Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Comparing Critiques

“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that lost by not trying.”

- Francis Bacon Sr.

At the conference, I put myself through three critiques. The first was a peer critique on Friday afternoon.

Two years ago, at my first ever peer-critique, I’d brought a rough draft of Indigo in the Know. The feedback was essential, making me decide to start the story in a different place. The next day, I took a workshop on openings and read aloud at what I thought was a better beginning for the manuscript. Although my voice started to wobble, it evened when I found the protagonist’s voice. The instructor and several writers came up to compliment me at the end of the workshop and throughout the conference.

Last year, I brought the beginning of Aura for peer critique, and received positive feedback and some tips for improvement. But I showed the editor ten pages of my newly written The Disappearances and couldn’t adequately explain what it was meant to be because I didn’t know myself.

This year, after writing a few pages of Naked Eye on Mother’s Day and a few more during the week, I brought it to read aloud. Writing these pages came much easier to me. That’s not entirely true. I’ve never had a problem spitting out pages. And that’s what they look like once someone else shows me where I’ve gone wrong. But this time, the words were better. I’ve improved with each manuscript.

I’m not saying there isn’t work to do. But this time, I won’t need to focus as much on grammar or show, don’t tell or to find a better hook to begin. I am miles, no, light years away from the first manuscript I ever wrote. Thanks to reading books on writing and grammar, as well as finally absorbing the comments regarding the mistakes I’d made over and over, I finally know what it takes to produce a decent sentence, a stronger paragraph, a crisper page.

And I’m less married to words. I have the blog to thank for that. I try to keep my posts to less than 1k words, so sometimes when I've written an interesting paragraph, but the piece is too long and the part doesn’t fit… I CUT IT. Without looking back. NO MERCY.

After the peer critique, I had my agent critique. This is where I fess up. In April, I was one of the winners of Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Secret Agent Contest. I never actually expected to WIN. I’d entered looking for feedback on a beginning. And where did I find out? On the Bolt Bus traveling from New York to Boston. And what did I win? The option to send a query and ten-pages for critique. My face turned red and I wanted to gasp, “OHMYGOD,” but I’m sure the other passengers would’ve thought I was crazy.

What should I have done? Taken my time to polish my manuscript. Guess what I did? Yep, you guessed it. I sent the query and ten pages while still on the bus because nobody was around to talk some sense into me. (Perhaps I should’ve confided in those passengers.) As promised, the agent responded quickly. With a rejection.

A week or so before the conference, I received an e-mail notification about which agent would be critiquing the query for Aura. Guess who? Yes, the very same agent.

I thought about e-mailing the agent, explaining about my lost mind, but decided to use up part of my ten precious minutes to tell her instead. When I got there, I said, “I’m Theresa Milstein, one of the winners of Miss Snark’s First Victim’s Contest.” She looked at me, clearly confused. Somehow, I hadn’t been the last submission she’d looked at. (I know, shocking!) She struggled to remember. “Is that the one with the Walmart and the couple?”

My original query letter wasn’t getting any bites (get it, vampire story). I worked with someone else and wrote a new one, and wanted feedback before I considered sending it out to the wide world of agents. She was awesome, telling me to make sure I answered:

Who is the main character?

What do they want?

What’s stopping them?

What choice do they have to make?

How does the problem get worse?

She also told me to promote it as standalone with series potential and to focus on what made it unique (Jewish girl not seduced by another vampire). Then she invited me to rewrite and resubmit it with five pages. Yay!

Late Saturday afternoon, it was time for my synopsis plus nine pages of Aura. The editor said if she had more pages, she would’ve continued reading. She liked the main character and the voice. The editor agreed the market was saturated with vampire paranormal romances, but said if I focused on what made it unique (same as above), I may find a publisher looking for a new spin. UNFORTUNATELY, her publisher had one coming out on her list so slot taken.

Then I told the editor I’d written something else, and that it was almost ready for submission. In the future, I hope to send The Disappearances.

I didn’t get an offer of representation. I didn’t get a request for a full. But the feedback I received showed me I’m closer. And when speaking with agents and editors, I had more confidence in my work and myself. Compared with my editor critiques the previous two years… there is no comparison.

“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


  1. Peer critiques sound like such an enriching process. You're getting closing to your goal, I'm sure, and digging deeply within yourself to be the best.

  2. That's very encouraging, Theresa,
    I definitely find blogging helps the editing process because it gives you constant practise at keeping people's attention,
    I have a good instinct about your work, fingers and everything crossed.

  3. I hope you feel as fulfilled as this sounds!

    I am proud of you!

    I love your two quotes - I so needed them today!

  4. How exciting! Fantastic progress, even if you don't get an offer, it looks like if you keep at it, you'll get there! You go, girl!!

  5. I love the positive attitude here, the enjoyment in what you've learned and how you've improved. Beautiful, really.

    Lovely post, Theresa.


  6. This is such an uplifting post. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. You've shown us how the process should work, and how well it works when approached with the right attitude. You go, girl. :)

  7. Paul C, it is digging deep. I have to think about whether or not my excerpt is good enough to have someone sitting right in front of me judge it.

    Brigid, congratulations again for being shortlisted!

    It is true that blogging is good practice for keeping people's attention.

    Ricochet, I'm glad the quotes helped.

    I've gotta try to maintain a good attitude when I get it.

  8. KarenG, I plan to keep at it. This conference definitely gave me more motivation.

    Lola, thank you. I hope I keep up the writing momentum. The cooking and cleaning momentum has slowed.

    Sarahjayne, I guess going in expecting to be gnawed but then leaving unscathed is a good uplift.

  9. It sounds as if you've made such progress. And to win the Miss Snark? Even if it didn't go anywhere, that is huge!

  10. Oh my goodness you sly creature Theresa Milstein!!

    I'd like to think that if you had told us you won - you sly creature you!!! - we'd have said - no!! wait don't send your ten pages just like that - work on them first!!! Polish them up, get them spick and span! LOL!

    but hindsight is a wonderful thing! Of course I'd like to think that that's what we'd have told you!! LOL!

    Moving on and upwards now..

    You are so so so so so so so close to having that perfect MS to be sent out to the big bad world! My goodness!!! The agent woman remembered your Walmart story - so it's so got potential.

    I hope you are now buoyed (oh it's past midnight and I can't be bothered to check if I spelt that word right -buouyed? boyed? boy oh boy??!?!) anyway!!! I hope you now have that special oomph to carry on with the Disappearances. No vampire romances there missy - just a very unique and amazing story of Adam and Eve and the case of a Disappeared Walmart.

    GOOD LUCK!! and Well Done You!

    Take care

  11. Writing is such a journey, as you've just taken us on with this post. It's amazing how we grow and change through the pure process. What is it they say? Experience is the best teacher!

  12. Sounds like you've got some great things going on here! It's okay that you didn't get offered representation or a full request -- it sounds like you made so much progress and had an opportunity to learn in a situation that many of us don't have. I'm really happy that it turned out well for you. Keep writing and revising, I have a good feeling that you'll get there someday! :)

  13. Those are great questions to ask about a manuscript. I'm going to ask myself those tonight!

    I'm so glad you had a good time at the conference and learned more about the writing process! thanks for sharing :)

  14. Julie, winning Miss Snark was awesome. Too bad I blew it before I could celebrate it.

    Old Kitty, thanks. I thought it was a critique of ten pages, and not a submission. Part of my problem is I didn't read my "prize" options correctly.

    Buoy is one of those impossible words. Luckily, it doesn't come off too often.

    Joanne, I like that. Experience is the best teacher. It's nice to look back and see how far we've come even if where we're not exactly where we want to be.

  15. Shelley, thanks for the nice words. All of us writers are working towards the same goal.

    Aubrie, I hope other writers find the agent's query tips helpful. I never saw them explained like that before.

  16. What a terrific experience! You've had such valuable advice and actual time from some great people.

    I'm glad to hear you feel so much stronger about your writing. I agree - it's amazing how much we can learn from online and from each other!

  17. Jemi, thank you. I learn from other writers all the time. That's why it's great to read blogs from writers, agents, and editors.

  18. Wow. I love that you are able to see how far you have come - in just a couple short years too! Who knows where you will be two years from now. =)

  19. Yay! I'm glad things are positive and you are getting closer and closer.


    And can I brag and say I'm related to Francis Bacon? At least we think we are... :o)

  20. I admire you for having the courage to talk with other agents about your work; just the thought of doing that someday (though I know I will have to eventually) is scary. But it sounds like you learned a lot from it.
    I also like your phrase not about being "married to your words"; I have a problem with cutting scenes and lines because I want to keep all of them, but I know I can't.

  21. I am so glad you are sharing your experiences with us!

    You are getting closer and closer!

  22. It's amazing how we grow as writers. When I compare what I write now to my first novel, I cringe...lol...

    You're not alone, I'm an expert in sending stuff long before I should. That's why my youngest daughter calls me, The Rejectionator haha!!

    Keep at it, girl. Sounds like you're very close indeed :)

  23. Right on! They may not be huge leaps, but those are steps forward!

    And from the looks of it, your writing is now winning (professional) readers over (not surprising that)... All you need is a niche to aim at and your golden, right? Rock on!

  24. Rebecca, when there's no agent or book deal, it's easy to think there's no progress. I have to relish in the little things.

    Jackee, related to Francis Bacon? Not too shabby.

    Neurotic Workaholic, it's only recently that I've become ruthless with cutting words. Before that, it was PAINFUL.

    You'll be nervous before you meet an agent, but then it gets so much easier.

  25. Bossy Betty, thank you!

    Emailman, that's a funny name! Sending too early is a big problem for most writers. We think it's perfect... until the rejections trickle in.

    Alesa, thank you. I hope you're right and I have the right book at the right time, rightly written. (I don't know if rightly is proper, but it felt right.)

  26. You strike me as a lady who knows right from... Left.
    Maybe I should have left the punning alone, but then again I have right to pun, right?

    And of course rightly is proper...
    In more than one way too. ; j

  27. Alesa, I've enjoyed how your story is unfolding on your blog. Rightly done!

  28. Thanks! I noticed you saying so in the comments.
    Sorry... I'm behind on replying to them, I'm actually doing yesterday's comments right now!

    And it amazes that that serious writers, such as yourself, are enjoying my story. : j

  29. Alesa, anyone who writes is a writer. We're all in the same boat!

  30. That's great, Theresa! I'm so glad it went well. What a great feeling to be making progress - and congrats for winning a Miss Snark's Victim contest! That's a big accomplishment!

  31. Always such a positive attitude! I'm glad you're making progress it sounds like it has to be a fantastic feeling!

  32. That's so great that you've been able to see yourself grow like that! Really awesome. And peer reviews are sweet, heh, I need some more of those...

  33. Talli, thank you. It's the first writing contest I've ever won.

    Jen, I'm trying to keep a positive attitude. I don't know if my husband would agree with you.

    Bridge Marie, only recently do I notice how much better I've gotten. Peer reviews are nerve-wracking but good.

  34. Wow, it's great to see the progress you've made. It sounds like you've put a lot of work in, and it's really paying off!

  35. India, thank you. I hope it continues.

  36. I love your quote at the beginning! I might have to steal it. ;) Thanks so much for stopping by my blog today! I look forward to reading more of yours!

  37. It's nice to know we're getting closer, day by day, month by month, and year by year. Let this be the year! Howl at the moon! :)

  38. Amy Allgeyer Cook, feel free to steal the quote since I stole it from www.thinkexist.com. I like your blog. Thanks for commenting on mine.

    Laura Pauling, I hope it's the year too.

  39. It's so nice, isn't it, to know how far you've come? You'll get where you want to be eventually, but you'll be so much better prepared than you would have been two years ago.

  40. Kaylie, it is nice to get some perspective. It's not a treadmill - there's progress. And I'd like to progress faster and further.