Neubauer's Nuggets No problem is too big or too small for our Joan
By Joan R. Neubauer
Each month, award-winning author Joan R. Neubauer will answer questions from you, her readers. She will answer questions about writing, promotion, publishing, and any other aspect of the publishing industry you can think of. Send your questions to her emailbox firstname.lastname@example.org SUBJECT Neubauer Nuggets and maybe yours will be the question she answers next month.
Q. Dear Joan,
I'm working on my first mystery novel and some writer friends of mine have been encouraging me to join their critique group. I'm not sure this could benefit me since no one in that group writes in my genre. Should I join or continue on my own? The idea of writing my book by committee doesn't really appeal to me.
Carol Whittington Billings, Montana
A. Dear Carol,
Of course if you can find a critique group that specializes in writing mysteries, that would be most desirable. Failing that, a group of writers who love to read mysteries is the next best thing. Critique groups do a great job of helping writers produce a quality manuscript, but they can only truly succeed if they follow a few crucial rules.
1. Don't let any one person dominate the discussion. An egg timer works well for this to limit each person's time.
2. Confine all comments to the quality of the manuscript, and keep them balanced. In other words, if someone makes a negative comment about the manuscript, they must also make a positive comment.
3. In the case of negative comments, also give an example of how to make it better.
4. Make copies for everyone in the group to read and write on. That way, even though time for discussion is limited, readers get the chance to give the writer all their comments in written form.
5. The author should never feel obliged to make suggested changes based on one person's opinion. However, if more than one person catches the same thing, the author should seriously think about what they have said, and possibly make the change.
6. The author is not allowed to "defend" himself during critique. That only takes up time. The author may, however, answer a direct question posed by the person giving the critique, but keep it short.
Always remember the purpose of critique groups: to give you immediate feedback on something you've written. Keep that in mind, and then take that feedback and do what you will with it. In the end, it is your book with your name on it.
I know of several authors who give their critique groups the credit for their success. I would suggest you try it. If it doesn't work, find a critiquing partner, or just go it alone.
Q. Dear Joan,
I recently submitted my first manuscript to a large publishing house only to receive a very polite but unhelpful rejection. One of the comments in the rejection letter said, "This might make a very nice mid-list book, but we don't do mid-list books." What does that mean? I thought I had written a mainstream novel.
Mary Lou Philadelphia, PA
A. Dear Mary Lou,
You may indeed have written a mainstream novel, but mid-list refers not to genre but to the amount of sales the publisher can expect from a title. For example, if a book sells over a million, that's considered a blockbuster. If it sells anywhere from 25,000 to a few hundred thousand, then it's called a mid-list book, a "little book," if you will.
Several years ago, some of the larger publishing houses announced that they would no longer publish such mid-list books. They were only interested in the blockbusters, which effectively locked out most new authors from the biggest houses, but don't despair. You have more opportunities than ever before.
With thousands of smaller, national and regional publishing houses out there, you can resubmit your manuscript to any of those that publish mainstream. You also have the option of self-publishing. Any of those houses would love to have a "very nice mid-list book." They use the same distribution network as the big guys, and as a first time author, you'll get more of the attention and guidance you may need. In fact, you may prove your worth so well with this smaller house, you may attract the attention of those larger houses and they may come knocking on your door.