10.03.2006

Get out of the attic, Emily

Dear Miss Snark,

I am sorely in need of guidance. I know I've been a nitwit, but I hope you will explain to me exactly how.

A best-selling author of my acquaintance was kind enough to read my first chapter, then suggested I send a partial to his agent. He must have contacted her as well, because she immediately requested the full manuscript.

A month later, I received a form rejection letter. I had been under the delusion that an agent who liked something enough to ask for 300 more pages would offer a sentence or two highlighting the book's inadequacies. I'm not talking about query letters or even partials - just full manuscripts.

So I emailed her. (Nitwit alert). I thanked her for considering the work and asked her generally where my manuscript lagged (character, plot, etc.). I'm serious about improving as a writer, so the feedback could have really helped me. I haven't heard back.

So, a) have I committed an unpardonable sin? (venial not mortal) b) did she only request the full manuscript to please her client? (no) c) will this faux pas reflect badly on my acquaintance, since his agent now thinks he has psycho stalker talentless friends? *(yup)

Obviously I shouldn't have asked for the favor of her reaction if she wasn't willing to offer it freely. On the other hand, how shall I improve if the only people who see the full manuscript are either related to me or choose to take their insight to the grave? You yourself get better at recognizing the quality or lack thereof in your work. You join a critique group. You find good beta readers.

Obsessing about this is really cutting into my writing time. so stop

On a related note, will the crapometer ever accept full manuscripts? Boy howdy, that'd be a help. Or you could auction off a full Monty crapometer (a full crappy?) as a charitable endeavor, with the proceeds going to fund a retirement home for the chronically unpublished.


You've gone round the bend for even thinking it is remotely possible enough to ask about. First, a full length novel of 60,000 words on the crapometer would require about 200 posts.

It takes a minimum of five hours to read 60,000 words. Add five hours of critique thinking and writing. For the benefit of ONE person. You can safely categorize this under "never".

You need to reach out and find some other writers. You're obsessing too much and you're losing touch with reality. Time for a cold dose of reality best found in a good critique group.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dog in Heaven! You knew I was joking about the full monty crapometer, right?

Dorthygale said...

www.critiquecircle.com

ChapterKat said...

Miss Snark said: "You're obsessing too much and you're losing touch with reality."

Writer, when you start obsessing over trivial stuff like this, you've been gazing at your own bellybutton for too long. Get out in the world and get away from the keyboard for a while. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Tutor kids who are having trouble reading. Become involved in animal rescue.

Sure, we all want to be published authors. But in the great grand scheme of things, believe it or not, there are some things more important. Worrying over such minutae will drive you nuts. And no matter how many rejections you get, remember that there are lots of people in this world who for whatever reason are suffering more than you are. (This isn't meant to criticise you, BTW, it's just to state that sometimes we need to look beyond our own troubles.)

Michele said...

And when you find beta readers or a critique circle, make sure that they're not afraid to give harsh criticism. If all they do is encourage you, it won't help you improve.

Anonymous said...

You really do have to look around to find the right group. There's a real art to giving constructive criticism over 'harsh' criticism.

Constructive criticism helps a reader understand the problems and offers insights on how to make the writing stronger.

Harsh or what I call egocentric criticism does nothing but point out what isn't working but doesn't offer any insight as to why. A lot of times, harshness only serves to boost the ego of the uniquely untalented person droning on like a dull drillbit. Often they'll repeat one another:

"I don't believe your characters."
"I usually don't like or read this genre"
"I just think it needs to be tightened."

This is very general fluff. The person who can tell you why your characters aren't digging deep enough, or how to tighten up a scene is the person you want to listen to. Over time, you'll figure out who knows their craftsmanship and who doesn't.

I find that the best people who are crits are those who ask questions. By asking questions, they're able to get you to think!

Still, listen carefully, ask lots of questions of them if they say,
"Oh... I hate this genre"
or
"Tighten it up."
And help them become better reviewers as well.

Kimber An said...

www.critiquecircle.com

(waves at Dorthy)

snarkaholic said...

I don't see the value of critique groups.

How does an amateur expect to improve by hanging out and getting feedback from other amateurs?

Jeff Savage said...

I don't buy that you should never ask an editor/agent for feedback on a full ms. Obviously it doesn't make sense to ask why you got a form rejection on your query, But an agent is not a God or even a god. If they don't want to give you additional feedback, so be it. They delete the e-mail. But I’ve received some excellent feedback on full manuscripts by just e-mailing a polite request.

That’s how I hooked up with my current agent, who is great. After I e-mailed her she told me that the writing was excellent, but the direction was not what she expected from the query and first three chaps. Knowing what her concerns were, I was able to fix the problem and she accepted the novel.

Writing and publishing is a business. In business, professional communication is helpful to both parties. If the agent doesn’t have enough interest in my work to respond, let them delete my message and I won’t be offended. But to imply or state that an agent should never be contacted for follow-up information on a full ms. request because they are just far too busy doesn’t make sense. Last time I checked it was a two way street.

Jeff Savage said...

Snarkaholic,

I think you are missing the point. You are looking to get feedback from others who can see your work with a fresh eye and who are willing to be politely brutal.

You don't have to accept everything they say, but if you have a good group, you will quickly see the value. If you don't get (and give) valuable feedback, you may be part of the wrong group.

I am part of seven person critique group. Four of us have publihsed novels and the rest have published articles or short stories. I guess that makes us all "professionals" (Although somehow that brings an entirely different picture to mind.) but we certainly weren't when we started.

Chris Gerrib said...

Snarkaholic - any constructive criticism helps. There are two stages of bad writing - the "God-aweful" (which anybody except your Mother will see) and the "OK-but-not-great" which requires a higher-level look.

For anonymous of 10/4 - in a well-run critique group, everybody must submit a work for critique. Having some skin in the game tends to keep the comments more constructive.

Anonymous said...

How does an amateur expect to improve by hanging out and getting feedback from other amateurs?

You have to find critique partners who are not just amateur writers but also avid readers. The reader, after all, is the one we're all ultimately trying to sell to.

~Nancy said...

How does an amateur expect to improve by hanging out and getting feedback from other amateurs?

They're not all amateurs. There are a number of crit groups where people *are* published authors (and I'm not talking about vanity pubbed, either).

I think that most crit groups have a FAQ or something that gives a newbie an idea as to what to say in a crit, etc. When I first started critting, I sucked big time. But once you get into the flow of critting, say, a story/chaper a week, your brain starts to flow. It's a good learning experience for the critter, too, because then he/she can apply things to his/her own writings (good things to emulate, bad things to get rid of).

Crit groups aren't for everyone, but that's true for most things in life.

~JerseyGirl

Anonymous said...

How does an amateur expect to improve by hanging out and getting feedback from other amateurs?

Oh, please tell me this is a troll.
Please, please, please, so we can all get back to GC.

As someone pointed out, there are a lot of people who are in crit groups who have a lot of experience. Some have taken classes, some write professionally in their jobs, and almost all are avid readers.

Increase your chances of producing a better second or third draft that'll get looked at by agents.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Savage -
Thanks for your comment. In your opinion, my email to the agent might have been optimistic, but not flagrantly rude? I never intended to be rude or demanding.

Chapterkat -
Excellent point. It is easy to get trapped in the laptop and forget about the wider world.

Dorthygale said...

*waves at Kimber*

In case anyone missed it the first two time :D

www.critiquecircle.com

;)

Jeff Savage said...

Anon--
Unless you are demanding, unrealistic, or include a white powder like substance in your correspondence, how can that be rude?

If the agent chooses not to respond, that's not necessarily rude either. It's just a different answer to your question.

Talia Mana, Centre for Emotional Well-Being said...

I definitely agree with the need for a crit circle or mentor to read your work. It can be difficult to find the flaws in your own work. A fresh eye helps.

It also helps to read your ms aloud so you can check where it flows and where it hiccups.

Even successful authors struggle with this. Think of the number of authors that do several good books and them bomb. The example I usually refer to is Patricia Cornwell...

Most authors have periods where they can't see what is wrong with their own work.

As for the comment about getting critiques from "amateurs". You don't have to be published to know what works and what doesn't. The ideal reader for your book is someone who knows the genre. They may be a keen reader who reads 00s of books every year but has never had the confidence/skill to pen their own work.

Jo Bourne said...

Sorta in reply to Snarkaholic --

Crit groups aren't optimal,
but the writer dude's more likely to get crits from fellow writers
than from random literary agents.

Networking with other writers is a good way to pull together a useful crit group.

Further recommendation --
Books and Writers Community has a novels crit group

http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?nav=start&webtag=ws-books