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One mistaken assumption that I've noticed some newbie writers making: Sending out their writing too soon, assuming that the editor who buys their short story (or novel, etc.) is going to be helping them polish the piece anyway.
DO NOT DO THIS.
Never, ever send an mss out just after you've finished it. Put it away for a few days (a few weeks at least, for a novel). That way you'll be able to reread more objectively, without the rosy glow of "omigosh this is brilliant just wait until publishers see this."
I'm a foodie, so often think in terms of food analogies. In this case, it would be sort of like a first-time restauranteur opening before they've perfected their dishes. Turn off the restaurant critics early on, and you make it tougher for yourself longterm.
If you're a new picture book writer, this is even MORE vital. Why? Because I've noticed that many non-pb writers assume that writing a picture book is easy because there are fewer words, that it's something they can do on the side for extra money while they work on their "real" books.
Vaguely related side note:
Others may differ, but I also advise NOT giving it to your critique group to read too soon. Why? Because there is a real value in getting feedback from someone who is reading the piece for the first time. Yes, there's a value in getting feedback for a rough version so you can polish it before sending it out to an editor. Be aware, however, that after the first critique, your crit partners will likely be giving feedback on your revisions rather than an overall first-time impression.
Respect your readers, before and after publication.Add a Comment
2013 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market is:
Okay, time for an apology and a procedural note. We've been trying to include the Twitter handles for the folks we include in the round-up, wherever we can find them. Unfortunately, having to leave Google Reader to hunt for them on the individual blogs or, in some cases, search through Twitter, is slowing us down to the point where continuing would jeopardize our ability to keep doing the round-up. While we're sorry to have to do it, we're going to retreat to including just the teaser in the tweets unless we happen to know the twitter handle by heart.
Originally published in Writer Unboxed.
I'm posting some of my older comics here as I catalog and tag them in prep for a print book compilation. You can find my comics for writers on Inkygirl (http://inkygirl.com), Tumblr (http://inkygirl.tumblr.com) and Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/inkyelbows/comics-for-writers-inkygirl-com)Add a Comment
I've been in critique groups over the years, but for various reasons, I'm not in one right now. That doesn't mean I'm not critiquing. I still teach my young adult writing classes and occasionally will critique adult writers for hire. So I'm taking a slightly different path in this discussion, non-group critiquing. Here are my suggestions in working with one person at a time (some of them also work in group situations, so I am not really getting off topic.
Being critiqued can be a traumatic experience. I've had people (professionals who should know better) literally treat my work as if it were bird cage liner. On the other hand, I've had critiques that said that my work was the best thing since Harry Potter. I suspect the critiquer gave my work a once-over-lightly if they read it at all. And, as my husband says, you don't learn anything by being told how great you are.
This is not to say that critiques have to be all negative. They do have to be specific. Saying "I like your protagonist" is all well and good but really doesn't tell the author anything. Why do you like that character? Is it their personality, the way they think or talk or their relationship with another character?. Be specific. It's always good to know that something is good and why
The same thing works in reverse. Saying "This scene just doesn't work for me" tells me nothing. Often the author already knows that scene doesn't work. They are looking to you for suggestions. My rule of thumb is if I don't have any idea how to fix something, I don't mention it. Or, if the author backs you in a corner and says "The scene by the old mill stream isn't working, what can I do?" I throw it back in their lap. Why do they think it isn't working? Talk about it a little back and forth. You two will either come up with what is wrong with the scene (or character or whatever) or you will decide the old mill stream scene isn't moving the story along. One of all time favorite movie scenes comes from Tootsie. Bill Murray is a playwright working on a piece called Return to Love Canal. Throughout the movie he keeps spitballing ideas with his roommate Dustin Hoffman for one particular scene that comes to be known as "The necktie scene." (By the way, the movie audience never learns what the necktie scene is about.) At last, Bill tells Dustin, "I've solved the problem of the necktie scene. This time I'm writing it without the necktie." Great writing advice. Sometimes if something is giving you that much trouble, it doesn't belong in your story (or play) to begin with.
Asking someone their opinion of your work is a lot like asking "Does this outfit make me look fat?" I have tried to take as much fear and loathing out of the process as necessary. At the start of a session I remind the writer that he is already a writer; working together, he will become a better writer.
I always ask if there is something in particular the writer wants you to look for in their work. Do they want to know if their characters are believable, the plot plausible, is it overwritten? I learned to ask because I have a tendency to point out every little inconsistency or flaw when all the writer wants to know at that point is if the main character is likable/interesting enough that you want to read the whole story.
If your author doesn't have any particular questions, I try to stick to the Big Picture items...inconsistencies, missing transitions, failure in logic, vague characters etc. As I said before, if you don't know how to "fix it," don't bring it up.
Most importantly, respect your author's vision. I read a lot of stuff that left me wondering "What were they thinking when they wrote this?" So I ask, "What made you decide to write this particular story? Hopefully the answer is not "because pirates/werewolves/dystopian fantasy is hot right now." If they really like and want to write about one of those topics, great. Just remind them that by the time their manuscript has wound it's way through the publishing labyrinth, that topic will probably not be quite so surefire.
What I've often discovered is that the story the author has written (and isn't very good) wasn't the story they meant to write. Don't get me wrong. I'm not playing Freud here. I try to approach the subject as gently as possible. I once asked someone why they had written a picture book about talking organic vegetables. After a little conversation, it turned out that what the writer wanted to write about was the sense of community after 9/11. She wanted to write about a community garden and the sense of healing that it gave the gardeners. I don't know if she ever went back and wrote that book. I hope she did.
You know the best thing about critiquing? It is so much easier to see the flaws in your own work by recognizing them in someone else's. You are not only helping someone else improve their work, you are helping yourself as well.
Don't forget to enter our latest book giveaway of the latest edition of Children's writer's and Illustrator's Marketplace.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman
I have used this space many times to lament the fact that I am a writer on an island -- critique group-less, feedback-less, buddy-less. But as I'm sure most of us know, one thing worse than having no input is having input that sends us astray.
We've all been there, right? We've seen critique groups whose members are too intense, too lax, too hoggish; they are too vague; they are too nitpicky; they don't "get" your stuff, or you don't get theirs. They have more time to devote to their writing than you do, or perhaps they have less. They live too far away; they meet too frequently or infrequently.
Even worse is the damning critique experience: the editor at a conference who treats you like a clueless newbie; the teacher who gives you a bad grade for trying something a little different. My friend, an actress, says at least when someone is critiquing your writing, he or she is not critiquing YOU. But still, when we write, we are exposing our souls to the world. And our writer psyches must be treated with care. (The cardinal rule of critiquing -- always start and end with something specific and positive to say!)
With my community college students, I introduce a vocabulary word in each class. The first word we discuss is "subjective." I want them to understand that as a teacher, the worst thing I could ever do would be to crush their creativity or confidence. In a required class, many students do not come to learn, and they do not care to revise. For those who do, individual feedback is the most important component of our coursework. But students must learn that I am not the final authority; they have to be the chief arbiters of what is right for their work and what is not.
When it comes to peer review, some student writers are terrific critiquers. On the other hand, some do not take the job seriously. Some are just dead wrong. As a teacher, I may often myself be dead wrong. Thus I try to approach first draft revision on a mostly global level. I find myself constantly asking my students, "Why did you choose to write about this topic?" The answer is often the key to a successful essay.
In TV writing, we are advised to distill our pitch into a one-sentence "log line." Fiction writers should be able to do the same. In expository writing, of course, this summary is called the thesis statement.
My classes are currently working on research essays and developing working theses for an essay that is supposed to propose a solution to a societal problem. One of my students, a Navy veteran, read his to the class this week: "Military body armor is responsible for a vast number of injuries to personnel." I found this quite a startling statement. In search of more detail and a proposed solution, I probed further. HOW was military body armor inadequate? My student stated that in fact, it was overly adequate; that many soldiers who would have died in previous wars were surviving attacks with grievous, lifelong injuries. "So," I asked, "Are you saying it would be better if they died?" He looked me in the eye and said, "Sometimes." It was easier to talk about body armor, of course, than it was to talk about traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
I asked him what he proposed as the solution, and he said more drone strikes and less hand-to-hand combat. In short, his essay was not really about body armor at all. What he really wanted to say was, "Please send fewer men and women into harm's way."
As writers, we often lose sight of the main thread of our story; as critiquers, we often get hung up on details that should be dealt with later. A good first draft critique is about distilling a story to its essence -- nothing more, nothing less. --Jeanne Marie
Craft of Writing
Now that I'm back from vacation, we're resuming our regular schedule of round-ups and catching up with the past couple of weeks. I hope you found our "Best of the Best" series helpful! A HUGE thanks to Cam, Cici, and Kara for keeping up with Google Reader while Marissa and I were gone! It's fantastic to come back and catch up with what we missed, especially since we get to share the good stuff with you. Here's to a happy new year of writing!
After the Sale
Welcome to SCBWI TEAM BLOG coverage of the 2011 Annual Winter Conference. Check in often throughout the weekends as we offer live coverage of the conference as it happens.
Today offers a Writers' Intensive and an Illustrators' Intensive.
Before the Writers' Intensive critiquing kicks off, an agent and two editors are offering advice about handling a critique situation.
Edward Necarsulmer (McIntosh and Otis): Do your best to listen, but also understand that I'm just one guy. There are plenty of books out there that I've passed on that have become bestsellers. (He's found 3-5 novels through SCBWI events.) He gets that the idea of criticism in general can be hard to hear, but it's about turning off the defensiveness, and understand the critique for what it's worth.
Julie Strauss-Gabel (Dutton Children’s Books): The thing that surprises her most is when she asks, "What is this about." She find writers often don't really know what they're writing about--her assessment is very out of line with what the writer thinks she's putting on the page. Critiques are about being open--it's part of your professional process. There's nothing personal about it. At least stop to think about why you are hearing a particular critique or why certain questions were asked. If you're in a ccritique group, remember that they only work if they include honest discussion.
Liz Szabla (Feiwel and Friends): I find gold here. (She's currently working with two writers who she discovered at the SCBWI Winter Conference.) Remember that editors are thinking about your work in terms of the market. Go into a bookstore and really look at what the market is right now. She finds that a lot of writers are really surprised when she talks about market--but market is important. Critiquing with editors and agents, is a way to get another sort of compass as to where you are with your writing.
Marissa, Cam, Cici, and I are all at SCBWI-NY (YAY!), so this week's round-up is through Wednesday only. We apologize for the delay in posting! We'll catch up with the rest of the week in next Friday's round-up post. But there are still a LOT of great articles this week. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.
After the Sale
The first part of any book proposal (or submission for that matter) is the cover letter. A query letter is also, in many ways, identical to the cover letter. Basically, these are incredibly important things to be able to write. Also, you're going to be writing quite a few of these over your professional career, so you might as well learn how to write them now.
Of course, I talked extensively about cover letters during the picture book submission process back in January. To review that post where I talk in detail about cover letters (electronic, query, or otherwise), click here. Today though, we are going to quickly review the parts, and then do a little practice.
Again, the parts of a cover/query letter are:
So, I'm happy at the way the new Buried in the Slush Pile Forum is working. The layout is clear (if unexciting), and it's easy to find all of the different people who want feedback on their various summaries. Best of all, the ones I haven't viewed yet are marked as new, so I don't miss anyone. I also can't argue with the free price tag. Supposedly there should be ads running around somewhere, but I haven't seen any.
A few people have started posting their summaries, and the feedback they've been getting has been great. No one has said anything I wouldn't, and some of my comments have just seemed superfluous. We're going to keep working on these through Sunday, so if you haven't posted anything yet, there's still plenty of time. On Monday, though, we'll be moving on.
But as great as the forum has been for critiquing, I've been wondering, what else could we use the forum for?
One idea I had was to have a board on there dedicated to submissions. We could have a thread on that board that could deal with who/where is accepting submissions and a link to the place's submission guidelines. As you run across someone accepting (or no longer accepting) submissions, you could add it to this thread. We could also have a thread profiling editors and agents so that when you go to figure out where to submit, you would have some names and editorial preferences to see if your work would fit that person's tastes. I'm actually working on a (free) manuscript submissions workbook that I'll be debuting in the next few weeks that has a worksheet like that.
What ideas do you have for the forum? I am open to any and all suggestions.
I read a post yesterday about someone finally finding a beta reader after going it alone forever. And a while back, when I posted about the types of critiquers, there was a lot of interest. So, I'm going to try something a little different today. I'm pimping. Hopefully I will hook you up.