally got a request from one other local children’s writer and met with her once before two others contacted me. At last, a local genre specific group! But I had to be the one to make it happen. So if you’re having trouble finding beta readers and/or critique partners to help you hone your book, don’t give up! Volunteer to start your own group. Remember, it doesn’t have to be local to be effective. Every step a you take along the way to perfecting your writing and editing skills is a step in the right direction. When you finish your book, your writing and editing skills should help you obtain better rates from a professional editor. Yes, you still need one.
I’d love you to leave a comment. What mistake(s) did you find in this post? I know there are at least two, but are there others? Please let me know what and where in case you find ones I don’t know about.
By the way, if you stop by before April 11th, you can enter the last of my monthly follower contests that include chocolate. Click the “win chocolate and books” tab at the top of my blog. Thanks!