~by Amanda Smith
So, you wrote something. And now you wonder what the steps are for getting it published.
First of all, congratulations! Writing on a consistent basis, to the point where you have a book, is a huge accomplishment. (If you want to write children's books and aren't sure where to start, this blog by Kelly is for you.) Writing a book, however, is only the first step. Sending a freshly written manuscript to an agent or publisher would be like asking Paul and Prue to judge a cake after you had only gathered the ingredients.
Here are some basic steps towards publishing:
You need someone else's eyes on your work (not family!). Ideally your critique partners should be up to date on the current market and knowledgeable about writing. They will look at content, structure, plot and character development, language use and, if you need, line editing. It is imperative to have someone else read your work. Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of a new project, or have read the same words so many times we don't see the plot holes, unclear details, or glaring mistakes.
Where to find critique partners?
Local writing organizations
Online groups such as Kidlit 411, Storystorm, Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators, 12X12, to name a few.
Craft workshops and courses
If your critique partners are worth their salt, you will receive lots of revision notes. Depending on the depth of the notes, you will have to revise or, in some cases, even rewrite. Regardless of the scope of revisions, you will likely have a couple of critique-revision rounds. Do not skip this step! It is during this phase that your work continues to mature and become the best it can be. It is hugely rewarding to dig deep and polish away the rough edges of your story.
Beta Readers: (Not necessary for picture books)
After critiques and revisions, you need Beta readers, who consist of readers the age of your intended audience or readers deeply familiar with your genre (think teachers, librarians). A beta reader questionnaire is a helpful tool for gathering focused feedback. Another round of revisions will likely follow beta readers.
Once you have completed these steps and you feel that your work is ready to send out, you need to decide whether you want to take the traditional publishing route or explore independent publishing?
The rest of today's post will focus on traditional publishing. Next time we will learn about independent (self) publishing. Make sure you know the pros and cons of each option.
If you choose traditional publishing, you should know that it can take months or even years. Most of the bigger publishers are closed to unsolicited submissions and you need an agent to represent your work.
Some publishing houses however, do accept unagented submissions. Books, such as THE CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, can provide guidance as to which publishing houses are open to unagented submissions. Always check the publisher’s website for their latest guidelines.
While you can certainly do research online and through publishing trade journals to find publishers who are open to unagented or unsolicited manuscripts, it is very helpful if you have a more personal contact with an editor at the publishing house. One of the best ways to make this connection is to attend a class or workshop taught by the editor. Also, editors who attend writing conferences will often accept unsolicited submissions from conference attendees for a limited time, so be sure to look into this possibility when attending these events. Always do your research to be sure a specific publisher publishes the genre/age level you write.
A good literary agent will help you polish and edit your story, send submissions to publishing houses, negotiate contracts, and handle advances and royalties. They are super knowledgeable about the industry, and know what editors are seeking. Your agent is your ally and business partner. Therefore it is important to carefully research agents, not only for what genres they represent or what their interests are, but also whether they will be a good match for you. Once you have narrowed down agents you would like to approach, you need to query.
Places to research agents:
SCBWI The Book
Manuscript wishlist (www.manuscriptwishlist.com/)
Publishers Marketplace (https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/)
Some writing websites also offer a treasure trove of information in the form of agent interviews and guest blogs. A few to browse are http://www.literaryrambles.com/, https://www.pbspotlight.com/, and The 12x12challenge
Most agents are active on social media
Acknowledgements of books you have read
A query is a letter in which writers pitch their work and introduce themselves to an agent. It is a business letter that follows a specific form. Stay tuned for a guest blog regarding query letters by the Query Godmother, Kris Asselin, later this month.
Queries are used for picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as all other fiction. Nonfiction writers send a cover letter, proposal with outline, and some writing samples.
Each agent or agency has their own rules regarding submissions. It is very important that you read and follow each specific agency's submission guidelines. Not only does it streamline the process for them, but it also reflects well on you, their future client, and your ability to take direction.
Be prepared for several rounds of querying. If an agent would like to represent you, they will contact you and usually schedule a phone call with you to further discuss the details. Remember, not only is the agent interviewing you to see whether they want to take you on as a client, but you are also interviewing the agent to see whether they will be a good match for you.
Once you have received an offer of representation and contracts have been signed, you and your agent may go through another round of revisions before they submit your manuscript to publishers. There might be several rounds of submissions before you receive an offer for your book.
At this point the process is out of your hands. You have baked your cake to perfection. You've trimmed and filled and frosted. You've decorated and delicately flavored. Editors, acquisition boards, and marketing departments are your proverbial judges, and once your delectable offering hits the right palate, you will get your Hollywood-handshake: A published book!
by Francine Puckly
As the Summer Solstice approaches, my mind is churning with a multitude of thoughts and emotions about growth, new beginnings, and the constructive criticism that can derail or redirect our endeavors. I’m excited about the idea that in ancient times the Summer Solstice was once considered the New Year and was both an opportunity to break out of one’s normal routine and a time of merriment and celebration. In present time, the Solstice is roughly the halfway point of the year. A marking of time. A marking of our goals. And for a few of my colleagues, it’s a marking of delayed projects as a result of rejection or requested revisions by industry professionals and critique partners. How we deal with these requests and setbacks will determine how well we stay on track to meet our goals this year.
A few years ago, my daughter ran for office in a student organization she had been part of for several years. In the days leading up to the election results, she had convinced herself that she had lost the election and mentally prepared for the deep and complete humiliation that would inevitably come when her loss was revealed. The morning the election results were to be announced, I asked her how she was feeling. She shrugged. “You know? I’m gonna be okay.” As it turned out, she didn’t lose the election for that particular officer position. But another classmate lost in a different race. This classmate was not prepared to lose and was ill-equipped to gracefully handle the results. Lifelong friendships ended that day. The student resigned from the organization. What had once been a source of great joy for the student quickly turned to poison. Someone needed to tell her, "You know? It's gonna be okay."
Which brings us to publishing and the art of critique and rejection, dear writers. How many times have we received hurtful, soul-wrenching rejections of our work or unanticipated requests for manuscript changes and were tempted to throw it all away? Or we hear of another artist’s success and fume at the injustice? In some cases, if we can be objective, we can see that the artist’s manuscript or project had more potential than what we had offered. Sometimes the other person’s idea is more unique, more fully developed, more polished. Other times we feel cheated. We can burn bridges and claim the world is out to get us. Or if we’re smart, we learn what to do differently so that next time we can win. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it just isn’t our time.
With all this summering and raining and shining, the growing season is upon us. And all gardeners know that momentous growth springs forth after a significant pruning. And we can respond by pruning words and tightening our manuscripts and possibly even pruning our egos as we realize we have more to learn. At this time of great light and idleness, try to approach your projects with enlightenment and consciousness with respect to what needs to be done to move forward. If you’re reeling from the pain of rejection or harsh criticism, look for ways to celebrate the joys of the creative life. Hone your craft with the help of how-to books while you dig your toes in the freshly mown lawn. Attend workshops and free lectures. Stop by book launches to support your fellow artists and learn how authors and illustrators interact with their audiences. Read blog posts and memoirs written by authors who were “elected” this year and try to figure out how to apply their successes to your own words and journey.
Regardless of the origination of Summer Solstice celebrations, a plethora of fire and sun rituals across ancient cultures celebrated light. And in noting lightness, we will be able to release burdens, doubts, and fears. Oh, and rejection.
Now go. Be happy. Bask and grow in the warmth of the sun.
by Francine Puckly
For years I have been revising and polishing one of my manuscripts in order to get it ready for an agent or editor. It’s been a struggle, a journey sprinkled with pockets of both excitement and disillusionment. I’ve had it critiqued numerous times by my critique group members and various other beta readers. I’ve also paid for 10-page critiques, first page critiques, query critiques, more 10-page critiques and back around again. This past weekend I attended a regional conference and had two more industry professionals weigh in on the manuscript. They were in violent agreement. I continue to miss the mark.
I read over their feedback several times. I had a two-hour “therapy session” with a writing colleague who is familiar with the manuscript. Then just this morning I pulled out two files of notes from past workshops and conferences—one on Beginnings, the other on Character Development. The file on Beginnings was a slap in the face. There, dated four years earlier, was feedback about my opening chapters—almost verbatim to the feedback I received a few days ago. Nothing had changed.
So I either A) hadn’t learned a thing in four years, B) don’t possess the skill to fix it, or C) am locked into what has already been written and can’t break out of the word trap to fix the problems with the novel. I’m going with option C.
I’m fiddling, not fixing. I’m tweaking, not writing fresh new prose. I’m trying to force stale, overworked characters to fit a pre-determined plot instead of creating fresh, fabulous characters and then sending them (and the reader) on an exciting journey that incorporates character, voice, and setting.
So I’m following Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s lead. I deleted all of the drafts of that manuscript from my hard drive. (Confession: I’m not crazy. Unlike Lynda, I do have them saved to an external drive. But the drive is packed away in the deep recesses of my office closet and not easily accessed.)
How do I feel after deleting five years of work? I’m scared to death! I’ve consumed every piece of chocolate in the house and thought about opening a bottle of wine at 8:30 this morning. (I opted for a decaf earl grey latte…) But I also know deep in my bones that this was the right move. I won't go back to those drafts on the external drive.
I have work to do. An editor I greatly respect suggested a list of novels to study on character and beginnings. I will. I am. I will go back to the drawing board on creating, sketching and really getting to know my characters. And only after I complete those tasks will I sit down and rewrite the story. With renewed vigor. With soulful characters. From scratch.
Guest Blog by Meg Lysaght Thacher
Every year, over 700 writers, illustrators, agents, and editors converge on Springfield, MA, to meet and learn and talk about their favorite thing: children’s books. If you’re heading to Springfield next month, here’s how to make the most of your conference experience.
First, go read Francine Puckly’s Essential Conference Preparation Checklist.
Your First Conference
About a third of conference attendees are first timers. (You can recognize them by the subtle “First Conference” labels on their badges.) If you are one, be sure to attend the conference orientation on Friday afternoon. You’ll get information and advice that’s even more useful than what you’ll read here, plus you’ll meet the conference coordinators and the New England SCBWI team.
Listen well. Take notes. Participate! Don’t sit in the back—this isn’t high school.
Go into your one-on-one agent/editor meeting with an open mind. No matter how many times you’ve polished your work, no matter how many critique partners have read it, an editor or agent will probably see something that needs improvement. You paid for this advice. You will get your money’s worth by listening.
Visit the critique prep and support room. There will be a moderator and other attendees who can give you an idea of what to expect in your meeting, or help unpack your 15 minutes of advice.
There will be talks by lots of famous authors. Do not miss Jane Yolen’s keynote address. Just trust me on this one. It will be short, sweet, inspiring, and you will finally learn what BIC* means.
Other events include panels, open mic, peer critiques, an interview with Patricia MacLachlan…um, I don’t think the 24Carrot folks have enough space for me to talk about it all. Read your conference schedule!
* Behave like a professional.
SCBWI has recently adopted anti-harassment guidelines for its conferences. Would you like to be a professional writer? Behave in a professional manner. The NESCBWI conference is a place to learn, network, and hang out with fellow writers. It is not a singles bar.
* Meet new people.
Sit down at a table with someone you don’t know at least once. When you meet someone new, tell them your name, age group you write for, genre(s), and current project. Don’t just read each others’ nametags.
* Do not pitch unless requested.
There are 600 people at the conference, and all of them have at least two projects they’re dying to pitch. We could all stand around pitching for the entire conference, and we would not have a single human conversation. That being said, it’s fine to pitch when someone asks you to.
* Treat the agents and editors like the human beings they are.
There’s plenty of time after the conference to send them your manuscript and perfectly polished query letter. Would you rather that query letter started with “Remember me? I’m the one who monopolized your time during the Friday night mixer!” or “I really enjoyed chatting with you about our favorite classic fantasy novels”?
This is an excellent way to get involved, feel like you belong, help the conference to run smoothly, and meet folks. Plus, there’s free food on Saturday night, and you get to learn the secret volunteer handshake.**
Take Care of Yourself
You can always tell the people who don’t get enough food or sleep at a conference. By the last day, they have glazed eyes, are speaking complete gibberish, and have probably introduced themselves to you three times. Don’t stretch yourself so thin that you can’t make a good impression. There are quiet spaces listed in the conference schedule. Use them if you need to decompress or regroup.
And drink plenty of water!
Beware of False Comparisons
At any given NESCBWI conference, about a quarter of attendees are published authors or illustrators. Everyone else is “pre-published.” We’re all here to improve our writing and learn. Comparing yourself to other people will get in the way of that. Embrace your you-ness.
After the conference
A major benefit of attending a conference is that you get a list of agents and editors who will accept your query for a few months after the conference. The list includes people who don’t normally accept unsolicited queries. Follow the directions on the list. Show them how easy you will be to work with. Make sure you submit only a polished manuscript. You’ll learn a lot at this conference. Apply it! And never share the list with non-attendees. You paid for this privilege. And we don’t want to swamp the faculty inboxes.
Approach your conference with a growth mindset. Everyone is there to learn—even the faculty. Even the editors and agents. And especially you. So learn!
Meg Thacher will be attending her eighth NESCBWI conference this April. She teaches astronomy at Smith College and writes nonfiction for Highlights and the Cricket Magazine group. This is her first blog post of any kind.
Find out more about Meg:
Twitter handle: @MegTWrites
2017 meeting stats courtesy of Shirley Pearson (who will remind you to fill out your post-conference evaluation). Thanks, Shirley!
*Nope. Not going to tell you. Listen to Jane.
**There is no secret volunteer handshake. Maybe we should make one up!
by Kelly Carey
I've been a part of book club with a group of friends for years. I’m sure many of you have too. You gather and chat about a book you have all read. It’s fun and social, and you end up reading some books you might not have picked up otherwise. But, we always read adult books. Recently, I joined a new type of book club, and I want to encourage my children’s writing friends to do the same.
The wonderful Julie Reich at The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA started a KidLit Book Group. This group of writers gets together monthly and discusses a YA or MG novel. We look at the book not as readers, but rather as writers, looking for techniques of craft that we can apply to our own work.
There are many things that can be learned by examining a YA or MG novel with other YA and MG authors. First, you may be startled to find that we can be tough on the writing of successfully published, acclaimed writers. Hearing someone offer a negative critique of character development, or point out plot holes, or question different literary devices used in telling a story – of a published author – makes me think a bit more cautiously about how I interpret criticism of my own work. For every book clubber who liked a book, there seems to be an equal number who dislike the book. This will be true of your own manuscript. So take heart. Don’t rush to your manuscript and make immediate changes after every bit of advice. Instead, listen to the feedback, look for trends and consistency across critiques and then apply your own writing sensibility to the information before you make changes. Hearing folks offer feedback on a published novel in your KidLit book group will give you the courage to defend your own work.
While being in a KidLit book group can help you become less sensitive to critiques of your own manuscript, it can also allow you to really understand the feedback your manuscript is getting. When your KidLit book group is talking about character or dialogue, you will hear how the comments are framed. What do people say when they like a character or feel engaged in a story? You will have lightbulb flashing moments when you recognize that similar comments were made about your own manuscript. You will hear a book group member say why they liked or disliked a scene, and you will recall the same phrasing used to offer feedback on your own work. Being able to examine the feedback directed at someone else’s writing will give you a comfortable distance before you then consider the ramification for your own work. It’s a nice, easy stroll to the heart of a problem that your own writing may suffer from when you hear it discussed in someone else’s writing.
This is not to say that a KidLit book group is all about the negative. It's not! The most inspiring, I-can’t-wait-to-get-my-fingers-typing moments are when you feel emboldened to write because you have been uplifted by the talents of other writers. When the group gets excited about a book, and gleefully discusses the expert use of sentence structure to control pacing, or the introduction of a subplot to add tension, you start to feel your hands itch. I imagine this is how a painter feels when presented with jars of wet paint and fresh brushes. You will be inspired by the creativity in front of you. When you look at the tools another author has used, you will want to reach out and grab them and try those techniques for yourself.
Finally, so much of writing can be a solitary business, including reading in our genre (something universally recommended in the KidLit industry). A KidLit Book Group is a way to take a lonely component of your writing world and make it a social group activity. You will be gathering with other writers to look at books--folks with a similar passion, discussing from a unique perspective the books we love. It's a wonderful way to get to know each other, understand our reading and writing likes and dislikes, and even find new critique partners.
For the nuts and bolt of how it works, I can only share how my KidLit Book Club functions:
* We pick a host for every month. The host is responsible for selecting three options of MG or YA books for the group to read.
* The group then votes (you will like this type of voting – every option will be a good one!) and picks the book for the following month.
* We meet for two hours and the host provides the refreshments.
* As a way of starting our discussion, we go around the table and allow everyone to give their overall impression of the book and what they liked or disliked about the writing. This is really all you need to get going. The points folks will bring up in their share time will spur on other discussions and questions and before you know it a two hour book group will have passed and you will have spent it in a productive and completely enjoyable way.
Find a coffee shop, a café at your independent book seller, or a room at your local library and invite MG and YA published and pre-published authors in your area to join your KidLit Book Group. It could be the start of a wonderful new endeavor.
by Annie Cronin Romano
So often we start a project with an idea, a glowing nugget of inspiration, and we decide immediately the kind of book it will be. It's going to be a picture book. Yes, definitely a picture book…about flying sandwiches. Excellent! Off we go!
We brainstorm, diagram, scribble, and plot. We develop our characters, our setting, and our pacing. We draft a beautifully crafted 550 word picture book about sandwiches that fly and submit it to our critique group.
And they tell us it should be a middle grade novel. About a food fight.
Why should we turn our picture book draft into a novel? Do we have to? Our critique group is not the boss of us, after all! True. True. But consider the reasons behind the suggestion. Is it because the setting or topic would appeal more to the older age group? Maybe the characters would present more strongly with an older voice? What about the plot? Perhaps it is one that is better suited (or even needed) in the older market. Or maybe your critique partners thought there was more to explore than you could do justice to in a shorter format. What if you played around with it, not as a middle grade, but as a chapter book? What if…
As participants in critique groups, we often expect the critiques to focus on the story itself. Would our character really say this? Are we showing or telling? Watch the pacing. This is working. That is not. What we don’t usually expect is for critique partners to suggest changing the target audience. But sometimes it's an insightful idea. A middle grade story may work better as a picture book or a young adult novel. A young adult draft may be better suited as a new adult story. What the writer has in mind for a story often can benefit from considering all possible audiences. The first instinct may still be the best. But give it due consideration.
Always ask, "What if…"
So the next time you sit down to work on a story, be it a fiction picture book or young adult science fiction thriller, look at your idea from all angles. It could be that your flying sandwich would make an excellent food fight.
by Annie Cronin Romano
For writers, receiving constructive feedback is one of the key factors to editing and revising our work. We join critique groups, participate in online manuscript swaps, and sign up for professional editing services. Sometimes even editors and agents we've submitted to will provide feedback. They might indicate what didn't work for them or offer suggestions. All this feedback is fodder for the revision file. We cull through it, often using trial and error, to figure out which suggestions improve our manuscripts and which don't.
But once in a while, we get harsh feedback, an unfavorable critique, which strikes a nerve. A deep nerve. And it stings. Those manuscripts are our babies and we are protective of them. A negative analysis can make us question our story or even our writing talent as a whole. This is usually because the critique was not helpful and constructive. So what do you do when you receive feedback that's not presented in a beneficial manner? How can you turn that disappointment at a poorly presented critique into a positive step on your writing journey?
A few months back, I received a detailed, yet rather harsh, rejection following a submission. It was clear the agent had read the full manuscript, which was excellent. But the criticism, helpful as I’m sure it was intended to be, was delivered in a off-putting way. It was a list of I didn’t like a, b, and c. By the end of the letter, my novel was bloodied and beaten. At least to me. I couldn’t be objective, and my writer spirit was crushed.
Enter one of my amazing writing group ladies, Kelly. She read the letter, sympathized with me, and then, in a magical, extraordinary way, helped me turn the criticisms into constructive advice. She turned every “I didn’t like…” into “Try doing ‘x’.” She translated each negative into a positive, helpful piece of advice. In doing so, Kelly enabled me to use the rejection as a revision tool rather than a reason to give up on my story.
Sometimes you will get critiques, or even unexpected submission feedback, that is poorly delivered. Rather than being useful, it may come across as rough and disparaging. Get out your magic wand, or favorite pen, and invert the negatives into positives. Turn the "I don't likes" into "It might work better if..." Hopefully you're blessed with those who can provide you with constructive feedback that is beneficial to both your manuscript and your growth as a writer. But if you get one of those "tear apart" reviews, take a deep breath and step away for a bit. Then take a step forward and turn those negatives into positives, and even the "bad" feedback will help you make your writing its absolute best.
By Kelly Carey
While I am never happy when an editor asks me to rewrite a story, I have learned that if I can quell my bad attitude for a smidgen of time, the end result will be a better manuscript.
A few years ago, an editor asked me to flip a Christmas themed story centered on gift giving to fit with a February issue of the magazine. The story was titled “The Gingerbread Shop”. I thought she was insane. Then I decided she was mean. Then I was just really mad. How do you take what is clearly a December Christmas story and rework it to fit in a February issue?
The request to revise always leaves me feeling defeated. By the time I submit a manuscript, I have already revised a bajillion times, had it critiqued, rewritten it again and fallen madly in love with my brilliant work. I send it off to the editor or agent like a perfect present. Asking me to rewrite it is like someone returning a gift I bought them. Only worse, they are asking me to return it and get them something else - something better. How rude!
Grumble, grumble, curse and spit.
I came dangerously close to refusing to rewrite my gingerbread story. Instead, I took a few days to stomp around my house, complained to my writing buddies, derided the absurdity of the editor’s request, BUT I sent my editor an email reply that read, “Of course, I’d be happy to revise my story.”
After venting and still unconvinced that any revision could improve on my perfect pearl, I reluctantly mustered the will to sit down and give the rewrite a try. The result was a better story, a more unique manuscript and a piece I was more proud to present. The revised story sold as “Dolphin Queen Valentine” and it never would have happened without the request to rewrite.
Just last month, I was asked to revise a manuscript and I have my routine down. I curse, stomp around my house with a scowling face that leaves with me with a self- inflicted unibrow, and I send the editor an email that says, “Of course, I’d be happy to rewrite”.
When I finish the revision,my unibrow disappears in happy haze of contentment and the recognition that the request to rewrite was the perfect present.
by Annie Cronin Romano
The most recent precursor to a critique from one of my beloved critique partners was as follows:
I've attached my thoughts on "XXXX." Don't kill me!!! Or go ahead and swear at me, curse my name around your home and secretly spit in my tea...
She (I’ll call her “Kelly” because, well…that’s her name) had no reason to be nervous. She is still a beloved critique partner. Despite the fact that I have frequent opportunities to spit in Kelly's tea, I’m pleased to say I’ve refrained from any retaliation of the sort. In all honesty, if I had taken my revenge on her critique, I would have had to spit in a few teas and lattes. You see, Kelly wasn’t alone. Our other critique partners—also beloved—had pointed out similar weaknesses and flaws in my manuscript.
It stings to get harsh critiques of your writing. Especially when it’s not the first draft. But it stings less when the critiques are constructive. And honest. And it stings even less when you realize your critique partners have given you a gift: the insights to make your writing the best it can be.
While I usually wait to make changes to a manuscript following feedback (I like to let the critiques “simmer”), I was so struck by the consistency in their comments that I immediately started my next draft. Then another. Then another. I weeded carefully through their suggestions. Some were considered and dismissed. Others I’m still pondering. But the biggies—those blood red, high-in-the-air flags which all my writing partners waved in my face—those were the flaws I targeted for repair. Without honest, constructive criticism, those are flaws I may have overlooked for a while…or missed completely. A solid critique group helps writers achieve their best work (See blog from October 2014: The Importance of a Writing Community). So be strong when reading those tough-to-take critiques. Sometimes the ones that hit the deepest nerve can be the most revealing and helpful.
When it’s ready, I’ll resubmit that picture book manuscript for the third (and probably not the last) time to my critique group. While I hope their feedback is glowing, all of them have keen eyes and a solid knowledge of strong writing, so I expect—and hope—for more constructive comments. And I promise I won’t spit in their tea. (*wink*)
by Amanda Smith
The nervous excitement as you hit send. The relentless checking of emails days before the actual due date. The anticipation of gushing praise and lofty love for your written words as you open that attached file.
“What do you mean it’s not perfect?!”
If you have ever submitted your manuscript to a critique group you know this feeling.
As writers, we get so giddy at our own marvelous ideas; the darling phrases we string together in longer even dearer sentences; our clap-it-out-rhythm; our almost perfect rhyme; our totally original, there-has-never-been-another-like-this character. We get so enthralled in our own genius.
And we miss. We miss that we do not have a story arc. Or a problem. Or a satisfactory conclusion. We miss that our amazing alliteration is all tell and no show. We miss the mark. And it is our critique group’s job to gently lead us back to our target – our goal.
So what to do with that critique?
1. Let it rest. At first read, you may think your critique partners miss your point. You may think they are interpreting your story the wrong way. You may think all kinds of unpleasant thoughts. Close the document. Walk away. Get the emotions under control.
2. Re-read. Sometimes at that first read, your emotions can block your ability to perceive. When you carefully re-read it during a quiet, productive time, you can process much better what your partners are saying.
3. Print it out. I am a very visual, hands-on person. For my process, I need to have physical copies of the critiques in front of me. I make notes and brainstorm new ideas on them.
4. Change it up. I take all the suggestions and APPLY them to my manuscript. Yes, without question or prejudice. Every one. If someone says, “Delete all the illustrator notes” I do it. Even if it scares the living daylights out of me. Only when all these suggestions are incorporated in my manuscript, can I see which ones add value, where I disagree, which of my original ideas I want to keep and which I want to tweak.
5. Revise, revise. No, not done yet. Revise.
What kinds of changes can you make during revision? In ONE picture book manuscript, apart from the usual cleaning up, I have made the following changes:
· From present tense to past tense
· From third person to first person narrator
· I rewrote the middle and sent it for a critique
· Then I rewrote the beginning and the end
· I looked at all my verbs. Are they active? Are they vivid?
· I crossed out all descriptions that could be shown in illustrations.
· I searched for places where I could include senses the illustrator cannot show.
· I attempted to add humor
· I amped up the tension
· I changed the title (three times)
One manuscript. Eleven months. A measly 466 words.
Usually, after such major revisions I will send the same manuscript again for critique.
And would you know it? It is still not perfect. But it is beginning to look a lot like a picture book!
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