Win a FREE, signed copy of Partners In Crime! Yes, you can escape with a good read and save money at the same time! No, this is not an April Fool’s Joke. My publicist and Chief Marketing Officer (which consists of only me) felt that instead of just playing jokes on people to mark April 1st, I can play jokes on people AND provide a gift for the hardworking people out there. Click below to enter your name for one of two free copies of my debut novel Partners in Crime from Goodreads. That’s all you have to do. Enjoy! Giveaway ends on tax day, April 15th!
What do you do when an agent laughs at your manuscript and says it’s awful?
B. Beg her to read it again
C. Throw a brick at her
D. Learn from it and vow that one day, you’ll have the last laugh
This happened to me at a writer’s conference years ago. Well, not just to me. It happened to a lot of writers at that conference. We signed up for pitch sessions and critiques, where literary agents and editors reviewed samples of our manuscripts.
These sessions are similar to job fairs, but can be worse. Imagine a job recruiter saying he wouldn’t use your resume for toilet paper and that you’ll never find a job. A critique session can be a literary version of American Idol—you can find “judges” who are compassionate human beings or sadistic monsters who love crushing your dreams with brute force.
For my session, I submitted sample chapters of my novel Partners In Crime. It was a new experience for me, so I didn’t know what to expect. Well, the agent I selected really let me have it. As she flipped through the pages and laughed while telling me everything that was wrong with it, my first instinct was to ask a female friend to do a Jet Li move and drop kick her across the table (after all, I won’t hit a lady).
However, I forced myself to listen. As much as her words hurt, I refused to curse her, like some other authors did that day with their reviewers. Some even cried. Of course, not all sessions were bad. Some agents/editors gave glowing reviews and two writers walked away from the conference that day with book contracts.
Obviously, I wasn’t one of them. Instead, I chose Option D above. I learned from it. Now, I don’t even care about having that last laugh. I’m just busy improving my craft. So if you ever plan to have your written work evaluated, keep these things in mind:
Beware destructive critics
- They’re also known as haters. They love to critique everyone’s work and point out what they didn’t like or what they would change. Rarely do they point out good things. You can’t please them. Of course, they’ll never submit their own work for critique. They don’t want to taste their own medicine.
Beware the lovey-dovey critics
- These people are on the opposite end from the haters. These folks think that even a grocery receipt is a beautiful story that encapsulates the struggles, triumphs, and endearing passion of the human spirit. They’ll definitely think your writing will be an immediate international bestseller. As tempting as it may be, don’t seek them for advice. While it’s nice to hear their kind words, it’s hard to take them seriously, especially if they can’t give concrete reasons or examples WHY they love it. It may be that they just love you and not necessarily your work. Or perhaps you can’t handle rejection or criticism well and they’re avoiding the drama that comes with being honest with you. If that’s you, learn to accept criticism. You’ll never get better without it.
Appreciate the constructive, objective critics
- This isn’t easy. Even today, I cringe a little when people critique my writing. I poured my heart into my book, and like every writer, I want people to love it and say it’s an awesome book. But I have to come back to reality. Every author can improve. Read Amazon reviews for best sellers; you’ll find readers trashing novels like the Da Vinci code, which only sold, oh, a billion copies. Even the bestselling book of all time, the Bible, has denouncers. What hope does anyone have of writing a perfect book?
- So hold on to these valuable people who offer objective, constructive feedback, even when they say they don’t like something. They are worth more than gold.
Still, take the nuggets from scathing critiques
- Even though I hated sitting in front of that agent that fall day in Los Angeles, I had to admit she had valid points. Although her tact and delivery could’ve been softened, and even though she was meaner than the worst of the aforementioned haters, she pointed out things I had to work on if I wanted to publish a murder mystery series one day. I just had to swallow my pride and listen.
The point? Do the best you can. Don’t let someone ruin your dream and never change your work just to please someone who didn’t like it. That’s not to say there may not be a valid point in what is said. You have to be objective and decide if it’s worthy feedback. But if you’ve done your hard work and put together the best product you can, I promise you that more people will love it than not!
When my buddies suggested I join them in Trinidad for Carnival this past weekend, I figured why not? I love the Caribbean vibes and felt I’d be at home for my first visit to the island. Also, since it’s difficult to find time to write during the week, I thought I’d have some time to relax and catch up during my vacation.
From the fetes (festival parties) that end after sunrise, to the thundering soca music that never stops, to the wet, sexual wildness of J’ouvert, there’s little time to relax. I had a lot of fun, but now I need a vacation from this vacation.
If you like the Carnival atmosphere, check out Trinidad’s version of it. Don’t think you’ll fly there, celebrate, and return to work a day or two later, unless you like walking into meetings looking like a sleep-deprived zombie. You’ll be putting in some work, and you’ll need time to physically recover from the partying and celebrating. I’ve met people who’ve experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Carnival in Brazil, and they say nothing captures the spirit and energy of Trinidad.
If you want to party in Trinidad & Tobago, here are six things to keep in mind:
1) Start early
- Plan your travel about 9-12 months in advance. Naturally, the prices get worse the closer you get. Hotels like Hyatt and Hilton will charge 3 to 4 times their normal price that week. And they still sell out fast.
2) Make the band
- Some people reserve costumes and join bands for playing mas, where they dance along parade routes on Monday/Tuesday. Costumes range from $200 U.S. to well over $2,000, but this also includes food, alcohol, security, and access to parties. If you don’t reserve one, you can try waiting for a last-minute cancellation and grabbing an unclaimed costume at a discount, but you risk missing out completely. Or you can just watch and enjoy the crowd.
3) Dress for comfort
- Most people wear shorts and t-shirts, with sandals or sneakers. It’s warm and humid and you’ll walk a lot. Trying to be cute with your shoes will only mean blisters and sore feet later. And people aren’t worrying about your shoes anyway. Not with all of the other sights to look at.
- In fact, if you do J’ouvert (a giant street party), bring a t-shirt, shorts or pants, and shoes you don’t mind throwing away. J’ouvert starts at 4am on Monday, where thousands dance through streets to ear-shattering, bass-thumping soca music until 8am. Revelers toss and smear colorful paints, mud, water, and chocolate syrup on everyone (tip: eat a snack before the party and put your phone in a plastic bag so it won’t get wet).
4) Wine and Dine
- You won’t forget the dancing. Men and women will freak and grind on each other to the music (also called wining). They quickly move on to the next willing participant, usually a complete stranger. Inhibitions are definitely loosened (the free-flowing alcohol helps) and it is sexually charged. However, most people don’t wine; they’re content to walk along with the crowd and enjoy the music and drinks.
- But if you do indulge in wining, please don’t fall in love with that sexy young lady because she thrust herself on you, or because that tall stranger with the accent lifted you in the air like some Adonis. It’s not that serious. They’ll wine like that all night. This isn’t a nightclub in the States, where that action could mean something else. In Trinidad, it’s dancing, not a commitment for sex. I didn’t see a single fight or drama, despite the plentiful supply of alcohol. So if you chase after that woman or dude because they wined you so well, you’ll come across as a stalker.
5) Stay near downtown Port-of-Spain (capital city)
- Traffic can be as awful as Atlanta rush hour in a snowstorm (okay, it’s not THAT bad, but it’s bad). If you stay on the outskirts and go to a party, you may have to walk several miles back to your hotel at night (which I don’t recommend) or wait 1-3 hours for a cab to retrieve you. But if you do stay on the outskirts and don’t have a friend driving you…
6) Hire a designated driver
- Finding a cab can be an adventure. Especially if you go to the fetes that end early in the morning and everyone leaves at the same time. You could be stuck there for what seems like days. Instead, pay your cabbie to wait for you or schedule him to pick you up before the party ends.
- Just note that cabs there do not have standard markings, colors, or fleets. They look like any regular car or minivan. The only way to tell is to look at the plates; cab plates start with an ‘H’.
There are lots of other things to add, but that would put me over my self-imposed word limit for my posts, which I’ve already blown out of the water. However, I’ve only been to Trinidad once. I’m sure experienced veterans reading this could add more insight. If that’s you, please feel free to share!
Man, I love my friends, family, and readers. They are very supportive. Since I’m like every other author out there, struggling to build awareness, they think Oprah is the answer to all of my problems.
They feel I’m just one phone call away from stardom. One phone call from Oprah to highlight my book before I start signing movie deals and counting huge amounts of cash. When I tell them that there are a million books published each year, and other authors hear the same things, they pooh-pooh my realism and tell me to think positively.
But Oprah still hasn’t called yet. No invite to her show. No multimillion dollar contract. She hasn’t magically sensed my novel on the market and felt a strong compulsion to fulfill my dreams of fame and fortune. What’s her problem?
My friends and readers say “Send your book to her! She’ll read it. You never know!”
I try not to chuckle when I hear that. Oprah must have warehouses full of unrequested books that people throw her way. Besides, I’ve never known her to highlight my genre, which is murder mystery. If I’m putting all my hopes into a magical discovery that happens all of a sudden, I’ll probably be disappointed.
We live in a culture that highlights those who reach the pinnacle of success or luck. From the Powerball lottery winners to the young woman who wins American Idol, we’re inundated with these stories. Yet, they are just one in a million. Maybe one in several hundred million. However, people see these folks and believe that anyone can do it, too.
What we don’t see are the people who work hard and keep striving despite seeing any visible signs of progress. We don’t see the little things they have to stick to, day in and day out, to reach their goals. So we get lulled into that belief that we can get those miracle finishes without much difficulty.
Promoting a book certainly falls in the ‘difficult’ category, especially when I don’t have $3,000 a month to spend on promotion. Yes, several PR companies specializing in book promotion quoted a price of over three grand per month to promote my book. Maybe if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t need to worry about promoting my book to increase sales. So when my optimistic friends and readers tell me to call Oprah, I smile, say ‘sure!’, and keep it moving. Like most authors out there, I have to do this the hard way.
That’s not to say I won’t break Olympic records running to my phone if Oprah’s name pops up on my caller ID. I just won’t expect it to be that easy. I need to keep things simple and start with easier tasks before I get that invite to Chicago. Like writing five or six bestsellers first. Easy enough, right?
Then I won’t have to worry about Oprah and get upset because she hasn’t called me yet…
(yes, borrowed from Dave Chappelle and Comedy Central)