Critique Connection

Every once in a while, I open up the blog to a Critique Connection in the comments. A lot of writers have reported finding critique partners or groups this way. I haven’t done it in a while, so I figured, why not?

Here’s what you should leave in the comments:

  • The category of your WIP (picture book, middle grade, etc.)
  • Genre, if applicable
  • Whether you’re looking for another set of eyes for your current project, or a longer-term critique relationship
  • How to reach you (I’d suggest formatting your email like this: mary at kidlit dot com, just to discourage spam)

Good luck potentially connecting with some like-minded writers! I hope you find your next critique partner here.

Want to add a professional perspective to your critique arsenal? Read about my editorial services.

Critique Connection

By request, I’m letting this post be a way to find virtual critique partners. I’ve done these in the past, and people have reported finding good connections.

It’s simple. In the comments, please post:

Category: What you write, whether MG, YA, picture books, etc.

Genre: If you write in a specific genre

What You’d Like Critiqued and How: Are you looking for a partner to exchange pages with as you’re writing, someone to read an entire novel, etc. If It’s a bigger manuscript, maybe note the word count.

How to Get In Touch With You: If you’re not comfortable sharing your email, you can type it in a way that discourages spam (mary at kidlit dot com), or you can ask potential partners to reply to your comment…then come back and see if you have any nibbles.

It’s a little old school to do this on a blog, but if you’re looking for a critique partner going into the holidays and New Year, I can vouch that my blog readers are some of the smartest and best looking kidlit enthusiasts around! 🙂

In other news, I’ll be doing some critiques and participating in this year’s WriteOnCon in February. It’s a completely interactive online writer’s conference. I’ll post more as their website for this year gets up and running.

Critique Connection

As promised, this is Critique Connection. If you are looking for a critique partner, briefly describe your manuscript in progress in the comments and leave a way to contact you. With enough people, the comments section will likely turn into a bit of an online dating site for people writing children’s books who want another set of eyes. Many critique groups and partners have come about as a result of this system and so I’m happy to keep doing it.

It’s up to you to decide what you need from a potential critique partner. Do you want them to look at your query? Your first 10 pages? Your entire manuscript? Be as clear as you can (and as realistic as you can about what you’re willing to do for others) for best results.

To boost your chances for a successful match, include the following information in your comment:

  1. Your audience and genre (ie: YA thriller). Most people are going to be writing PB, MG or YA because this blog is specific to children’s books. I don’t know how many have tried to connect with other types of projects, but I’d imagine children’s books do best here.
  2. A short description of your story. There’s no length limit but please be kind. 🙂
  3. A way to contact you. If you’re worried about spammers attacking a link to your email, format it like this: mary (at) kidlit (dot) com and trust potential critique partners to translate it to mary@kidlit.com.

Finally, be PROACTIVE! If a book looks good or even if it looks similar to what you’re doing (a situation that usually gives writers the fits until they realize that idea is just part of the puzzle and execution of that idea is where the differences are), reach out to that writer. Introduce yourself. See if there’s a connection. Writing is a solitary pursuit but there’s actually a tight-knit, awesome community out there. You never know who you can meet!

 

 

Dealing With Writing Feedback and Making Sense of Writing Critique

One of the most difficult things to do if you get a lot of writing critique or pay for reads at conferences is to synthesize all the writing feedback you’re receiving into something that makes sense. Last week, a blog reader wrote in to ask the following…

writing critique, writing feedback, beta reader, critique group, manuscript critique
Getting varying writing feedback? How do you deal with writing critique that varies, or that you disagree with?

I have a question about writing feedback about a WIP. I recently had 3 manuscript assessments completed, two full reads by highly recommended freelance editors (paid for), and one 10-page review by a professional agent (also paid for). The first two were really positive with minor ‘fixes’ to consider and when asked if I should persevere, the response was ‘absolutely’. However, the third writing critique, from the literary agent, basically told me to start something new and give up on that MSS. So how does one take such varying feedback? Which feedback do you take on board and which do you reject without being biased?

Dealing With Diverse Writing Feedback

This is a tough one. If it were me and my manuscript, I’d try and find a middle ground between “minor fixes” and “trash the thing.” Also, keep in mind that the editors read the full manuscript, which is helpful, while the agent only read the first 10 pages. In this writer’s case, I would be very tempted (as a human) to choose the editors’ opinions and discard the agent’s.

However, as an agent (definitely not human, LOL), I say that the source does matter. Don’t reject the agent’s harsher writing critique because you don’t like it. Here’s why: Besides writing quality, agents also have to react and think about premise and marketability, and they know more on that front than laypeople or even trained freelancers. They’re the ones staying on top of trends and the ones closely familiar with what is and isn’t selling.

(Sidebar: I’m not particularly thrilled with the agent’s response myself, though I would say there’s probably some truth to it. The reason for this is that saying “burn it” isn’t constructive to a writer. Even if I see little hope for a manuscript, I always try to at least provide some actionable writing feedback. I’m sorry to hear this wasn’t the case in this situation.)

Considering the Source of the Writing Critique

Freelance editors focus primarily on the strengths and opportunities for grown in the manuscript as it exists before them. If the manuscript is technically good and the story moves along well, they may be tempted to rate it highly. Agents, however, are looking at the quality of the thing, sure, but they are also always trying to place it in the context of saleability. (Opening up the great art vs business debate!) Because the most amazing piece of writing isn’t going to do anyone much good if it can’t be published for whatever reason (usually a too-slow or too-quiet or too-clichéd premise). So while the agent’s writing feedback is harsh, there may be truth to either the writing or the concept not working.

If the writer in question wants another agent’s opinion and money is not an issue, I would encourage them to seek yet another agent or editor’s opinion (ideally an editor who has had publishing industry experience). That should clarify the picture a bit. If they can’t get another professional critique at the moment, I would focus on tweaking the story and concept to something that’s more exciting by today’s standards. Concept might, after all, be what the agent reacted poorly to. There’s also nothing like actually putting a project aside and getting a fresh new idea. The project doesn’t have to die, it can just step aside for a minute while you chase something else.

Odds are good you’ll come back to it, ready to see it with new eyes. That’s a way to take the agent’s negative-sounding writing feedback and make it empowering instead.

I’m a book editor with thousands of freelance clients and ten years of experience in the publishing industry, including five years as a literary agent. I bring the best of both worlds–business and art–to your book project.

Writing Conference and Manuscript Critique Expectations

I’ve spoken about how to get published and provided manuscript critique at many a writing conference. Teaching writing is a passion for me (hence the blog). Most of the writers who get manuscript critique (at conferences, in critique groups, through the webinars, as a result of contests, etc.) approach it with the right attitude. Conferences and critiques are a learning opportunity. You submit your work, you hear feedback on it, and, eventually, you either incorporate the feedback or cast it aside. Sometimes a critique will completely click and validate your own instincts. Sometimes you won’t like it at all.

writing conference, manuscript critique, literary agent, how to get published
Sitting down for manuscript critique at a writing conference can be daunting, but try to approach it with the right attitude.

Context for Manuscript Critique

Let’s start by saying that, yes, some critique is just bad. It’s either totally off the mark (“Did they even read my story?”) or it feels mean-spirited (there’s a personal attack or they say something along the lines of “you will never ever ever ever publish”). Keep in mind, though, that telling you that your writing still needs work is not personally mean. It’s most likely honest. All writers, even published ones, strive to improve their writing, so “needs work” is not a bad thing.

Just because someone doesn’t heap praise on you or call you “the next J.K. Rowling” in critique doesn’t mean it’s a bad manuscript critique. No professional critique would say such a thing, so if that’s what you’re expecting, you’re in for disappointment. Most critique may be hard to take but, if it’s honest and comes from an expert source, it will have at least one or two nuggets of truth or action items that you can implement in your writing. If you leave your emotions out of it, you’ll most likely find this to be the case.

Don’t Expect Writing Conference Miracles

Manuscript critique is a tool. It is given to you and you must use it how you see fit. Maybe not right away. Maybe you’ll put it aside for a bit and then use it to look at your manuscript afresh. But it is extremely valuable–it is another set of eyes on your work, which is a very rare thing for writers to receive. Let’s now go into what critique isn’t. Something goes on in critiques and at a writing conference that I call American Idol Syndrome. There seems to be a mentality in the creative arts right now (not helped by all the competition shows that have sprung up over the last decade) that all you need is your one shot at greatness and then you’re a star. Instead of doing the hard labor for years and years, instead of working your butt off, all you need is to be in the right place at the right time in front of the right gatekeeper.

Believe me, I love this dream. I remember being 12 or 13 and reading in Seventeen magazine that some model got discovered when a scout saw her at the mall, offered her a contract on the spot, whisked her away to a life of luxury in NYC, and then it rained unicorns and puppies on her forever and ever, etc. I won’t lie to you–I was much more self-conscious going to the mall after that. I always chose my outfit carefully and maybe even put on a little make-up, which, for me, is a huge effort.

This fantasy is very appealing to humans. Work is hard. That’s why they call it “work,” instead of, you know “beach party.” We would rather have success tap us on the shoulder while we’re browsing Hot Topic and offer us the key to our dreams. But this happens much more rarely than you’d think in real life (that’s why we know the exceptions…they’re news). Especially in publishing, which isn’t as TV-ready-glamorous as fashion design, being a TV chef, modeling, singing, etc.

Put In the Work and Reap the Rewards

I know that when writers sign up for a writing conference or manuscript critique, there’s this little part of them that thinks, “Maybe I will meet my dream agent and we’ll ride off into the sunset together!” Heck, I met one of my now-colleagues at a writer’s conference. Writers connect with agents, editors, and other writers at conferences all the time. But those meetings are a lot less about luck than they are about hard work.

The writers that do find their agents and editors at these things are the ones who have done years of work on their craft, who are coming to the conference savvy and informed, who have bought a critique that brings them to the right person’s attention, and who have done as much as possible so that they’re ready to be fallen in love with.

Louis Pasteur said: “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” The people who win Idol have, most likely, years and years of voice lessons and musical theatre and practice behind them. They look like they’re just randomly being “discovered” on TV, but their entire creative life has brought them to that moment. It’s the sweaty, repetitive part that the cameras don’t show you. This goes for any creative endeavor.

Keeping Writing Conference Emotions in Check

Now. There is a small set of writers who do not react well to constructive feedback. They are the ones bitterly disappointed that they were not “discovered” as a result of a writing conference meeting or manuscript critique. All they wanted to hear was, “This is a diamond in the rough and I will publish it right this minute!” Anything else, no matter how sound the feedback, is crushing. If you are pinning all your hopes and expectations on one conference or critique, and you feel like “this is it, or else…,” I would save yourself the trouble and stay away for now. It is very likely that your unrealistic expectations will be dashed. (If you’re wondering whether you should attend a writers conference in the first place, this post is for you.)

Publishing is a tough business, and writing is, by its very nature, emotional. Writers, especially those striving to publish, need thick skins and heaps of resilience. I’d encourage everyone to adjust their expectations of mega-stardom and insta-fame now rather than be disappointed in the future. That’s not to say I’m thinking small. I would love for all of my clients to be #1 bestsellers! But you can’t go in expecting that to happen, or the journey will be very angsty for you.

Hope for great things (every writing conference or manuscript critique is an opportunity to grow), but don’t require them. Screw your determination to its sticking place, and get into this game to learn and grow as a writer. That’s the good stuff right there. If you happen to take off, it will be that much more satisfying, and you will have a very strong craft foundation to bolster your success.

Until that happens, if you still want to play the one-in-a-million odds at instant stardom, line up to audition for the next season of Idol. I guarantee that you won’t be alone in pursuing this favorite of human fantasies.

To put rocket boosters on your progress and get one-on-one manuscript critique without waiting for a conference, hire me as your book editor!

December Critique Connection

Every once in a while, I open up the blog comments to a Critique Connection, a post where you can hopefully meet some new critique partners. To participate, leave a comment on this entry with the following information:

  1. Your genre (ie: fantasy, paranormal, realistic, historical, etc.)
  2. Your audience (ie: picture book, MG, YA, etc.)
  3. A little about your manuscript (practice your one-line “elevator pitch”)
  4. What you want out of the experience (a critique of your XX,000-word mss., someone to read your first 3 chapters, help with your query letter, etc.)
  5. Your email address for potential partners to contact you (I’d type it in the following format: mary at kidlit dot com, so that you avoid spam bots.)

Only post a comment for this entry if you are looking for a critique partner.

In other news, I am going to take a Blogcation the last two weeks of December and the first week of January, (Dec 19 to Jan 6) so there will be no new stuff on here during those three weeks on any of my blahblahblogs. However, I’ll ramp up my “From the archives” Tweets, so if you’re not following me on Twitter and Facebook, click those links and do so. I often pull out old articles that are still just as pertinent to writing and publishing as they were when I wrote them and broadcast the links to those who may not have been readers yet. I’ve got a blog full of material from early 2009 on, so there are a lot of posts to peruse!

Critique Connection and Webinar

Howdy, readers! Summer has been a bit slow on the blog. Do not fear. After Labor Day, starting next Wednesday, September 7th, the posts will once again be full steam ahead. In the meantime, I’ve been meaning to open the blog up to another critique connection post since early summer, and here it is.

Before I do, let me tell you about the latest Writer’s Digest webinar I’m doing. In July, I offered a picture book craft intensive, focusing very specifically on writing for the youngest readers. It was my first “specialized” webinar and it was an overwhelming success. (Thank you so much to everyone who listened to that one! I’m digging into critiques for it right now!) On September 15th at 1 p.m. Eastern, I am offering a Middle Grade and Young Adult Craft Intensive webinar.

This 90-minute webinar will focus exclusively into the craft of writing fiction for the middle grade and young adult audience. I’ll talk about the marketplace, strategies to really make your novel stand out in the slush, character, plotting, tension, description, setting, voice, submissions, queries, and much more. It’s the first time I’ll be focusing exclusively on MG and YA, so even if you’ve taken one of my webinars before, you will be getting brand new content. You can sign up by clicking here.

The bonus of my webinars, as many of you already know, is that they include a critique from me for every registered student. For this one, I will read and critique the first 500 words of your MG or YA novel (one project per student, please). Instructions for submitting will come when you register for the webinar.

If you’re having scheduling issues with the time or date, don’t worry. By signing up, you will receive a recording of the webinar (emailed about one week after the original webinar date), you will have the same chance to ask questions as the other students, and you will still get your critique. So sign up even if the time or date doesn’t work for you!

This brings us to Critique Connection. I’ve done these posts in the past and leave the comments open so that you can connect with potential critique partners. Here’s what you need to post:

  1. Your genre (ie: fantasy, paranormal, realistic, historical, etc.)
  2. Your audience (ie: picture book, MG, YA, etc.)
  3. A little about your manuscript (practice your one-line “elevator pitch”)
  4. What you want out of the experience (a critique of your XX,000-word mss., someone to read your first 3 chapters, help with your query letter, etc.)
  5. Your email address for potential partners to contact you (I’d type it in the following format: mary at kidlit dot com so that you avoid spam bots.)

Only post a comment for this entry if you are looking for a critique partner. I will leave it up until after Labor Day to get the most exposure for it. And while you’re thinking of getting critique, do sign up for my webinar!

The All-Important Beginning and a Call for Submissions

I’m reading this great book called HOOKED by Les Edgerton, out from Writer’s Digest Books. It is awesome. Not only does Les have a great teacher’s voice, he gets into the nitty gritty of just why beginnings are so important, and then tells his readers how to nail this crucial part of their novels (he also talks about beginnings in terms of short stories, but most of his advice is geared toward novelists).

At the awesome NJ SCBWI conference this past weekend (I have such a blast every year, if you haven’t gone yet, go!), a writer asked a similar question during the Saturday morning agent panel. Why do we request what we do and how much can we tell from a writer’s beginning? Another writer said that her novel had a slow start but got really good about 15 pages in, and she wanted advice on how to get agents and editors to that point.

Let’s not beat around the bush any longer: your beginning is the most important thing you’ll write. And often rewrite, and rewrite. Not your query letter, your beginning. It’s also of the most difficult, because not a lot of people know how to write a killer beginning. You hear me, you query-obsessed writers?! So not only is there a lot of pressure on your writing and scenework and characterization, there’s also a lot of pressure because, without fail, the beginning is what makes you or breaks you in terms of attracting a reader’s attention. This is true whether that reader is an agent, editor, or a kid picking your book off the shelf and skimming the first page when trying to decide whether it’s working or not and whether she should buy it.

If you think of yourself as a slow starter, or if you know that everyone starts their story with the character waking up but you want to do it anyway (because you, of all people, have the perfect excuse), or if you find yourself starting with a lot of exposition, or if your beginning moves so fast (a rare but different problem) that the reader isn’t feeling grounded, or if you keep getting rejected after sending writing samples, or if your action-packed prologue drops off to reveal a first chapter drained of tension, or if people tell you that they really get into the story, but later, your beginning isn’t working.

To that, I’ll add a common problem that I’ve been seeing all over the place lately: if you either start a new scene in a different setting or if you go into a flashback within the first two pages, you’re not starting in the right place. Start in the right place and stay there for a bit before yanking us away from it, yeah?

So…what do you do about your beginning? Most writers rewrite theirs over and over and over again. By the time you reach the end of your story, you’ll most likely have to zip over to the start and change the whole thing in keeping with what you’ve learned since you first wrote it. You can also read HOOKED. Or you can send your beginnings to me and I’ll randomly pick five to dissect on the blog.

That’s right. It’s been a while since I’ve asked for any writing samples from my readers. I’ve already done a beginnings contest (and a post on beginnings), but now I want to do a beginnings workshop. Here’s how you participate:

  1. Copy and paste your first 500 words only into an email message. We’ll focus on MG and YA here, sorry picture books.
  2. Subject line: Kidlit Beginnings (do not put the words “query” or “submission” anywhere near the subject line or it will go into my slush and I won’t find it and you don’t get to participate).
  3. Don’t tell me anything about plot or character in a cover letter…the beginning has to do that work for you.
  4. Send it off to mary at kidlit dot com before Friday, June 17th. If you don’t get it in in time, you don’t get to participate. Not because I’m not nice, but because other people will have figured out how to follow directions and I want to reward them.

I will choose five beginnings to showcase on the blog. I’ll attribute them to your name. So don’t send me something unless you want it to appear on the blog, with your name. As I’ve done in the past with queries and beginnings, I will give you constructive notes, and everyone will learn from them. I’ll be choosing beginnings based on the teaching opportunities they give me, so it is not a reflection of you as a writer or a person if your submission is or is not chosen to be workshopped. Being chosen doesn’t mean it’s bad or good, neither does it being not chosen, etc. Let the beginnings games begin, and go read HOOKED by Les Edgerton (but not before you submit your beginning, because then I’ll have nothing to teach you)!

ETA: Sorry, guys! About 100 writers were too fast and sent in samples already and, since I’m only going to do 5 workshops, that is so much more than I need. If I keep this opportunity open, I will just disappoint that many more people. If you didn’t get your sample in to me, please don’t despair…I will do more workshop opportunities again soon. Again, so sorry. I know how frustrating it is to have someone announce something and then take it back, but I just can’t, in good conscience, solicit more work at this time.

When Do I Involve a Critique Group?

I just spent an amazing weekend at Big Sur with my colleagues, some great editor and writer friends, and a whole gaggle of talented, hardworking writers. How refreshing and invigorating (and, of course, exhausting, but so worth it)! I was especially proud of my workshop groups at this Big Sur because my writers became so close that they were eating together and hanging out long after our scheduled sessions were over. There was even talk of extending the conference connection and forming a critique group after the weekend ended.

This made me think, as I frequently do, about the glory of critique groups and readers. All writers need them, no matter if you’ve never thought so or had unsuccessful situations in the past. Good critique partners and readers are worth their weight in gold, truly. Seeing critique in action made me think of reader Melissa’s question:

What’s the best time to start submitting work to a critique group? Should you wait until it’s finished or submit chapters as they’re written? Also, are beta readers the same as a critique group?

The point of critique of any kind is to get other eyes (ideally, eyes that belong to writers who know what they’re talking about) on your work. How do you do that? First, there are critique partners or critique groups (the name isn’t important). These are other writers who you exchange work and commentary with, ideally on a regular basis. Some writers love working with local groups, but you don’t have to know your crit partners in person…these groups work well over the Internet or the phone, too.

Critique partners or groups work best when writers convene regularly and are committed to one another, so that a core group can stay together over the course of many projects. Critique partners become intimately familiar with your writing, your stories, your strengths, weaknesses, and goals. This kind of continuity lets you get down to business and really get into the nitty gritty of the writing (ideally…you can read more about what makes a great critique partner or group here).

Some groups all want a writer to have a completed manuscript, others will be open to seeing work in progress…sometimes literally as it comes hot off the press (or printer). You should talk this over with your critique partners and make a decision that appeals to everyone.

It can be useful and exciting to get feedback on a project while you’re still creating it. It is even more useful, I think, to finish something, revise it on your own for a few passes, and then bring in your critique partners. A novel changes so much during the writing process, that it may be more helpful for you to work it out and get it written first, before even thinking about feedback and revision.

There is a small distinction, in my mind, between critique groups (or partners…I’ve used both terms interchangeably here) and beta readers. When I think of critique partners, I think of a group that meets regularly, will read whatever you give them, and really drill into it. That could mean reading an entire manuscript, or it could mean reading twenty versions of one chapter as you try to get it right. Critique groups should be very hands on and intense. Beta readers are people who read the whole manuscript and give feedback, but who may not give as much writing/revision/craft advice as your regular critique group. Beta readers are great if you want new eyes on a project, or if you want to hear from someone who doesn’t already know the story (like if you’re writing a murder mystery and really want to see if your red herrings work, but you’re worried whether your critique partners, who already know the whole story, will be able to judge after a few revisions).

Most of the professional writers I know have a regular critique group and then a few beta readers who they reach out to after the manuscript has been revised and polished, just for some quick feedback and a last minute read before it goes to their agent or editor, just to make sure the book is working.

But if you’re just starting out, don’t worry about having a pocketful of beta readers and a five-person bi-monthly, dedicated critique group. Maybe find a partner online (through the Verla Kay Blueboards, or the SCBWI) or at a writer’s conference. If that partner doesn’t work, find another one. I just did a Critique Connection post a few weeks ago, so that might be a place to search. The point is, start finding some critique opportunities and getting comfortable with the practice of giving, receiving, and incorporating feedback from a supportive community of writers. Hone your revision skills. Take it one step at a time. You’ll find the right mix that works for you.

Should You Mention Using Freelance Editors and Hiring an Editor

Today’s question about hiring an editor and mentioning using freelance editors from Zoe is a quick one:

If a writer decides to have an MS professionally edited by a reputable editor known in the biz (I dunno, think freelance editors like Alan Rinzler or a Lisa Rector perhaps), should the writer ever mention it in the query? How do I go about hiring an editor?

freelance editors, hiring an editor, book editor, manuscript editor, freelance novel editor
Hiring an editor is a great way to get a second set of eyes on your project, but do freelance editors belong in your query letter?

It’s totally up to you whether you choose to mention hiring an editor in your query letter. There are a few thoughts that spring to mind for me when I read in a query that a manuscript has been worked on by freelance editors. (Note: I have worked as a freelance editor for the past five years, but this answer is largely colored by my five years as a literary agent.)

Agent Reactions to Freelance Editors

On the good end of the spectrum, I think: Oh, great! This writer is used to working with someone else in an editorial capacity and has probably had to revise this manuscript quite a bit. They may be more savvy that some others in my slush about the whole process. I’m about to read a polished piece of fiction.

On the not so good, these are the thoughts that can also come up: Freelance editors always improve a manuscript, but how much did this one improve and, more importantly, at what level did it start? Did the writer hire an editor to put some professional polish on the project, or because it had gotten rejected all over the place and they needed serious help? Does this writer belong to a critique group or do they rely solely on freelance editors?

I know that lots of writers work with freelance editors. There are pros and cons to this, as well as to mentioning it in your query. (You can read some more freelance editor thoughts from me here.)

Hiring an Editor, But Make Sure It’s the Right Editor

If you’ve managed to work with big name freelance editors, my ears might perk up, of course. The bigger the name of your editor, the more selective they can afford to be. They tend to vet their projects and pick the most promising writers to work with. But this is not always the case. So while a freelance editor’s name may trigger good associations for me, or lift my hopes, it’s not going to be the deciding factor in whether I want to represent you or not.

It always comes down to the work. And, in the back of my mind, I always want to know that you have arrived at your work in large part because of your own writing craft. So if you have used or continue to use a freelance editor, I will want to know about it at some point, whether it’s in the query or later, as we’re discussing representation. I’ll want to make sure that you actually have the chops to create a great, skillful manuscript on your own, as well.

If you’re thinking about hiring an editor, let me make my case for my editing services. Learn more about my services now that I’m on the other side of the desk and helping writers toward their goals every day.