Why Manuscript Critiques are Like First Dates and What Exactly is an Editorial Letter

I am a firm believer that humans should help other humans. A couple of people have asked me about manuscript critiques.

So, I’m going to take a quick moment and explain about manuscript critiques and how it relates to dating.

BIG QUESTION NUMBER ONE: 

What tip can you give to best approach another writer’s manuscript in critique?

Here’s the thing: Critiques are like mini-relationships. 

If you go in there and look at that piece of work (be it a person or a manuscript) with an insecure attitude, you are going to do harm even if you don’t mean to do harm. 

I’ve broken up with critique groups because members would make one published (former bestselling) author cry every single time they met. It wasn’t because she was the one who was insecure. It was because they attacked her writing over and over again.

Yes, I yelled at them before I quit. Yes, I was a little drama queen about it. I was a new author back then and like now, I get a bit self-righteous.

2. Since critiques are like mini-relationships, try to present your best self as a critiquer. Do not go in there with an attitude. Do not go in there insecure and hoping to cut someone down in the guise of helping. So not cool.

If you’re on a first-date do you really want to be snarky? Do you really want to spend the whole time showing off how smart you are about narrative arcs or quotation mark punctuation? 

I hope not. If so? You and me? Not dating. 

I think the best dates and the best critiquers talk about specifics (good and bad) but also listen to intention. It isn’t about them showing off. It isn’t about them being jealous about how hot their date (or their date’s manuscript) is. Instead, it’s a connection. It’s a communication. It’s about making the real world or the writing world (in the form of the manuscript) a slightly better place. 

3. If you’re in a critique group or a workshop, beware of the group mind mentality. This goes for dates too.

Have you ever gone on a date and felt like the person you were talking to wasn’t just presenting his/her opinion but the opinion of:


a. Mom.
b. Best friend.
c. Stephen King.
d. Everyone they went to high school with.
e. A president (past or present).

Sometimes group critiques can be like this with everyone’s individual opinions melding into the opinion of OH GREAT ONE.

OH GREAT ONE can be:


a. The tenured professor
b. The alpha female 
c. The alpha male
d. The super-published author
e. A muppet with a butcher knife

If this starts to happen, please PLEASE please do not be a lemming. It’s sometimes so hard, but remember your opinion is just as worthy as the alpha’s opinion, and the award winners and presidents.

And the person who is being critiqued NEEDS TO HEAR YOUR OPINION, too. Don’t be afraid to have a different opinion. It’s totally allowed and needs to be heard. 

BIG QUESTION NUMBER TWO: 

What’s an editorial letter like?  


For all you non-writers out there or my friend, William, an editorial letter is what you get after the miracle happens.


The miracle is called: MY BOOK HAS BEEN ACCEPTED BY A PUBLISHER CAN WE HAPPY DANCE IN THE KITCHEN FOREVER?

The editorial letter is typically suggestions from the editor about how to make your book made of awesome.

Let me give you a quick run-down of some of my editors.


Editor #1 has not given me any editorial letter. He is a very mysterious man. He simply told my agent, “I don’t think we need to do anything.”


This makes me nervous.

Editor #2 has given me multiple editorial letters on a single work, which is NEED!

Anyway this editor who may or may not be Michelle Nagler? She mails them. They are full of suggestions like, “Carrie, you have said the word ‘hands,’ 5,342 times in this manuscript. Would you mind changing that?” 

Or, “Um … the entire middle is a bit … It sags. It needs a tummy tuck. Can we speed up the pace?”

Her letters were amazing because they were so detailed and structure oriented.  I loved them because they gave me ideas about revision. Occasionally, I would read a comment and have a panic attack, but then within 20 minutes I was always ready to fix things. 

Editor #3 gave me editorial letters on the phone. They weren’t letters. This editor who may or may not be Andrew Karre? He would talk, reading off his notes about the book. I would take my own notes while he talked. They were often about theme and character and he would say things like, “I think it’s about longing.” Or sometimes he’d say, “You know. There are no details about the physical world. How would those details show where the heck she is and longing?” 

Then I would get 1,004 amazing ideas and be all jazzed up to write. 

This would happen a couple times during the process for some books. In one book it only happened once. 

Once, my editorial letter (on the phone) was: Carrie! You changed EVERYONE’S name. Is there a… Is there a reason for this?

I also know that this editor does not always work that way. He emails letters. He snail mails letters. He’ll do anything his author needs.

Here’s the thing: Just like dating, critiquing is a relationship and there’s a lot of trust involved whether the critiques is another writer or a reader or an editor. All good relationships? Well, they are about respect and communication. The intentions should always be about making the strongest book ever and encouraging the author to do just that.

THIS WEEK’S PODCAST LINK!

WRITING NEWS

LEARN WITH ME AT THE WRITING BARN!

The Write. Submit. Support. format is designed to embrace all aspects of the literary life. This six-month course will offer structure and support not only to our writing lives but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors. We will discuss passes that come in, submissions requests, feedback we aren’t sure about, where we are feeling directed to go in our writing lives, and more. Learn more here! 

“Carrie’s feedback is specific, insightful and extremely helpful. She is truly invested in helping each of us move forward to make our manuscripts the best they can be.”

“Carrie just happens to be one of those rare cases of extreme talent and excellent coaching.”

IN THE WOODS – READ AN EXCERPT, ORDER NOW!

My new book, IN THE WOODS, is out!

Gasp!

It’s with Steve Wedel. It’s scary and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Buzz Books for Summer 2019. There’s an excerpt of it there and everything! But even cooler (for me) they’ve deemed it buzz worthy! Buzz worthy seems like an awesome thing to be deemed!

Order this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?

In the Woods
In the Woods


ART NEWS

Buy limited-edition prints and learn more about my art here on my site. 

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PATREON OF AWESOME

Get exclusive content, early podcasts, videos, art and listen (or read) never-to-be-officially published writings of Carrie on her Patreon. Levels go from $1 to $100 (That one includes writing coaching and editing for you wealthy peeps). 

Check it out here. 

WHAT IS PATREON? 

A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you. 

LAST WEEK’S PODCAST! 

THIS WEEK’S PODCAST LINK!

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Wednesday Writing Hints – It is TOTALLY okay if you hate critique groups. Seriously. To Heck With Them!

Writing is lonely. I get it. And some writers are actually – gasp! – extroverts who want feedback in a group setting with other writers where they can drink coffee or brews or have snacks and dip and discuss how to make their writing better.

That is lovely.

That is not everyone.

And it is okay if it is not you.

I was talking to one of my favorite writers that I’ve mentored last week. And she said, “You don’t have a reader, do you?”

And I was like, “No. I trust no humans.”

She laughed.

This is only partially true. I trust my agent of awesome. I trust my editors. But I’ve had some wicked bad times with critique groups. Here’s why:

Ways Critique Groups Can Go Wrong

Group Think

Sometimes your group will have an alpha writer. She is the goddess of the group and once she says something? All the other writers will grovel and try to get her to love and mimic everything she says.

If she says, “It needs more emotional resonance during this paragraph where you are describing the city.”

Then, they will say, “Yeah. I’m not feeling this paragraph.”

And they will also say, “Whoa. Yeah. This paragraph has no heart.”

And these will be the same people who told you before group how much they loved the exact same paragraph. I have seen this happen over and over again. I’m not a fan of it.

Not All Readers are the Same or Want the Same Thing.

Not all readers like the same thing. So, I’m not a fan of Fifty Shades of Gray. If I were in that author’s writing group, I’d have TOTALLY screwed up her book if she listened to me.

And that would have impacted our economy and a lot of people’s sex lives.

A lot of critique groups have different genres represented, which is awesome, but a lot of times they skew to the literary genre of adult contemporary. I once witnessed a woman with one literary fiction novel absolutely skewer and make cry another woman who had published multiple romance novels that were bestsellers.

We all have different tastes.

I lost my chill and left that group, which leads me to this…

Sometimes We Have No Chill

While writing is communication between the writer and the reader and therefore relies on others, it is also an art. And when you create something, something that you feel strongly about and work really hard over it? Well, sometimes when people criticize it, even constructively, it hurts your soul and if you have no chill? Yeah. Critique groups can suck.

It’s not good to have an assault charge on your record if you write picture books, just saying.

Critique Groups Often Only Get Small Chunks of Big Stories at a Time

So, unlike beta readers, they can’t really focus on the structure and pace of the story. That makes it really hard to figure out what might be structurally wrong with the story or its pacing or its emotional through lines.

Plus, it’s also really frustrating when the story is super good and you want to know what happens next.

Sometimes the People in Your Writing Group Aren’t the Best Writers Themselves

So, unlike the alpha-mentor situation, sometimes a writing group will be made up of a bunch of really crappy writers all trying to help each other, but not really knowing how to, but still being super confident about giving writing advice.

This usually doesn’t end well.

Unexpected Nudity

I have been in two different critique groups where someone’s husband has wandered into the room totally naked. And it was just… If you aren’t expecting a naked man in the room when you’re talking about plots and subplots and believable dialogue…? Well, it makes it a little weird. Not in a good way.

What is my point?

My point is that critique groups can sometimes suck and hurt you, and hurt your story. So, if you’re in one and it starts feeling toxic? It’s okay to leave. Writing well is about learning how to hear your voice, the voice of the story, and then crafting that in such a way that others get it too. Yes! Sometimes critique groups can help with that and that is awesome. But don’t be afraid or be hard on yourself if it doesn’t work for you.

You are still awesome.

Writing News

Next and Last Time Stoppers Book

It’s almost out! You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.

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People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.

Moe Berg

The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?

You should totally buy Carrie’s book about Moe. It’s awesome and quirky and fun.

OUR PODCAST DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.

Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow.

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Writing Coach

Carrie offers solo writing coach services. For more about Carrie’s individual coaching, click here.

Ebook on Sale for October! 

And finally, for the month of July, my book NEED is on sale in ebook version on Amazon. It’s a cheap way to have an awesome read in a book that’s basically about human-sized pixies trying to start an apocalypse.

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Writers! We are thrilled to announce that The Writing Barn’s 2019 Write. Submit. Support. faculty will be Picture Book writer & illustrator Jessixa Bagley and YA author Carrie Jones. 

Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?

Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.

Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here

Learn more below about this year’s faculty…

Apply Now!

WSS Picture Book Faculty

Jessixa Bagley’s artistic career has been a mix of comics, fine art, and illustration. She’s worked with publications such as: The Chicago Reader, The Seattle Weekly, The Stranger, Nickelodeon Magazine, and Highlights.

Her debut picture book, Boats for Papa (June 2015) has earned many accolades and awards including a Fall 2015 Junior Library Guild Selection, the SCBWI 2016 Golden Kite Award for Best Picture Book Text as well a the 2016 Washington State Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award. Her picture book, Laundry Day, was not only a Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2016 but it also received a 2018 Ezra Jack Keats Honor Award for Writing. Her most recent picture book, Vincent Comes Home,  is a collaboration with her husband, Aaron Bagley. All of her picture books are with Neal Porter for Roaring Brook Press.

Currently, she lives in Seattle, Washington in a castle in the sky with her wonderful husband, painfully adorable son, and a slew of houseplants that all have names. She still loves hamburgers, drawing, and anthropomorphic food. She is represented by Alexandra Penfold at Upstart Crow Literary. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter!

WSS Fiction (MG,YA, Adult) Faculty

Carrie Jones is the The New York Times bestseller author of the Need series, Time Stoppers series, Flying series, GirlHeroTips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend, and Love (and other uses for duct tape). She is also the coauthor, with Steve Wedel, of After Obsession and the upcoming In the Woods. She also co-edited Dear Bully. She also writes picture books about unconventional spies. Her books have been published all around the world, been bestsellers in France (thank you, France), and have received numerous awards.

Carrie lives in Bar Harbor, Maine and launched the Bar Harbor Kids Book Festival, and is active in Rotary International as the Public Image Coordinator for much of Canada and a lot of the United States. She’s also part of the Rotary Campaign against Human Trafficking.

A former newspaper reporter, poetry and news editor, city councilor, gymnastics coach, and volunteer firefighter, Carrie has won numerous press awards for newspaper writing and photography. She is a big fan of rescue animals and currently has three, Spartacus, Gabby, and Marsie.

 

Are You a Lonely Writer? Critique Me, Baby.

In this podcast, Shaun decides he wants to be a guru, or at least create the Church of Sparty the Dog. Also, we are responsible and discuss critique partners, beta readers and how to say “Klimt” and “Chianti.”

So, in the world of writing, everyone talks about needing a beta reader and a critique partner.

Everyone that is, except Carrie, who has trust issues and survives as a lonely, isolated writer in Maine.

What is a beta reader?

It’s that person who reads your story, gives you some mild suggestions that feel like a big hug. This is a person you want to party with, a person you can cry to, a person with no judgement. This person is basically the human equivalent of your dog – loyal, helpful, good.

What is a critique partner?

These awesome people help you feel less alone, they share stories and ideas with you. They see your story piece by piece, usually, and they help you find the flaws in this work-in-process. These people are like your life partner. They see you without make-up. They see you vomiting into the porcelain pig of your creativity and they hold up your hair because nobody wants puke in hair.

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Dog Tip For Life – Don’t be afraid of showing us the messy, disgusting, less-than-perfect aspects of your process. We can love you no matter what.

Life Tip Of the Pod – Pick your critique partners carefully, man. Seriously. Pick someone who wants to stay up with you rather than pull you down.

Are You a Lonely Writer? Critique Me, Baby.

 
 

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