What Next? What To Do After a Professional Critique

After an intense (and insightful) day of professional critiques, one might be overwhelmed and not sure what steps to take next. Gladly,  after the 2010 SCBWI New York Writers Intensive the faculty didn’t leave the authors hanging. Instead three editors, Allyn Johnston (Beach Lane Books), Wendy Loggia (Delacorte), and Ari Lewin (Disney/Hyperion) shared their insight on how to step back and reflect, and what to do next with your manuscript.

What Should Writers Do With the Feedback They’ve Received During Their  Critiques Today?

  • Step back and reflect. Let it sit in. Sleep on it.
  • What you shared with me, may not be what you should submit to me. (Allyn Johnston).
  • The comments you receive shouldn’t be seen as a checklist that you need to go through and address. Some comments may be relevant, others not so much. You need to find what really will help your work.
  • The editor/writer process is often a negotiation.
  • Ask yourself if the comment was true or not.

Common Things That Need Work in the Writing (Common Mistakes):

  • Is the rhyme of a picture book really as strong as it could be?
  • The voice in a picture book is really too old. Often this is also done in the first person.
  • Starting a picture book with dialog. Instead start with a crisp clear and poignant sentence. “A clear direct statement, with a turn of phrase.” – Allyn
  • Beware of overused picture book themes.
  • Beware of trying to cram way too much information into the first few pages of your manuscript. It can be overwhelming and disorienting.
  • Be careful when starting with a  pivotal moment. Choose that moment wisely. It can’t be “The moment” because we don’t know the character’s yet, or the world. We need to be grounded in the world first before you flip it on it’s end. Orient the reader as to where we are first.
  • Don’t start at the moment that is different. (Same as bullet point above).
  • Need a stronger awareness of the market.
  • No Art notes! (Allyn Johnston).
  • Need a narrative arc for picture books.
  • It’s best to outline.

Good Places to Get Information on the Market:

  • Follow book review blogs to see what’s selling in the market.
  • Look for a quarterly flier called “Indie Bound” (www.indiebound.org) which is for independent book stores.

What Are Warning Phrases that Writers Should Be Aware of to Clue Them in that Something is Wrong or You’re Not Happy with a Work?

  • “Who is this book for?”
  • “Why would we care about this world or character?”
  • “Put this in the drawer.”
  • “Is there anything else you’re working on?” – This is a good comment, it means they are interested in your writing, but perhaps not this particular work.
  • If I ask about your career, it means I’m trying to find something to talk about because I don’t quite know what to say about the work.

Other Comments and Insight from the Editors:

  • You’re writing for the long haul, so you should have other work, other projects. Don’t be afraid to move on to the next project and put this one away for awhile (or forever).
  • When taking criticism think about the phrase “This is not clear.” Well, if it’s not clear then you should make it more clear so that the reader understands it. That’s your job as the writer. This is an undeniable statement. Think of your comments in this way – you are not being clear on something and it needs to be addressed. That may not be in the way the person giving the critique suggests, but there is something that may need attention.
  • Write letters from your characters. It will help you to get into the voice of your characters.
  • Think about writing and submissions like you’re on American Idol. Everyone tries hard, and some people are pretty good, but not everyone is ready. You’ve got to keep practicing and trying!

About Submissions:

  • All three editors mostly take agent submission, and they also mostly take submissions from agents they know and trust. If it is an agent they don’t know they look up the agent.
  • Don’t submit to more than one editor at the same imprint at the same time!
  • Check out the resource “Edited by” on the SCBWI.org website as it shares the names of editors and books they have edited. Good resource for getting an idea of what an editor likes.
  • Target your submissions! Beware of the quantity submission as it wont get you as far as quality submissions will. Plus you’ll save money sending out your work.
  • In general, Allyn Johnston does not accept unagented submissions, however after you hear her speak you may submit one thing to her. This may be snail mailed or emailed.

Check Out Other Great Posts About Professional Critiques:

  • Just Listen: Getting a Professional Critique
  • What I learned from Editor Jessica Garrison
  • What I learned from Assistant Editor Sara Sargent

Allyn Johnston is the Vice President and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, one of the newest imprints at Simon and Schuster. Previously she was the editor in chief at Harcourt Children’s Books. Among the authors and illustrators with whom she works are Lois Ehlert, Mem Fox, Debra Frasier, Marla Frazee, Cynthia Rylant, Avi, and M.T. Anderson. She is primarily interested in a acquiring picture books and middle-grade novels.

Wendy Loggia is executive editor at Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Delacorte focuses almost exclusively on middle grade and YA novels. Loggia is the editor of many books including: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Going Bovine, and The Gemma Doyle Trilogy.

Arianne Lewin is a Senior Editor at Disney * Hyperion. She edits an eclectic list that emphasizes young adult novels and fantasy, but also includes picture books and chapter books. She works with authors Cinda Williams Chima; Whoopi Goldberg; Julie Anne Peters; EB Lewis; Scott Magoon; and Daniel Waters, among others. Arianne is currently looking for fresh new voices in all genres.

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