The stages of accepting constructive criticism, as told through gifs.
We all can agree that beta reading is crucial to the success of a story. Having other eyeballs touch your story, pre-publication, is one of the necessary steps a book goes through. Whether it’s a kind friend who volunteers, a writing group, or a professional editor — the link goes to a good post by author D.E. Haggerty on why she uses editors vs. beta readers — you will be getting some critique at some point. But how does it feel to receive feedback on your precious portion of soul? How should you absorb this step—and the pain which comes with it? What positives come from this?
Well, the process goes a lot like this:
The MS file has been attached and sent to the sweet people who gave me their time, gently released with all of my hopes trailing behind.
While they read—and this takes as long as it takes because they have a life, so I must hurry up and wait and do it with grace—I’m going on with my own life but inside I’m thinking . . .
Then one day, an email. They have read the first half or so and have some thoughts. Time to clench up and open that attachment!
If you have picked people who critique because they truly want you to become a better writer they generally come at you with the compliment sandwich approach. Every beta reader or editor I’ve worked with has been an excellent, caring person who does this.
And you know what? It still hurts. It burns right through my fragile ego like acid. I had this thin, tender rootlet of hope that I had somehow entered the alternate reality where a first draft has only minor, easy fixes and I wouldn’t be stomped with all of my mistakes but the comments come streaming in like a waterfall of rocks and . . .
The first reaction is always a defensive one. I read over their comments and let the pain flow through me, and the next step is to channel Dame Maggie Smith when she’s told that she hates to be wrong.
Denial can be satisfying for a little while, but real life is still popping up to poke the comfy bubble. I asked for help and I got it. The thought that they might be right keeps nudging as I take a few hours to let it settle
It’s time to open that email back up and take another look. I tentatively try some of the fixes, and at first it’s like . . .
But as I read on and let the advice sink in, it makes more sense every time. This part here drags. That was a badly written dialogue tag. And this sentence is confusing, like they said. This here is too much telling and can get cut.
And it’s making the story better! Wow! Really, they are a font of good advice. All of it is seen through new eyes.
Newly hacked apart, with innards shining, the improved manuscript sits there steaming and I want to send my critique readers or editor the new version in the entirely mistaken belief that a good reward for their hard work would be to make them read the whole thing again. I don’t.
At the core, what I really want to do is show them I used and appreciate their wisdom. A better way to do that is to send them a thank-you email with a few sentences about how I used their comments and saw real improvement.
I generally leave out the whole angry-denial spiral part.
Now I have a *finished manuscript and I’m ready to start the whole process over again, with another critique reader.
featured image: stocksnap.io and Josh Byers
It took me a long time to figure it out, but it appears that comments have stopped working on the blog. If you’ve left a comment on the last three posts for me I apologize! It’s not that I’m ignoring you, it’s a technical problem.
Of course I figured out what was happening on a holiday weekend, which means my support request to WordPress is going to take longer. And I’m definitely not smart enough to fix the issue myself. Just wanted to let my readers know I’m aware of the problem, I’m sorry, and it’s hopefully getting fixed soon. Happy 2021, I guess?
Another trope rec post! This time the specific mood I’m in is that carefully arranged, sometimes mail-ordered happily ever after. I’ve always loved mail-order bride books (despite knowing arranged marriage is much more complicated in real life). This isn’t reality, this is fiction, and in fiction picking a partner like you’re ordering an entrée from a menu ends perfectly every time. For this list I’m focusing on the mail-order trope but including some of the more standard arranged-marriage books because they are really good and they fit the “carefully chosen and planned” theme.
Something about the forced proximity of it all keeps me reading. Will the characters seek out the little things about each other that are worth loving? Will they spend the precious time needed to understand each other? Will they let themselves fall into love? Or will they keep it at convenience and go their separate ways inside the same house? Also…sexual tension, boss level.
Starting out with some good old fashioned western historical mail-ordered brides: Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath. (Actually just read her entire Texas Trilogy, they all count.)
The Texan’s Wager by Jodi Thomas is part of a “wife lottery” series, of course they’re all HEAs! (Also why are all the mail order brides headed to Texas? There were other Western territories. Just sayin.)
Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer, a true OG of the genre. And in this one it’s the woman advertising for a husband, in a nice twist on the trope.
Of course Beverly Jenkins has done her version of a mail-order bride, and of course her bride is a badass. Super recommend Tempest if you like strong, competent heroines.
And a newer author to take on the trope is Linda Broday with The Outlaw’s Mail Order Bride.
Slightly Married (Mary Balogh) and Devil in Winter (Lisa Kleypas) are both a ‘marriage of convenience’ take on the trope by two classic authors who should definitely be part of your library. And we can’t forget Julie Garwood’s medieval romances The Prize and Honor’s Splendour. I’m trying not to flood the entire post with historicals so just know that there are literally hundreds of marriage of convenience romances out there, Google it if you need more.
It’s not “mail-order” per se, but contemporary romance has managed to keep the “marriage of convenience” trope alive. And it’s actually believable!
I’d suggest Roomies by Christina Lauren, Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata, A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole, A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev and Xeni by Rebekah Witherspoon for this unique niche.
And did you know mail-order brides are an entire sub-genre in alien romance? Really, it’s an extra kooky thing in this already pure kookoobananas genre. It ties neatly into the already prevalent Fated Mates trope in SciFi. Now you know about it, too. And you should also know that I love alien mail-order bride romance very, very much.
The Alien’s Mail Order Bride by Ruby Dixon. Short, sweet, and so adorable. Please try this one!
Darak by Cara Bristol starts off her seven book Dakonian mail order brides series. Lots of goodness here for you to love.
Sought is the first book in the Brides of The Kindred series I truly enjoyed (the first two were kinda meh) by Evangeline Anderson. Her series is a touchstone alien romance series and I think it’s going on 26 books now? Seriously. Twenty-six.
Axil by Ava Ross starts another seven book mail-order brides series, the Mail-Order Brides of Crakair. I haven’t tried it yet but it’s on my list.
Joran by Susan Hayes starts the hilarious train rolling on the 9 book Star-Crossed Alien Mail Order brides series. Think of these as popcorn books and just rip through them like I did.
And Alpha Star by Elsa Jade starts the four book Big Sky Alien Mail Order Brides series. Get into my eyeholes!
This has gone on so long, but I can’t forget the mail-order trope in paranormal romance, too.
The Vampire’s Mail-Order Bride by Kristen Painter is part of the Nocturne Falls series, which is fluffy and fun. Definitely recommended.
The Midwinter Mail-Order Bride by Kati Wilde is just going to end up on every list of my recommendations and I’m not even sorry.
The Wolf’s Mail-Order Bride by Ella Goode is part of the mail-order series she, Ruby Dixon, Kati Wilde, and Alexa Riley all wrote books for.
The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. You can find the group on social media with #IWSG.
Every month a group of wonderful co-hosts steers us all towards meaningful discussion. We owe our January thanks to Ronel Janse van Vuuren (Hi Ronel!) J Lenni Dorner, Gwen Gardner Sandra Cox, and Louise – Fundy Blue!
January 6 question – Being a writer, when you’re reading someone else’s work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most?
Being a writer does throw a wrench into my reading process, I admit. Generally I’m wondering at word choices, or thinking of how differently I would approach a plot point. It’s more difficult to disappear into a book when my inner editor is always on. But-conversely-being an author also makes me feel more lenient towards other authors. Y’all this work is a hard, lonely slog through word thickets and the Valley of Marketing Shadows and Review Death. I hardly ever think critically enough of another author’s work to DNF it . . . but it has happened. I will name no names, but I will tell you what writing crimes could be heinous enough for even me to throw in the towel and stop reading.
- OUCH! Plot Whiplash
I am a character driven reader and the worst thing you can do to me is send random, unconnected, nonsensical Plot ComplicationsTM crashing into my poor characters out of nowhere, whiplashing me right out of the story. Any plot holes gaping wide enough to have me sit back and say ‘wait, what? Why did this happen when it wasn’t an issue before? I thought [this] was supposed to be deadly but now it’s not? Why did they go back in there? What is happening? WHY?!’ is a DNF from me.
- Angst. Angst. Angst.
I like pure, unadulterated, escapist fluff, thank you so much, next. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) is about as dark/traumatic/stressful as I can handle and I wouldn’t have been able to finish the third book if I knew beforehand how truly depressing it was going to get. I’m still actively upset about Finnick, not to forget Castor and Boggs, nearly a decade later. That was uncalled for, Suzanne.
- Love Triangles
This probably ties back into the ‘Angst’ red flag above? I do not like love triangles. Triangles are pointy and all they do is hurt people. The longing glances! The indecision! The inability to pick between equally boring partners! Nope. Nope, nope, nope. I will remind you that poly romance, reverse harem, and ménage are all readily available, and then go read one of those instead. Because why choose?
- Warning Labels
Trigger warnings are a thing. In my opinion, they are a necessary thing. Mentally prepared I can read and handle a lot, but when one of my triggers leaps out at me unexpectedly the results are not fun. It happened two years ago with a romance novel–which other readers have rated highly and love, for the record. But this particular book contained sexual assault I am sensitive to and I ran smack into unprepared. The book contained zero warnings. Instead, I found that Goodreads reviewers had highlighted the issue and made their own warnings. If I’d read the reviews before the book I would have been forewarned but I hardly ever do that because I want to go in unspoiled. Life lesson for me: go in slightly spoiled if it keeps you mentally healthy.
I’ve also covered DNF red flags which are specific to the romance genre in this post. It contains mentions of tentacles, aliens, amnesia plots, secret Dukes, and lots of fun gifs if you’re interested.
In the grand tradition of December, let’s do some wrapping up. Wrap some presents. Wrap-up your holiday shopping. Write lots of wrap-up lists. Wrap-up small, misbehaving children Krampus style to mail to . . . haha . . . ooops. Don’t do that. Got carried away there.
Number Of Books I Read: 265
Left unsupervised again. Plus, worldwide pandemic, quarantine, and stress-reading to the maximum amount possible. I’m talking reading a probably unhealthy amount from March to May.
Number of Re-Reads: Zero. Ish.
I know I re-read a bunch of books #becauseofbookstagram, but I refuse to count the actual number. If I count my re-reads, I might feel a tinge of TBR guilt, and this will not do. So the official count is zero. ish.
Genre I Read The Most From: Romance!
Yet again, I let my horror reads go. To be brutally honest 2020 was basically a mashup of terror tropes in real life and I was not in the right mental space to want to add fictional horror to the daily fun of watching my country implode from the top down.
Best Books I Read In 2020:
The Master, Kresley Cole
Sworn to the Shadow God, Ruby Dixon
Cyborgs on Mars Series, Honey Phillips
Demon Lover, Heather Guerre
Strange Love, Ann Aguirre
How to Catch a Wild Viscount, Tessa Dare
Hearts in Darkness, Laura Kaye
The Wedding Night, Kati Wilde
Favourite new author I discovered in 2020:
Heather Guerre was a pleasant surprise find. Amazon suggested her book Demon Lover to me and the blurb sounded fun, so I one-clicked it and it BLEW ME AWAY. So sweet! So emotional! Such high stakes! I love when that happens.
I also tried Loretta Chase and Suzanne Enoch for the first time in 2020 and…yeah. I am SO late to this party but I am here and ready to devour entire backlists. The benefit of being late is that I have big, huge backlists to work through!
Book I can’t believe I waited until 2020 to finally read:
Lord of Scoundrels, Loretta Chase. This book was published in 1995. Twenty-five years ago, SE, what is wrong with you? ::Hides head in acute shame::
It was worth the wait, though. And the best part about books? They never go away. They’re always waiting for a new reader to discover them.
OTP of the year:
Riv and Lauren from Riv’s Sanctuary, A.G. Wilde.
Riv is a wounded, silent grump, just trying to avoid all sentient interaction and maintain his creature sanctuary in peace. So, of course, a homeless (illegally obtained) human woman is dropped on his doorstep for him to shelter because she has to be re-homed (the backstory is kinda hilarious here). The relationship develops at a realistically slow burn and gave me just enough anxiety wondering ‘will he realize in time? will he admit it?’
The good: Lauren (the sunshine one) recognizes and respects Riv’s clear need for space and time to process the changes she’s bringing. The better: Riv, like an emotionally mature being, faces up to the past traumas standing between him and his happy ending, realizes he wants to do better/be better, and chooses to seek change. Y E S, emotional fluency is so refreshing. The best: the sexy times in this book are well-earned and so dang emotionally satisfying.
Book that stomped all over every emotion ever:
Claimed by the Horde King, Zoey Draven.
I can count on one hand the number of times a book has made me cry. Kati Wilde can do it [see; The Wedding Night]. Sally Thorne did it. And now Zoey Draven joins the shortlist of authors who have made SE sob like a teenager watching Titanic for the first time. Y’all, this story. The beautiful, beautiful pain it brought me. There’s a Found Family element, a dash of Ugly Duckling Finds Their True Niche, class and culture obstacles, the ‘ohhh-I-done-fucked-up’ realization followed by some excellent groveling, and then the most wonderful catharsis moment. Please, if this wrap-up convinces you to read nothing else, read this one book.
“You call me a demon’, he said quietly, ‘because you believe I am stealing your soul away. But I already told you, Nelle, that if I am a demon, then so are you. Because you are stealing more of mine right at this moment.”
Book(s) that I wanted to throw against the wall the hardest:
Queen of Twilight, Octavia Kore. Starts out as a pretty typical alien abduction story (just trust me when I say I’ve read enough SciFi romance to say this one is typical). But red flags start flying right out of the gate and just get worse. The heroine is abducted with a small child and just kinda…calmly flows with the enforced parental role she didn’t choose. Okay? She’s the fated mate of two insect-ish aliens who aren’t even convinced they want her at first and she just kinda…calmly goes with it. DP is definitely in her future with complete strangers who seem completely uninterested in getting to know her but…um…okay? There’s a lot of plot whiplash. Then decisions which make zero sense, especially the almost textbook Too Stupid To Live moment from the heroine. Not okay anymore. Random big bads doing horrible random Villain ThingsTM which include some seriously disturbing medical experiments and then we get into the very dubious consent portion of the evening which doesn’t even involve the two heroes, but some other random aliens who are…fuck if I know what they are, reluctant allies? Whatever they are: NOT OKAY. I could handle everything up to that, but the date-r*pe drug overtones of the whole encounter ended my journey with this book. All done. DNF.
No matter where you are or what you celebrate, if you’re reading this we’ve made it through 2020 and we collectively as human beings celebrate that. We’re still here, regardless of everything the last twelve months threw at us, and we will keep going. Whatever nasty things 2021 throws at us will at least be part of a new year and that’s (very slightly) comforting.
Know that I genuinely wish you and your loved ones a happy, joyful, peace-filled winter and a fresh start this coming spring.
Alright, friends. Let’s get to some numbery maths for the year. I’m still at the point where I genuinely enjoy blogging (LET IT NEVER END) and I have a lot of fun breaking my year down in stats. If you’re interested the 2019, 2018, and 2017 breakdowns are linked.
Just as a note: I’ve spent zero pennies on marketing of any kind since I started this blog in November 2016. Instead, I’ve focused on blog-hops and building relationships. That means super slow growth and also super low stress levels. (If slow is not the way you would want to grow your blog, then these will not be very helpful posts for you.)
Visitors in 2020: Jumping Silly Gerbil Sh*t 3,090 visitors this year. 3K, what?!? 2019 topped out at 2,375, so this growth seems amazing to me.
Top 5 Posts from 2020:
15 Gorgeous Literary Tattoos. This one has been in the top five every year since I wrote it and cross-posted to Pinterest in 2017. I can only hope I’ve inspired someone to actually get some ink.
Friday Favorites Has Some Unfinished Business. Apparently my fellow bookworms enjoy frustration as much as I do, because this post is all about incomplete series.
The 5 Types of Query Letter Rejections. It is nice to know what might be coming for you/what to expect when you’re querying. It’s mostly rejection after rejection, in many different flavors.
16 Parenting Sites/Magazines That Will Pay You to Write for Them. I waded into freelancing waters back in 2016 and wrote up a post to share some of the places I found. It’s been a popular post ever since, and I can only wish my readers luck.
Be Proud of Your Writing. It seems like everyone needed a little boost in 2020 and I am utterly here for it. Be proud of yourself and what you’ve accomplished.
New favourite book blog/Bookstagram I discovered in 2020:
My favourite Instagrammer from 2020 is Lindsay (@pinkcowlandreads). She started this wonderful thing called Stepback Saturday where we find our romances with stepback photos, post the stepback art, and let other romance lovers guess which author/book the art comes from. It is SO MUCH FUN and the entire romancestagram community has embraced this trend with wide open arms. Heaving bosoms, bare manly flanks, heated clench poses in a rainstorm, man nip, bouffant hair, and improbable embraces are not only welcome, they are celebrated and I love it.
Favourite post I wrote in 2020:
Book Tropes: The Grovel in the Novel. I abso-freaking-loutely love groveling in a novel and this round-up of all my favourites is dear to me.
Post I wish had gotten a little more love:
What I Thought Author Life Would Be Like vs. What It’s Actually Like. I had so much fun finding the gifs for this one. And, honestly, the post comes straight from the bleeding, tell-tale heart.
Top three searches that led users right to me in 2020:
- amazon (yet again I have to beg Amazon not to take any copyright action here, I do NOT know why this search would lead to sewhitebooks? They don’t even have letters in common. But WordPress assures me this is the top search which had me as a result. I don’t even know, y’all.)
- query letter personalization (Yep, querying is hard. Godspeed my friends.)
- what happened to kresley cole (We’re all concerned, I think. I just wish her publicist would actually . . . you know . . . publish something.)
shower organizer pole super white made a comeback! It was the 8th most popular search term which led people to me. (For the first two years of blogging this was the top term which led people right to me and I’m actually kind of happy to see it again.)
Top five countries my readers came from this year:
- United States
- United Kingdom (mostly England, I think?)
- China (this one is new! Nín hǎo to my new readers.)
Reasons my readers continue to be the Actual Best™:
Still here for highbrow, v literary posts (see: my Stranger Things reviews packed full of curse words and gifs)
You still comment on the actual article content at the bottom of the post in question, a rare and precious treasure in the explosive Fireswamp which is internet comment sections. I adore you all for this and hope I bring something to your comment sections as well.
Yep, it’s time for another trope recommendation post. This one is my very, very favorite, ride or die, auto-buy trope, so this will be a very long rec post. Be warned!
Do I know there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of retellings of this fairy tale? Yep. Does that stop me from buying them and hoping more come out? NOPE. Something about seeing through outward appearances to the genuine, worthy, real person within has always caught my attention. You know that sweet, squeezy feeling you get around your heart when they finally figure out that they’re really, truly loved? In spite of everything? Yeah. I love that feeling. If you’re also a fan of sweet squeezy smushy feelings, this list is for you.
The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey is an old school, sword and sorcery retelling. Don’t let the 1990s cover art put you off.
Beastly by Alex Flinn is a YA fantasy retelling I quite enjoyed. And I’m also enough of a dork that I liked the movie adaptation.
When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James has the most sarcastic, blunt hero. He’s a doctor modeled off of Gregory House from the TV show House. It’s a fun historical romp through the fairy tale.
Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare contains a grumpy, almost blind hero trying to scare off the feisty heroine with a colony of bats when they both claim the right to an abandoned castle. It’s exactly as brilliant as it sounds.
England’s Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch has a beta-hero (no chest beating alpha here) who is genuinely trying to deal with the PTSD and flashbacks caused by his war service. The heroine doesn’t cure him with the Magic of Sex, either, which I appreciated.
Simply Love by Mary Balogh should be considered the classic historical romance with this trope.
Lover Awakened by JR Ward, a paranormal retelling (I would check the Goodreads reviews before reading if you know you have triggers, there are a lot in this book).
Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole, SUCH an emotional love story between a scarred demon and a witch.
Shattered Silence by Anna Carven. Pretty much her entire Dark Planet Warriors series contains monstrous aliens who might even be considered villains in another book. They fall hard for their beauties, and I super recommend every single book.
Jewel of the Sea or Silent Lucidity by Tiffany Roberts. Did…I just recommend you a tentacle romance? YES. You should really read the Kraken series. It’s lovely and emotional and not at all slimy, I promise. But if you prefer your alien hero to be a brooding, silent, venomous alien assassin with fangs, Silent Lucidity is your choice.
Queen’s Ransom by Isabel Wroth has a literal beast, based on the Greek mythology of the Minotaur, and he gets a happy ending instead of a tragic one this time. BLESS.
Beast by Anna Hackett. Part of the ongoing Galactic Gladiators series and it may be difficult to jump right in to book seven without reading the first six, just to warn you. I think it might be possible, the story is certainly good enough, but there are plot points which will be confusing if you haven’t worked up to them.
Contaminated by Amanda Milo. Hilarious and it even has an overt homage to the magical rose/flower plot from Beauty and the Beast. The sequel/follow-up, Contagion, made me laugh so hard I cried but it’s also very sweet. A+ recommend.
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is the online place to discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writers – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG. To join the group yourself, click here and get ready to sink into a warm, comforting bath of support.
December 2 question – Are there months or times of the year that you are more productive with your writing than other months, and why?
Answer: There are most definitely months and times of the year that I’m more productive than others and THIS IS WHY. THIS, RIGHT HERE:
I can’t blame it all on the holiday season, much as I’d like to follow an established literary narrative. I’m also an easily distracted Pantser and to function AT ALL as a writer I have to set a firm schedule and make myself stick to it. Mornings=fresh brain time=writing. No matter what. When I allow my Pantser self to wander outside the established pattern everything goes cattywampus real quick, let me tell you.
I haven’t yet gotten to the serious level of Author Life where I stand and flounce off after turkey-leftovers breakfast with the dramatic announcement, “I need to write. My word count this week has been abysmal.” Partially this is because there exists no suitably Gothic fainting couch in my mom’s house and throwing your forearm theatrically over your forehead is just not as effective without one. Also, she would laugh at me if I tried.
Mostly this is because I don’t do dramatic monologues, secretly I’m glad to take a break from shoveling out decent prose from my mudpit of ideas, I feel like the holidays are a justifiable excuse to do so, and I tell myself I’ll get ‘back’ into a writing routine ‘after’ the holidays. (HAHAHAHA IT’S LIKE I’VE LEARNED NOTHING AND DON’T EVEN KNOW MYSELF AFTER ALL THESE YEARS.)
In the future I think I need to accept that the months of November and December are going to be slow writing months and stop beating myself up for it. The ideas and words will always be there, but the time with my loved ones won’t. I’m not making money as an author to support my family, and thus have the luxury of being able to take a break without any impacts.