Rhinoceros Skin - Every Writer's Must-Have

I recently did a presentation about the path to publication that included a big fat picture of a rhinoceros, which always seems to set people back a bit. One of the first things I tell aspiring authors to procure for themselves is some rhinoceros skin. Don't actually go kill a rhinoceros and say Mindy McGinnis told you to do it before reading the rest of this post.

Rhinoceros skin is 1.5 centimeters thick - that's pretty thick skin. Even on our fleshiest parts (hands and feet) human skin is only about 4mm thick. Big game hunters in the early 1900's even believed that rhinos had bulletproof skin. This is not actually the case, but that particular myth has staying power- Kevlar backpacks have been dubbed Rhino Skin.

And this is the kind of protective layer you need to have covering your ego when it's time for feedback. Whether that is coming from your critique partners, casual readers, agents, editors, bloggers or professional reviewers, anything negative that anyone has to say about your book is going to sting a little. And stinging a little is just fine. In fact, even the rhino is used to it - the biggest threat to their skin is sunburn and insect bites. Rhinos cover themselves in mud to protect their skin from these threats, and then they move on with their lives.

These topical concerns can't kill you - in fact, much like the rhino you learn from them. But you can't allow the negativity about your work sink past your epidermis and get down into your organs where you can be fatally damaged by it. Your ego can take a bruising (in fact it's good for all of us) but a seeping lesion will drain the life out of you.

So put on your rhinoceros skin and roll around in some mud, at which point you'll be ready to face any negativity about your writing. And yes, you can say that Mindy told you to roll in the mud.

Rely On Your Crit Partner... In All Things

So, after writing a post about how much we need to respect and rely on our crit partners, I then completely dismissed my own advice. I wrote a promotional letter to all the public libraries in Ohio, talking about how NOT A DROP TO DRINK is based in an Ohio environment. I had a 30 second time period where I thought, "I should send this off to RC and have her glance over it." Then I thought, "Nah, come on Mindy. You can write three paragraphs all by yourself - and you want to get this done!"

After thus reassuring myself I gleefully printed off 250 copies, signed them all, then stuffed (and sealed) about 175 of them with the letter, a shelf-talker and my business card. And on #176 I folded up that bottom section of the trifold, squaring up with the same line I'd done 175 times prior to that... except I actually looked at it this time.

And spotted a typo.

Yep. I printed, signed, stuffed and sealed a typo. Kind of a funny one too. I said that my book is about a time when water is scare. As in - BOO!!! No, it's not scarce. Don't be silly. It's SCARE!

The good news:

  • I didn't mail the typo letters

  • I didn't put address labels on them

  • I didn't put stamps on them

The bad news:

  • I wasted ink

  • I wasted paper

  • I wasted envelopes

  • I had to UNstuff all 175 of them to get my tent card and business cards back out

  • Most importantly I wasted TIME!

Time is something I don't have right now. School starts in less than two weeks. My garden is in shambles. I haven't done nearly enough research for my WIP. I need to prep my blog in advance. I have interviews to answer. And oh - I'm debuting soon. Time is the most important thing to me right now, and I just wasted it.

Oh if only I'd emailed RC and waited the three minutes for her to read, answer, and undoubtedly find my typo.

Big sigh.

But hey - in other news - it's not just text of me being an ass that you get today. If you want to see me on the catwalk (yes, on the catwalk) I'm participating in #NovelFashionWeek. I put together a little video about Dressing For Survival.

Enjoy me being an ass - yet again.

How To Meet Awesome Critique Partners (And Keep Them)

I've talked quite a bit on the blog about my journey to publication, but I'll do a quick summation. I had been writing - and failing - for about a decade before landing Adriann Ranta as my literary agent. After that, I was on submission with NOT A DROP TO DRINK for a solid six months before getting picked up after a whirlwind auction. I was still rather stunned about my change of fortune - and honestly, still am.

Quite a few people have asked me why it took so long for me to get published. Even in this self-confidence-slaying business, ten years is a pretty long haul to seeing my name in print. And honestly, I don't mind it when people ask why my journey was such a long one because it gives me a chance to lay it all out for anybody else who might be making the same mistakes I did.

And my biggest one was that I didn't want to listen to anybody.

Obviously, I was a genius. Obviously, I deserved to be published. Obviously, my book was the best thing that ever happened. Obviously, anyone who didn't realize that was an idiot. Obviously, I had never had anyone else read my stuff because it needed to go straight to the biggest editor at the biggest publishing house, and then straight to press.

And obviously... I was an idiot.

I truly did write a book and not even edit it, or show it to anyone else for their advice. I just wrote an incredibly bad query and started sending it out. I was rejected - with good reason - left and right, and I bemoaned the state of the publishing industry and their inability to recognize my talent.

All of that could've been avoided if I'd found a good crit partner, listened to their advice, and begun to grow exponentially as a writer as a direct result. But because I was convinced I was a genius and terrified someone would steal my incredibly original idea (it wasn't), I never took that step. And that's the reason why I failed (miserably) for a good long while.

So the first piece of advice I give anyone who asks me for it, is to find a good crit partner, which is immediately followed up by, "How?"

I found both of my CP's (RC Lewis and MarcyKate Connolly) by using a writing community called AgentQuery Connect. I am very attached to AQC, as it is a positive and helpful (not to mention free) environment. But there are plenty of other great writing sites to meet CP's at, and I encourage everyone who has met their significant writing others online to share where in the comments.

Granted, it wasn't love at first sight. I met RC and MK fairly early on in the forums, but we didn't actually start exchanging manuscripts with each other regularly until we'd been on the boards with each other for a year or so, if I remember correctly. I have had other CP's that had come and gone - some more or less helpful than others - before I met these two and we became the wood glue in each other's fiber board.

I want to hit on the fact that it wasn't easy, and that I didn't find true love right off the bat. I know a lot of people get discouraged after a few bad (or just less than helpful) experiences, but you can't give up on finding a CP because of a few bad apples. Finding a great CP is just like dating - there are going to be some clunkers before you're all, "Marry me!"

And once you've found someone that is a good fit for you? Again, it's not that different from dating.

  • Support your CP. They're entering a pitch contest and need you to look over something in the next few hours in order for them to hit the deadline? Do it. You'll be in the same situation one day.

  • Reciprocate for your CP. They leave detailed comments in your ms, along with their reactions as a reader and thoughts as a writer. Don't reward their hard work on your behalf by responding to their ms with, "Speed up the middle, Make the mom more likable, and shave off half your dialogue tags."

  • Listen to your CP. So they aren't relating to your MC? Well, damn them! Wait a second... you trust this person's judgement. And maybe one of the reasons you have an insta-flare of protective writer ego is because deep down, you know they're right.

  • Realize your CP is human. Which means they're not always right. In the end it is your ms, and if they think something should be phrased differently or they don't like a particular piece of dialogue, definitely consider their opinion. But that doesn't mean you have to always agree. Trust me, my CP's and I read draft after draft of each other's work, and we do see when one hasn't taken the other's advice on the little stuff -- and it doesn't matter. 

  • Respect your CP. Don't send them your 120k first draft and ask them to find all the problems for you. Always edit before you hand anything off to your CP. It's not their job to catch your mistakes - it's their job to catch the ones you missed in edits.

  • Value your CP's time. Likewise, if you shaved a few dialogue tags and sliced an unnecessary word here or there, don't send your CP your entire ms and ask them to re-read and give you their thoughts. Only ask for an entire draft overview if you are re-shaping plot, changing character motivations, or making other big changes. Later on in the relationship you may make smaller changes and ask for an overall read - at their discretion - but don't throw this at their heads right away. It'd be like being married for two days and suddenly demanding five children, right now.

There are other Do's and Don'ts in the CP relationship world, but these are the biggest ones I can think of off the top of my head. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!