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A Professional Critique:
What Should You Receive for Your Money?
"Musings" - August 2007
by Margot Finke
Your critique group has given your story a big thumbs up. You have rewritten, tweaked and reworked every chapter. Your writing is as tight as a misers money clip, your plot is fast paced, and your characters are richly written. Yet you suspect the time has come for your "baby" (manuscript) to receive a Professional Critique. Why so? Because you have just received your fourth rejection letter, and you begin to wonder: is the darn thing really as good as you thought? Your confidence as a writer is now lower than President Bushs current ratings. A professional is indicated. But how do you go about it? Who do you choose? Where do you go to find reliable professional help at a fee you can afford?
Where to Find a Good Critiquer:
Go where childrens writers hang out writing conferences, colleges, on-line writing lists and chat rooms. Ask fellow writers if they can recommend someone. Professional Critique persons often include their editing or critique services in their e-mail signature.
[Editor's note: If you're an SCBW-I member, you can find critiquers in the list of books doctors and manuscript coaches that the organization publishes. Everyone listed is reputable and experienced in the children's book field.]
Are They Reputable?
No one wants to pay good money for less than the best. If a person is recommended to you, by someone you know and trust, then they are probably honest and skilled critiquers. On the other hand, if you Google "Manuscript Critique Services" and find several names that fit the bill, you had better check them out FAST. Read their websites carefully. Ask for references from satisfied clients. What are their qualifications? Are their fees up in the stratosphere? How long will your critique take? Do they promise more than is reasonable? Find out exactly what a critique from them entails. Snippy, or less than forthcoming replies to any of these questions means you RUN!
Choose the Right Critique Person for You:
A person skilled in advising YA writers on how to strengthen their plots, and create great tension, might not necessarily be good at helping a writer of picture books pare down their pages. There are basic skills that all critiquers need, but the differences between what it takes to help craft a great YA, or an appealing PB, are vast. If you want a professional opinion on your midgrade novel, find someone who specializes in critiquing midgrades. The same goes for PBs, YAs and anything in-between. It is true that certain critiquers work with various age groups: just make sure they are knowledgeable about the age you write for.
NOTE: If you write MG or YA books, asking for a complete critique might mean taking out a second mortgage. Dont laugh! A huge amount of time and effort is involved in thoroughly working through one of these books. This is especially true if the writer needs help in many areas. I suggest asking for a critique of your first few chapters. Most professionals want their money up-front. This can be done for a reasonable fee, and if you are smart, you can use what you learned from the critique of those early chapters throughout the rest of your book. And if money is tight (or not there at all), join one of the many critique groups around. Your writing will benefit from the feedback of more advanced or published writers. A good critique group mentors its members.
What to Expect from a Critique:
Expect the unexpected! A good critique looks under the surface, scanning your manuscript with a fresh eye, and without any preconceived notions. Like anyone else, be it an editor or a prospective book purchaser, most critiquers are hoping for a good read. The first impression a critiquer has of your chapters is often the same first impression that forced those editors to send you a rejection. Unlike publishing editors, who waste no time on writing that is sloppy, unfocused and weak, you have paid your critique person to tell you the error of your writing ways. However, telling you a paragraph needs tightening is not enough.
Examples of What to Expect from a Good Critique:
- Paragraph or chapter needs tightening - an example of what this means.
- Verbs are weakshows a way of using more powerful and active verbs.
- Plot lacks focuspresents a focused alternative for the writer to consider.
- Picture book is too wordyGives examples of how and where to prune.
- Dialogue is not age appropriateshows example that is right for the age.
- Where paragraphs, pages or chapters are greatpraise for good writing.
- If the overall concept and writing is weaksuggestions re writing classes, reading books, and joining a critique group. Encourages the client to master the craft of writing.
- A summary that pinpoints areas that need strengthening etc, and mentions what they feel works just fine as isEncourages you to think out of the box: to turn your chapters or paragraphs upside-down, or inside out, until you get them exactly right. Reinforces the notion that re-writing is not a dirty word! Comments, suggestions and examples that help you identify problem areas more clearly, write tighter, and focus on what is important to the plot. Support, honesty and helpful examples are the cornerstones of a good critique.
What You Shouldn't Expect:
- Lots of lavish praise, or pussyfooting around, trying to avoid your tender egoan honest evaluation might upset you for a day or two, but think about it before you blow a gasket. RE-EVALUATE! Those rejection slips could mean the critiquer was right.
- The Critique from Hellmany put-downs, no helpful examples, not one word of praise, and no summary next time, youll do deep research on a critique person before you pay your money right?
What You Shouldn't Do:
- Take it personallyA critique is simply an educated opinion. Consider and evaluate. Put your MS aside for a while, and then reread it with the critiquers comments in mind. Some of those suggestions might work better than you thought.
- Bug your Critique Person about it before the due-back dateA ticked-off critiquer is not a person you want looking at your manuscript!
- Send an e-mail while youre still upsetTrust me, you will regret it! No matter that the advice was the last thing you wanted to read: acknowledge receipt of your critique ASAP. Then, take the time to evaluate carefully, before you e-mail her with a barrage of questions.
Never allow yourself to become discouragedbeing bummed out by a critique that shatters your writing illusions is natural. Have a good cry, take a bubble bath, beat up the punching bag: but whatever you do, dont stop writing.
Tweak, rework, rewrite! Make that book, stronger, more dynamic, a real winner. Do it for yourself. Do it just to SHOW that #$%^ critiquer! But - DO IT!
HAPPY WRITING MATES!
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