Sunday, December 15, 2013


Recently I sat down to chat with some pretty amazing traditionally published YA authors who have set up a freelance editing service, Manuscript Critique Services. They offer a wide range of services, from query critiques to partial and full manuscript critiques. Now, they only work with Middle Grade, Young Adult, and New Adult manuscripts, but if that describes your manuscript, be sure to read on for a chance to win a FREE QUERY CRITIQUE. And as if that isn't enough, you'll also find out how you can win some awesome YA books (and maybe even a Kindle).

 But before we get to all that, let me introduce the Manuscript Critique Services team: Jessica Spotswood (Born Wicked), Paula Stokes (Venom), Tara Kelly (Harmonic Feedback), and Elizabeth Richards (Black City). Here's what these ladies had to say:

What brought you all together?

I guess that was me, which is funny because I'm usually the girl who dreams huge but never quite finds the time to put her plans in motion. Actually, that's kind of how it happened. I know Tara because we are agent-sisters and I know Jess and Liz from the Breathless Reads tour (where I toured as Fiona Paul). I had talked about freelance editing with all of them individually and then after I had two books out I said something like "Hey, maybe we should all get together and do this sometime." And before I knew it, Tara was offering up advice on terms and services, Liz was building a website, and Jess was networking with industry contacts. Me, I was flailing to stay caught up! We really fit well together because we each bring our own editing-related experiences to the table, and we all read widely while gravitating toward different types of stories.

What was your vision behind forming MCS?

Jessica: I am so grateful to writers ahead of me on the publication path who reached back with advice every step of the way. It's really important to me to give back. All four of us feel that way. Yes, MCS charges a fee, but we're not in this for the money. We know what it feels like to strive and struggle to reach that dream of getting a book published. We know how hard it can be to look at a manuscript with objective eyes when you've been slaving over it for months or even years. We want to take the knowledge we've gained ourselves over many years and books and pay it forward.

Paula: I know there are authors out there who think we have no business trying to help other writers get published until we've put out five or ten or whatever number of books, and I understand why they feel like that. But for me, MCS isn't just about "helping people get published." If it was, we'd be "book doctors" doing heavy edits and rewrites of our clients' work. That's not usually a very rewarding experience for either party. Like Jess, I view freelance editing as a chance to give back to the writing community. I go into every editing project thinking "How can I help this person elevate his or her craft?" Whether you go from fair to good or from great to publishable, if you walk away from MCS feeling like you're a better writer, then that's one for the win column.

Please share a writing tip.


Tara: Read your writing out loud. If you trip over your words, it's likely that readers will too. Consider rewriting any lines that don't flow right off the tongue. Reading a scene out loud is also a great way to check your dialogue. Does it flow? Does it sound natural? If not, you'll notice right away!

Elizabeth: Have a cliffhanger or reveal on page five of your manuscript, because agents will often ask you to submit the first five pages of your MS along with your query letter. So it’s a great way to encourage them to request the rest of the manuscript, to find out what happens next! Speaking of writing tips, we’ve actually started a new blog series, MCS Minute Masterclass, where each Friday we share a quick writing or editing tip, to help you improve your writing in 60 seconds. So do pop along and check it out, when you next get a spare minute! Also, if there's anything in particular you want help with, just tweet your question to @MS_Critiques and we'll answer it.

Please share a piece of marketing advice.

Jessica: Social media is a conversation, not a microphone. It's fine to share your own news, but - just like in real life, presumably - don't make it all about you! Celebrate friends' good news, commiserate about the ups and downs of writing, share helpful or funny links, chat about your favorite TV show or that cute thing your cat (or kid) did or what you're reading. Respond to @ messages as much as you can. Social media is one way to promote your work, but it's also - and maybe more importantly - a way to make friends and share pieces of yourself with potential readers.

Paula: Figure out which marketing activities you truly enjoy and focus your efforts around those. It's better to have only an active and engaging twitter account than to have blogger, tumbr, twitter, facebook, pinterest, and instragram accounts that you never update. A bad social media presence is worse than no presence at all. This works for offline things too. I have terrible stage fright so if I were to do solo events I would be miserable and anyone watching me would be bored to death. Instead of letting my fear keep me from promoting, I do special things online like twitter parties or epic blog contests, and then try to put together multi-author bookstore events that are more fun and less scary for me. Never forget that other authors are your allies, not your competition.

What is a common mistake you see in queries/manuscripts?

Tara: Opening the story with a meaningless action scene. You know, some random character is running away from someone or something. There's a lot of breathing, gasping, and heart racing going on. But we don't know who this person is or why they're running like a MOFO. So, why should we care? That's the tricky part. Readers have to connect with your characters, on some level, to be invested in what is happening. So, even if your MC is being chased by a 9-foot demonic chipmunk, their personality should be shining through from that first line. Don't waste your first paragraph telling us about the effects of adrenaline. Tell us what they're thinking in that moment. Maybe it's about getting away…or maybe it's about how they wished they'd remembered to brush their teeth that morning. Because who wants to die with smelly breath? Use your imagination here--but give us something to react to or connect to.

Elizabeth: A common mistake we often see in queries are pitch paragraphs that are too vague and don’t specify what the main conflicts are in the story. So before writing your query letter, make a list stating what your character’s action goal is; what their emotional goal is; and what conflicts stand in their way to prevent these things from happening. This is what your story boils down to and what you should base your pitch paragraphs on.

What has been one of your favorite moments in your writing journey?

Jessica: Going on the Breathless Reads tours! It was amazing to meet readers. And I made some incredible friends. Andrea, Marie, Beth, and I really bonded on my first tour and now we go on annual writing retreats. Paula and Liz and I email all the time about the ups and downs of the writing process - plus we started MCS! I feel so lucky to have been part of that campaign.

Elizabeth: Going on the Breathless Reads tour with Paula and Jess! It was so much fun.

AND THAT'S A WRAP! NOW FOR THE CONTEST! You can enter for a chance to win the QUERY CRITIQUE GIVEAWAY (Middle grade, young adult, new adult only; must be used by June 21, 2014) graciously provided by Manuscript Critique Services by commenting below (being sure to leave a way for us to contact you if you win!) or by sending an e-mail to me via my contact page. DEADLINE FOR ENTRIES: Friday, December 27 at midnight! One randomly selected commenter will win!
You may remember at the beginning of this post that I also hinted at a chance to win some great YA books (Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Send me a sign by Tiffany Schmidt, What She Left Behind by yours truly) and maybe even a Kindle...well, to find out how, visit A.C. Gaughen's blog!



Natalie Aguirre said...

Loved all the tips. I especially liked Elizabeth's suggestion to be sure there's something major on page 5 of the manuscript. I'd love to win a query critique.

Ann Finkelstein said...

This post was packed with good, concise advice. I'd love to win a query critique.

Jennie said...

These are great tips!

Lisa Tapp said...

Thanks for the post and the great editing tips!

Eden Jean said...

This is such a great resource for writers, thank you! I would very much love to win a query critique!

Stephanie said...

This is a great resource for writers just starting out. I love that it's run by writers I'm fans of! Id love to win a critique:) thank you!!

Ashley Jellison said...

I love these tips! Especially the cliffhanger on page 5. Also, it was interesting to know what NOT to do in a query letter (I had those things in mine). I'd love to get a query critique, but thanks for interviewing them!

~Ashley (I'd prefer to be contacted via email to my hotmail: if I win. It's the one I check most frequently.)

Christiney said...

Okay! I'm working on a query right now and I really like the tips about leaving a cliffhanger on page 5 & also about creating a list of emotional struggles and etc before you start writing a query ><

Stricklen said...

I am putting together a query letter for a series of three independently published books that have done exceedingly well. They have proven themselves locally in sales and reviews even when put up against the best sellers. I have never seen any advice for the type of query I will need to write. Basically, I have a market analysis that shows the books will go if promoted.

Angie Kidd said...

I liked the tip about the page 5 reveal as well as the suggestion to include both an action goal and an emotional goal for your mc.

Oh! Paper Pages said...

I just love that all of you are wonderful storytellers AND entrepreneurs. Congratulations, ladies!

Beth Pond said...

Wonderful tips! Thank you for sharing!

Aneeqah said...

This is some seriously awesome advice, for some equally awesome authors. ;) I love the idea of a cliffhanger after the first 5 pages- I know that keeps me reading as a reader. Also, I TOTALLY agree with the social media. SO many new authors in my feed lately only talk about their books, RTing every single good thing said about their book. I get that it's exciting to be an author, but it does start to grate after a while, unfortunately. =P

Lovely post!! <3

Email: mynotsorealife AT gmail DOT com. =)

PJ Sharon said...

Excellent advice ladies! Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom. I've been Indie published for two years and now I'm starting the query process again for my YA contemporary romance. This story just feels right for the market and the timing seems perfect for jumping into the "hybrid" fray. I'd love some feedback on my query! pjsharon64 (at)gmail(dot)com

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you, ladies! I wish you amazing success in your new venture. You sound like a great team!

S Kyle said...

Sounds like you've got a great collaboration going, what a wonderful idea! I love that you are encouraging authors to see each other as allies, too.
All the best to you!
sableackley (at) gmail (dot) com