Tags: conference

What do you REALLY want from a manuscript critique?

by Amber Keyser
Published on: November 30, 2011
Categories: Critique Process
Comments: No Comments

I challenge you to give that question some thought.  The answer may surprise you.  The answer may change.  My own answers may help you attack the question.

I have gone to a paid manuscript critique hoping to be acquired. I was new at this business. I’d worked hard on my story (a picture book manuscript that has yet to see the light of day). I was psyched when Big New York Agent (aka BNYA) was assigned my piece.  I sat down and the first thing he said was that no one wanted any more ugly duckling stories and it was poorly written (as far as he could tell from skimming it in the two minute interval between the previous victim and myself) and that I should toss that thing in the trash.  I rallied with some questions about nonfiction (my other genre at the time) and our little tete-a-tete finished up with BNYA saying something like, “Well that’s a cool idea assuming you could write it, but judging from this manuscript, you can’t.”  Ouch! (P.S. Now I have a Nice New York Agent known as NNYA, who pulled me out of the slush pile.  I’ll keep him!)

I have gone to a paid manuscript critique to get ten-minute access to the brain of a publishing professional.  I survived the horror of BNYA and figured out that the beauty of the conference critique with agents and editors is the opportunity to get their unique perspective. It’s not the place to get in-depth critique on a manuscript.  Instead, you get to see your manuscript filtered through a brain that has been through the slush piles.  She’s seen what’s being acquired and what’s not.  She knows what’s trending, what’s unique, and where your book might (or might not) fit.  You should believe that editors and agents really can tell a LOT about your entire 90K word novel from the first ten pages.  Pay attention to the off-hand comment.  I had one editor tell me that she was keen my idea of a updated version of a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  Huh?  My novel didn’t go that way at all, but I realized that I had used the word “knight” meaning that my MC would become a champion in his new world, but there was nothing medieval about the universe.  I changed “knight” to “archer” and that change of word and mindset altered the entire novel for the better.

I have asked someone to read a manuscript hoping to be praised and encouraged. There is nothing wrong with this.  Sometimes we need a pep talk and a high five.  When new writers ask me to read something I try to sense the vibe behind the question.  Are they wavering with this piece?  Do they wonder if it is worth the effort of finishing?  Sometimes what we need to hear is YES!  Finish the thing!  Are there things to work on?  Sure.  But right now, believe in it.  Finish it.

I have hoped for insight into problems I couldn’t figure out how to solve.  I often have very specific directions for the Scrivas when I hand over a manuscript.  Most recently, I was struggling with the POV in the Angel Punk novel.  I asked for them to focus on that piece of the puzzle.  Good critique partners can offer multiple solutions to manuscript issues.  Often that will help you focus in on the right one for you.

I have sent manuscripts hoping for the toughest of tough love.  Just today, I got back comments on the first 2/3 of Angel Punk from the other writers on the team.  (Hence the inspiration for this post.)  I have to admit that I wish they’d been a little harder on me. Seriously.  I’m glad that they are feeling good about the way the novel is shaping up, but I know how much work it needs, and I was ready for a lot more meat.  I’m new to the team so they might be being careful not to scare me off, but I told them they were pussycats (those big guys) compared to the Scrivas.  The thing about the in-depth and gloves-off critiques of the Scrivas is that when they do praise something – and they always do – I feel like I’ve won a marathon.  When the Scrivas say I’ve done well then, dammit, I’ve nailed it!

So…

What do you want from a critique?

 

 

 

 

Report from KidLitCon 2011 – CONNECTION and AUTHENTICITY

by Amber Keyser
Published on: September 27, 2011
Categories: Events, Inspiration
Comments: 6 Comments

KidLitCon 2011 was all about CONNECTION and AUTHENTICITY.  It was invigorating like this killer mural I passed in Seattle.

 

Unlike many writers’ conferences, which are tinged with an air of desperation, the path to publication was NOT the focus.  Instead KidLitCon attendees are primarily bloggers focused on connecting authors and their books to readers.  Not as marketers (though some authors assume that every blog is a lightly veiled form of advertisement) but as matchmakers devoted to getting the right book in the right hands.  Need proof?  Take the passionate conversation with Colleen Mondor about how her review of a book she loved could “best serve the book.”  Inspiring!

 

It was deeply satisfying for me to meet others (in person, since I had connected with many via Twitter) who are committed to the tripartite nature of story-telling.  There must be a story, a teller, and an audience.  CONNECTION—I love it!

 

Another key take home for me was that these connections had to be AUTHENTIC.  Truth starts with the story.  The panel on diversity (Lee Wind, Sarah Stevenson, Brent Hartinger, Sara Ryan, Justina Chen) reminded us that the heart of the story is inhabited by authentic, non-stereotypical characters whatever their ethnicity and orientation.  Writers (no matter their ethnicity or orientation) must get it right for truth to infuse the story.

 

Much discussion on authenticity circled around how we review books.  Bloggers make many choices about their own process and the key is transparency.  If you only discuss books you like (book recommendations vs. critical book reviews) then say so on your blog.  If you’re taking on the crucial job of true book reviews, remember that critique is not a litany of failures.

 

Authenticity was also a theme of Holly and Shiraz Cupala’s presentation on DIY marketing.  They urged authors to focus on giving value to bloggers, potential readers, book store buyers, and librarians.  We shouldn’t be trying to trick people into switching tooth paste brands.  We should be trying to fill a need.  Shiraz shared a quote from Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.”  Isn’t that another way of saying we all want the heart of the story?

 

Perhaps the best gift of KidLitCon 2011 was the synergy with Angel Punk.  Devon Lyon, Matthew Wilson, Jake Rossman, and I presented a panel entitled The Future of Transmedia Storytelling: Angel Punk, Pottermore, and Skeleton Creek.  (For those of you who weren’t there, transmedia tells interwoven but non-overlapping story lines through multiple forms of media.  In our case, film, comics, novel, and online.)  Transmedia is about CONNECTION because of fan participation in the story-telling process and because each form of media engages and unites a different set of fans.  It was exciting to see the enthusiasm of other KidLitCon attendees for both our approach to story-telling and the heart of our story itself.  (Thanks, you guys!)

 

I’m still flying high from KidLitCon 2011.  I left with real, true, new friends—CONNECTION and AUTHENTICITY.

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