Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Writing Conference Critiques ~ by Patricia Toht

I'm a writing conference junkie, and I try to attend a few each year. Conferences offer a chance to see old writing friends, meet new ones, and learn from brilliant faculty. Often they also include an option for a manuscript critique. 
Photo by Jeffrey James Pacres, Creative Commons license

I've signed up for a critique at the Illinois-SCBWI conference next month, so now I'm faced with a decision -- which manuscript do I send? Well, I can tell you one thing.  I'm not sending my best work.

Photo by Tim Simpson, Creative Commons license

"WHAT?!" you may think. "Are you crazy?" 


Hold on. 
Let me explain.



The choice of which manuscript to send was easy for the first conference I attended. I only had one story in the stable. 

But soon I had several. For the next conference, I sent my very best. The story my critique group felt was "ready to go". The one I had polished to a fine shine. I imagined an editor seeking me out in the crowd, throwing arms around me, declaring "I WANT YOUR BOOK!"
Photo by Matt Herzberger, Creative Commons license

Yep. Delusional.

The written critique I received was kind, yet not very helpful. I loved my story and I hoped the editor would love it, too. It was well written, but I already knew in my heart that the manuscript was too quiet for the market, and that's exactly the feedback I received. 

Nothing was gained. I had wasted an opportunity because I had mistakenly viewed my critique as a sales vehicle rather than the chance to get feedback from a professional. 

Now, I'm not recommending that you send a first draft. But perhaps you have something that your stuck on? A piece that your critique group can't seem to connect with? A story that could use a fresh set of eyes? Send that! Use this opportunity to learn. Unlike a submission, you are guaranteed to get feedback.

You'll still have your sales opportunity. You can submit to this same editor, as well as the others on faculty, after the conference. But you'll be submitting the new and improved version of your work.

Here are a few more tips on conference critiques from two Illinois-SCBWI reps, Lisa Bierman and Sara Shacter:

• Bring a copy of your manuscript with you to a face-to-face critique. And come with questions.

• When talking with the editor/agent, communicate that you are wide open to advice (even if it's hard to hear!). It's all about having an open dialogue.

• A written critique is often inserted into your conference folder. Resist the temptation to look at it immediately! Instead, focus on learning as much as you can from the day's sessions.

• Tuck a written critique away for a few days and come back to it. Looking at it later, it won't sting as much and it will be easier to observe it objectively.

• Keep a copy of your pre-conference manuscript. After you've made suggested changes, look at both versions to see what works.

• If you receive a helpful critique, let the person know! Thank you cards are good.

Do you have any other conference critique advice to share, GROG readers?


23 comments:

  1. So true, Patty. Often an editor (or agent or author) points out some brilliant nugget that takes the story in a whole new "why didn't I think of that?" direction. Love it when that happens!

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    1. Me, too, Jill! Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. Great tips Patty. It makes so much sense to use the opportunity as a "second pair of eyes" to hone in on the areas that need to be addressed. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Great insight Patty. I took the manuscript that had been turned down by several agents because I "didn't know what was wrong with it." It was really helpful. I like your idea of seeing the critique not as a sales pitch, but a real critique to make you a better writer.

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    1. Good for you, Leslie! I think fear may keep us from submitting something that we know needs some work, but a critique from a professional is worth overcoming that fear.

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  4. Those are excellent suggestions on what to do with a paid critique. I wish I'd had your advice sooner; with an agent now, I'm less likely to buy a critique unless it's with an editor I really admire. But I will save this post in case in case I do get one. :) Thank you!

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    1. Great to hear that you have an agent, Teresa. That's a terrific source of feedback. I have an agent, yet I still go for critiques at conferences -- maybe I'm critique junkie, too? :)

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  5. Patty, I posted this in about 3 groups. Excellent advice and I love the fact that this is actually a two-fee since you can send the "better" ms after the conference.

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    1. Thank you, Kathy! My thoughts exactly -- you get some dynamite feedback and then you can submit the sparkly new version to the same person who gave you the critique. And they will be WOWED by how talented you are at revising! :)

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  6. Excellent advice!! Thanks for sharing!

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  7. Patty: Outstanding information. I think it is great that you suggest sharing a ms for a critique that is not quiet your best. It is so important to listen and learn. Once again, don't just hear, LISTEN. The more one listens, rewrites and revises the more improvements one will see with their story. ~Suzy

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  8. Hey there Patty -
    Tip-packed article here.
    And I agree with anyone who says "wish I had read this before."
    On the automatic re-submission, I'm not sure that will be true with every one? My advice to friends is to make sure you hear that on the spot, or to doublecheck.
    Reason why: when asked if I did revisions could I sent it back & she said no, she didn't want me to send it back to her. Likewise with my next conference critique-giver, who was actually an art person from a children's pub. house, but was given to several writers, to critique their p.b. work.
    I really like this article Patty - appreciations.

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    1. Thanks for those important points, Jan. If my manuscripts have undergone major changes from revision suggestions, I will usually send it to the editor again, although I haven't made a practice of asking if they'd like to see it again. (Maybe I'm afraid of the answer!)

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  9. I just got back from our mid atlantic SCBWI conference at Dullus Holiday Inn last weekend and had advice on one of my manuscripts like you explain. My only regret is asking if she would have considered it if I sent it to her. The two reasons I didn't was fear of rejecton right then and the thought of putting her on the spot. And you are right that now I can send it to her after the conference. But now will have to wait for two or three months before hearing back if I ever do.

    Thanks so much for sharing these tips on the manuscript evaluation. They are key. :)

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    1. I'm with you on the fear of rejection! Being a writer is a calling that requires bravery, isn't it Clarike? I hope when you hear back in a few months that it's good news.

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  10. Fantastic advice! I was 'shocked' when I first read that you were not sending your best work. Then I read on and realized that I had done exactly the same thing. The editor didn't hug me either and tell me how wonderful it and I were. In fact, the critique only frustrated me more. I think you are brilliant for pointing this out to us; we all tend to want to put our best foot forward and that probably isn't the right way to go into a critique session. It's not a sales opportunity; it's a chance to improve your work. I did what you said, however and came back to the critique a bit later. I read it with new eyes and saw that the advice given made much more sense with some distance. Well done Patricia!

    TB

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    1. Thanks, Todd! It's hard to place the need to learn above the desire to impress, but I think it's better for us in the long run.

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  11. Patty, what a great post. So glad I read it today, as I'm preparing for a weekend workshop with critiques and so have been pondering "what to bring." Agree with Todd also, sometimes those critiques can be frustrating. Like the time a very nice former editor told me "I really like it!" but wasn't working for a book publisher any more. Great. Also -- go ahead and laugh but I love, and share, your fantasy of the editor embracing you ecstatically with -- "Darling, I must publish this brilliant book!" Because what else keeps us going on this rocky path?

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  12. Ha! So glad to know I'm not the only one who has occasional writer delusions. Do you have the one where you envision giving an acceptance speech for an award, too? ;-) Good luck at your workshop this weekend, Christy!

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