Guest Blogger Elaine Kiely Kearns: It Takes A Village To Be A Writer

bee-hive-clip-art-690775A few weeks ago I was having lunch with a friend who is a writer. Although she isn’t new to writing, she is new to the online writing community and is ready to begin the process of submitting to agents and editors. As we were chatting about submission how-to’s and query letters, I mentioned to her that she really needed to find a critique group.

“How do I find a critique group?” she asked.

Good question. And that question brings me to this post.

I am fortunate enough to belong to a fabulous online critique group, the Penguin Posse. We are a group of seven women kid lit writers from all over the world. We hail from New York, Virginia Beach, Massachusetts, Indiana, Texas, Italy, and Australia. I love these talented, brainiac women. And after a few years of working together, we are not only a fabulous critique group but also friends. And while you definitely need to study your craft and attend conferences, a critique group just may get your writing where it needs to be a little faster.

Writing is a solitary act. But time and time again, studies have shown that people need a support group in order to be successful. It’s the “Hive Mind” theory, and a critique group fills this need perfectly.

From Google:
hive mind
noun: hive mind; plural noun: hive minds; noun: hivemind; plural noun: hiveminds
1. a notional entity consisting of a large number of people who share their knowledge or opinions with one another, regarded as producing either uncritical conformity or collective intelligence. "He has become one of those celebrities whose online presence has made him a favorite of the Internet hive mind.”

So let’s get back to the question. How do you find a critique group?

Find Your Community. The invention of the Internet is a blessed thing for writers. As introverts, we get to be alone (YAY!) and still connect with the outside world (double YAY!)—all from the privacy of our homes. Are you a kid lit writer? You can join the SCBWI and connect with peeps in person at conferences. Or, if you join one of the many online kid lit groups via Facebook, you can make online friends and form a critique group there. The key? Join groups, sign up for classes, participate in monthly challenges. All of these communities will lead you to hive-minded people who could potentially become critique partners. I found my group in an online kid lit forum through Facebook, and I know many other writers who have found successful groups that way too.

Get Involved. Don’t join a community and then never participate! Don’t be a lurker! Comment on posts, ask questions in forums. If you join without participating, you will never feel like you belong. Get involved! Force yourself, especially if it’s outside of your comfort zone.

Do A Trial Run. Not sure you want to commit to a group right away? Many communities have manuscript critique places on their sites. Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 (membership fee required) has a forum where you can post the first 250 words for open critique by her members. has a Manuscript Swap Facebook group (free) where you can privately swap manuscripts without any critique group commitment. Ladies Who Critique is a free site where you can connect with other professional writers who are also looking for critique partners.

And there are many more. All you need is a quick Google search and you are on your way!

Happy critiquing!


unnamed-1ELAINE KIELY KEARNS is a kid lit writer of picture book and middle grade stories. She also scours the internet for golden nuggets of information about children’s writing for the website she founded,  She lives in New York with her husband, two beautiful daughters and a menagerie of animals. Find her online at


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Guest Blogger Katherine Sparrow: On Writing What Sells

grant-writing (1)I’ve been thinking a lot lately about marketing, financial success, and sustainability in writing. Not necessarily in a “how to dominate everything” kind of way, but in the quieter way of thinking through what it means to be a writer and an artist working on her craft and telling the stories she thinks are important, and at the same time making a living at this kind of work.

On the one hand, I am and will always be a starry-eyed dreamer. I think stories can change how we live and view the world, and thus how we are in the world. And humans need to change, a lot. That’s my deepest truth about where my stories, and my drive to write and fling it out into the world, comes from.

On the other hand, I am a mom of two young kids, who is engaged in the hustle economy of trying to get the bills paid. I am a writer who has been working diligently on her craft for fifteen years, and if there’s a way I can do my writing and make money at it rather than get some other job, that would be amazing. But how do I write stories that are commercial and marketable and still write my kind of stories?

Some thoughts on how I can do that, and how you can do that, too.

  1. Be well read in your genre, so that you understand where your writing fits in, and where it doesn’t. For the past two years and counting I’ve been a juror on The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. Which means I’ve gotten to read many of the genre’s newest releases. Without this, I might not know that the multiverse is currently hot, while dystopias are not. I am not saying that one should only write toward the industry’s desires, but be educated about it. For example, in one of my (as yet unpublished) novels, there is a theme about gods living in San Francisco. I can name half a dozen other well-received young adult books recently published about gods living in the modern world. However, those are all Greek or Nordic gods, and mine has the God of the Earthquakes and the Goddess of Art, among others. So it fits in some ways and is unique in others, which I think is the sweet spot.
  1. Consider writing to a form. I love mysteries. People love mysteries. Lately I’ve been writing urban fantasy novellas that are mysteries. Now, besides them being mysteries, I also happen to be doing all kinds of other heart on my sleeve kinds of things in them, (the protagonist is a lefty who has a fondness for misunderstood monsters), but I think the fact that the stories are written within a mystery form helps the reader be grounded and take a chance on a new writer. Other forms that you might write to are: screwball comedy, romance, space opera, hero’s journey, or really any form of book that you personally love.
  1. You can love what you write, but you don’t always have to write what you love. Meaning, it is okay to not always be writing your magnum opus and to be writing something fun and/or more commercial, but never ever forget to love it. Never forget that you have a sacred pact with anyone who reads your words, and that they are giving you a piece of their finite life, so write things that are worth it.
  1. Consider writing a series. Or, write a book that starts and ends within itself, but if it’s possible, give it some extra world and breathing space so it could keep going. These days, so much of youth fiction is made up of series. I’m not sure if that holds true for adult fiction, but I figure many of the people reading this blog are YA and MG readers and writers.
  1. When all else fails, remember no one knows what the hell will sell. Does that help? Nope. But if you are bummed out and confused about how to make your way in the writerly world, throw away everything else and just write your thing, you strange little rabbit, and see what happens. For reals, all the advice above? At the bottom of it, just write.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKatherine Sparrow writes speculative fiction for middle grade and young adult readers as well as (very) quirky picture books. She was nominated for a 2012 Nebula Award for her novelette The Migratory Pattern of Dancers. Her short stories have been published online and in various anthologies, and you can find her contemporary Arthurian novella series, The Fay Morgan Chronicles, for sale at Amazon. A graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop, Sparrow is also on the jury of the Norton Award for best young Science Fiction and Fantasy. Visit and @Katie_H_Sparrow.


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Guest Blogger R.L. Saunders: Things That Happen to Writers (and how to deal)

free adviceDo you love writing? More than almost anything? Possibly more than Doritos and wine for dinner?
     Did you recently decide to start calling yourself a writer (out loud) after years of contemplation and writing lots and reading lots and teaching (English, maybe) and/or working in a library or book store and/or writing for newspapers and magazines and/or getting an MFA or some such writer-type behavior?
     Have you spent the last several months or years reading publishing news and writing advice?
     In the name of industry research, do you regularly cyberstalk authors, agents, and editors?
     Do you fully understand what a long shot traditional publication is, but secretly believe you’re an exception, because who knows, maybe you are?
     If so, I don’t have any specific writing advice for you. Sorry about the buildup.
     But I do want to tell you to stick it out for as long as you love it. If you love it, deeply and genuinely, keep at it even when ugly but normal things happen that nobody likes to talk about–things that make you feel like the ousted mayor of Schmucklandia because you’re too big a loser even for the town where all manner of frauds and talentless hacks go to die.
     Normal things that happen to most writers:
  •  You’ll sometimes feel like a joke nobody gets, and not because it’s a smart joke.
  •  You’ll sometimes feel embarrassed about the stupid shit you say and write while you’re learning how this publishing thing works (see: this). There’s a lot to know and it’s always changing. Forgive yourself and keep learning.
  •  You’ll feel (and be) perpetually ignored, especially at first while you’re trying to build yourself into a circle of writers you’re sure are your people. Some people you admire and were positive you’d like will turn out to be dicks. But some will turn out to be your greatest allies and writer friends. Adjust accordingly. Do not turn into a dick.
  • You’ll experience several dozen fucktons of rejection at every level.
  • There will always be people–even friends and family you love and respect–who just don’t get what you’re doing. And some won’t understand what the big deal is, even if you get an agent or a book deal or twenty book deals. Oh well. You’re not doing it for them.
Reminders for writers:
  • If you choose, over and over, to make it about the journey–about the writing–instead of about “making it” (which is a moving target anyway) you’ll be okay. You’ll be happy, even.
  • Stay humble. Keep growing.
  • So much is outside your control. Try to laugh about that at least as much as you cry. A 60:40 laugh to cry ratio seems healthy.

And remember that there’ll always, always be evil assgadgets who get something from malicious criticism of those who have the audacity to go after seemingly impossible dreams. If you die trying, you’re a thousand times braver than they are, which is probably why they hate you so much. Unless they’re paying your bills, fuckem. Do what you love.

Headshot RhondaR.L. Saunders writes young adult and middle grade fiction. She lives in Key West, where her well-received column in Key West, the Newspaper ran for five years. Saunders was Assistant Professor of English and Humanities at Northwood University, and developed and directed their writing center. You can find her online at and @rl_saunders.


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