Thursday, September 12, 2013

On Conference Critiques

This month (and, who are we kidding, probably next month too!) I'm working on critiques from my Writer's Digest Webinar back in July. If you are still waiting for your critique, thank you for your patience.

As I said during the webinar, I'm aiming to get these done within 60 days of receipt. So if you sent yours July 11 (the first possible date) -- you should already have your crit. If you sent it in August 11 (the deadline) -- you should have it back by October 11. If it hasn't been 8 weeks, please don't stress out; If it HAS been more than 8 weeks, perhaps your crit got lost somehow -- by all means follow up.

For the record, I had about 200 critiques, and it takes me about 20 minutes per critique. When I am REALLY CRANKING, I can do maybe 6 an hour (10 minutes each) - but that kind of speed is super rare and unsustainable. Because it takes me a few minutes between each one to get into the "headspace" - forget what I just read and commented on, and start the new one with fresh eyes. And if I don't take breaks to walk around or stretch or snack, I tend to start to get cranky or misunderstand what I am reading. So yeah. 20 minutes is more realistic. (If you just crunched the numbers, that's 66.6 hours. I'm not going to read any significance into that number!)

And obviously, I have a full-time "real job" to do during the work week. So all of this is getting done in the dead of night and on weekends. You'll notice that your responses have time stamps of mostly between 11pm and 2am.

Hey, I don't mind, it's fun to see what people are working on, and it keeps me off the streets. BUT I wanted to take this opportunity to say a few words about conference critiques in general.

Quite often, agents find themselves doing critiques for conferences they attend. These may be short ones, like I am doing now - or they may be the 10 or so pages of the author's work, and/or a synopsis or query letter.

I know that sometimes people are disappointed after crits. They might have built up the potential in their heads. "They are gonna love this so much they'll offer to rep me!" or "They are going to give me THE KEY to the problem with my manuscript that is holding me back!" or similar. I hate to break it to you: That probably won't happen. But because of the excitement and nerves, I do understand it can be a real let-down when the actual critique comes and is just . . . ordinary.

Maybe the author gets their feelings hurt by what they feel is a harsh comment, or else they feel the critiquer is soft-pedaling and ONLY saying nice things and not giving them stuff to work on. Maybe the critiquer obviously just wasn't feelin it, or completely misunderstood the point of the work. It happens!

Keep in mind that, first of all, it is very hard to critique such a brief sample - - there may be "problems" or moments of confusion I see in the first page or two that will be addressed immediately after the sample. I'm just not able to know the whole story from the out-of-context pages I'm looking at. So please take my critique (or ANY critique) with a big grain of salt.

As I say to the people getting these crits:

You are awesome for diving in to the deep and and being serious about writing. You are doing what millions of people only dream about. But even the most dedicated and genius writer may get critiques that sting, or notes where the reader obviously just didn't "get it."

Remember that critiques of pages are not personal attacks or critiques of YOU. And ultimately, it's YOUR BOOK. If you think an editor or agent's notes are way off base, you certainly aren't required to do anything about them.

Nobody knows this story better than you or cares about this story more than you. So take what resonates with you and forget the rest. Critiques are HIGHLY UNLIKELY to be life-changing. But I do hope they can be a bit helpful at least. Good luck!


  1. LOVE this post! I work with quite a few critique groups and am constantly reminding writers that writing is a process,one they're already succeeding at by seeking feedback on their work. It means so much more for them to hear it from an agent.

    you rock <3

  2. Thanks! Gearing up for a SCBWI-INW Conference and would love to pass this along to all our writers who'll be getting critiques.

    1. GO FOR IT, and have fun! I love SCBWI conferences - I'm going to my region's one next week! :-)

  3. This is an excellent reminder. I know I've been through exactly what you're talking about: thinking a critique would be life changing (it wasn't) and hoping an agent would love it so much they'd offer rep (they didn't). I wish someone had said this to me earlier in my writing career--okay, almost certainly someone probably did, but I wasn't ready to hear it yet.

    Which brings me to some advice I think should go along with critiques: Hang on to them. Sometimes, writers are still too close to even hear the advice that's been given, but if they wait and reread the critiques after a month or two, sometimes the comments will make more sense and can help writer's grow.

  4. This Neil Gaiman quote made accepting critiques a lot easier:

    "Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong."

    1. (Unless it's me in which case DO IT)


  5. Your critique (a previous webinar, happily behind you) was gracious, helpful, and thorough. My query has benefitted.

    No complaint. I just wanted to express the awe I feel having learned it took only twenty minutes. You are sharp.

    1. practice, practice, practice. (and thanks!) ;-)

  6. Thank you for this post, and for the inspiring affirmation at the end!

  7. Jennifer - This is such a great post. I have to give a couple of critiques at the upcoming RMC-SCBWI conference. May I share your wise words? I'll make sure to attribute them to you.

  8. I really appreciated your thoughtful, generous critique. Thank you so much Jennifer! Wow, you had an incredible turnout for your webinar.

  9. I was one of the ones anxiously awaiting your critique. Thank you for taking the time to give a well thought out critique. Your feedback was greatly appreciated. I received your critique at a time when I was doubting this particular story and my ability to tell it. You provided a little kick in the pants and motivation to head back to the computer. I am very grateful! Thank you!


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