I Learned More Than Just Writing Tips From My Critique Group

I submitted my short story, The Ravenous Flock, to http://critters.org/ on 7/8/2012, where it sat in the queue. On Wednesday, 8/1/2012, it was released to their community of over 15,000 members. Later that week on a Saturday morning, I received my first 3 critiques. Verdict: It was worth the wait!

I learned some valuable lessons about my writing that I can now consciously pay attention to so that I can avoid them in the future. Some of which were just bad habits that had been formed long ago that had never been brought to my attention. For example, pay attention to the punctuation on this sample sentence: A dangerous voice spoke to him, weighted in a thick accent, “You will tell your king what I have done here this day, or I will come to reclaim your life.”

There should be a period after the word “accent” instead of a comma because it is actually a sentence and not a dialogue tag. This was an error that I had made a couple of times – an old habit that simply stayed below the radar of my critical eye. But the ability to learn things about your writing that you weren’t conscious of before is invaluable! The line by line corrections/suggestions that I received are immensely useful and will aid me in my next revision.

Another bad habit of mine shows in this sentence: The weight was lifted from his chest and Grindor began to hack and cough between his sporadic breaths. Did Grindor actually hack and cough? Or did he only begin to hack and cough? Words like “began” don’t help when trying to describe the actions in the scene and should be removed.

Lastly, I had some POV shifts that jarred the reader. Occassionally, the narrator switched from the point-of-view of Grindor to Ocamyr. I think I was trying to have an omnipresent narrator, but since the narrator spent so much time describing everything from Grindor’s perspective, it was odd to suddenly be in the mind of Ocamyr. These shifts in POV will be addressed and corrected so that the reader’s perspective of the events are all described through the eyes of Grindor.

I believe that by incorporating these edits and reworking the ending a little bit will strengthen my short story and prepare it for submission to magazines. Had I not taken the time to receive critique on my work, I may never have learned these flaws in my writing until it was too late. Having patience as a writer is a virtue. Take a moment and let that sink in. Maintaining one’s patience while on the cusp of achieving career-making milestones is difficult beyond measure. If a magazine purchases the rights to publish my short story, then I can join SFWA as an associate member. These two small events are what agents and publishers like to see on a submission and will get my foot in the door in this industry. Selling this short story could be the deciding factor as to whether my novel sees the light of day. So deciding to delay submitting it to magazines and patiently await for critique was unimaginably tortuous on the mind, but my desire to have the best chance of success for my short story overcame it all.

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Questions For A Literary Agent

An agency has requested to read my full manuscript. After I had submitted it, I had been waiting to hear from them for about two weeks. Those two weeks were nerve racking. I began rereading my book and noticed so much more that needed editing. They were small things, but they were imperfections, so I did another round of editing. I took the liberty to send the revised manuscript to them just in case they hadn’t received my original submission (they never confirmed with me that they got it). 

The lady that I was in contact with informed me that she was 100 pages in and did not want to switch to a new file. I learned that she was an intern at the agency and it was her job to review my manuscript and then write a report to submit to her boss. As far as I can tell, this report is going to be the deciding factor in whether the agent chooses to offer me representation or not.She also informed me that whatever her boss’ decision is, he will let me read her report verbatim. While that is very comforting, this chance to communicate with an agent about my novel and my future as an author is monumental. It is also a critical opportunity for learning any information that can help me to succeed if, *knocks on wood*, he chooses to pass.

I can only hope that they can look past any minor errors that may have existed in the version of my manuscript that she read. I’m hoping that they can say, “With editing, this book would be great!” What I don’t want to hear is, “I’m sorry, while your story is compelling, your writing isn’t strong enough.” (Or something of that sort). So, in during the wait for their response, I have prepared a great many questions. When I get that phone call, I want to be ready.

  1. (The BIG question) What did you think of the story of The Soul Smith?
  2. What criteria was I being evaluated against?
  3. As an agent, what are you looking for in a book? (e.g. marketability, story, characters, originality, length?)
  4. What are you looking for from the author? (e.g. commitment, motivation, coach-able, long term relationship?)
  5. What was I doing well in my book?
  6. What is my greatest area that needs improvement?
  7. (If necessary) Am I worthy of a second chance?
  8. What did he like about my query letter? What caught his eye when I submitted?
  9. (Assuming he offers me representation) What are the next steps? (e.g. professional editing? submitting to publishers? getting it translated for international submission?)
  10. What services do you provide as a boutique agency?
  11. What could a full agency provide that a boutique agency cannot?
  12. What are the terms you are offering me? (% for international and national sales)