Critique Partners in Crime

If you’ve been in the publishing industry for any length of time, you’ll probably recognize the phrase critique partner. For those of you who haven’t, a critique partner (commonly abbreviate to CP) is an invaluable asset to any writer at any and every stage in their career. Usually another author or publishing professional, a CP offers up their time and expertise to critique your manuscript/story/poem/etc in exchange for your time and expertise in doing the same for them. While a CP can sometimes play the role of beta reader (an avid reader who reads your MS and tells you whether it is any good), ideally the relationship is deeper and broader.

giphy1I feel like I’m not explaining this well. Okay, how’s this? A CP is like an unholy (or maybe holy) alliance between a friend, a colleague, a work wife/husband, a therapist, a critic, and a cheerleader. Having and being a CP is messy. It’s complicated. And it is wildly, wildly important to a writer’s growth and success in this often isolating business of being an author.

This week, I experienced both ends of the CP relationship with two different CPs. First, I had the great pleasure of reading our very own Shauna’s forthcoming novel Blackbird (which will incidentally knock y’all’s socks off) and offering feedback. And second, I shared my very recently finished and terribly rough first draft of my Swan Lake retelling with a different CP. They were two very different experiences, but they both reminded me of just how important it is to not only have CPs, but to actually share work with them.

Not all CPs are created equal, but here are a few things I’d look out for when finding someone to share work with!

  1. Someone who isn’t afraid to be honest. It’s literally right there in the name: critique partner. Not white-lie-to-guard-your-ego partner. Not even pull-their-punches partner. You know that one friend who you always take shopping because she’ll actually tell you if those pants make your butt look big? Yeah, that’s what you need from a CP. Because if they can’t be honest in their criticism, it’s not going to push you to be better, or work harder, or be honest with yourself.

    One caveat: do draw the line at nasty. There’s no call to be unnecessarily harsh, that’s not useful to anyone either.

  2. giphy2Someone who will be your cheerleader. Does this seem counter-intuitive? It’s really not. Your CPs also need to love your work kind of unconditionally, regardless off whether it’s a flaming trash pile of a first draft or a polished to near-perfect-sheen soon-to-be published work of art. The ultimate goal of a CP relationship is making each other better–if someone hates your work, what’s the point?
  3. Someone who understands (if not shares) your genre, voice, aesthetic, etc. Similar to the above, it’s a waste of their time and yours if they don’t get what you’re trying to accomplish. Maybe you write fast-paced action thrillers and they write steamy romance. That can totally work (and might honestly give you a different perspective from a CP who writes in your genre) but if their only criticism is that there aren’t enough love scenes, you might want to reconsider.
  4. giphy3Someone who can brainstorm with you. Now, this is a big ask, and you might not find this in every CP you build a relationship with–and that’s okay! But a great CP isn’t just an editor, or even a beta reader, although it’s certainly useful if they have a decent grasp of grammar, sentence structure, and plot. Ideally, they’re also someone who you can bounce your hair-brained ideas off of, who won’t say “but,” but maybe “ooh, and–!” Someone who spitballs scenarios about your sequel not because they feel like they know better than you but because they’re just so invested in your characters. Someone who sees through the disordered jumble of your nonsense first drafts to the story you didn’t know you were trying to tell.

Now, if you’re read to find your OTCP (One (or several!) True Critique Partner), here are a few resources to set you on your way! (If you’re really at a loss, Twitter is a great place to start, as are writer blogs and genre-specific interest groups! You can never go wrong with NaNoWriMo either!)

Absolute Write

Critique Circle



Even Writers Need a Will

Last week, we lost another giant in the world. This year has been a rough one for creative types. We’re coming to an age where we will start to lose our living idols, and though that’s a tough pill to swallow, we need to learn from it as well.

The news broke this week that Prince, while an incredibly smart and savvy businessman, died without a will. I am actually quite shocked by this. Prince was known as a man, despite his super-stardom, who handled most of his business transactions himself. Even scheduling tours and shows and the rare interview. He did so much for himself instead of having an entourage of people doing it for him. But he didn’t have a will to protect his work in death.

This was a man who refused to allow his work to be included online, except for some streaming. He took on YouTube himself. He did it himself. So how could he not have a will to protect his interests in death?

It’s not a question anyone can answer because it seems so out of character. I’m really hoping it turns out that they haven’t gotten into the secret vault at Paisley Park yet and when they finally do, they’ll find a glittering golden scroll, sealed under glass near the master recordings. I hope when they unroll it, there will be a detailed account of what he wanted, all signed in glittering purple ink.

I hope.

But that brings me to today’s topic. Wills for creative people, especially writers.

It seems strange to have a will when you’re relatively young, I know. Or if you don’t have children. I actually don’t have a will yet, but I’m going to rectify that. I’ve thought about this before, but like so many mundane things, it slipped my mind.

I am not a New York Times Best Seller. I am not a famous writer with millions of dollars in royalties piling up in the corners of my home. I don’t have a movie deal in the works. But I do have titles I want to protect.

I have had moderate success as an author, more than some, less than others. But I do have a catalog of titles, 16 published so far, more working on my computer, and a handful of short stories. I want the control of those to go to my husband, should I pass before him (*knock on wood*). If there is more success from my titles, I want my husband to profit from them. It seems obvious, but you never want to leave it up to fate. So I’m going to make sure to take care of it.

The renowned author, Neil Gaiman, is an incredibly helpful person and he’s taken steps to help writers with this very problem. If you don’t have a lawyer, or can’t afford to go to one, Mr. Gaiman has reached out to a lawyer-author-friend of his for help for the rest of us. He wrote up the post here. His lawyer-author-friend, Les Klinger, drafted up a simple form that works as a will for authors in the US.

Here is Mr. Klinger’s advice:

1) Recopy the document ENTIRELY by hand, date it, and sign it at the end. No witnesses required.

2) Type the document, date it, sign it IN FRONT OF at least two witnesses, who are not family or named in the Will, and have each witness sign IN FRONT OF YOU and the other witnesses. Better yet, go to a lawyer with this form and discuss your choices!

Having said that, the first option, a “holographic will” isn’t valid everywhere — according to Wikipedia, In the United States, unwitnessed holographic wills are valid in around 30 out of the 50 states. Jurisdictions that do not themselves recognize such holographic wills may nonetheless accept them under a “foreign wills act” if it was drafted in another jurisdiction in which it would be valid. In the United Kingdom, unwitnessed holographic wills are valid in Scotland, but not in England and Wales.

So the second option is by far the wisest.”

Here is a link to the PDF, I hope you, like me, check it out and take this seriously. Writing takes up so much of our lives, it means everything to us, take care of it in death. After all, which temps death more: preparing for it, or ignoring it?

How Do You Decide What To Write?


If you spend any time in the parts of the internet that readers and writers inhabit, you’ve likely seen #WeNeedDiverseBooks, the hashtag for a grassroots non-profit dedicated to raising both awareness and money to promote diversity in children’s literature. (Jump HERE to take a look at their mission statement or HERE to check out their Tumblr.) This fall, We Need Diverse Books undertook an Indiegogo campaign with a goal of raising $100,000.

They raised $181, 676.

Their appeal clearly resonated, and their goals are long-term and multifaceted, designed to change the white, heterosexual culture that dominates bookstores. WeNeedDiverseBooks is focusing on children’s literature, which makes sense because if you teach children that diversity is the norm, chances are it’ll carry over to the rest of their lives. A quick look at the New York Times bestseller list of hardcover fiction for this week shows you a young Jewish girl growing up in early 20th century Boston, and a scientist with Aspergers. Most of the rest are spies and cops and special forces-types.

Based on the blurbs, there’s enough conformity to suggest WeNeedDiverseBooks has their work cut out for them.

When I went to the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up last September, diversity was one of the themes many of their speakers addressed. And not just diversity from a how do we get the general public to read queer fiction? perspective, but also is there a place in queer fiction for trans, lesbian, bisexual, non-binary, and other voices? All the publishers who participated in a panel discussion said they were eager to contract well-told stories from every possible perspective. They encouraged the authors who were present to write and submit stories featuring every facet of the lgbtq rainbow.

But here’s the rub. If nonprofits encourage diverse stories, and writers write them, and publishers publish them, will readers read them?

According to this Tea Time post on the Prism Book Alliance blog, the answer might be a little disheartening.

Maybe by the time today’s kids are able to make their own buying decisions, groups like We Need Diverse Books will have taught them to expect variety  in their reading. In the meantime, there’s a lot of white out there, and most of it is heterosexual.

Which, hey, you know, some of the nicest people I know are white heterosexuals. Like me, for instance. For the last year or so, I’ve been both reading and writing romantic stories about gay men (and we can save the issues around middle-aged women writing m/m romance for a different blog post, okay?). My stories tend to start with a spark, then come together in big chunks. At the risk of sounding all cheesy, they come from the heart.

The reason I bother to write them down, though, is so people can read them, and I worry that if I fall too far from the status quo, they won’t get read.

Even a subgenre of romance like m/m has trends. Rock stars are big, as are cowboys and college students. Chefs are popular, the serious foodie type. Historicals and shapeshifters make the list, too. I don’t want to write a book that’s just like a dozen others, but will anybody read my cute little m/m romance set in 1955 Seattle, starring a handsome trumpet player and the coach of a women’s synchronized swimming team?

That book is almost ready to send to my agent, so I’ll soon know if it’ll find an audience. I’m almost ready to decide what to work on next. I expect it’ll be another m/m romance, and I expect I’ll try to capture the diversity I see in real life. Conventional wisdom says not to write to trends, but geez, there’s safety in numbers, you know?

So where do your stories come from? To restate the title of this post, how do you decide what to write?



Welcome to Spellbound Scribes!

We’re so glad you found us! Spellbound Scribes consists of a group of four paranormal authors who love to talk about words, witches, and other wicked things. 😀 But that’s not ALL we’re about, as you’ll find out! We hope you’ll stick with us for a while as we work to develop this blog from its infancy. We’ll be talking about all facets of the paranormal, as well as a few writing-related things. Stick around for sneak peeks of our books and more!