Wednesday, June 2, 2010


By Joan

I’m not the first writer to acknowledge how truly embarrassed I am by the first manuscripts I sent to beta readers. One early reader suggested my first attempt (ultimately abandoned!) would be better if reserved for a private journal. That stung a little then, but in retrospect, she was probably right.

In March 2005, I actually sent my first completed manuscript to an author friend with this note: “Well, believe it or not, I’ve managed to finish my manuscript. There is a problem with length; it’s only a bit over 40,000 words.” She was polite enough not to tell me to find another career, quickly. Then she proceeded to read it and send it back, with extremely helpful comments. I didn’t even know enough then to be embarrassed by what I’d sent her!

Thankfully, I quickly figured out I needed guidance and stumbled first upon DFW Writers’ Workshop and then Lesser North Texas Writers (a small group of dedicated writers who meet every week to offer critique). From there I found some new critique partners, many of whom spent hours reading my work. (Finding the right critique partner is essential to improving your writing.)

Then I began querying. As much as I’d thought my first manuscript had improved (now 75,000 words!), it still wasn’t ready. I never received a hurtful rejection—some agents sent generic “Dear Author,” but never, “This is drivel.” Their rejections forced me to become a better writer because I practiced my craft, studied books in and out of my genre, read about both the writing craft and the publishing industry. Last year I ran an agent appreciation post, but it’s time again.

I’d like to thank the agents who requested a full manuscript and encouraged me to keep writing. As I mentioned here, I’ve had some close calls. Now writing my fourth manuscript, with continued perseverance and a little luck, I might soon get THE call.

I’m still amazed at the generosity of other writers. Last month, Charlotte Lanham, author of numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul stories, helped me tweak a short story for submission. She spent much of her valuable time helping me brainstorm and revise my story. Now I find myself eager to do the same. Yes, it takes time from my own writing, but I remember all the people who offered their valuable time to me and know I must give back. And since I’m not yet faced with the task of writing an acknowledgments page, I’ll say it here:

Thank you, beta readers. Thank you, agents. Thanks for encouraging me to work harder and write better.

Who has helped you become a better writer?


  1. Thanks for sharing. The right crit partners certainly make a difference. As does the attitude you have. Too many writers whine about how big of an idiot an agent is for not seeing the writer's brilliance. They miss out on the opportunity to improve their writing by taking a workshop or two, and by finding great crit partners.

  2. I completely agree that finding good critique partners is essential. Thank you so much, Joan, for being a fantastic partner, for not groaning, at least not to my face, when I send you a revised chapter for the fifth or sixth time. Thank you also for calling me on it when I'm lazy or something just doesn't sit right. THE OAK LOVERS is a much better manuscript because of you. I look forward to seeing your new manuscript!

  3. Stina--I agree! I'm always amazed when I see writers publicly whine about agents--especially when they name names.

    Kim--You're welcome! I know you'll do the same for my next manuscript as you did with my last two!


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