Marsha Canham's Blog

April 14, 2013

I hate giving writers advice.

Filed under: Uncategorized — marshacanham @ 2:47 pm

That goes for all writers. New writers, experienced writers, weekend writers. I tend to be blunt when asked to do a critique. I look at the work as if it was my own—which is probably mistake #1—and criticize accordingly. On the other hand, I’ve been through the grist mill, suffered editors with bad attitudes, editors who wanted me to change my books to what ‘they’ would have written, and enough rejections to fill a thick file folder. But that was my trial by fire. Each and every one of those rejections, those criticisms and comments made me take a harsher look at my writing. They more or less forced me to improve my craft, to read more outside genre to see what I could do differently to avoid those dreaded words: predictable and stereotypical.


Romance novels surely must suffer the most from those two words. There can only be so many ways two people can start out at opposite sides of the room and come together at the end to waltz happily away into the sunset. I would say the majority of central plot lines begin with the hero and heroine being antagonists, then they go through some crisis or have an epiphany that brings them passionately together. It’s the stuff a good romance is made of. And it’s predictable, from page one, if the heroine is feisty and strong-spirited and goes against the social norms of the day, and if the hero is darkly dangerous, a womanizer, a rake convinced he will never fall in love or marry.


I write historical romances, so I’m super critical when I read one and I honestly read as few of them as possible. That qualification aside, my litmus test is the first chapter. If I can see the entire plot spool out in front of me in those first few pages, then I gently set it aside…not unlike, I would imagine, what editors in publishing houses do.


And that brings me to the reason I sat down with this blog….(that and a cloudy day threatening rain *s*)…that being one of the major problems with self publishing.


As previously mentioned, I have a rejection file an inch thick. They were accumulated over the course of my first four manuscripts, all of which, in turn, I considered to be  brilliant, ingenious, passion-inspiring, intriguing, exciting…yada yada yada.


All of which sucked.


I think I’ve mentioned before that when I used to do workshops on revising and self-editing, I usually handed out a Xeroxed copy of a horribly written chapter from some anonymous author and asked the writers to critique it. After the gales of laughter some of the honest criticisms inspired, after it had been torn apart and pilloried front to back, I told them the chapter came from my first manuscript. There was always a long, heavy silence after the admission, but in the end, they got the point. I learned from my mistakes. Each rejection made me take a long hard look at those manuscripts until I understood…or thought I understood the problems in each one. And for the next book, I would try to change or improve. I like to say the process is like going to school. You don’t go from kindergarten straight to high school, you have to endure all those years of learning in between.


And that is what is missing these days, with the ease of self publishing. There is no in between. There is no trial by fire, no rejection slips that make a writer sit back and wonder why, why? What’s wrong with it?


The writer writes a book s/he thinks is brilliant, ingenious, passion-inspiring, intriguing and exciting and she puts it up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Smashwords etc then sits back to wait for the flood of fantastic reviews and avalanche of sales.  When neither of those things happen, the writer is stunned, confused, angry, even discouraged. If so and so can write an indy book and publish it herself and sell a gazillion copies, why can’t I?


Well, maybe because it sucks.


And NO, I’m not saying ALL indy books suck, so don’t threaten to send me a bag full of fleas and a smelly old yak to foster them.  I’m merely saying that there are good indy books out there, there are indy books that could be better, and there are indy books that would never have made it past the desk of an assistant editor.


There are a gazillion blogs out there by new and experienced writers who say the most important part of writing a book is having that book edited. I agree wholeheartedly. As much as I may be somewhat confident that I sometimes know how to weave a storyline together, and as much as I edit myself half to death and revise and revise and revise… I still don’t trust what I see or do on paper. I have readers who take the pages and, I hope, give me honest critiques. If it sucks, I want to know. My ego isn’t that huge that I expect every word I write to be a gem and that I don’t need editing or proofing. A quick read through some of my blogs is proof of that *snort*. And yes, when I was typing out China Rose and Bound by the Heart, and The Wind and the Sea in order to self publish them, I groaned out loud and banged my head on the desk multiple times at the adjective overkill and the wordiness of scenes where I took 50 words to say what I could have said in 10.  The storylines held up, the writing sure didn’t, and again, I credit those theoretical years in between a writers kindergarten and high school where I learned how to say what I wanted to say in those 10 words, where I learned to make pictures out of words and scenes that would suck a reader in and make her flip those pages faster to see what happened next.


I did an interview not long ago when I was asked if, in this day and age of self publishing, did I regret or resent the years it took me to get my first book into print. My answer was no. All those rejections made me more determined, made me a better writer (I hope), made me think the indy writers today are missing out on those learning years. Then again, perhaps not missing them entirely because if they’re savvy enough and take a good hard look at why their book isn’t selling, they might channel some of that confusion and discouragement and determination into making the next book better.


Please, no yaks. No fleas.



  1. Reblogged this on Sandi Layne and commented:
    I’ve admired Marsha Canham’s historical romances for years and years and consider her ability to blend research with character development and fascinating plots to be truly outstanding.

    Comment by Sandi — April 14, 2013 @ 3:01 pm | Reply

  2. You may hate giving writers advice but you do it so well. The lack of good editing isn’t new, it comes about through a reluctance to be thought mean for expressing your honest opinion about someone’s work. Not to mention the abysmally thin skin too many writers have. In dogs we call that being kennel blind…if the dog is in your kennel, it’s perfect. Not. And trust me it is MUCH easier to fix a manuscript. Too many of us suffer from gentle critique partners or the other extreme, critiquers who don’t “get” your genre and want your ex-mercenary hero not to be so tough.

    Comment by MonaKarel — April 14, 2013 @ 3:02 pm | Reply

  3. Good post. As a writing instructor, I’m always telling students how important it is to get as much feedback as possible before “publishing” (aka submitting for a grade). Someone else will always see what you don’t, and their feedback as readers will always help you grow as a writer.

    Comment by Jenn Hulehan — April 14, 2013 @ 4:22 pm | Reply

  4. It’s amazing how much we learn from failure. When I was in college, I was confident in my writing and usually aced any kind of writing course I took….except one. Back then, more than a decade ago, I hated that professor. I thought she had it out for me every time she returned a paper and told me to edit. When she called me into her office and told me that I should never feel happy with my final piece, that I should never feel like it is “finished,” that I should edit it, then edit it again, then again and again and again….I just thought she was a tight-assed snob who never gave out A-grades, no matter how well-deserved.Then, one day, I woke up realized she was right. She was the only one of my mentors who pushed my work back at me and made me do it better. Now, when I write, I imagine that every one of my readers is that professor. I don’t want any of them to push something back at me and tell me it’s not my best. Having said that…it does make it difficult to ever call a project “done.”

    Comment by Mel — April 15, 2013 @ 7:17 pm | Reply

  5. Hi, just discovered your books pride of lions and blood of roses (hope I got that right, as im not looking at my kindel right now) but anyway they were the best books I have read in years, and I was just curious as too weather they were the first of your books to be accepted for publication, not sure why i want to know this but I just really want to know. Any way, amazing books.thanks for writing them . Cheers leanne

    Comment by Leanne cooper — May 19, 2013 @ 8:39 am | Reply

    • Leanne, thank you for your very generous praise. No, they were not my first books. China Rose was the first accepted for publication, followed by Bound by the Heart, followed by The Wind and the Sea, and then came The Pride of Lions and The Blood of Roses. A full list of my books can be found on my website:

      Comment by marshacanham — May 19, 2013 @ 11:36 am | Reply

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