Whenever I'm asked for advice about succeeding as a writer, I always tell people to find a good writers' group. And I mean a good one. a bunch of jerks who will really let you have it, who will look at your years of creativity and labor and say...meh.
I never would have been published had it not been for the five or six women who rip my manuscripts apart on a weekly basis. They find fault, they nitpick, and tell me I can do better. They've uncovered so many mistakes, typos, and chapters that just plain didn't work...I owe them so much.
Here's an example which I think sum this up.
A while ago I was working on a project with my editor. We both had a very clear direction that we wanted to take the book, and we weren't seeing eye to eye. Now rather than my editor saying 'I'm the editor, do it my way,' (which she could have), she offered a compromise:
"How about that writers' group you're always going on about? Show them your sample chapters and let them decide the best way to proceed."
I thought this was a great idea. After all, these people were my friends. Of course they'd side with me.
They sided with my editor. All of them. On nearly every issue. Turns out, once again, the editor knew best.
But that's why I keep asking for my group's advice. They can see where I'm going wrong and offer a corrective kick in the pants. If it weren't for them, I'd still be working on that first query letter.
I'm grateful for Heidi, Kate, Barri, Elaine, Ida, Amy, and Margo. And I'm mega grateful to my editor, Claudia, who has always believed in me, even when I was difficult to work with (which is all the time, more or less).