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'08 Authors Insider Tips


Everything About Epublishing
by Angela James
Epublishing: A Different Way
Choosing an Epublisher
Your Milage May Vary
Understand Your Contract!
Reasonable Expectations


FictionCraft
by Louisa Burton
The Publishing Biz
Critiquing: To Give and ...
Commerical vs. Literary...
Antiformalism for Fun &...
So You Want to Write a Novel
The Story Idea
Planning Your Novel...


The Write Stuff
by Ashley Lister
5 Steps to Success
Inspirational
Opening Passages
Let's Get Critical
Writer's Block
Learning Lessons


Two Girls Kissing
by Amie M. Evans
Be a Finisher ...
Listen to Your Characters
Conferences: Act Now ...
Starting an Erotic Story
Exercises & Writing Prompts
Revising & Rewriting
Copy Editing
The Manuscript Critique
How to Submit Your Work
Reading as Craft


Guest Appearances

Adventures in e-Publishing
by Lisabet Sarai

For the Love of Man
by Laura Baumbach

How to...Influence Editors
by Alison Tyler

Marketing your e-Book
by Brenna Lyons


2008 Smutters Lounge

Ashley Lister Submits
by Ashley Lister
Role Play
Busy Doing Nothing
Picture of a Fish & Chip...
What I Did With My Summer


Cooking Up A Storey
by Donna George Storey
Naughty Cookies...
Tie Me Up, Please …
The Smut-Writer’s Holiday
Never Trust the Narrator ...
Compare and Contrast
Following the Pen
Naked at the Farmers Market
Iím Easy, But Iím No Slut
Good Girl Gone Bad
Pleasures of the Dark Side
Slow, Spare and Sexy


Get All Worked Up
with J.T. Benjamin
Raising Daughters
Jamie Lynn
Utopias
Lust
The Good Old Days
Election '08
Traditional Marriage
Campaign 2008
Free Will


Pondering Porn
with Ann Regentin
Masturbating on SSRIs
Sex and Disability
Besides Ourselves
Adjusting our Contrast


Sex Is All Metaphors
by Jean Roberta
Sex Is All Metaphors
Turn-ons and Squicks
Sexual Truth
Fickle Muse
Porn, Erotica & Romance


Provocative Interviews

Between the Lines
with Ashley Lister
Alison Tyler
Ashley Lister
Debra Hyde
Donna George Storey
Jeremy Edwards
Kristina Wright
Rachel Kramer Bussel


Erotic Hot Spots
by William S. Dean
Interview with Tilly Greene
Interview with Devyn Quinn


Getting Graphic
with William S. Dean
New Times for Readers...
The Future in Words ...
Interview with Fantagraphics


On Writing Erotica

The Accidental Pornographer
by Lisabet Sarai

The End of Innocence
by Lisabet Sarai

Get Them Off in High Style
Helena Settimana

So, You Want To Write Erotica?
by Hanne Blank


Web Gems
Hot Movies For Her

FictionCraft
By Louisa Burton

Critiquing: To Give and to Receive



There’s a great New Yorker cartoon that I love so much, I had it printed on a bunch of T-shirts to give to writer friends: An editor, who happens to be a cat, is sitting behind his desk telling the author, a dog, “I can see it going even more feline.”

Critiquing someone’s work is almost as much of an art form as writing. It takes creativity, discrimination, sensitivity, and the ability to dial back the old ego. Oh, yeah, and it takes time to analyze a story and give feedback on it, a lot more time than you’d need just to read the same piece of fiction for entertainment. It’s not an under­taking to be approached lightly, since a rushed or careless critique can be not only worthless, but damaging. If you don’t have the time or wherewithal to properly evaluate someone’s work, it’s really okay—and in the long run, kinder—to politely decline.

Did you ever get the feeling, when you were reading someone’s critique of your work, that her comments seemed like they were kind of coming from left field? Like she was suggesting changes just for the sake of saying something, or to prove that she had, indeed, read the manuscript thoroughly? When someone lets you critique his or her work, he’s letting you know that he values your opinion, and you therefore have an obligation to give it as thoughtfully as possible. Your comments will likely be taken very seriously; revisions will be made on their basis. If few comments are necessary, make few comments; that’s a perfectly legitimate critique.

Do, I implore you, resist the urge to changed “barked” to “meowed.” By the same token, don’t rewrite every sentence as you would have written it. If you feel strongly that an alternate word or phrasing would be a lot better, offer it, but with a measure of humility. I put a little question mark in the margin when I do this as a polite acknowledgement of the fact that this is only an idea; the final decision is the author’s. News flash: It’s not your book. It’s someone else’s book, someone who may have a different style, a different goal, an entirely different vision than your own. To properly critique a story, you must invest in that writer’s vision of the story, not try to filter it through your own sensibility, to remake it into what it would be if you had written it. Read it for pleasure, as you would if you had bought it in a bookstore or checked it out of the library. Then, if  something catches you up—feels wrong, makes you stop—then and only then should you analyze what it was that bugged you, and point it out.

And omigod, if I had a nickel for every time someone “corrected” my grammar to make it wrong. Never fix grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation unless you are one hundred percent confident of your own grasp of these things. You can question something without correcting it, suggesting that the writer look it up.

If you’ve read William Styron’s brilliant Sophie’s Choice, you’ll recall the part where our protagonist, Stingo, reflects on his five-month stint reading submissions for McGraw-Hill. Among the many books he rejected was one about a journey by raft across the Pacific, which he nixed as being long, solemn, tedious, and best suited to “some kind of drastic abridgement in a journal like the National Geographic.” Imagine Stingo’s abashment when Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, after its publication by another house, went on to dominate the bestseller lists week after week. This incident, based upon the late, great Styron’s actual experience, illustrates a crucial point: Every book has its own audience. If someone asks you to critique her science fiction novel, and you really don’t get science fiction, don’t do it just to be polite. You won’t be doing the writer any favors if you’re gritting your teeth the whole time, just trying to get through it.

Long-Winded, Slightly Tangential Rant Alert: In this vein, when a friend wants to know if you’ll critique his work, imagine that you’re being asked to review a published novel for a magazine or newspaper. Most publications that run book reviews now have a policy of picking reviewers who are the target readership for a particular type of book, in order to avoid having a book panned simply because the reviewer didn’t get it. I’ll never forget reading Frank J. Prial’s vicious skewering of Judith Krantz’s Till We Meet Again in the New York Times Book Review in August of 1988. I called my sister and read it over the phone to her, so blown away was I by its cavalier brutality, the likes of which I’d never encountered in that publication, which I’d been reading since I was a teenager.

The piece, titled “Stick This in Your Mid-Sized Louis Vuitton,” was written in a snickering send-up of Ms. Krantz’s writing style until the last few paragraphs, when it devolved into a dismissive, humiliating, and really pretty juvenile trash-fest of the book and its author. “But wait,” you say. “What’s wrong with an honest review?” To which I reply, “What, exactly, is honest about having a glitzy romance novel reviewed by a man who would obviously never in a million years choose to read such a book for pleasure? How does such a ‘review’ benefit Ms. Krantz’s actual potential readership?” The Times Book Review’s rationale in assigning the book to Mr. Prial was that the story had to do with flying and champagne, and Mr. Prial was both a former pilot and the NYT’s wine critic. Their real reason, in my humble opinion, was probably that they were pretty sure Mr. Prial would come up with a piece of savagely entertaining prose that they and their loyal readers (whom they badly misjudged, at least in my case) would find oh so deliciously stinging. I was actually appalled, not because I was a Judith Krantz fan, glitz never having been my cuppa. (Not being a snob here; I enjoy—in fact, I’ve written—other romance sub-genres, just not glitz.) I was appalled because I’d always trusted the Times Book Review to help me make my book-buying decisions, but they violated that trust, and in so doing, they publicly demeaned a human being who no doubt found the experience deeply demoralizing. I know I would have. By the way, it’s worth noting that the book was well reviewed by, among other publications, Publisher’s Weekly, USA Today, and The Los Angeles Times. Unfortunately, Mr. Prial’s ruthless insults are alive and kicking on the B&N.com page for Till We Meet Again, although not, I was gratified to discover, on Amazon.

Ah, yes, ruthless insults. That brings me to my next point: what you say and how you say it. Everyone is familiar with the observation that a writer’s story is her baby. Don’t just come out and tell someone that her baby is butt-freakin-ugly. Not only is that cruel, but it will make her so defensive that she’ll resist your subsequent recommendations, however brilliant and well-intentioned. It’s just human nature. People close off when they’re attacked. So open with some positive comments. There has to be something to like about this story, even if it’s just that it was written from the heart. Positive feedback is disarming; it makes the recipient much more open to the criticisms that follow. Phrase your suggested changes as diplomatically as possible, especially if you don’t know this person well, or if this is your first critique for him. “This isn’t up to your usual standards” will go over a lot better than “What on God’s green earth were you thinking?” Once you’re comfortable with your critique partners, you can be more candid. It’s a good deal less threatening to hear criticism from someone you consider a friend than from someone you don’t know very well.

Try to maintain some kind of balance in your comments. It always surprises me how often critiquers point out all the problems in a manuscript, but make no mention of the good points. It’s just as important to know what does work as what doesn’t. If something made you laugh or cry, mention that. If something was particularly well worded or moving or effective, for heaven’s sake, let the writer know, so that he can analyze why it was good and hopefully reproduce those results in the future.

As for being on the receiving end of a critique, there are a few things to keep in mind, the most important of which is to have a THICK SKIN. When someone tells you what’s wrong with your story, don’t be depressed; be happy!  Think of it this way: Would you rather get those criticisms now, while you still have a chance to fix things, or later, from agents and editors who will be making sweeping decisions about your career based on what you’ve sent them?  If you’re lucky enough to have someone trustworthy to critique your story, utilize that critique to make the story the very best it can be.

Bear in mind, though, that it’s your story, and that the final decision for changes rests with you. Don’t alter your vision to suit someone else just because they said so. You’ve got to believe in your heart that it’s the right thing to do. Good fiction doesn’t get written by committee; it’s ultimately a lonely process, the synthesis of one person’s memory and experiences into something new and hopefully exciting. There’s an art and magic to storytelling that is very personal. In other words, take the critique for what it’s worth, but don’t let anyone tamper with the soul of your work.

On that grandiose note, I will bid you adieu until next month, when I tackle The Great Divide: Commercial vs. Literary Fiction.

Louisa Burton
February 2008


Read more of Louisa Burton's FictionCraft in our 2008 Archive.

______
"FictionCraft" © 2008 Louisa Burton. All rights reserved.


About the Author:
Louisa Burton is a multipublished author of some two dozen erotica, romance, and mystery novels for Bantam, Berkley, Signet, NAL, Harlequin, and St. Martinís. A former publishing professional who is in love with the sound of her own voice, she has also taught numerous fiction writing courses and workshops. Way too much info about her current project, the Hidden Grotto series of erotic fantasy, is available at LouisaBurton.com.



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'08 Movie Reviews

Almost Perfect
Review by Oranje

The Fold
Review by Ashley Lister

Two
Review by Spooky

Fallen
Review by Spooky

'08 Book Reviews

Anthologies

Best Bisexual Women's Erotica
Review by Ashley Lister

Best Fantastic Erotica
Review by Ashley Lister

Best Women's Erotica '08
Review by Ashley Lister

Bound Brits (ebook)
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Deep Inside: Extreme ...
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Dirty Girls
Review by Rose B. Thorny

Hide and Seek
Review by Ashley Lister

Hurts So Good
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J is for Jealousy
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K is for Kink
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Lust Bites
Review by Ashley Lister

Open for Business
Review by Rose B. Thorny

Possession
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Rubber Sex
Review by Ashley Lister

Rubber Sex
Review by Victoria Blisse

Seriously Sexy
Review by Ashley Lister

Sex & Candy
Review by Ashley Lister

The Shadow of a... (poetry)
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Spanked
Review by Victoria Blisse

Tasting Her
Review by Kathleen Bradean

Tasting Him
Review by Ashley Lister

Tasting Him
Review by Kathleen Bradean

White Flames
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Yes, Ma'am: Male Submission
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Yes, Sir: Female Submission
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Novels

The Art of Melinoe
Review by Ashley Lister

Demon by Day
Review by Lisabet Sarai

Gemini Heat
Review by Ashley Lister

Gothic Heat
Review by Ashley Lister

The Hidden Grotto Series
Review by Lisabet Sarai

The House of Blood
Review by Lisabet Sarai

In Too Deep
Review by Ashley Lister

In Too Deep
Review by Victoria Blisse

Incognito
Review by Donna George Storey

Nicholas
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One Breath at a Time
Review by Angelika Devlyn

Out of the Shadows (ebook)
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Phantasmagoria
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Reckless
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Seduce Me
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Seduced by the Storm
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Serve the People!
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Signed, Sealed and Delivered
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Sunfire (eBook)
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Templar Prize
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The Wicked Sex
Review by Ashley Lister

Wild Kingdom
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Gay Erotica

Backdraft
Review by Vincent Diamond

Best Gay Romance '08
Review by Vincent Diamond

Hard Hats
Review by Vincent Diamond

Leathermen
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Lesbian Erotica

Best Lesbian Erotica '08
Review by Donna George Storey

Best Lesbian Erotica '08
Review by Ashley Lister

The Night Watch
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Non-Fiction

America Unzipped
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Best Sex Writing '08
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Bonk: The Curious Coupling
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The Book of Love
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Casanova: Actor Lover ...
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Dishonorable Passions
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Flagrante Delicto (photos)
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The Flesh Press
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Geisha, Harlot, Strangler, Star
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The Humble Little Condom
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Instant Orgasm (sex guide)
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Man O Man! Writing M/M...
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The Not So Invisible Woman
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Swingers: Female...
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Who's Been Sleeping in...
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