6.04.2006

A Whole classroom of Simon Cowell...

Dear Miss Snark.

I had the enormous stroke of good fortune to find a fellow writer, a teacher, in one of the critique groups I belong to. She read my Young Adult Fantasy to her third grade class in return for a critique of her novel. The children loved it, though they were pretty merciless with any aspects they didn't like and pointed out nitpicks that I would never have thought of. The story was modified accordingly, and is now going to go through a more stringent crit at a more formal critting group.

I'm also trying to get a local teacher to repeat the effort with an older class. Therefore the first 'panel' was a class of ten-year-olds (mostly boys) in America, and the second, if I can swing it, will be a group of teenagers in Ireland.

Here's the question: When I get around to writing a query letter, should I mention that the novel had been 'critted' by two panels of the target audience in two different countries?

No.

Much like I don't want to know how Miss Universe got that bustline, Bon Appetite got the photos of that lovely roast and Nicole Ritchie that book deal (1) do I want to know how you got this book into its present form. All I care about is whether it's something I can sell.

However. This is clearly a sweet heartwarming story and thus of no interest to Miss Snark, it could definatly find a place on your website. This is just the kind of thing your publicist will love.








(1) surgery; blowtorch; some of both.

23 comments:

ytaix said...

If you're writing YA that is truly age-appropriate, how could any teacher read it to her 3rd grade class (average age 8 years old)?

10 year-olds are too young, too. YA at the youngest is for 12 year olds, and more often for ages 14 and up.

Nadia said...

Thanks, Miss Snark.

Maya said...

Surgery, blowtorch, some of both.

I almost choked on my croissant.

You really need to start posting a notice: Users reading this post must have ability to self-administer Heimlich Manuever.

jane said...

is it just me, or is anyone else appalled that a teacher is bartering bits of her classroom time away? She is essentially letting her classroom be used as a focus group.

I'm a teacher, and a pretty cynical and disaffected one at that--I would NEVER use my students in this fashion. It is simply innapropriate.

Anita Daher said...

Jane, don't you think something like this could offer a good learning experience? Students would be listening critically, and (hopefully) picking up good constructive criticism skills.

Bernita said...

Is it really any different from reading Treasure Island( pick a title)to a class and having them respond?

M. G. Tarquini said...

With respect, Jane, the teacher used the children as a focus group for READING.

My children have incredible teachers who put great emphasis on not just reading, but on writing and editing. The children do many book projects from book reports, to researching favorite authors. They can compose a haiku or a free verse, know the difference between first and third person, past and present tense, active vs. inactive verbs. They outline, write the story, illustrate it, write flap copy, blurbs, and design covers.

Any local authors the teachers can get their hands on, they invite to the classroom to discuss their books, the writing life, the publishing business...

They asked me to come and read the beginning of an MG novel I'd written. It's difficult to describe the wonder I experienced having a bunch of nine year olds comment on use of adjectives, strong vs. weak verbs, storyline, believability of dialogue, and even correct my grammar. One day, my son commented to my girlfriend, in a very natural and unpretentious way, that he wasn't certain she'd chosen the right 'idiom' for an idea she was trying to express.

I agree that third-grade is not an appropriate age for most YA, but it seems the teacher was doing her job - to expand the kids' horizons. Had the mss. been godawful, I doubt she would have agreed at all.

Go teachers! In a world filled with so many electronic visual distractions (polite way of saying television, video games and web-surfing) anything that gets a kid to crack a cover gets a thumbs up from me.

slwhitman said...

What ytaix said--if it's a YA, the writer is using the wrong audience for feedback.

However, I've found that now that children's and YA is getting so popular, writers jumping on the bandwagon have no clue about the terminology and call any novel for children past the early reader a "YA." I'd also advise that if the writer wants to pitch anything to an editor of children's or young adult literature, they correct their ignorance of the field before submitting. Early reader/chapter book--ages 6 to 8. Middle grade 8-12. YA 12 and up. That's the basic breakdown, though ytaix also has it right that often there's a subdivision in YA for younger and older readers, too.

lizzie26 said...

Yup, as ytaix and Jane said, YA doesn't belong in 3rd grade or 5th grade classrooms, nor does it belong in the classroom for critiquing at all. Parents and school administrators would be up-in-arms about that.

The Rentable Writer said...

maya: You can use a doorknob. Simply place a circular one at your diaphram (sp?) and push inwards and up. I'm not kidding.

jane: It was a nice thing to do. Who cares about a few minutes of reading? I went to Catholic grade school and we would 'barter away' our class time with FUN things like this all the time. Oh, and I might add, I somehow still got a good education.

Jane said...

It is very different from reading and critiquing Treasure Island--the teacher has nothing to *gain* by putting Treasure Island on the syallabus. It is chosen because the teacher thinks that it is an appropriate book on its own merits.

I am not saying that a teacher can't put their friends books on the syllabus--I do this occasionally. But the difference is that I don't do it in exchange for anything. I do it because I think it is the best book available on the subject (I teach college and these are scholarly rather than fictional works).

I of course think that reading should be emphasized in third grade classrooms--I think it should be the main priority, in fact. And if there is a local author available to come speak to the class, that's great. What I object to is the quid pro quo--the fact that the teacher chose this book not for any pedagogical purpose, but to receive a favor in exchange from the author. I'm sure it was a fine ms, but you can't tell me that a ms in progress--one that the even the author doesn't believe to be complete--is the best reading experience for the kids. And especially when it is not even age appropriate.

That's what I meant by "barter away," Rentable: that the teacher used her class time to trade for her own gain. Of course children should have fun--I didn't mean to suggest otherwise.

In an educational system where we are fighting to have textbooks that aren't sponsored by Genreal Electric or Pepsi (read Jonathan Kozol for a sobering look at what lack of funding--primarily in poor urban communities--drives schools to in terms of accepting corporate largesee. With strings attached), it is even more important that teachers lead the fight against class time being influenced by commercial interests. They certainly shouldn't introduce their own commercial interests (however remote) into the mix.

Elektra said...

Rentable--me too! Catholic grade school, where they loved to bring people in, and it made learning so much more fun.

Maya said...

Rentable Writer: Thanks. Unfortunately, back when I was wearing braces, I got the opportunity to practice the Heimlich Manuever on myself for real. I used the back of a chair.

Regards,

Maya

Camilla said...

M. G. Tarquini, I would want for my children the same kind of teachers *your* children are having.

The Rentable Writer said...

jane: I can definitely see where you're coming from. One part of me agrees with you, but the other part doesn't. I think having new, original writing read to them was a good thing. Everyone here is correct in saying that YA doesn't equal 8 year-olds.

maya: I was going to reccomend a chair next ... hahaha.

Just Me said...

Just adding a small voice to Miss Snark's advice not to include this info in a query. I read slush pile for a small publisher (in Ireland, by the way!) for a while, and any cover letter including any variation on 'I/my friend read it to my/his/her school class/children/grandchildren and they loved it' instantly shot the manuscript down the possibles list at the speed of light. We'd still give it a quick look, just in case this was the exception to the rule - but the rule was that any writer who mentioned anything along these lines was truly terrible. In my experience, the rule never failed.

I understand that what you're thinking of saying is a bit different - 'they critiqued it' rather than 'they loved it' - but still, I wouldn't risk starting any sentence in a query letter with 'My friend read this to her school class, and...'

M. G. Tarquini said...

Thanks, Camilla. I'm only lately realizing how fortunate my kids are. It's a public school, also. Plain old public, grades 1-8. Not even a charter school. But it's small and it has a somewhat different philosophy from the rest of the plain old publics in the city. We're thinking about moving, but I told the kids they'll stay with that school, even if the drive is longer.

The school is just as talented with teaching math and science. The kids hate to miss a day.

Jane, I understand your frustration better, and your further explanation makes it clearer your views. Reading an entire novel is different from inviting a mom in for an hour to read the first couple of chapters of age-appropriate material. My husband started out his career as a junior high school science teacher and still recounts his frustration at the horrible quality of the textbooks he was expected to teach from.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

As a mother of four kids (ages 15, 12, 6 and 4.5) I'd have no problem with their teacher reading it (assuming it was prescreened and found appropriate for the age group). Although having a teacher who is admittedly "cynical" is a frighening thought.

And as a "favor", I don't see a problem with someone "returning" a favor. Perhaps it's the word "barter" you have issues with, Jane? Do you honestly believe that the teacher would have read it to her class if it sucked or was horribly inappropriate, all for this infamous "favor" in exchange?? Give the teacher some credit here. She may have genuinely LIKED it and thought her class would too, and THEN agreed to the exchanging of favors.

For the original poster: Use the feedback as you would with any critique partners. Take from it what you want, ignore what you think doesn't work, but there's no reason to tell the agent/editor HOW you got your final, polished product.

Anonymous said...

I agree, give the teacher who read it some credit for vetting the work first. (The term YA is used so loosely these days.) What a wonderful opportunity for the kids to hear a "work in progress." If the book is published, they'll forever remember having heard it before it ever hit the shelves. And who knows who the work inspires to become a writer. Had someone done that to my class when I was in grade school, I probably would've started writing much earlier, been published much earlier instead of my thirties, because I would have had a fine example by the teacher who decided to read it. When I think of the lessons learned by the kids just from that small gesture... (and who cares if she got a favor in return?) Just knowing that authors are real people is big. They start from scratch just like we do in school. They make mistakes. Kids learn ritical thinking: what is wrong with this story? What would you do to fix it?

The possibilities for the children are endless. I have three children, and am married to a teacher of middle school, who is also more creative than many. We need more teachers like this. If we had them, we'd probably have more writers in our midst.

But for the author's question, I think Miss Snark is right. You don't mention the crit by kids, or groups or anyone else. Just present the final polished product and let the editor/agent be amazed, without wondering if you can write like this on your own.

~~Olivia said...

I would NOT mention a this type of critique in a cover letter. I don't think an agent or editor will be impressed. She/he might question your writing abilities.

bonniers said...

The last person I heard use the term "YA" to refer to anything above early reader was an editor of children's books at a Boston area publishing house...

My son was fortunate enough to have a similar experience several years ago. The writer brought in a short story, read it to them, and showed them how he might rewrite based on what they said about the problems. The class loved it and learned a lot about the writing process from it, though it doesn't seem to have inspired David to become a writer :)

Yes, perfectly ordinary public school system.

Anonymous said...

The editor or agent won't be interested in who critted it, but the experience should tell you which parts in particular tickle the kids' fancy. Make sure you let them know you know your target audience well, so they know it can be sold.

Termagant 2 said...

My kid is in 5th grade in a public school. I would LOVE it if someone read a WIP to her class, and encouraged them to analyze it. Most of the time when there's a gap in her curriculum, she reports that they watch movies. Yuck. They can do that at home. I hate that they're doing it at school.

The writers of the future are lurking in the land of free-form spelling and "we don't do punctuation." Agents of the future, start to tremble now...

T2