Usually blog posts take a while for me to construct but at the suggestion of Julie Kingsley today’s post is going to be done in 15 minutes or less– perfect for our subject the conference critique. Just like at the conference, I’ve set a 15 minute timer (I actually have eggs boiling at the same time) and at the end of the 15 minutes, a bell will ring. At the conference, the timer is a wonderful volunteer who has nothing to do with finding the crit faculty or matching you up so if you are not pleased, they are not the person to whom you should bring grievances. You’ll start the crit by signing in with the timer 5 minutes earlier than your scheduled time, but your crit actually should start way before that.
In a quiet moment before the conference begins, perhaps when you are in your hotel room, pull up the 10 pages that you sent in to be critiqued. Hopefully you haven’t seen these ten pages in a while. Pull out a notebook, Pretend that you are the editor or agent, or put on the hat you’d wear if a close writing friend gave you their work and said, “Really. I want you to be honest. I want to be a better writer.” Read through the ten pages and jot down the challenges in voice, character development, pacing, and setting. Is the beginning engaging? Is the problem clear? Is the main character’s desire clear? Has the conflict been introduced? Even it it is a picture book, you can still ask these questions. Now consider the strengths in the same areas. Also look at the rhythm of your word choice and language. On the page in your notebook, write Dear Author: and jot down your thoughts in the notebook.
Turn the page. Be the author again. What questions do you have for your critiquer. These could be industry questions but really these 15 minutes are all about you and your manuscript. Questions that will help you solve the problems you noticed in your own writing sample such as: Did you find my main character likeable and realistic? Should I introduce the conflict sooner? Does my antagonist seem cliché? Any issues that have been niggling at you that you’d really like answered by an editor or agent. If it is an agent you may think about asking some of these questions.
You are reacquainted with your manuscript, you have questions to ask, you are ready for the crit. Sign in with the timer and when she says it is time, go straight to the table where you’ll be critiqued. Make eye contact, smile, shake hands (firm). Now… OPEN YOUR MIND! LISTEN!
The critiquer should pull out your writing sample and a letter she’s written that is probably pretty similar to the one you wrote to yourself. Have your notebook ready and a clean page to take notes. Chances are, your heart is beating and you won’t remember a lot of this. Write down good things with a + next to it and challenges she noticed with a -. This should all be in the letter too but it is nice to have a record of the discussion.
If there is still time, she’ll ask you for your questions. Choose the most pressing ones and ask those first. Take notes on the answers. Just as the bell dings, say, “I’m excited to work on this with the revisions you’ve suggested. Would you like to see this again?”
If they say yes, HOORAY! This is a big deal. Ask about timing– is 6 months okay? a year? Shake hands and go away. Write a thank you card immediately and send it to them at their office.
Notice that there is not one moment– NOT ONE– where you should defend the choices you made in your writing. You should not stand up for your characters. You should not tell the industry professional that someone else told you it was fine or liked it. You take their opinion (you paid for it), you keep an open mind, and later you look at your notes and decide if you- as the author- will choose to make those changes.
Most of all, give yourself a pat on the back for putting your work out there, for coming to the conference, and for moving forward on you journey as a writer.
BTW- this took me longer than 15 minutes to write- AGAIN!