Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Everyone's A Critic: Guest post by Love Inspired Author Jessica Keller

** Jess is giving a way a free signed copy of her new book! The prize goes to whoever leaves the best/sweetest/craziest/funniest/most groan-worthy comment, so check out the questions below and drop us a note. Best of luck to you all!**

Remember the scene in Anne of Green Gables when Gilbert gives Anne his honest opinion about her story?

“Well, if you want my opinion, Miss Shirley, I'd write about places I knew something of and people that spoke everyday English instead of these silly schoolgirl romances.”

Anne answers Gil by promptly decking him with her basket. We laugh because she’s so stubborn, but mostly because we feel like doing the same thing when receive harsh feedback about our own writing. In the end Anne follows Gil’s advice and sells her manuscript.

My personal writing journey isn’t very different.

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." -Winston Churchill

Negative feedback. Constructive criticism. Call it what you will, as a writer, we’re going to come face-to-face with that ugly monster.

Two years ago, I walked into my first writer’s conference. By an hour into day one, I was terrified. People were handing out their business cards and showing each other one-sheets. I didn’t have either. I’d never heard of an elevator pitch. Trembling, I sat down for my first ever agent appointment. She asked to see my first chapter and she maybe read the first three sentences before looking back at me and saying, “You have good ideas, but if this is your best writing, I don’t see publishing in your future.”

I thanked her and scuttled away to lick my wounds. There were more classes to attend that day and needed to put my brave-face on, but tears were spilled later. Then doubts crept in.

What was I thinking even coming to a conference? I’ll never be a real author. Stupid pipedream.

I allowed myself one crummy night. Then I marched back into classes for the rest of conference and soaked up every bit of information I could.

See, I had two options. I could allow that agent’s feedback to kill my dream, or I could use that feedback as a challenge. I chose the latter.

After I came back home I stuck the old manuscript in a drawer. Then I pulled out four recently published CBA books that I considered well written. I gave myself one month to read them all, mapping out their plots as I went. When did hero and heroine meet? During which chapter was the big problem introduced? When did subplots start popping in? How often did the author toss us for a loop or throw out red herrings? What sparked tension? What made me cheer for the characters? I took what I’d learned and mapped out a whole new story. I gave myself five weeks to write and polish it
Then came the scary moment … I entered the new manuscript into contests. Not with the aim to win. No, after that agent’s feedback I didn't consider that even remotely realistic. I entered to receive professional feedback. I mean, critiques from friends and fellow unpublished writers are great—but only the professional will know if it’ll sell in the industry. I didn't want to waste any more time in my journey pouring over another manuscript that wasn't right, so I gritted my teeth and pressed send.

Know what? Learning from criticism paid off.

I won first in every contest I entered. I received requests for the full manuscript from every editor who judged my submission. Within that month, I sent queries to agents. I had offers of representation from all three agents I sent proposals to. I experienced the elation of signing with my *dream* agent. At the ACFW Conference I received requests from every editor I pitched to.

All in less than four months since the day an agent told me she didn't see a future for me.

The best news? That manuscript that I wrote…It’s my debut novel, Home for Good.

I ended up writing a thank you letter to the agent who gave me the challenging feedback. I thanked her for being honest during our meeting. I've gone back over that first manuscript and now—with better trained eyes—I can see she was 100% right. If she had done the easy thing—tell me to send her a proposal and then sent the rejection later—I wouldn't be as far in my journey as I am today. Her tough words spurred me on and forced me to grow. I’ll be forever grateful for her very firm push.

How about you? Do you seek out professional critiques? How have you learned from feedback?

Home for Good 

"I made a promise to protect you."

But pregnant Ali Silver's husband broke his vow and walked away from her. After being injured in combat, Jericho has finally come home to Bitterroot Valley to make peace with his father and regain Ali's trust. But the single mom's keeping secrets of her own. And someone's killing off Ali's cattle and sabotaging her horse therapy business. Jericho will do whatever it takes to protect his wife and be a real father to his son. Because when it comes to love and second chances, he's one determined cowboy.

As a child Jessica Keller possessed the dangerous combination of too much energy coupled with an over-active imagination. This pairing led to more than seven broken bones and countless scars. Oddly enough, she’s worked as a zookeeper, a librarian, camp counselor, horse wrangler, housekeeper, and finance clerk, but now loves her full-time work in law enforcement.
Former editor of both her college newspaper and literary journal at Trinity International University, Jessica received degrees in both Communications and Biblical Studies.She lives in the Chicagoland suburbs with her amazing husband, one child, and two annoyingly outgoing cats.

Jessica writes Young Adult fiction and Romance. If you love curling up with a good book, you’re destined to be her new best friend! On her Facebook Author page she has frequent book and cookie giveaways. Don’t miss out.
Twitter: @AuthorKeller
Links to purchase Home for Good

Comment for your chance to win a free copy. The winner will be announced on this blog on Thursday!

How about you? Do you seek out professional critiques? How have you learned from feedback?


BelleC said...

All the best Jessica! Your book sounds fantastic. I really like the name Jericho. So unique. I'm a new LI author too...with a June release. Congrats on your new baby. Very nice interview.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! I'm a big fan of giving characters meaningful names and Jericho has his name for a very specific reason.

Melissa Jagears said...

What a "fun" story with the agent. The harsher the comments, the better to me...I'm always leery of the praise. :)

Lisa Phillips said...

I cannot BELIEVE that agent said that to you... though, I guess that's how many self published authors are born.

Glad you stuck with it and i'll be praying for you and the new baby.

Anonymous said...

It was a hard moment of reality, but its funny to look back on now. I'm glad I have one of those "listen to this" stories to share with unpublished writers now because before I had a contract it always encouraged me to hear from a published author that their journey hadn't been super easy the whole time.

Heather@CreativeFamilyMoments said...

You handled that harsh criticism very well. I imagine it would be hard not say something snarky like, "You don't see publishing in my future? I'm sorry, but I don't believe in psychics." But then I would instantly regret it, so good job holding your tongue! Your journey and decision to move forward is inspiring. Congrats on your new book!

Lourdes said...

A very enjoyable interview. Books sounds great would love to win.