Conference Critique Confusion

Don't worry, I'm not suffering delusions of becoming an illustrator, I just didn't have the time or ingredients to turn this cutie into cake this week.
Don’t worry, I’m not suffering delusions of becoming an illustrator, I just didn’t have the time or ingredients to turn this cutie into cake this week.

Writers’ Conferences are great. Not only are they a great way to meet other writers, illustrators, agents and editors, but they’re a great chance to get critiques from industry professionals. In fact, the conference I’m attending at the end of May has three different types of critique available – which is amazing. And confusing.

With submission deadlines looming, I’ve spent a lot of time this week stressing over what work to enter for the various critiques. I looked online for advice, but couldn’t seem to find any, so, I thought I would ponder it out here in the hope it may help other writers trying to make their own critique decisions.

As always, these are just my opinions. Feel free to disagree with them in the comments.

One-on-One Manuscript Critique

Description: For an extra fee, a writer can get a synopsis and the first ten pages of a novel or one picture book manuscript critiqued by an agent, editor, or published writer.

K’s Thoughts: This is the critique dreams are based on. You submit your very best manuscript and hope and pray an agent or editor will read it and fall in love, begging you to submit the full, or better yet, offering you a contract right then and there! But let’s face it. While that does happen to the occasional writer (including one of my critique partners), more often you get (well-deserved) notes on how to fix your ms’s problems. Which is great, and helpful, and (if you’re like me) generally leaves you feeling like a failure and desperately seeking chocolate.

So, last conference I tried a new technique. Rather than sending in my best ms, I sent in a completed, crit group-approved PB ms, that I had queried with no luck. The result? The author who critted my ms actually liked it, and had only minor improvements to suggest. Which left me feeling great, but not much further along.

This time around I had two manuscripts to choose between: a (different) complete, critted, queried PB I’ve been told isn’t marketable, or my YA work-in-progress (which has a very shiny synopsis and first 10 pages *By the way, I recommend having your crit partners look over your synopsis before submitting for a critique – I always thought they were just for the critiquer’s information, but in my experience, they get critiqued as well*). I kept going back and forth between the two manuscripts, and in the end it came down to what I thought would get the best advice: my YA Contemporary piece. I’m hoping that whoever critiques my submission will give me valuable advice on the voice and plot (via the synopsis) that I’ll be able to apply to the whole manuscript. Because, after all, that’s what I’m paying for: a critique.

 

First Pages Critique

Description: Included in the cost of the conference, the agent and editors critique anonymous first pages live at the conference, in front of everyone. In order to keep them anonymous, these works may not be entered for other critiques at the conference.

K’s Thoughts: You have to have a strong stomach for this one. It can be hard to hear your precious work torn apart (in the most helpful way possible, but still) in front of a room full of people. If you’re not brave enough, just listening to the critiques can often offer great benefits, as you hear straight from the agent (or editor)’s mouth what works and what doesn’t.

If you are brave enough to submit, this should also be a polished, finished manuscript. After all, the agent and editors are offering their feedback as if this page was a submission in their inbox.

I’m not sure if I’ll be submitting something this time around, but if I do it will most likely be the PB I was considering for the One-on-One critique, so I can get more feedback on its marketability. Fortunately, I still have a few weeks left to make this decision.

 

Critique Circle

Description: Participants submit either the first ten pages of a novel, or one picture book manuscript to be critiqued by a small group (usually 5-8) of their peers, writing similar works. Submission genres must be picked at time of registration, and groups are assigned by the conference organizers. Critique circles may or may not include faculty members, depending on the conference.

K’s Thoughts: Because of my concussion, I opted to submit a PB this year. (Last year I entered a novel, naively thinking my head would be up to the task, and I had trouble participating.)

I don’t have to select my actual piece until the day of the conference, which is good, because I have no idea what I’ll be bringing. In previous years, I’ve brought highly polished works, but I think the on-the-spot nature of the critique lends itself better to problem manuscripts. So, most likely I’ll be bringing either a new revision of a stubborn manuscript (one of those” just can’t seem to get it right” picture books, I’ve put aside in the hope of divine inspiration for how to fix it) or else maybe a first draft of a new idea. After all, I have a few floating around in my brain since being unable to write for most of the last year. Whichever one I pick, I’m sure to get some great feedback from my fellow PB writers.

 

So, there you have it. My thoughts on conference critiques. I’ll let you know after the conference how those choices worked out for me.

 

P.S. For those of you wondering why I’m not submitting my MG Fantasy for critique, it’s because I’m still very much in the middle of the revision process, and nothing is worse than getting critiques on a chapter that no longer resembles the one submitted.

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