Monday, January 12, 2009

Dare Your Reader to Risk Reading Your Book

Janet here. I'm delighted to bring friend and fellow Hoosier, Crystal Laine Miller, to Seekerville today. She's a professional freelance reader for publishers and has great tips for getting your manuscript ready to submit. Be sure to check out her blog, When I Was Just a Kid . It's great fun! Crystal generously offered an evaluation of a proposal. Leave a comment and I'll enter you in the drawing to take place this Wednesday.

I write. I read. I evaluate other people’s writing. Sounds simple, hey? Yeah, simple as opening a vein. Sometimes when I read, I cut out a person's heart, I'm sorry to say. Sometimes a writer comes this close> to selling their manuscript or winning a publishing spot. As a book reviewer who has published over 800 book reviews, a contest judge, and also a first reader/freelance editor for various agents and editors, I’ve written words to criticize and evaluate, encourage and, yeah, sometimes improve. I respect writers. I want writers to succeed, because I really like reading, but I have been a gatekeeper and I stick to criteria.

I've heard my fellow writers complain how the gatekeepers don't understand what they are writing or give them a chance. Or if an agent or editor has read their work, they just don’t “get it.” (But your mother loved it.) Well, this is sometimes true. Maybe we don’t get what you tried to tell us. Writers are scared people. They sit there alone in their little made up world and when it’s time for the fog to lift and Brigadoon to appear, these really mean people come in and wreck the town, grabbing your baby and making him cry. And then, gasp, they throw your baby in the reject pile.

If you are a writer, you have to commit to a rigorous schedule, learn the rules, write when you’re scared, and think about it even when you can’t write. Even when a writer is "doing nothing," he is writing--picking up a bit of dialogue, working out a plot point, building a hero. Time is all good to a writer and even the bad day isn't wasted on him, but it does help if you are prepared before sending out.

When I was at my writers’ conference this past summer, we were reminded of how Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn wrote his story, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich published in 1962. He had lived the life of his character, Ivan in the Gulag which was a Soviet labor camp system. I read it in high school. It affected me the same way that Anne Frank's diary had. But it was Alesandr's own life that really touched me and that I didn’t discover until much later. He was born on December 11th, my birthday, too! (Different years.)

He was sent to hard labor in the Gulag because of something he wrote. He paid for that writing, but he never stopped "writing" even though he didn't have ideal conditions to write--it stayed in his head at this point. When he was finally released, he had to write in the dark of the night, and bury his writing each and every day in order to preserve it. His ordinary life marched on, while extraordinary thoughts were flourishing, written, but unread, yet.

He said, "During all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but, also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared this would become known." (From his speech when he accepted the Nobel Prize.)

It IS scary to write, but sometimes it is scary to let someone read your writing, too. Whether you will be sent to prison for your words, or will just collect your 42nd rejection. Writing requires you to reveal something about yourself. You are at risk somehow. In light of Aleksandr's road to being published, maybe the hardest thing to do of all is --show--that writing to a reader, but he reader risks something to read it, too.

When did Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn decide it’s time to publish his buried writing? How did he know? How did he know when it was okay to let a reader take the risk to read about Ivan?

I am a professional reader, and here is the list I use to decide if the reader should risk it.

1. Story is always first. Is it a good story? Has anyone else looked at it (a critique partner, a freelance editor, a friend who likes to read, not just your mother, unless your mother is published or an editor or agent…) and was she hooked into the story? Ask your reader to mark or highlight any portion of your work that was skimmed. Usually that means it is lagging. Another thing—make sure your reader actually likes your genre.

2. Find the theme. State what your theme is. If you can’t do it, don’t expect the first reader, editor or agent to figure it out. Is it a natural part of the story? Or are you riding your hobby horse? Theme usually involves your passion, but don’t let it become the hammer that knocks your reader in the head, either. (I am not risking being knocked out.) Love comes softly (I think that’s been used, but hey, I’m a reader and can borrow.)

3. Convincing, well-developed believable characters. Even if your story is set on the planet Blue Ray with Laser People and Elephantans, we have to suspend our disbelief and BELIEVE in your world you’ve staged. Pull us into your world. Real world disappears and Father Tim is a real guy now! We actually go looking for him in Mitford. (Which really isn’t there, by the way.)

4. Does it fit into a genre? I know, I know, you have come up with a book that fits into all genres!! All people will love this book if they can only read the English language or learn really quick to read Cyconese! Look, not only does the editor have to sell this book on the market, he has to sell it to the scary MARKETING people (who are real people and really do know what they’re doing.) They are funny that way wanting it to SELL—make it fit into one genre and on that ever important book shelf at the mall. It will help your cause to educate those in the language of the Cycons just where you fit in, so your readers can find your world and love it, too.

5. How’s your pacing? Go back to your reader (in #1) and wherever she highlighted areas of “skimming,” try rewriting to move the story along instead of stalling. Depending on your genre, you can lollygag only so long before your reader says, “Hey, how about that repeat of Scrubs, Hon?” and your book is put down without even a bookmark or a dog ear turn.

6. Grammar, spelling, & typos, oh, my ! While they won’t doom your book as a reject, they do matter to some point. I have read over some of these because the story stirred me, and was clipping along. But if I’m stopping to correct them more and more, and obsessed with them, the party is over. I can remember getting so obsessed with a misused word (a wrong word) that I couldn’t concentrate on the actual story and began to believe the writer was an idiot. And probably the writer was brilliant and nice and I would love her. But that word burned a hole in my brain…

7. Do you show? Or do you tell?? Show. Master the show. Find how to show. Quit telling me.

8. Spiritual theme/thread. If you are writing for the Christian market, it needs to be there and can’t be preachy or take over the story in a blatant way. Don’t write sermons or long passages of telling me what you think, intruding Billy Graham into the middle, or the eyeball rolls will come, even for the most spiritual among us. Be real, but be gentle. Still, we need to be able to discover this aspect. Don’t hide your light under the bushel, either! (Or the rocks will start shouting, “Reject!”)

9. Does the lead draw me into the book? If you lose me on the first page, chances are you are getting rejected. Pull me in. Woo me. Lead me down that primrose path.

10. Plot, subplots. James Scott Bell tells this so well! Listen to him. I often have to write a synopsis for my boss, one or two paragraphs, so anything lacking will show up here.

11. Something that is hard to describe is the author’s voice. I look for it and describe it to the agent or editor. I also say if it is strong, unique or just plain Jane. You can’t copy voice and get away with it, but you can be similar. But if you are too similar to another voice in a publishing house, they are not going to buy you, probably (who knows what they want???!) Finding your voice is when you are afraid, but write it, anyway. You open the curtain to show a piece of your heart and passion. It is there, so pull it from your diaphragm, don’t squeak it through your nose!

12. Point of view must be consistent. And are there any other inconsistencies?

13. I look for tension. And yes, it’s a feeling. Tension pulls your forehead taut! My eyeballs grow wide. My neck hurts. I ignore the pain to turn the page.

14. I look for the overarching question in the book (that is that one pitch line they always talk about—no one has to tell it to me—I find it.) Will Scarlett survive in the destruction of the South? Ask the question. How did you answer it?

15. I look at setting, varied scenes.

And get this—I can say whether I personally liked it--or not. Yeah, just like your readers do when they buy your book! Granted, I always consider your audience and genre, but I have to be specific in voicing my likes and dislikes. I say whether or not I’d buy the book or I think readers of this genre would buy it.

If you are a writer, you are brave, and I believe you have a story to tell. Go write. And then, dare readers to read it. And remember, the reader risks something to read your work, too.

If you leave a comment and wish to be entered, I will give away one evaluation of your proposal just as I would for an editor or agent (proposal, synopsis and three chapters.) Enter your comment, email address and genre and we’ll draw on Wednesday, Jan. 14.

Crystal's freelance work as a book doctor and first reader for agents and editors has resulted in many authors being published. In 2008 she served as President of the Indiana Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers and is now Advisor to the Board. She has judged in contests, such as ACFW's Genesis and Book of the Year. A book reviewer with over 800 published reviews, as well as articles and columns, she is also working on a novel. Her own, this time! You can see her interviews with authors and her latest musings and nostalgia at her blog, Chat ‘n’ Chew Café. And for a look into the humorous and sometimes poignant childhood memories of authors, agents and editors check out When I Was Just a Kid,


Tina M. Russo said...


Thanks for visiting us in Seekerville.

It's cold and windy in Denver. Hope you are warm where you are. We have hot cocoa with homemade marshmallows and fresh baked cinnamon bread.

I had no idea you were a reader..I would have sent you chocolate LONG ago. My bad.

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Crystal! Thanks for your terrific post and your awesome offer to evaluate one of our visitors' manuscripts!

Can you tell us how to become a reader?

Tina, thanks for the yummy hot chocolate. I just read that it's better for us than red wine.


Ann said...

Weather's bad here, too, in Michiana. Thanks for the hot chocolate!

Crystal, I liked your line about the fog lifting and Brigadoon coming into view. (Actually, a lot of funny lines there)

Those are all good points. I struggle with pacing, and NOT going down bunny trails about scenery.

Anonymous said...

I would love a review!

Thanks for the offer,


Margay said...

There's a lot here to ponder; I'll be bookmarking this. Thank you for sharing it with us and for presenting the opportunity for a critique.

Cathy Bryant said...

I'm currently working on self-editing my first NIP. Your post was really helpful. Though I don't yet have a proposal (at this point, I'd be happy just to finish this book), I would love to have a review once I get a proposal written! Thanks for the offer!

Cathy Bryant
404 Ruff
New Boston, TX 75570

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I've left a comment on a blog. Loved the humor and tips in your writing. Plan to reread and apply.

Kim Peterson / romance or YA

Melanie Dickerson said...

That's very generous of you, Crystal. I hope I win, because I want every cotton-pickin' soul on this planet to read every one of my books! I have no fear in that department. Although I did feel slightly sick when I handed my newly-finished ms. over to a friend, who was to be its first reader. You see, I loved both the ms. and the friend, and I didn't want to hate either one! (Thankfully, she loved it.)

When I was in Ukraine, I met a man who was sent to gulag in Siberia for teaching children about Jesus at a summer camp. I also met men who grew up with Christian parents, whose home was regularly raided. They had to hide their Bible in a hiding place under the floor. I'm not sure I'd be willing to go to prison for anything I write, but for the Bible, and for Jesus, it would be worth it.

Although, we all give up a lot for our books, don't we? Pride, for one thing. All the rejections will strip it right off you.

Julie Lessman said...

WOW, Crystal, welcome to Seekerville and WHAT a post!! You sure lit a fire under me this morning, which is good because I'm about a month and half behind on a book deadline!

And, gosh, thank you for offering a review of a proposal -- I would have killed for that a few months ago, but at least now some lucky writer will have this valuable opportunity. Bless you!


Ann said...

PS -- I'd be tickled to win a review.
Here's my addy: APSchrock-at-aol-dot-com

Lisa Harman said...

Wonderful post, Crystal!

Crystal Laine Miller said...

I regularly read Seekerville, so this is a familiar place to me--thank you so much for having me!

And thank you for the warm welcome, Tina and Janet--I needed that! It's freezing here in Indiana and yes, I've been out already. Two hour school delay,too. I LOVE hot chocolate and cinnamon bread!

Read Janet's books. Her first one was set in the town where I was born. Janet is such a good writer. I'm so proud of her.

I have a manuscript sitting on my desk this a.m., and I approach each one the same way--with excited anticipation. If anyone here doesn't have a complete proposal (but has three chapters,) I may be able to help that process, so don't think it has to complete at this point,Cathy.

Julie, I read your first book and just ordered your 2nd one last night! Get on that deadline because I have influenced quite a few people and they are clamoring for more.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

I think the first step for me was to be a professional book reviewer. Lin Johnson and Dr. Dennis E. Hensley taught me how to do a fair and balanced book review (Church Libraries magazine.) I credit them with teaching me the fundamentals of evaluation and what makes a good story.

As to how I became a paid reader,Janet, it was a series of steps and meetings, but I look back to author Miles Owens' Daughter of Prophecy (Realms) as the one story that opened other jobs. Miles is a friend, and I just was able to help his story. He talked to others about how I helped him. It happened that a couple of those people were looking for a reader.

I'm not perfect (LOL, I see my own typo above, now,)but I have been able to tune into the criteria of the editor or agent and focus on the overall story structure. That is the most important thing, to be able to discern what your boss would want and act as the extra set of eyeballs when there are so many manuscripts. Which ones get picked?

For one particular (ongoing) reader job, I did apply for it, but I had already accumulated some experience. I did a test read for that one and they(the editorial team) liked my report.

Other jobs came by recommendations--an author or an editor or an agent--so it is a relational way to work.

Readers are all around you, and they cannot divulge specifics, of course. Most are super-tuned into their boss and act as an assistant. And they love a good story. For good reasons they need to be discreet.

Janet Dean said...

Crystal, thanks so much for the praise for my writing! I'm like Julie, behind in my contracted book, but God willing, we're both determined and will meet our deadlines.

I can't thank you enough for offering some lucky writer the gift of your expertise.

It may be cold but it's beautiful in our snow covered world.


Lisa Sabrowsky said...

Thank you for the wonderful comments. My biggest fear as a new writer is too much telling and that everyone will take a nap in the middle of the book. Your notes will be helpful as I review/edit.

Julia Weston said...

Wow, am I glad I found this site.

Thanks, Crystal, for such a great post. I have a friend reading my manuscript now, and your tips have me thinking about ways to get more specific reactions out of him.

Thanks for the great offer, too.

Genre: fantasy

Janet Dean said...

Crystal, your experience of going from book reviewer to reader proves that everything we do prepares us for opportunities down the road. Do you still work as a book doctor?


Linda Ford said...

What a great post. I never feel confident in my writing and seek all the help I can get.


Ralene said...

Hello, Crystal! This post was very helpful as I just received some feedback from a contest that had me scratching my head. :) Thank you for taking the time to show us what you are looking for.

Mary Connealy said...

Crystal, welcome to Seekerville.
I loved your post.

I love you saying start with STORY.

I always have a story in my head. Way before characters. Although that's tougher since I've been doing series, because the characters exist of course, and I have them first.
But for me, story, story, story. Always first.

I'm telling one right now I love.
But of course the characters and how they react to life are what give the story it's foundation, so I sometimes think debating which comes first, Character or Story is really not quite correct. Because it's the same thing. Or maybe two sides of the same coin.

Mary Connealy said...

One other thing. When I'm judging contests, I always notice when I start skimming. This is a bad, bad thing.

I try to point that out to entrants. "I'm skimming here. Fix it."

Cathy Shouse said...


You are wonderful with what the reader might be feeling when they decide to put the book down.

I nod my head when you talk about what to avoid but I fear my mss is full of these very problems. It's all easier said than done!

There's a fine line between creative plots and unbelievable story lines, as I'm working to never bore the reader. And the emotional and spiritual parts are my greatest challenge.

If you had to choose, would you say plot or characters rule? Put another way, do you have a few tips on what makes a good story, in your opinion?

Put my name in for the critique.

cathy (underscore) shouse (at)

Terry Whalin said...


What a terrific post and insight that you have for us about how to approach an editor. Thank you. Then when you add in your offer to evaluate a manuscript. Wow. What a great combination.

Sample Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams

The Writing Life

Susan Anne Mason said...


Thanks so much for your insight. Very helpful indeed.

I'm just getting ready to start reading (as a judge) my entries for the Golden Heart contest, so I'll keep your words in mind.

I would love a critique as well. And yes, hot chocolate would go well today up here in Ontario.

Take care,

Sue Mason

Gina Welborn said...

Crystal, thanks for the insight into what you look for when reading a submission. I'd say your post makes great bathroom-time-pondersome material, but as I type I'm sure someone is not thinking about taking a warm, leisurely bathtub.

(Just between us, some folks whose names I won't mention don't have as virtuous minds as we do. Pardon me as I pause to ponder a few more note-worthy things.)

A couple nights ago, I read over a few (okay, four) contest entries. I've never thought about telling a contest entrant "I'm skimming here," but I can see now how I ought to be doing that.

Too bad I can't leave a note or two to a published author when I'm skimming.

Anyhoo, thanks, Chrystal, for informing me of your "reader" status. I shall forever say nice things about and to you. :-)

BTW, Janet, when your book came out, I looked for it at plenty of places where LIH are sold. While I'm happy to say the book was sold out, I'm unhappy to say the book was always sold out. I shall have to order it online at the Steeple Hill website.

Tina, I thought about you on Saturday. Not sure why. But I'm utterly positive that the thoughts were good. :-) Oh, I was at a Virginia Romance Writers meeting where Terri Brisban was speaking. Hmm, I'm still not remembering what that had to do with you, but like I said, the thoughts were good.

Of course, that could be because I tend to ponder virtuous, note-worthy things.

(So have I ramble enough to qualify for the prize?)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Me too on the chocolate. I'll bribe anyone, anywhere, and Crystal, you touched on a whole slew of naked, good points here. I'm impressed and I don't impress easy these days.

Great job on spelling it out, how a reader/judge reacts and what they sense and feel. I liked it.

Gut reaction from a reader is something an unpublished author isn't often privy to, so you've set a whole new stage for us. Bless you for that. I love an insider's view.

And I'm all over that cinnamon bread, Tina-girl. Do we have whipped cream? Warm cinnamon and fresh cream are an indomitable combination.

Not quite as heady as Derek Jeter, but close.



Reba said...

Thank you for the generous offer. That would be valuable to me, as I am very protective of my "baby" and keep writing and rewriting, and don't know when to stop!

Reba Cross Seals

bantzart said...

Concise and to the point. Easy to read and understand. I'll read your post again and again. Thanks, Crystal.

Yes, I'd very much like to have you read my first book in the "Secrets of the Heart" generational saga. (

Betty Anne Bantz

Mary Caffrey said...

Hello, Crystal!

Thank you for sharing reviewer insights in the publishing business. It's common-sense advice that could only make a draft better.

Mary Jo

Lisa Lickel said...

Hello, Crystal, and thank you for your time. One comment at Write for the Soul a year ago haunts me: Jerry Jenkins, at a thick-skinned critique, said we had to sit still and not say a word while he blasted away at our work because we can't do that with an editor. Makes sense. I'd love one more eye on my last proposal.
Lisa Lickel

Donna Rich said...

This is my first trip to Seekerville. Thanks for the heads up, Janet.

Crystal, what a hilarious way to paint the truth. I would covet a review from you. Oops! Is that kind of coveting wrong? Yes, you're right. It's scary letting someone real read my work, but that's why we write, right?

Mary Connealy said...

Oh, and Crystal, I loved being on your When they were kids blog.

If you ever want me on again, I have now discovered a picture of me that is below age 18.

My parents were poor. The camera broke on kid two. It's not that easy to find PICTURES!!!!!
At least I'm kid three, there were SOME of me. Taken by strangers with candy no doubt, but moving on.......

By kid seven, NO PICTURES AT ALL.
This is true...and off the subject, but reading Gina's post has encouraged me to get off the date we have found ONE picture of my baby sister under age one. And in that one, she's got her hand over her face, perfectly covering everything. She's a bitter woman, and who can blame her?
Anyway, I found one.

Teri D. Smith said...

Crystal, Wow, what an offer. I heard about it through Camy Tang's blog to give due credit. But now I see there's lots to discover on this blog too.
I have a proposal ready and know something of the words "scary" and "baby" that you mentioned. But I also know an outside reader can do wonders for a story, seeing flaws in my baby that I can't. Blessings, Teri

Teri D. Smith said...

Opps forgot my e-mail and genre!

Contemporary romance

Val said...

Thank you, Crystal, for your informative entry.

If there's anyone who should be evaluating my writing, it seems like it should be you. Count me in!

Children's Fiction

Sabrina L. Fox said...

Great job, Crystal. You are so good at this. :)

And thanks to Seekerville for always bringing us such great stuff. ;)

lynnrush said...

GREAT tips. This is so very helpful!!

THANKS!! sheriboeyink[at]cox[dot]net

Jessica said...

Your points are awesome. A great checklist for me to think about while writing/editing/thinking, etc. LOL
I've never heard of the writer you mentioned, but how horrible! To be imprisoned for writing? What an incredible story he must have.
Thanks for the post!
I'd love to be entered in your drawing!

I write inspirational romance, mostly contemporary.
My e-mail is:

jessica_nelson7590(at) yahoo(dot) com

Thank you!

Lisa Jordan said...

Crystal, terrific post. I appreciate the steps you outlined for a story that captures your attention. I'll be sure to refer to this list before submitting my novel. Thanks!

Lisa Jordan
Contemporary romance/women's fiction

Rick said...

Hello from Indy. I found your article interesting, practical and well articulated! Even successful novelists can benefit from these reminders. Right now I'm reading a secular novel by a well-known writer who doesn't know the difference between blonde & blond--and evidently his editor doesn't either!

Blessings to you!

Rick Barry

April Erwin said...

Fantastic advice, Crystal. Thanks for sharing with us. I'm definitely going to use this list for reference.

I would love to be a part of the drawing for an evaluation. The novel I would submit is an Inspirational Suspense. My email is aprilannerwin at yahoo dot com.

Thanks so much and God Bless!
April Erwin

eileen said...

Crystal does a terrific job as a reader. Although the book she read for me has yet to be published, it's a much stronger work for her efforts. Take her advice...she really knows what she's talking about and has the publications to prove it.

Patty Wysong said...

Great post! Thank you so much for putting all this in such an understandable (adn fun) way and offering an evaluation to one of us. If we don't know where we're missing the mark, we can't work on it and fix the problem.

patterly at gmail dot com
inspirational romance

Janet Dean said...

Gina, thanks for looking for Courting Miss Adelaide, but it's not too late to get the book. It's available at eharlequin and Amazon. So get movin' gal! ;-)


Janet Dean said...


JANET said...

Crystal, Great information for us. Thanks so much.
Jude Urbanski

Crystal Laine Miller said...

Wow, I go workout and come back to some great questions and important comments.

Mary, I would LOVE to do another interview with you with the newly found-under-18 photos. I am currently reading Calico Canyon. You had me with the first sentences! I nearly spit my hot chocolate out. But yes, story trumphs. Even great characters have to do something to be great.

LISA S.: EVERY author/writer I've encountered has a weakness. What the successful author does is to know what her personal writing weakness is and then, goes back to fix it, or get a good crit partner to point it out. Take a pink highlighter (much more gentle!) and highlight any area you think isn't strong enough. Then, fix it.
Just write through that fear.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

Shout out to my Hoosier friends--Lisa H., Cathy S., Sabrina, Ann S., Donna, Jude, and of course, Janet. What a mighty bunch you are!

Thanks, Terry W.(a former Hoosier and IU grad) for stopping by. Terry has taught me much and continues to teach with his great books and material. Be sure to check out his Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams! Good stuff.

pat jeanne said...

Crystal, thank you so much for all the helpful information you shared here. I will refer to it often.
My son has read Solzhenitsyn's work and told me about the hardships he had to endure and his perseverence in writing what had to be said. I especially appreciated your description of author's voice. This has been an alusive concept for me to grasp until now. Thank you for this. I would love to have your review of my work. I write historical with strong romantic elements.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for the reminder, Janet. I sort of assumed our address was attached to our comments!

Mine is sbmason(at)

Thanks again.

Jody Hedlund said...

I would love the chance to win a reader evaluation. Feedback to help me improve my writing is invaluable! Thanks for all of your great tips,Crystal.
genre: historical fiction

Donna Alice said...

Great tips and the perfect size to print out and review as I begin the new year! Thanks,

Karin said...

Thanks for the encouragement and suggestions!

Vince said...

Hi Crystal:

If you did not like a book and did not enjoy reading it but you knew it would be profitable for your client, would you still give it a “buy” recommendation? Has this ever happened?

I have a synopsis and three chapters but I am not sure what goes into a proposal. If I qualify, please enter me in the contest. Vmres AT Swbell Dot net. Paranormal Romance.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, mylanta, look at the cinnamon bread! Nothing but crumbs.

And the coffee pot's empty.

Never fear.

We have a delightful mid-day buffet set up alongside the podium to your left as you face the windows. Feel free to help yourself to the cookie trays courtesy of Great American Cookie Co. and the fresh tea service provided by the First Evangelist Ecumenical Core Council for Divinity Studies of Newcomb, Rhode Island. Great assortment, guys and gals.

And fresh lemons!

You guys rock.

Crystal, can we get you anything, darling??? (You all noted she mentioned her 'work out', right??? Okay, hide those cottage cheese thighs and dumpling elbows under some long sleeves, ladies. Reason enough right there to LOVE winter.)



Crystal Laine Miller said...

Shout out to Rick B, another Hoosier! Be sure to check his books out. He also writes for Focus on the Family, I think. Check all of our Hoosier writers at .

Janet D. asked if I still "book doctor." Yes, I did an assignment for a client not long ago.It was her second manuscript that I've worked on.

Many jobs I have taken are when the agent has stepped out of the way and asked me to deal directly with the client. Sometimes I have coached the client, depending on what is needed.

For the next six months I'm taking time away from book doctoring-type jobs, but I will continue to take jobs from editors/publishers whom I'm already working with assignment-by-assignment (and one other place on an as-needed basis.)

I really love working with authors, so I don't know how long this will last.

Cara Slaughter said...

Great, post, Crystal! I certainly learned a lot of helpful info. Thanks for joining us at Seekerville.

Janet Dean said...

Pubbed authors, if you've never been a guest at Crystal's blog, beg for a slot. "When I Was Just a Kid" is both unique and great fun!
Can we appear more than once, Crystal? If so, Mary and I are jumping up and down shouting,
"Pick me, pick me!" Remember, I'm a fellow Hoosier. giggle.


Janet Dean said...

Hi Linda, You're a wonderful writer! I can't believe you struggle with confidence issues. Which shows a great writer never feels she knows it all. Thanks for stopping in at Seekerville.


Crystal Laine Miller said...

LOL, Ruth, I will have to go do another workout if I keep grazing at the buffet. Sheesh.

Cathy S. really asked a tough question, but an important one: "What makes a good story?" That can be both subjective and objective.

Characters? Plot line? Setting? A well told story is one you don't want to end, right? Well, sometimes a well told story ends, and you just say, "Wow." There are no words to add.

Or it's when you want to go live there. Or it has engaged all of your senses. Or made you a better person. Or made you check the locks, barricaded the door and sat up the rest of the night jumping at noises.

Editors and agents have said, "I got chills up my spine when I read that."

That being said,there have been times when I read a good story and there wasn't a place for it at the publisher, or the author wasn't what the agent wanted--and that doesn't mean your story isn't good. Listen carefully to any feedback you get from editors or agents.

Whole books have been written on "what makes a good story." A good story for me in my job is when it is what whomever I'm working for wants. Ha!

Mary said...

Crystal, loved this post! I'm getting back into writing, and this was a great reminder of what's important!

Would love to be entered in the drawing! Thanks for offering your services here!

(Mary--we love your Petticoat Ranch series!!! I have three daughters, thus the "we")

Mary[@] (w/o brackets)

Anne Barton said...

Crystal, thanks for sharing the story of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (so inspiring!) and your great list. I'm off to check out your blog.


Crystal Laine Miller said...

Pat, I love Solzhenitsyn's story, so thanks for sharing your experience with your son. I'm shocked they still bring him up. (cool!)

Crystal Laine Miller said...

VINCE--what a great question. This has happened to me. I was working for an agent who sent me a manuscript. After reading it, I called her and said, "Total pass. I hate it." LOL. (this was early on) It really wasn't personal against the author,just the story.

She says,"No, no,Crystal, I don't want that kind of information. I want you to tell the author how to fix it."

Total. dead. silence.


And I did--I tore this manuscript absolutely and completely to smithereens. Not only was it bloody, I was like William Wallace galloping into castles with axes swinging. Each abhorrent thing in that story went under the knife. I figured the author would go screaming into the night, slitting his wrists as he ran.

But he didn't. He carefully looked at each point I made--and fixed it! And sent it back! Wow, talk about making an impression (understand that the agent saw something I did not, and gave him the opportunity to fix it.)

You really want to work with authors like that. They are willing.

Most of the time, however, I was on the same page with the editor or agent and if I recommended reject, they did. And I can't recall reacting to a story like this before or since. And I've read many genres and all levels.

Danica/Dream said...

Crystal, this is fabulous... I'm currently working on a proposal to send my agent and this checklist is really helpful

Audra Harders said...

Wow, you guys have been busy! Welcome to Seekerville, Crystal! Hmm, I just had lunch, any dessert left, Ruthy?

Thanks for all the wonderful tips, Crystal. So many of your comments are so obvious, yet as we're writing, we're oblivious. Thanks for bringing the simple fixes right into our faces.

Pacing is one that really hangs me up. I know I need my honest and loving crit partners to tell me I had them at hello, no need for the additional 3 pages : )

Thanks for the dose of reality smack at the beginning of the year. Who knows? Your comments might just become my habits : )

Ruthy? Cake? Chocolate? Hot or solid, doesn't matter to me : )

Pam Hillman said...

Crystal, thank you for this inside look at a freelance reader's job.

Great stuff.

Debby Giusti said...

Thanks for all your good advice and expertise!!! Loved your comment on finding the theme -- so important.

Best wishes for future success!!

Lisa Tuttle said...

Thanks for the great info, Crystal!

Sign me up for the drawing:
Lisa Tuttle
Women's Fiction

Anonymous said...

Great Post! Please enter me in the contest...and the chocolate is in the mail.

Patty Smith Hall

Kimberli said...

Seventy comments? Oh drat, I bet the cinnamon bread is gone.

Miss Crystal (as we say here in the south), thank you for stopping by. I enjoyed reading about Mr. Solzhenitsyn, and appreciate the helpful glimpse into your world.

I was going to say I'll opt out of the drawing since I'm not at the proposal stage with my current MS, but that goes against your advice, and it isn't very brave of me. So here goes:

Genre: Women's Fiction
Email: ksbuffaloe at

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Excellent post, Crystal!

Thank you for spending the day with us.



Missy Tippens said...

Welcome, Crystal! It's great to have you!! Boy, I'm way behind. There are already over 70 comments! :)

Great, great post!! I'm sure someone else has probably already commented on this, but I loved it when you talked about voice and said, "It is there, so pull it from your diaphragm, don’t squeak it through your nose!"

Oh my gosh, I LOVED that!! I want to print it and tape to my computer! It's my new mantra.

Thank you for sharing all your wisdom. Now, on to read the 70+ comments... :)

Missy--P.S. I also love the When I Was a Kid blog!

Rose said...


Very interesting blog. Now I'm wondering about the "skimming sections" of my WIP!

I'd like to be entered in the contest.


Suzy Hassenmiller said...

Great suggestions and wonderful offer.


Kathleen L. said...

Wow, Crystal. Because of your article and the advertisement for the contest, I have discovered Seekerville! What have I been missing out on? Thank you.

And of course, a big thank you for sharing your expert advice with all of us. These guidelines will go to good use in my writing and rewriting. ; )
Boo-ya to the winner Wednesday.

Kathleen Maher/historical fiction

Missy Tippens said...

A further comment on the skimming... What's really bad is when you find you're skimming in your own manuscript.

Of course, I'm not talking about my own! I'm only repeating what I've heard from other authors.


Missy--who marks those slow places that "other" authors have and tries to figure out what the problem is. And of course fixes them!

Mindy Obenhaus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vince said...


This reminds me of a quote I heard years ago.

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

Elmore Leonard

lilac grandma said...

Thanks for the great tips,Crystal!
Love the "pink(more gentle)" one.
Please enter me. Love and prayers Melody
msproule1225at gmaildotcom

Missy Tippens said...

Cute quote, Vince! LOL

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Write when I'm scared? Oh man, just step all over my toes :-)

I write inspirational romantic suspense.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Crystal, I'm late today, but glad I dropped in to read all of your wonderful hints. Crystal has looked at one of my manuscripts btw. She's a great help. It takes a special skill and gift to see the elements within a manuscript that need to be worked on.

Its late here and I may have missed you. Most of you Easterners might even be in bed. But I'm ready for a late night snack. I just picked some oranges off my tree this afternoon that are sooooo sweet. If you add chopped dates and walnuts and sprinkle coconut. yummmmmm I have plenty.

Thanks again Crystal.

Rose McCauley said...

What helpful comments, crystal, and what a great prize. hope i win! crmcc at setel dot com

Helen Gray said...

Hello from Missouri.

Loved your article, Crystal.

I live in area where I don't have any writer organizations within easy distance, so sites like this are wonderful for me.

I have a retired teacher friend in the church my husband pastors who reads everything I write--and tells me how much she loves it all. Not that's scary!!! Which is why I would love to have a read by a professional. So enter my name in the contest.

Helen Gray
Contemporary fiction
helengray AT boycomonline DOT com

Crystal Laine Miller said...

I have had such fun reading all of your comments.Thanks to each one.

And thanks so much, all you Great Seekers for having me. Please ask Janet for my email and I'd love to do a Kid feature on each of you and feature your latest book (I'm actually going to do another one for Mary and Janet, so even if we've already done one--like Missy.)

It was fun to see Eileen (Eye!) and Sandra Leesmith here--you are both good writers. I loved working with you.

Thanks, Vince, for the Elmore quote--excellently funny.

Missy, I hope "your friend" gets straightened out on the skimming sections because she's someone I really like reading!

One thing I want you sll to know--any manuscript or book that comes across my desk, no matter what the source,or what I have to do with it, I pray for that author. God knows your desires, your needs. Your work ministers to me, published or not. I hope to see you all on the shelves.

Remember the drawing isn't until Wednesday, so until then, it's still open.

I've had a great time today. My "belly" is full of yummy treats and warmth. This is a happening place, full of good posts and advice, so plan on coming back often!

Karen Schravemade said...

Please enter me for the drawing. I'm not sure if it's a random drawing or whether it's based on our witty comments - let's hope the former, for my sake! :)

Genre: Women's fiction

Janet Dean said...

Crystal, I love that you pray for the writers of the manuscripts you read. Thanks for being a terrific guest and for offering slots at When I Was Just a Kid. :-)

Thanks all for entering the drawing, which will be random, not based on wit. :-) I'll draw on Wednesday so there's still time to leave a comment.


Lynn Squire said...

Crystal, I'm stymied by the concept of "preachy" Christian writing. I'm not sure I know what one means when one says this, and over the time I've been searching for the meaning, I've concluded that it is a personal thing.

I love to read works where the characters get saved. I love Pilgrim's Progress because it reflects so clearly the Christian life.

I love to glean from novels deep truths. But I've discovered those novels I've enjoyed the most are often called preachy by another. And those novels where I have disagreed with the author's perspective on a topic, I would call preachy but not in a good sense.

For example, I found the movie Wallie extremely preachy on the philosophy of environmentalism - so much so that I was practically sick afterward and spent a long time discussing what it was really saying with our children so that they would not believe the lies the movie was proporting.

Yet, I am at a loss to think of a Christian novel written from a perspective I agree with as preachy.

How do you determine when a work is preachy?


genre: historical

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Crystal -

I'm a little late jumping into the comments. Hmm, the last shall be first???

Thank you for enlightening us about the mysterious gatekeeper's job. Knowing what you look for in a manuscript, the big no-no's, and what makes you sit up and take notice gives writers some guidelines.

Please enter me in the drawing.

susanjreinhardt at gmail dot com

Susan :)

LaRayne said...

I'd like to be considered for the Crystal Laine Miller evaluation.
LaRayne Topp

Crystal Laine Miller said...

I thought I was done here (smile!) But Lynn brings up a question that is discussed often.

When a novel gets too "preachy" (and like you said it can be any worldview that intrudes) it becomes center stage over the story. The theme or the worldview suddenly becomes a character and just pounds the reader between the eyes.

And how much can be portrayed is all reliant on the line (publisher.) Some publishers definitely want Christian lifestyle and worldview to be very laid out. Other lines wish for it be to more subtle.

Being too preachy to me is when a character sort of fades into the pulpit, and it has nothing to do with who the character is--it is now YOUR preaching--author intrusion--coming through.

It jars the reader out of the scene, out of the character, and like you, Lynn, when you could see the agenda of the environmentalist rant, it puts a person off, instead of wooing you to the message through the character's life.

Christian fiction is a Christian worldview story. Hope that helps.

Tina Pinson said...

Wow . . . thanks for the insight. I've asked people to read my books and give me a critique. There have been some pretty indepth bits of praise and criticism. As I recall, few came right out and told me about dead space. Not because there wasn't any, I'm sure. That would be interesting to note though.
That list of what you look for could sum up all the reasons I'd probably pull a Solzhenitsyn. SMILE

And yet, I keep sending them out there, with hope and trepidation.

Having admitted to that I shall pull a manuscript from the dirt, brush it off and hope you choose me for your proposal evaluation.

Tina --

Ruth . . . if you could help I had to sign in differently because it won't take what I thought was my password

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey there, Crystal. I think of all the points you've given us, the one that sticks in my mind is this one: Even when a writer is "doing nothing," he is writing--picking up a bit of dialogue, working out a plot point, building a hero.

That is so true. I find myself watching and listening to people more - being observant I guess. Instead of just noticing what they wear or the way they talk though, I find myself putting the two together and making a story to go along with it. Sometimes I even take it one step further and make a notation of it because I want to keep the image in my mind.

Since I've stopped listening to the radio while I drive around, I find myself working through my plotlines and characters sketches throughout the day during times I used to think were wasted.

Thank you for your wonderful post.

Kylie Ferarri said...

Nice points raised for us readers like me be challenged to read your book.


Shirley Corder said...

Hi Crystal,

Greetings from hot sticky South Africa! Forget the hot chocolate, but an iced drink would go down well.

I've just discovered ths site, and I hope I'm not too late to enter for your draw. Thank you so much for your excellent teaching. I'm ready to risk you reading my proposal!