Critique Groups: Finding the Perfect Fit

I had a delighful conversation with an attendee over the weekend about critique groups (Hi, LM!) and I wanted to share some of the highlights with all of you.

Critique groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some are genre specific, some are judged, some are open to all writers and all genres. Some are honest and some are not. When you're looking for a critique group, here are some things to consider:

1. How serious is the group when it comes to the writing? Are they more into cookouts and cocktails or do they really want to get the heart of the work? And how serious are you? Is writing more than a hobby, or just a part-time things for you?

2. What's the demographic of the group? Are all of the writers rookies or are some of them published? Where do you honestly fit into the group? Are you the star of the show, or are you always the one who gets picked on?

3. How honest and forthright are the members? Will they tell you the truth, as they see it, about your work? And do they know what they're talking about? Will they tell you you're the next Faulkner so they don't have to hurt your feelings? Can you give honest and constructive criticism?

Critique groups are like any other outlet: they grow, change and evolve over time. You have to expect this. People will drop-out, stop writing, get published, move. It just happens. Be aware of these changes and make sure your attendance is productive. If it isn't, find a new group.

I was a critique group regular for years. But after a long, hard look at my expectations from the group, I realized my needs were no longer being met. I still communicate with several members, but the meetings had become less than productive for me. It broke my heart to leave, but I felt I was reading and rereading the same material. And only two other writers in the group seemed to be serious about publishing.

A few months after leaving the group, I met a lady at a conference. After a long discussion, we realized were in the same place in our writing lives and we wrote the same genre. We decided to try an experiment: long-distance critiques. We made some hard and fast ground rules. No personal relationship except to ask politely about the husband and kids. No self-editing. No beating around the bush. Regular schedule. Emails preferable to phone calls. Call only if you can't explain it in an email. 100% Business. We are CRITIQUE PARTNERS not Best Friends Forever or Frenemies.

It's been a dream come true for me. (I hope she feels the same!) She's the one person who I can really trust to tell me the uncensored truth. She knows what she's talking about when it comes to our genre. And we're climbing the publishing ladder at the same time. I know this won't work for everyone, but it works well for us.

So, if you can't find a critique group that meets your needs, consider an out-of-the box solution. Don't waste time and gas attending a critique group that gets you no closer to your goal. Find one that fits.

Thanks for the idea, LM. I was fresh out of blogging topics.

Going Green and What it Means for the 2009 Conference

This year we decided early in the planning process to 'go green.' It's the buzz phrase of the year and I'm sure lots of you are wondering what it really means when it comes to the conference.

Here are some of the ways we saved paper, money, envelopes and ink.
1. All faculty contracts were completed electronically. We didn't mail a single one.
2. Faculty members were given the choice of receiving critiques via snail mail or via email. Most chose email.
3. We decided not to print a color brochure, moving to simple black and white mail-in registration forms. We sent these on request---no buckshot marketing materials. We jazzed up the website, added the blog and passed along information electronically.
4. We trimmed the notebook down considerably, including everything necessary but nothing superfluous.
5. We had everything from vendors, e.g. bags, pens, shipped in groups. We requested they not send us a new, half-full box with each item. This saved boxes, packaging materials and ink. All we had to do was order things in a timely manner.

Here are some ways we saved energy:
1. Most conference materials, including the bags, the new notebooks, lanyards, badge holders and water bottles are either recycled or recyclable. This cut down considerably on the use of new plastics.
2. We elected to offer refillable water bottles for sale. Instead of buying a new water bottle each time you're thirsty, you can simply fill up your new water bottle. They are BPA-free, made of recycled materials, and they're SUPER COOL. (Wait until you see them!)
3. The conference bags, which also look teriffic, are large. This means you can put all your things---including books or other items you purchase---in one bag. We won't need plastic t-shirt bags at The Book Nook. Not only are these bags a waste of energy to produce, they're nearly impossible to get rid of once they are produced. Our landfills are literrally FULL of these bags. You can reuse your conference tote countless times. You can't say the same about the plastic ones.

Things make look more basic this year, but it's on purpose. You will have everything you need. You will, in no way, be inconvienced by these measures. We know that you are more concerned about the writing than the bells and whistles. We're very excited about all the neat conservation measures incorporated into this year's conference. We'll post info at the registration desk and the Book Nook decribing the new conservation-friendly items. Thanks for helping us help the environment!

Even though we're only a few hundred folks, think how much we could all save if all conference were eco-concious. It's not only about the money, it's about the world we're passing on to our kids and grandkids.

The Tale of A Four-Part Harmony or I Finally GOT It!

This weekend my son and I went back to my hometown for two reasons: the Art in Autumn Festival in Weaverville, NC (check out the KILLER T-SHIRT above) and a family reunion. It was so nice to be home! My family has owned the same farm for more than two hundred years. Our family reunion has been at the same location, on the same Sunday, since 1939. As most of you know, I grew up in the high mountains lining the North Carolina-Tennessee border and I'm very proud of my Scots-Irish heritage. Family get-togethers in the Appalachian Mountains always include several staples of our unique culture: food, storytelling and music, lots of music, much of which can be traced back to Scotland and Ireland.

Even though I'm raising my son in the South Carolina Lowcountry, nearly 300 miles and several light-years, from where I grew up, I try very hard to make sure he understands his mountain heritage. I sang Go To Sleep, Little Baby to him when he was teething. I sing Keep On The Sunny Side to him when his heart gets broken. Traditional music ala The Carter Family and Bill Monroe has been part of his experience since the moment he came into the world. And he loves it. For the past several months, he's been enthralled with an old Bill Monroe song called Fox on the Run. The recording I have is a three-part harmony. And even though he knows all the words, and even though we listen to it several times a day, he couldn't sing it to his satisfaction. UNTIL. . .
At the reunion on Sunday, after a great meal, someone picked up a guitar. The banjo and the mandolin were next and soon we were well on our way to an impromptu concert. My son requested Fox on the Run, the pickers agreed on a key, decided to divide the vocals into a four part harmony, and we were off---dozens of similar voices harmonizing. I looked down at my son's face and he was enthralled. His face was aglow with enlightenment. When the chorus came along, he slid into the fourth part of the harmony like it was made just for him.
What does this have to do with writing? My son has heard, practiced and worried with this song's vocals for months. He plays it over and over. Hums it. Taps his foot to it. But he just couldn't get it right---until he heard it in a different way.

The same goes for writing. Sometimes you can work on a scene, or an entire manuscript, and you just can't get it to work. But if you keep working, learning, trying . . .eventually the missing piece will show up and everything will make sense. You have to keep at it, even if the answer or the solution is not immediately apparent. All that work equals something. It's not a waste. And sometimes it takes all that work to get to the solution.

If only I'd played a four-part harmony version of this song, maybe my son would've gotten it sooner. And then he wouldn't have worried over it so much. But maybe not. Maybe the worrying was what he needed. Now, because he had to work at it, he knows every part---the vocals, the rhythms and counter rhythms, the melody. If he hadn't spent so much time on it, he might have only known one part, not the whole song.

Writing is one of those skills that requires a lot of practice. With music, you rarely get it to sound the way you want the first time you play (or sing) it. You'll hit sour notes, forget a sharp, mangle chords. In your manuscript, you'll create flat characters, write dialogue that sounds silly, and overuse adjectives. It's okay. Really. It's okay. You've learned a lot just by virtue of spotting these problems. And eventually, just like for my son, you'll hear that fourth part and realize just what you've been missing.

More about ART IN AUTUMN later this week.

If you're curious about the song, here's a link to a vintage performance by the Country Gentlemen. And yes, it's a four-part harmony.

OR, if you require a Hipper version, in three-part harmony(or something like it), check out Bare Naked Ladies doing the same song

Guest Blogger: Rochelle Bailey

Making the Most of Your Conference
by Editor Rochelle Bailey

Writing isn't a clinical, linear sort of career. On the surface it may seem as though every writer has the same goal – publication – but the specifics of that goal and the best path to reach it are unique to every individual. So when you've made the commitment to attend a writer's conference like the SCWW, how do you know how to make the conference programming and opportunities work for you?

First, be honest about where you are. Have you written part of a book, a whole book, or a whole series of books? Then be honest about where you want to go. Do you need to see your name in print on your own bookshelf, on the bookstore's shelf, or on the NY Times bestseller stand? Your answers determine the best sessions and classes for what you need right now, and what you'll look for as you progress.

If you're just getting started, stick with classes that will strengthen your writing craft. Classes on characters, plotting, conflict, and even manuscript formatting will be invaluable and help you rise above the 'doorstop' fate of so many first novels. And by fitting in a slush fest or query letter session you'll learn a lot just by listening to the feedback.

If you've been writing and submitting those manuscripts, but you keep getting rejected without a request, it's time to hone your query and synopsis skills, double check the market trends, and renew your enthusiasm with a craft session or two. Make time to tune in to other author's who've been there to see what advice you can glean from their experience.

If you've sold a book or two already, but you want to start swimming in a bigger pond or different genre, focus on promotion and marketing sessions, visit a genre or craft session, and use your time to network professionally with agents and editors.

However you decide to spend your time at a conference, always keep an open mind, a smile on your face, and your business cards handy.

Rochelle Bailey is the acquiring editor and director of Quake, the YA division of Echelon Press. Writing as Regan Black, she is also the award winning author of the Shadows of Justice series and several short stories geared toward teen and adult readers.

Currently residing in the Lowcountry of South Carolina she balances editing and writing by managing a household of engineers of all ages and an impressive domestic zoo starring two retired greyhounds, two cats, and three quirky birds.

Watching your Ps and Qs -- on Twitter, Myspace, Facebook...

Recently, Janet Reid mused on her blog about just how public the Internet is. This is something I've mentioned in publicity and submission seminars. While Ms. Reid stated it much better than I can, here are a few points to ponder when evaluating your online image.

  • Items posted on Myspace and Facebook might show up in Internet searches.
  • Comments posted on public blogs, as well as blogs, will appear in Internet searches.
  • Agents do read blogs.
  • Agents not only Google prospective clients' names, but their own names. If you "go off" about an agent on your blog, they can see it. While you might not think much of the person or his/her decision, other agents do and probably won't side with you.
  • While your friends might appreciate your humor and slang, agents might not. It's all about context. If every post on your blog is about how much you drank, how much you ate and how many failed relationships you've had, an agent might run before they learn there's so much more to you.

However, there's hope.

  • You can set your social networking profiles to private. If you've "friended" agents and editors, there are privacy settings to filter how much of your life they can see.
  • There's always the possibility you'll be able to go back to blogs and delete previous posts.
  • The visibility of your blog is a great way to showcase your talent and the positive thoughts you have about your writing, your conference experiences, etc.
  • There's a way to keep tabs on yourself -- visit the Google page and learn more about Google Alerts.
  • Want to learn how to use the World Wide Web for good instead of embarrassment? There are sessions covering social networking at the 2009 South Carolina Writers Workshop.

One last thought, photos you and your friends post on public sites can be searched as well. So, you might want to start bargaining now to get your sister to take down that photo of you...

Pssstttt! I've Got a Secret: Advance Notice of Silent Auction Goodies

I told you earlier that the info would be posted on the main site first, but I couldn't keep it to myself any longer. Here are some, JUST some, of the wonderful items that have been donated by faculty.

1. Barbara Poelle – Query letter, first three chapters and synopsis
2. Pam Ahearn – Partial manuscript (First three chapters)
3. Chuck Sambuchino – 100-page critique
4. Jeff Kleinmann – 75-page critique
5. Nikki Poppen – Full manuscript critique
6. Rochelle Bailey – Critique of YA manuscript
7. Jim Casada – A manuscript critique
8. Jim McCarthy – 50-page critique
9. Joanna Stampfel-Volpe – 50-page critique
10. Scott Eagan – Critique of First three chapters and synopsis
11. Karen Syed – Critique

The hard and fast rules will be posted on the silent auction bid sheets on the tables. Some faculty members will have specific requirements so be sure to read the sheets before you bid.

MAN OH MAN! What an incredible list.

Please remember to thank faculty members for their generous donations to our Silent Auction. They receive NO PROCEEDS from their item(s). They donate time and energy to helping you better your craft and in the meantime keep the conference affordable for all of us. They are not required in any way to donate. They're doing it because they're nice people, they have passion for the industry and they want to help us become better writers.

Thanks to everyone who's donating something. We really appreciate your commitment to the conference and the craft.

Where Have I Been? An Update on All Things Conference

Sorry I've been so slack on posting the last couple of weeks, but Carrie and I have been swamped with last minute details. Last minute details? The conference is six weeks from now. Isn't it a bit early? Not really. For us, it's right around the corner. We started planning LAST YEAR and we're in the home stretch. (At least, we keep telling each other that.) I thought I'd take a few minutes to update everyone on what we're doing.

CRITIQUES---The submissions are going out this week! Some faculty members already have them and the rest will receive them by Friday. If you want to add another critique, call or email us ASAP so we can get your submission to faculty. There are still a few primo spots left so don't miss the opportunity to get priceless feedback from a professional.

SILENT AUCTION---Boy, do we have some FANTASTIC ITEMS this year! I can't tell you about all of them---there isn't room, but I will tell you that MOST of our faculty members have donated something and that includes SEVERAL critiques. (Think BIG NAMES, FANTASTIC AGENTS AND EDITORS). More information will be posted on the SCWW website soon. Be sure to check it out so you can start planning your bidding strategy. When it's posted, I'll blog about the details. We're still taking donations, so if you have some new or slightly used books you'd like to donate or arts and crafts items, we'd love to have them!

GOODIES---We've selected some items you're going to love! The Book Nook will be carrying a whole host of SCWW merchandise including T-shirts with this year's quote (HINT: Toni Morrison), BPA-free water bottles, recycled journals, pens, NEW & IMPROVED over sized mugs (and yes, we'll have more coffee this year thanks to a couple of Chapters), and books galore.

CARRIE McCRAY--According to our Contests Chair, Kim Blum-Hyclak, the contest is off and running. The judges have the submissions and are working hard to choose winners in each of the categories. The winners will be announced at Friday night's dinner. If you purchased a Basic, but would like to go to the awards presentation, there's still plenty of room . Email us and we'll be happy to add a dinner ticket to your registration.

ACCOMMODATIONS---If you haven't booked your room yet, you need to do it ASAP. Hilton will guarantee our discounted rate until Wednesday, September23. If you like a little extra space, consider booking a room at Royale Palms. These condos are connected to the Hilton proper---no dashing through wind and water to get to class---and they each have a kitchens and deluxe baths. (They're SUPER NICE.) They're offering great rates on these rooms. They have 2 and 3 bedroom units available, too----great if you're bunking with a friend.

All the links you will need are at

Please call or email if you need to add anything, ask anything, or donate anything. We'd love to hear from you!

A special thanks to Nikki Poppen for her blogs. I, for one, will be sneaking into her Friday Intensives. I promise to get back on schedule as soon as I get all your manuscript babies out to your faculty members.

Guest Blogger: Nikki Poppen

Hi All,

The conference is just a little over a month away and I can hardly wait to meet and work with so many of you! Fall is a fun time for me as a writer because it’s my ‘writer’s new year’ and everything is fresh. You probably have a ‘new year’ too depending on your own writing cycles. My new year is marked by two things: the start of any new contracts I’ve acquired over the year, the start of the ‘fall book’ (I write one book every nine weeks, so essentially every academic quarter). Fall traditionally has not be a time for me that is filled with revisions and finishing work from my editor, so it feels like my plate is cleared and I am ready to begin again! As proof of that, I just finished the revisions from my editor on a manuscript I completed in July, I just began writing the opening three chapters of the fall book and I just got the new contract for this year’s Undone Shorts at Harlequin to go with the three books slated to be written this year. It’s been a great week, and my mind has been on beginnings, so I thought I’d focus this blog on some strategies for great openers. For the sake of copyright issues, I’ve limited the examples to my own works.

Great opening lines and chapters are essentially held to the same criteria as an introduction in a public address or a good opening paragraph like the sorts we might have written in college English composition. Here’s what a good opening is supposed to do:

Grab the reader ‘s (audience’s) attention
Create a reason for that reader to want to keep on reading
Get the reader organized around the central plot (the reader needs to know early what is the focus of the story and I am a firm believer that happens in chapter 1).
Create a ‘road map’ of where the story is going (this can be a work in progress that spans the first two chapters).

The blog will talk about the first step, and if you’re interested in how to do the other 3 steaps, come to the ‘writing the romance’ session I’m hosting at the conference!

Grabbing attention, or how to construct exciting opening lines:
Here’s some techniques to help get that first line just right:

1. Start with a startling claim: An example might be the opening line from “The Viscount Claims His Bride,”
“Valerian Inglemoore, the Viscount St Just, had a secret, a dreadful secret that caused him to tremble in guilt and self-loathing as he stood alone on Lady Rutherford’s verandah.”

As you can see, the startling claim doesn’t have to be shocking or vulgar or even all that sensational. But this startling claim does do double duty. Think of all the things you now know about the hero in roughly 30 words.
a) The hero is a titled gentleman (so that creates some plot, behavior and lifestyle expectations on the reader’s part).
b) The hero has a secret AND we know how he feels about that secret. He is ashamed. This also builds in some anticipation. The reader knows at this point that he’s got to do something distasteful in regards to that secret, or that the secret is going to affect his life.
c) We know where the hero is.

2. Start with deductive reasoning: a large claim that is narrowed down specifically to the character in question: Check out Jane Austen’s opening to “Pride and Prejudice” and how the large claim is narrowed down to Mr. Darcy specifically (I’m not sure about copyright so I am not going to risk re-typing the lines here). I used this strategy in the book I just finished for Harlequin and I can put that opening lines here.

“Ballrooms were made for business. All the standard trappings of festivity aside, ballrooms were a gentleman’s office. They were the places a gentleman conducted the most important business transactions of his life; ensuring a place in society and arranging his marriage. Jack had already done the latter and had no intentions of doing the former.”

This provides us in just a few lines with a sense of:
1. Place and setting
2. An interesting ‘philosophical thought’
3. A brief look into the hero’s psyche. We can guess at this point a few things
about Jack.

3. Go ahead and opening with something shocking. I did this in “The Earl’s Forbidden Ward,” Here’s the opener:

“Peyton Ramsden, fourth earl of Dursley, was doing what he did best—technically superior, emotionally removed sex with his mistress of two years. Certain of her fulfillment, he gave a final thrust and withdrew to make a gentleman’s finish in the sheets.”

4. Start with the action! In many ways I’ve said the best for last. Here’s two examples. The first one is from “Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady”

“She would not be sold like a prized mare at Tattersalls! Julia Prentiss’s elegantly coiffed head swiveled in disbelief between Uncle Barnaby and Mortimer Oswalt,the lecherous old cit who had come to offer for her.”

Think of everything we now know about Julia:
1. She’s mad
2. She is probably living with relatives and at their mercy since there isn’t a father arranging this marriage for her
3. She’s a young woman of rank, as reflected in her knowledge and association with Tattersalls and her opinion of the merchant-class man who has come to offer for her.

And most importantly, there’s the action. We open up right away with a bargaining scene. We don’t start with Julia being called downstairs or with any back story about how she’s something of an orphan or that her family has fallen on hard times etc. We just start with the action and all those things get neatly inferred into the scene.

The second example is from “Pickpocket Countess.”
“Even in the darkness, he could sense the subtle alteration of the room. The room had been disturbed. Brandon Wycroft, the fifth earl of Stockport, muttered curses under his breath. The Cat had been here.”

Brandon’s home has been burglarized. Again we start with the action. If you read two paragraphs down in the book the reader immediately discovers the Cat is still in the room and there’s a glorious, passionate scramble for escape.

One great tip I picked up from Claire Delacroix a couple years ago is: Don’t be afraid to throw out your first 2-3 chapters. The action probably starts with chapter 3 and that’s where your final draft of the story should start too. This tip has never failed me! All the back story, all the exciting things we as writers know about our characters can be worked in throughout the story instead of laying tons of ground work too early.

Enjoy! Come by the romance writing seminar and introduce yourselves!
Nikki Poppen, writing as Bronwyn Scott

Critique Madness: Here They Are!

Here they are! All neatly organized and ready to transmit or mail!
Since I'm handling critiques this year, lots of you have called or emailed to ask about the process. How we organize, sort, transmit, etc. I thought it might be interesting to have a blog post that explains the whole murky process.
The manuscript you sent via email is saved on a flash drive, in folders by faculty member. This drive will be taken to the conference just in case another copy of your submission is needed for any reason. (This does NOT mean you shouldn't consider bringing your own flash drive.)

The manuscript you mailed traveled from the post office to my house, where it was stored in a large tupperware bin until all of them arrived. Then, on September 6th, I moved all the furniture in my living room to the side and sorted them. (For once, I was very thankful for my impractical formal living room---it's long instead of wide and I fuss about this constantly---just ask Mr. Husband. He knows a millon reasons why the fireplace SHOULD BE ON THE LONG WALL. But, he admits, he doesn't know WHY it isn't.) After they were alphabetized, I put them in boxes and under lock and key. If your faculty member asked for paper copies, he or she will be sent one copy and the conference will keep the other. Again, in case we need a copy once we get to the conference site.

Take heart----I take the care of these submissions very seriously. The only eyes that will see them and the only fingers that will touch them are mine and you faculty member's. They are safe with me!

What happens when the conference is over? You can pick up your copies or we will shred them. This will be done before we leave the beach. I give you my word---they will be shredded.

Faculty members chose, when they signed their contracts, how they wanted to receive their manuscripts. Some chose mail and some chose email. So, I'll be sending them out the next few days.
Keep your fingers crossed. This just might be your year!
For the record, I read Nikki Poppen's THE DOWAGER'S WAGER yesterday. Bravo, Nikki!
And today I REALLY AM working on line edits. All day. No matter what. Even if Mr. Husband wants to whisk me away to some tropical beach--HINT, HINT---I'll be here in my office.

I Know I Should Be Working. . .

This long holiday weekend would be a perfect time for drafting or for finishing that line edit I've been working on for ages.

But I'm in the mood to read. The weather is already a little cooler and I'm itching to drag my favorite chair under the Pecan tree in my backyard and travel to a faraway land. I'm not sure what I'll read----I have a huge "TO READ" stack beside my bed---but I wanted to share a few titles with you. I promise NONE of the below will disappoint! Some are new and some are old favorites. Enjoy!

Literary Fiction





Surely one of these will fit the bill. I'll let you know what I chose and tell you all about it tomorrow.

Are You Too Married?

A manuscript is an extension of you. In a way it's like a child---you create it, play with it, train it, and hope to share it with the world. But remember, you love your children like no one else in the world. You also love your manuscript more than anyone in the world.

You SHOULD love it, but. . .

It's easy to get too attached to your manuscript. After all, you've spent countless hours working to make it perfect. You've sacrificed time you could have spent with family and friends writing your masterpiece. You've weighed every word, deleted and reinserted the same scene several times, rewritten dialogue for weeks at a time. And now it's finished. And it's perfect. And YOU'RE NOT GOING TO CHANGE A DARN THING.

If you feel this way, you're too married to your manuscript. After you've spent months, or years, with the same story, it's impossible to see your own work. You need the advice of other writers, agents, editors. Change can be a good thing. Don't resist. Listen, weigh, and go back to your masterpiece. Usually you will see that at least a few of them are right.

When writers are too married to a manuscript, a red flag pops into the heads of publishing professionals. If you're unwilling to change a single word, a single scene break, they're going to think you're high maintenance. And you know what that means, right? In the words of my mother, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." If a few changes could make the difference in whether you get published, consider making those changes. Consider listening.

Here's the disclaimer: If the suggested changes mean you have to compromise a theme or change the whole concept of the book, think long and hard before you decide.

On the other hand, if the changes are mostly window dressing, maybe you should make them. After all, it's better to improve your manuscript for your readers than to get your way.

Literary CSI: Are you fingerprints on file?

I'll bet you can name a handful of authors that you simply ADORE. You buy their books in hardback, watch the bookstores for signings, search to find out when the next masterpiece will ship. What makes them so special? Why do you love their work?

I would argue that, in most cases, it's because you like their VOICE. Voice is like an author's fingerprint. It's what makes the writing unique and individual. It's a combination of phrasing, diction, dialogue, character development. It's simply what makes Faulkner Faulkner or Hemingway Hemingway.

Voice is a difficult thing. It seems like it would be an easy task. We're all different, so we should all write differently, right? Unfortunately, it's not always that easy. Sometimes you have to work at finding your voice. You have to play with composition, structure, and all the other elements that make up your work.

Think of it like this: When you bake a cake, you use the standard ingredients: Flour, eggs, oil, baking powder, salt, vanilla extract or cocoa, sugar. But do all cakes taste the same? No---it's the pinch of cinnamon, or the cup of pecans, or the helix of lemon zest that can make all the difference. And why does your wife's pound cake taste so much better than your mother's? (Or maybe it's the other way around at your house. LOL) And even though your mother has given your wife that recipe a dozen times, it never tastes the same, does it? Is it the proportion of the ingredients or the temperature of the stove?

VOICE is your literary fingerprint. It makes your book, or story, or poem special and unique. Sure, it pays to read other authors in your genre, but not so that you can copy their recipe. You should read them in order to expand your thinking, open your creative channels, so that you can create YOUR OWN VOICE. Finding YOUR OWN VOICE will make your characters leap off the page, it will make your settings tangible, and your dialogue snappy. It will also help move your manuscript from the slush pile to the center of Mr. Dreamagent's desk.

When you present your cake to the world, you don't want it to be a Betty Crocker Mix with icing from a plastic canister. You want it to be your recipe---the one you've slaved over, perfected and polished. You want everyone to say,"I LOVE THIS CAKE . IT'S THE BEST CAKE I'VE EVER TASTED!" And you want them to mean it---because it is yours and only yours.