The “Does your book make a parent run screaming from the room” syndrome / ie: Read it Again Factor

So here I am (was) working hard on my revisions… though it’s more a polishing. Add a work, delete a word, move a phrase, put it back…. It’s ready. I know it’s ready…. it’s gotten great feedback from others, the crit group, friends, my kids…. I love it, but will the people who I need to love it love it?

So, I asked my husband to read it… when it was done, I asked him, “would you read it again, or run screaming from the room if a child said ‘again Daddy?'”

Yes, there were many books which gave us nightmares when our kids said AGAIN…. Some we buried, others we learned what pages you could skip without ruining the plot, and some we would declare “bathroom break!” and then come in with another book we found that they would love.

hiding

My husband and I read to our kids a lot when they were younger. And I still do when they will hang out and listen. Now I read them my books, sometimes an award winning book I want to discuss from a child point of view, and sometimes one of my critique partners books that I’m not sure if I’m being too adult about.”

One question we need to ask both ourselves and our readers is, would you read it again? The read it again factor…

How can we test this?

  • Do you want to read it over and over? If you are getting bored, others will too.
  • Do you enjoy reading it aloud? Is it fun?
  • Does it offer interaction between the reader and the audience/child? Do you have a catch phrase or sound effect they can take over.
  • Does it feel long when you read it again the second time, right after you just read it….or is the length good?
  • If you are doing author visits, can you see yourself reading it 10 times in a day. Yes, I’ve done that. Luckily I found a way to change it up for my own entertainment.
  • Does it leave room for discussion?
  • Did you leave room for the Illustrator to have fun?

Put it on your list for your critique group… a good story is great and all, but if it’s going to be hidden in a box, and stuffed in the back of the garage for the next bonfire, I’d rather someone tells me now.

What makes a book fun for you to read over and over and over and over?

The Ups and Downs of Critiques

I’ve been so busy writing, I haven’t thought of my blog. Sorry to keep you all at the edge of your keyboards. I know I promised more awesome wisdom.

One of the highlights of the weekend was critiques by Jane. We each received a one-on-one. I was so nervous. I agonized over what to send. I decided on a lyrical manuscript that I love and is my voice, but it seemed to have hit a boulder and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The other is a story I had received a critique on before that is highly marketable. I’ve been having a hard time in deciding on 1st or 3rd person… and had rewritten many times. Jane’s critique was amazing. I took lots of notes, and she had some for me too. I left feeling strong about my writing skills, and had a positive direction to move forward too. I also loved that she noticed my diverse writing style since my manuscripts were both very different in voice and format.

Also, during the boot camp, we did spend time talking about receiving and giving critiques. So I’ll be talking about that a bit too.

So today’s blog is about how to receive a critique.

First, one mistake many people make is they hyper focus on one small part of the critique. This negates the whole process.

You’ve all heard the advice: listen, don’t try to defend your work, blah, blah, blah….

Yet, when you show your work to someone, it’s like pulling out a picture of your child or your dog… you are proud, and think they should drool over it. However, if we only got positive feedback, we’d never grow as a writer.

Brag Picture: Isn't he adorable!!! My son on his first day of school.

Brag Picture: Isn’t he adorable!!! My son on his first day of school.

One example of what often happens:

Critiquer: “This part isn’t working.”

You: You get defensive. You want to protect your child as if a vicious dog was on the attack, and you lose the rest of the feedback which could be the missing puzzle piece to fixing it.

My vicious dog.

My vicious dog.

When I get a critique, I usually roll my eyes as I read the feedback. Make note on a few things that I feel dumb about not catching. And then I put it away. I do not try to edit right away. Why? I need to process it. I need time to zoom out, detach myself from the initial feedback and be able to reread my baby with a new eye.

After a few days, or a week, or sometimes a month if I’m overwhelmed, I can pick it back up and say “Oh! She didn’t mean this, she meant that…I get it.” Or, “OK, I’ll make a note, but disagree. However, if that comes up again, I’ll need to revisit.”

No one is ever trying to critique your work to make you feel bad. They want to help if they agree to look at your MS in the first place. Sometimes we pigeon in on a specific thing that is said, and don’t listen to the rest. Then we may leave feeling dejected or like a failure. If you are told something that makes you sad, sing that song “Let It Go” and add your own magic. Do not let it ruin your experience or event.

Now the opposite can happen. When they start out with a positive, we can grasp onto those words and not pay attention to the issues that are happening. Be careful of jumping onto a cloud and ignoring the things that do need to be fixed.

I learned a ton in the 20 minutes or more I had with my one on one. One of the most important lessons was to step back and look at my manuscript from a third point of view.

Some good words to know:

Patterning: Patterns are often used in picture books to keep it fun and predictable. Make sure it is consistent.

Heartline: This is the thread that ties your story together

Marketability: Who will read it. And who will buy it.

Predictability: Sometimes this is actually good in a MS. Know your target audience before you start writing, or at least by the time you get to editing.

Page Out: How will your MS turn into a 32 page picture book. Make a dummy

Unneeded Words: It’s easy to use words you don’t need. Can you say the same thing in fewer words. What will the illustration show? Adjectives and Adverbs are often unneeded. Use sparingly

So, my lesson on critiques is that they are a must! And that the only way to get the most of the session is to listen, step back, and most importantly, know it’s not personal.

And if you don’t already have a critique group, find one. Even Jane Yolen has a critique group, and yes, they meet every week.

What have you learned from a critique?