Howdy! Where is this year going? Wasn’t it Christmas five minutes ago?
This month I’ve got a small handful of story updates, plus some advice about writers’ groups and why they’re a great thing for writers to be a part of.
Close, but no cigar
In my last news and advice article I told you that a magazine editor was really keen on my Million Eyes short story The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller. She asked me to do some sprucing up and said that if I did that, it had a really good chance (she did make a point of not promising anything).
I did a complete re-edit, hoping I was onto a winner, and submitted it. Sadly she rejected it again (which is probably the toughest rejection I’ve had so far – just shows how careful you need to be with your hopes in this industry!).
To be fair, I asked her what went wrong this time and she replied saying that there was nothing wrong with the story at all, and that it was ready to be sent out to other publications. She advised that it simply wasn’t right for the magazine at that time (which could mean anything — perhaps they had already accepted a story that was a bit similar).
So the process, while disappointing, wasn’t a waste of time. My hope is that I now have a better story and I’ve already started submitting the new version elsewhere. Onwards and upwards!
A new story: The Box
I recently completed a new Million Eyes short story called The Box, which is a mystery story based on a famous British conspiracy theory that I’ve blogged about before. (I’m not going to tell you which one at this stage — spoilers!)
I completed the story and sent it to The Short Story for a tick-sheet critique. (I’ve mentioned this website before; they offer extremely affordable basic critiques for £7.99.)
The critique I received back said that the story was engaging but needed a lot of work and levelled lots of criticism at the structure and characters. I considered this carefully and decided it would be prudent to get a second opinion. As I’ve explained before, critiques are wholly subjective and it’s always best to get multiple opinions.
So I purchased a second critique from The Short Story and asked for a different editor to consider it. The second critique, which I just received yesterday, was much more positive. Some tweaks were recommended, a couple of which overlapped with what the first editor had said. But the first editor wasn’t even sure whether the story was worth persevering with. The second editor said the story was “definitely” worth persevering with.
This is another example of why just getting a single opinion can be very dangerous to a writer, and why joining a writers’ group is an ideal solution.
Which brings me nicely onto…
The benefits of joining a writers’ group
Writers should never rely on just one person’s opinion about their work, but purchasing multiple critiques can be expensive. The Short Story offers very affordable critiques, but I’ve not been able to find many other places like this (if you know of any, I’d love to hear from you!). Generally you’re looking at £30+ for a short story critique from one editor. That’s not actually that bad a rate given the work involved for the reader, but getting multiple opinions becomes very pricey for the writer.
The main business of most writers’ groups is to critique members’ stories. Generally you read out your work and the rest of the group will offer feedback. Perfect. You’re getting multiple critiques from fellow writers and readers. You might not be getting something as comprehensive, but in my view, multiple opinions from different people are far more valuable to a writer than a comprehensive opinion from one person.
That’s because it counteracts the subjectivity problem — you’re getting a much broader selection of views to consider. And if several people in the group are saying the same thing about your story, that’s probably something you ought to think about changing. If only one person criticises something that others seem to like, perhaps that’s something you shouldn’t change.
Importantly, this feedback is free. Yes, you generally have to pay to become a member, but it’s normally a nominal annual cost to cover expenses. I’m a member of Rushmoor Writers and it costs £25 a year. When you consider how much you might spend on a single written critique, it’s a no-brainer.
Rushmoor Writers is the second-longest-running writers’ group in the UK and made up of a mix of writers. Some just write for enjoyment. Some are actively trying to make a career out of novel or short story writing. One member, Martin Owton, has an agent and several books in the process of being published. A good mix of people is another benefit of joining a writers’ group — it means you get opinions on your writing from people who enjoy different genres.
Being a member of a writers’ group also keeps you in touch with the industry. At Rushmoor Writers, we share industry and market news, i.e. new agents and publishing imprints we’ve heard about, open submission windows, upcoming writing competitions etc., which is obviously very useful for those trying to develop serious writing careers.
But the main benefit of being part of a writers’ group is how much you can learn about writing. My writing has improved immensely since I’ve been a part of Rushmoor Writers, largely because of the feedback I’ve received from the members. You also learn from listening to other people’s stories as well, which gives you an immediate insight into genres you might not normally read. Each year, Rushmoor Writers invites a speaker, usually an established author, to come and do a presentation for the group; this is also extremely valuable to those trying to break into the industry.
Of course being part of a writers’ group isn’t the be all and end all of becoming a better writer. There are other things you should do as well. As you know, I do also get written critiques from time to time. I read and write frequently, and the Million Eyes Short Stories have been an exercise in honing my writing skills as much as introducing readers to the Million Eyes universe. But being a member of Rushmoor Writers has, I think, had the biggest impact on how much my writing has improved over the last two years.
Next week: the story of the Black Knight Satellite