Friday, January 28, 2011

Traveling the distance for writing pals

By Tawna Fenske, author of Making Waves (Sourcebooks Casablanca, Aug. 2011)

I'm late getting this post up, but I have an excuse. It doesn't even involve naked men with greased abs and jumper cables (which is unfortunate, but I digress).

I flew home very, very late last night after a week spent roaming Georgia, Florida, and Virginia in what was probably an overly ambitious writer meet-up.
(left to right) authors Elizabeth Flora Ross,
Cynthia Reese, and Tawna Fenske
The trip started simply enough as a plan to travel to south Georgia to meet up with longtime critique partner Cynthia Reese. We've swapped manuscripts and moral support for over six years, so it seemed wise we should meet in person before it's time to choose our retirement homes.

Things snowballed from there. When I realized several other writer pals resided in the same region, I cobbled together a series of three-legged flights and long layovers that allowed me to meet up with Harley May and Elizabeth Flora Ross (both of whom I know from Twitter) and the hilarous Linda Grimes (my "agency sistah" who's also represented by the amazing Michelle Wolfson).

I'm too jet-lagged and exhausted to give you a blow-by-blow account of the trip, and that would probably be boring anyway. What I will say is that I hear a lot of writers lamenting the difficulty of connecting with critique partners and beta readers. How do I find them? Does it matter if we're in the same geographic realm or the same place in our careers?

I can tell you from experience that the answer to the second question is a resounding no. I have a collection of critique partners and beta readers I've worked with for years, and I very rarely see any of them. Until last week, I couldn't have even told you with 100% certainty that Cynthia was not a martian.

Agency Sistahs Linda Grimes (left) and Tawna Fenke
We swap manuscripts electronically, brainstorm on the phone, and occasionally communicate via mental telepathy if the mood strikes. That's all it takes, really.

As for how to find them, you could try standing on a street corner holding a cardboard sign, but I don’t recommend it. One of the best online resources for finding critique partners and beta readers is the forum at Absolute Write devoted to this purpose.

Another great option is trolling online discussion forums for your specific genre. I met Cynthia in the eHarlequin discussion forums when we were both newbie writers learning the ropes. Check out blogs and chat loops for your genre to find other authors in your shoes (which is a little gross, so spray some Lysol before putting your feet back in them).

Organized writing groups are another good resource. If you write romance, your RWA chapter can help connect you with other writers in your genre. Sisters in Crime (SINC) offers an online group for new authors called The Guppies.

As for beta readers, all three of mine are former co-workers. It’s a perk of 10+ years working in marketing & corporate communications that I’ve connected with smart, savvy folks who like words, but you can find good betas in many places. Belong to a book club? Search it for betas. Got a co-worker with his nose in a book on lunch breaks? Maybe he’d like to help an aspiring author.

Bottom line, don't let a few miles keep you from meeting some really great writing pals. I'm glad I didn't!

Tawna Fenske writes romantic comedy. Her debut novel, Making Waves, is the first of three books scheduled for release with Sourcebooks Casablanca starting August 2011. She’s the author of the popular daily blog Don’t Pet Me, I’m Writing and a member of Romance Writers of America. She was honored to be chosen to blog weekly at The Debutante Ball, a group blog now in its fifth season that chronicles the debut year of five authors from different genres. Tawna lives in Central Oregon with her husband and traveling companion, whom she married at center court during a Portland Trailblazer game in front of 21,000 screaming sports fans (who, sadly, did not bring gifts).


Linda G. said...

Come back! I miss you!

Seriously, I had a great time. We have to figure out a way to get together on a regular basis. Perhaps some sort of Star Trek transporter? Or maybe find a mini wormhole connecting OR and VA? You start looking on your end, and I'll start looking on mine.

Paty Jager said...

Fun post! One of these days I'm going to meet my CP of ten years face to face. She lives in NY state. WE met from an REA contest. She was a judge and put her e-mail address on my judged entry and we've been CP's and have become log distance friends.

I found another one while trying out an online critique group. She and I hit it off and started just critiquing between us. the others are either local writers or friends I've accumulated online over the years.

It's great you were able to meet up with so many people!

Matthew Rush said...

Looks like you had a blast. What a great bunch of ladies. I think your advice about finding CPs is spot on. I would suggest getting to know another writer's experience level a little too first. You don't want someone who is afraid to be honest with you, or someone who doesn't have the patience to be nice either.

Oh, and you asked, so: hello!

Leona said...

Hey Matthew, I just saw you on the pet me blog :) LOL

Seriously good time, serious travel envy happening here! Thanks for sharing your trips on twitter (I'm the stalker known as @L_Bushman LOL) and being wonderfully accomadating with yourself, even if we aren't greased up hunks!

And as Matthew said, "Hello!" cuz you asked. I live to please... :)

Sarah Raplee said...

Enjoyed your post, Tawna! I bet lots of us have critique partners that live in other states (or countries!) Meeting up with yours was an awesome experience, wasn't it? Thanks for sharing.

I agree with Matthew that knowing the person's writing level doesn't hurt. Not that you need a perfect match, but if the two of you are too far apart and whoever's way ahead wants feedback, problems may occur.

RobynBradley said...

Great suggestions -- I think whatever works: virtual, in person, telepathic (love it). I've been in a crit group for six years now. Love them guys. And girls. Get some sleep!

Jen J. Danna said...

I can only agree. I have a writing partner who lives 1600 miles away in another country and is 19 years older than I am. Age nor distance keep us apart. We met via the internet too. And after working together for 3.5 years, we finally met for the first time last August. She flew up from Texas to visit her son in Pennsylvania and we both drove 4 hours (and I crossed the border) to meet in New York State. You do what you have to do, right? Our partners are worth going the distance to meet...

Genene Valleau said...

Tawna, sounds like you had a great time in your travels! And so glad you made it home safely--if exhausted!

My critique partners all live in the same area as I do. So no excuse to travel across the country or into another country.

We met through RWA and have been critiquing each other's work for almost twenty years. Can't believe it's been that long! We each bring a different strength to critiques: the big picture, grammar and commas, repeated words--I seem to come up with a different one in every story. :)

Thanks for sharing your adventures!

Bethany Mason said...

Thanks for sharing those links, am going to start stalking forums for readers!

Tawna Fenske said...

Hey guys, thanks so much for all the comments!

Linda G, I had a blast meeting you! Definitely you'll need to come to Oregon next :)

Paty, I'm so glad I finally found time to meet up with Cynthia after all these years. I've always felt like she's one of my best buddies, so it was great to finally meet her in person!

Matthew, great point about knowing someone's work habits. You definitely don't want someone who's too shy to be honest (or conversely, who trashes you every time).

Leona, thanks for stopping by! I'm also glad you gave your Twitter handle, since I'm terrible at connecting names/faces if they aren't exactly the same in all forums.

Sarah, I definitely agree that experience needs to be similar, but I get annoyed with writers who turn up their noses at the idea of working with anyone who isn't published or agented or whatever. The insights I gain from my unpubbed/unagented writing pals is every bit as valuable as the stuff I get from those who aren't at that stage yet.

RobynBradley, I slept well last night, so now I'm ready to tackle the world! :)

Jen, how fun to meet a critique partner from another country! Was she as fabulous as you expected? (Uh, you don't have to answer that if the answer is "no.")

Genene, one of my CPs and a few of my beta readers live in the same town I do, so we have the option of meeting in person if we want to. We often don't have time, but it is nice to grab a cup of coffee every now and then.

Bethany, glad you found it helpful!

Thanks for reading & commenting, guys!