I’ve been thinking about manuscript critiques a lot lately. This might be because I’m evaluating the manuscripts of two different friends. It’s a ton of fun, but so much work. It is a time consuming process, but if you do it right, it can be as beneficial to you as it is for the person you’re helping.
Have you ever critiqued someone else’s writing?
It is scary (or at least it was for me) the first couple times I did it. I second guessed everything I commented on. Then I expended just as much energy worrying about what I had missed. I was convinced that I was an idiot who lacked the magic editorial gene. I KNEW I was doing it wrong.
What I didn’t realize is that critiquing is a lot like writing. It’s a muscle that gets stronger when it’s flexed. Or to make it easier to visualize–it’s just like running. The more you do the activity, the better you become at it. You get faster and go further. But running doesn’t just make you a better runner, as you become stronger, you become a better athlete. The benefits carry over.
So how does this translate to writing? Sometimes it’s hard to practice the things that we’re learning (about writing) in our own writing. We have so many balls up in the air at one time, some days we’re just lucky not to knock ourself unconscious trying to keep them all aloft. CLONK! When we work on someone else’s manuscript, we have the distance needed to safely practice using the tools in our bag of tricks. And the beauty of this, is that our critique partner wants the exact same skill-set we’re bringing to the table. They want fresh eyes. It’s win-win for everyone.
Now, I freely admit that over time, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds in my ability to make suggestions in a manuscript. The very fact that I’ve been through several rounds of edits with my brilliant editor, Anica Rissi
of Simon Pulse
, has given me the equivalent of a master class in critiquing. And I won’t lie–I’m a lot more helpful now than I ever was. Do I still have a long way to go? You betcha! But, even when I started critiquing and didn’t really know my ass from my elbow–you know what? I was still giving a good and helpful critique.
Seriously–I was–because I cared. I read the manuscript with the same attention that I would want for my own book. I commented with praise for the things that I thought were well done. I tried to be honest in a kind way. My suggestions for improvement were not attacks. I gave a good critique because, at the core, I’m an avid reader. I might not have been able to point out the same details I know today, but I could give an honest evaluation of when I was confused and state why. I could tell you why character A made me swoon and why character B infuriated me. In the margins, I carefully logged my organic responses as a reader. And even though a question I raised, might get clarified two sentences later, the author now had a running record of my thoughts and how I processed their writing. This is valuable.
If you are a writer, you should have your work critiqued. You’ll learn a tremendous amount from the experience. You should also evaluate the writing of your peers. It is an equally powerful exercise. In the video below, Jackson Pearce
gives a visual guide of how to work with a critique partner. She gives great advice.
Take it a step further if you must… There are lots of things that you can do to enhance the critique experience. There are a million blogs and books and videos that will give you wonderful advice on how to do it better. Or even how to survive a bad critique partner. *shudders*
But in my opinion, if you’re a kind and thoughtful person, the only way you can really mess up a critique, is by being too afraid to try. So get out there and throw on those scarves, hats and gloves. Pull the skirt out of your Buddy’s underwear. We are a tribe. We work together to up the quality of everyones writing. And equally as important, to ensure that no one gets picked to star in the show What Not to Wear. Team work is excellent!
What is your favorite tip for critiquing or being critiqued?
Additional critiquing resources:
Today I’m going to talk a little bit about how to market your book before you get a publishing deal or possibly before you even finish writing it. It’s a little like preparing for the birth of an unborn child but without the shower. There are a ton of great similarities but not everything is sugar and spice or puppy dog tails. You are going to get the same funny looks from people when you start marketing yourself as a “pre-published” author, as you will when you announce that your top baby name choices are Petunia and Atlas.
But, if you’re serious about being a professional writer, you have to develop your platform at the same rate that you are developing your writing. This is not you being vain. It’s a vital component to being a successful writer in today’s day and age. You work to improve your writing without a guarantee of publication–you must also grow your knowledge and presence in social media the same way.
A lot of people cringe at the thought. I know, it seems pretentious. But I promise, it’s only awkward if you’re attempting to act like you’re JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer. Yes, this will be a turn off to–everyone. What I’m asking you to do is to build a
platform a group of friends, peers and resources. You are working to become a vital part of a community of your peers, your future employers, your friends and your potential readers. The way that you go about this is actually by being a genuine friend to people. Here is a real life example of what I mean.
Several years ago I attended a SCBWI Conference and met the uber amazing Molly O’Neill from Harper Collins
. I really wanted to submit TOUCHING THE SURFACE
to her, so I came home and immediately started to
follow her on FB. In the process of watching and listening to the information that Molly provided to her followers, I noticed that a colleague of hers was a debut MG novelist. Molly raved about this author and her book. So I bought it. I loved the book and became a fan. Then this author had a second book come out. Just a tiny little book called…
I was already a fan and a cyber friend. I talked to Nova across multiple forms of on-line media. I was excited for her next book and shared my excitement with my friends and family. I loved the book when I read it and continued to support Nova. Then I got a chance to attend my very first LA SCBWI Conference. Guess who I got to meet in person…
That’s Mike Dangerpants Jung, Nova and myself. Mike is another one of my amazing cyber friendships, but I’ll save that story for another day. And by the way–it was awesome to meet them both. I now consider them “real” friends, not just cyber friends.
Right after I got home from the conference, Nova was scheduled to have an IMAGINARY GIRLS book signing at one of my local indie bookstores–Oblong Books. I packed up the hubby and the kids and we went up for the book signing. I was so excited to let my family meet Nova. It was such a wonderful experience. One giant love fest–books, author, friends, family, indie and mini-cupcakes.
I continue to support Nova because I’m a fan and because I’m a friend. I can’t say if or how Nova will support me and my book in the future. And I can honestly say it doesn’t matter. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time with her. I learned a ton, enjoyed myself and felt great along the way. I didn’t do it to get something out of it. I did it to get someone out of it. And she was worth the time and effort it took to build the friendship.
What I will tell you is that when my editor at Simon Pulse, Anica Rissi, officially announced my book in her Fall 2012 line-up, Nova tweeted to Anica and myself that she was so excited to read it. And that felt like winning a million bucks.
Have I spent years marketing my unborn book? Absolutely. But, I’d like to think I’ve gone about it in a way that has been not only painless for everyone involved, but beneficial and even fun. You don’t have to be a spam bot to market your book. You have to be the same kind of emotionally connected person that it took to write the book in the first place.
I’m going to take back my earlier statement about an unborn book not getting a shower. If you are the kind of person who is a good friend to those around you, I have a feeling you will get showered with love, attention and support. And really, there is no better way to bring your new “baby” into the world.
I’d also like to draw your attention to two books by Kristen Lamb. They are WE ARE NOT ALONE THE WRITERS GUIDE TO SOCIAL MEDIA EBOOK and ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, WRITER. They give you an amazing step-by step break down on how to go about marketing yourself in this very effective fashion. Plus a ton of other information. I highly recommend both books and subscribing to Kristen’s blog.
If you have any specific questions I’d be more than happy to try and answer them. And if you have any great tips on marketing your book that you’d love to share I would love to hear them. Success stories and marketing bloopers welcome. :o)
Galavanted around New York City with the family this weekend and saw all kinds of cool things, but this was one of my favorites. Every time I passed by this building– I grinned like a damn fool.
In case you can’t see what I’m standing in front of it’s…
The home of Simon Pulse!!!! I seriously had to refrain from telling EVERYONE on the street that I work there!!!! (Even though I’ve never been inside LOL!)
Yeah, it’s a cool building in and of itself, but it’s also right by Radio City Music Hall and Magnolia Bakery. (Yup–I had a chocolate cupcake.) Honestly, if it had been an episode of Glee I would have totally broken out into a song and dance. :o)
Although I was tempted to stand on the Avenue of the Americas all day and pet the building, I didn’t and because I’m so diversified, I saw lots of great things that were not called Simon & Schuster.
The view from Hubby’s job–Ground Zero and the Freedom Tower.
More of the New York sky line.
The Brooklyn Bridge.
These locks were on the bridge and they just captured my attention.
View from the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Apple Store down in the Meat Packing District.
The windows were plastered with messages and memorials.
From inside the apple store…
We did lots more good stuff. Visited friends, saw a show, ate great food, walked our butts off and laughed so much. But as much fun as it was I always love coming home and home is even better when you find great mail. A bag of swag arrived from the class of 2k12.
Bookmarks–front and back. With my name and title on them! *squee*
Pins and guitar picks.
And don’t for get the pens.
And now I’m off to bed…to sleep in and recover from a wonderful weekend. Happy Columbus Day!