1. john11
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    john11 Member

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    Seeking critique

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by john11, Nov 9, 2013.

    Hi And thanks for reading this post.

    I was thinking about putting up some of my work for critiquing but have realised this would ruin chances of ever being published.

    You see, unfortunately i have sent some work out to agents but keeps getting sent back with polite nondescript replies, which gives me no indication what is wrong and therefore no way to address or correct the problem(s). The agents will not take phone calls or emails either.

    I live in dewsbury in west yorkshire and there are no critiquing groups in my area, there is one in huddersfield but has a waiting list.

    The only other thing i have done to get my work read is googling which has brought up freelancers copyeditors and the like but they want £500 for a read.

    What should i do. What should my next move be.

    Is there any kind soul on this forum which may look at my work in a confidential manner.

    Many thanks in advance. John.
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would suggest that you write something purely for critique, and post it in the Review Room. While it won't get you a critique of the specific works that you're trying to get published, it will probably give you some idea of the areas that you need to work on.
     
  3. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi John, in order to put some of your work here for critique you need to have made 20 posts, positively critiqued 2 other pieces and be here 2 weeks.

    I would advise you to fulfil the criteria and then post some of your work here!
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just a quibble: I think you mean constructively, not positively? It's not mandatory that you praise the pieces. :)
     
  5. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Edited for @ChickenFreak :)
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Addressing the larger question, every writer faces that same learning curve. It takes practice and perseverance. It helps to critique other people's writing. In doing so, you begin to recognize problems in your own writing, and gain insight into different ways to fix them. That is actually the reason behind the critiquing requirement mentioned above.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    john...
    as you can see in my sig info below, i do this full time, as a writing mentor, so if you'd like a neutral assessment of your work and query letter, from a professional editor, just drop me a line... as noted there, mentoring is free, no strings attached...

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com
     
  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also, you can put up excerpts from your piece -- that's not going to prevent publication. If you have a whole serialized novel online, that's one thing. (Why would someone pay for something that's easily available for free?) But small pieces aren't going to matter.
     
  9. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Bad news. Agents and editors will not tell you why it was rejected for several reasons. First is that they're busy people who are paid to find work that will sell, not teach writing. In fact, most of the time they won't see your work because the first reader is a lower level person who has one job: look at a work and see if there's a chance it might receive a yes. They have neither a reason to read on after they see the first "mistake" nor the knowledge to tell you how to fix it.

    The second reason is that every one of them has horror stories about the time they tried to help a writer. They get people who want to argue on why they're making a mistake. They get people who, on getting a response, will pester them. And they get those who will drop in to discuss the matter. This is more about screenwriting than fiction, but it illustrates the situation. I know the writer and he's not exaggerating.

    And don't try to read anything into the wording of the rejection. Unless it says to fix and resubmit, it just means "no." They try to write them so you won't be so hurt you become a problem, but it just means no.

    Critiquing groups are a bit iffy. If one of the members is a successful writer (not a self published writer) it might be possible to pick their brain. But if not, unless the group has professional input, the advice you get may well be what's keeping that writer from selling their own work. You're not in a position to know, or judge. Personally, I subscribe to Holly Lysle's advice: Michaelangelo did not have a college degree, nor did Leonardo da Vinci. Thomas Edison didn't. Neither did Mark Twain (though he was granted honorary degrees in later life.) All of these people were professionals. None of them were experts. Get your education from professionals, and always avoid experts.”

    My view is that whatever advice I get from a pro at least works for them. The market in your country is a bit different, so far as what publishers look at as desirable approaches, so you might look at what's available on the fiction writing shelves there. But as I so often do, I'd suggest looking at Dwight Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. I just looked at Amazon for the UK and you might want to look at the reaction of people there, who read it. The book is over fifty years old, and at places reads like it, but still, his thinking on what readers react to, and how to manage scenes is still dead on.

    And as for editors, don't do it. Their job is to catch the errors you make and don't see because you're too close to the work. If they could fix your work so it sells they'd make a lot more money writing and selling fiction. You probably have a friend who can check grammar for you when it comes time ot ready it for submission.
     
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  10. john11
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    john11 Member

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    Hi Thanks for the replies, much appreciated.

    Very interesting and i do take all your comments on board - Thank you.

    You have given me a few ideas to think about and i will definitely get back to you once the weekend is over.
    I have the in-laws staying, but should be gone by Monday.

    Many thanks. John.
     
  11. john11
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    john11 Member

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    Hi Thanks for the replies, much appreciated.

    Very interesting and i do take all your comments on board - Thank you.

    You have given me a few ideas to think about and i will definitely get back to you once the weekend is over.
    I have the in-laws staying, but should be gone by Monday.

    Many thanks. John.
     
  12. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't completely agree with this. I have found critique groups to be invaluable and have learned so much from them. But, in order to gain from them, you also have to learn what works and what doesn't. You have to know what you are trying to do with a story. There are always going to be people who disagree. You can't just go into a critique group and accept every piece of criticism, and make every change that's suggested. That would never work, not just because the other critiquer's ideas are different from yours', but because a lot of this advice will be contradictory. You have to take the advice that resonates with you. Also, you need to seriously consider any point that is made not just once or twice, but continually comes up, or is mentioned by nearly everyone who has read it.

    The point is not to find a single, wise, mentor in the critique group who will give you the magic fix for your story. The point of a critique group is to get a bunch of new eyes on the work, and can give you a sample of the reaction of general readers. Sometimes you will find someone who can give you an excellent piece of advice or who has particularly good insights. Other times, you'll find just general feedback and can at least get a sense of how your story is received. And of course, there will often be someone whose experiences and thought processes are just completely different from your's, and whose advice you will discount much of the time. Those people are not your target readers, and more often than not, you will not particularly like their pieces, either. But even those people can sometimes give you some feedback that may be useful.
     
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  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    jay... what could make a writer be considered 'successful' if s/he's not published?
     
  14. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    JayG, Thanks. All great stuff. But this: And as for editors, don't do it. Say I take numerous writing courses, perhaps a full program, studying and honing the craft of writing. Knock off my first ms and spend all kinds of time in re-writing, how do I get an actual professional edit done? I would not be averse to paying money for this.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One of those occasions when I'm not a party to the conversation but can't help chiming in: I'm guessing that you heard "not a published writer" when Jay said "not a self published writer"?
     
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  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    duh!... must've posted that before i finished my morning's green tea ration... mea maxima culpa!

    thanks for the catch, cf...
     
  17. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Naaa...unless you can devote the next four years to a commercial writing program? The short version is to devour the fiction writing shelf at the library, while you continue writing, to practice what you're earning into perfection. Once you have a good handle on that, a good writer's retreat can be a blast, and very useful because you'll get a bit of mentoring by successful writers.

    Will you need one? Lots and lots of people have their edit done by their publisher. Remember, that editor is finding the mistakes you make by accident, not because of a lack of knowledge. Hemingway said, “They can’t yank a novelist the way they can a pitcher. A novelist has to go the full nine, even if it kills him.”
     
  18. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    I mean no insult by this, but how do you know you have? It hasn't resulted in publication, so you have no way of knowing if the advice was sound or just sounded reasonable based on what you currently knew. If you take ten new writers and place them together in a room to discuss writing they may have a wonderful conversation, and leave feeling they've clarified so much in their own mind. But they went into the room ignorant of the craft of the pro and they left the same way—except that they're convinced that they've learned a lot.

    In our schooling no one ever tells us why a simple and seemingly straightforward statement like, "Jenny grinned and her heart skipped a beat when Charley came through the doorway," can be a mistake. And that's a simple and obvious problem once it's explained. But if we don't see it as a problem how will we advise someone to avoid it in our critique group? In fact, we may well suggest wording it that way.

    I was the critique group chairman of my RWA group for years, and while such groups are really useful, and motivating, you need to use them as sounding boards, not as a way to learn how to write. Everyone in the group is sincerely trying to help, of course. But never forget that a sincere belief that you're right about something has nothing to do with if you are, or aren't.

    I submit that the unpublished writer is not competent to decide who is wise based on how accurate the advice seems to be. If the advice results in real publishers accepting the advisor's work that's a different story, because we know the advice works in the real world.

    Look at me. If you followed every bit of advice I gave you you'd end up writing like I do, and the world is not screaming for another Jay Greenstein. And that applies to that wise mentor. But if you listen the teachers I recommend, and others who made their living through writing and teaching you'll have the tools and the knowledge of what those tools do, why, and how to use them.

    Yes, if you're in a critique group with Amy Tan or some other pro, you've died and gone to heaven. But most critique groups I've been in contact with are united by a love of writing, and are about as qualified to offer you advice as the people critiquing your work here, because this is a critique group.

    True, that's the point. And if they were readers, that might work because they would be beta readers. But as Sol stein said, “Readers don’t notice point-of-view errors. They simply sense that the writing is bad.” But the critique group is filled with writers, and have strong views on how you should write, based on how they would write the scene. If they're a better writer it may be good advice. If worse their suggestions, invariably, are to make the mistakes they've not yet grown out of.

    So here's the trick: forget what they suggest. instead note the sot where they were moved to comment. The fact that they did says the writing wasn't working at that point. And that's what you need to fix. So instead of listening to their suggested fix, look at what the pros say about how to handle that situation. They're saying, "Well, this is what I do," too, but the difference is that what they do works.
     
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  19. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Jay, thank you for your thoughtful reply. I know I am way ahead of myself, asking advice on how to deal with multi engine flame outs on a 777 while still practicing stalls on a C172. But a game plan never hurts. I'm a photographer and have dealt with many agencies over the years. I keep an old file folder full of rejection letters from early in my career to remind me not to be sloppy. I know how much better the first submission has to be and how much more difficult it is to make it that way early in a career. I may not need this advice for some time, but you're here now.
     
  20. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I know because it's not that I had an overnight epiphany and that suddenly after attending one critique group session went from thinking I was a bad/unskilled writer to being a knowledgable and adept writer. What happened, after attending critique groups and being involved in sites like this one and one that is composed of a high percentage of published writers, is that when I looked back at the draft of the novel I had written a couple years ago, I could see right away what some of the problems were. I was able to articulate some of the problems that I would point out if the piece had been written by someone else.

    The places where I go for critique don't go through and change what was written, and re-write it the way the critiquer would. That can sometimes be useful if one is trying to give an example of a larger point that recurs throughout the writing. But generally, that sort of critique is not all that helpful. The types of things I get from my critique outlets are either overall impressions, and specific points where the reader stumbled, got confused, had some sort of heightened reaction, or pointed out some larger concern. Several of the members of my live critique group have had pieces published in SS magazines. One has an MFA. One is a journalist, who, while hasn't published a lot of fiction, is a professional writer. There is one person, though, whose criticisms and opinion I generally don't give much merit.

    As far as your example sentence, without context, it is difficult to say that the sentence cannot work. It could work quite well if used as an introductory sentence, if the author is trying to set the scene as far as how Jenny is feeling at that particular moment. But if it is supposed to enlighten us about Charley, it does no such thing. If it's a romance story, and that sort of sentence occurs throughout, the story will be flat and uninspiring. But, I've seen some problems such as that in some published pieces, which make me shake my head and wonder how something that is so lacking in characterization and plot ever got published.

    One thing I can say for certain is that sitting alone in a room, writing for hours and days on end is not going to improve your writing if you don't get any feedback on it. Ultimately, most writers write because they have a story to tell. And having a story to tell means connecting with another person -- the reader. If the story doesn't connect, then the writer has been unsuccessful in that task. Publication is, of course, one measure of success, and it's really the only objective measure we have. So, I understand that it's the yardstick that is used so frequently when we talk about who can be deemed a "successful" writer. Publication really means that someone - actually multiple "someones" who read a lot have found something meritorious in your writing. Someone who has had this happen enough times that they actually receive payment for those pieces sufficient to enable themselves to earn a living is, without question, a successful writer. But there are plenty of people who are knowledgable and clearly have some writing skills, who are on various points along the spectrum of 'published' writer. Sometimes it's enough to see or hear that other readers were moved by the story, or it made them laugh, or it made them think.

    It goes without saying that all critquers are not created equal. There will always be people who hate your work. Hopefully there will be some who love it, too. You can look at any book on amazon, and even the most critically acclaimed, most widely-published authors will have folks who despise their work. So, there will always be a variety of opinions on critiqued work. But, the cumulative effect of absorbing the various impressions of one's work, as well as in critiquing others' works, figuring out why you like or don't like a piece, and listening to what others felt when they read the same piece, is invaluable. That's a huge piece of how you learn to write, and it's even how a lot of writing classes work.

    I've only had one piece published, and it was just recently in an anthology that was produced by my live writer's group. There was some quality control, in that submissions were blind and selected by outside professional editors. So, I can't say that I have any credentials that indicate I have any authority whatsoever to write or to give writing advice. (I still do not consider myself a 'published' writer.) I do, however, feel that I have at least some skill, because on another site that I frequent that runs short story contests, I've always received at least one vote in each contest, and in the last one I received quite a few votes. What does that mean, in an objective sense? Absolutely nothing. It's not any different from saying, "a lot of people have read my story and really liked it." Yeah, that makes you feel good, but doesn't say much about your skill. I feel at least a modicum of validation in these contests, though, because so many of the votes are from people who make a living, at least part time, as writers, and because the stories in those contests quite frequently go on to be published in literary magazines. I feel good that my stories can in any way compete with some of the other stories in the contest. I always feel honored to receive any votes in those contests.

    When I give my thoughts or critiques on a piece of writing, the writer is free to completely ignore everything I say. Who am I to say what a writer should write? I can easily be written off as someone who is dim, who just doesn't understand where the writer is coming from, that I am not the target reader for that writer's work, or that I just don't know what I'm talking about. But a writer should know that I read their piece, and I'm giving my impression and what I got from it. They'll know if they connected with me or not. Yes, I'm just one reader. But I should be taken in conjunction with other readers. If they start frequently hearing things that are similar to the things that I said, they might want to consider those points. If they never hear anything else similar to what I said, and if what I say does not resonate with them, then they should ignore my advice.
     
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  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    fitzroy...
    since this comes up so often on the 3 writing sites i post on daily, i've had to prepare a stock post, to save typing time... hope you won't mind:

    in re hiring an editor [though i provide editing services, i caution against hiring one], you need to accept the fact that the money you spend on having someone else do what writers must be able to do on their own will most likely never be recouped from the sale of your work... so, if you do go ahead with it, be sure you don't need to make it back, because not even the best editor in the world can ever guarantee the work will be accepted by a paying publisher, or will sell well enough to come close to equalling what you paid, if it is... same goes for if you self-publish...

    also, no editor who can do a good enough job for you will be cheap... it will cost many hundreds, to several thousands of dollars [US] for a good, professional editor to bring your book up to publishable/readable standards, depending on how much work it needs, as there are several levels of 'editing'... from simply correcting typos, punctuation and minor grammar glitches, all the way up to a complete rewrite, if the writing quality is poor...

    those who offer to do it cheaply, will not be able to do much [if any] better than you could do on your own... anyone can set up shop and call themselves 'editors' these days, but few will actually be worthy of the title, so vet any you consider using very carefully and be sure to get a sample edit before entering into any agreement for services...

    love and hugs, maia
     
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  22. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Nonsense. Quite clearly, when we place the effect, her smiling before the cause, the man walking on, we cannot be in the protagonist's POV because in their world first comes cause and then effect.

    And as for "setting up" the situation, that's for the campfire and telling jokes. You have a stable of characters who can quite literally live the story as the reader "watches." And if we do it well, when someone tosses a snowball at the protagonist the reader will duck. Which do you want to do, live the adventure or read the words someone would speak to you about that story were you with them?

    The critique has nothing to do with someone liking or disliking your work. And it's different from a review, which deals in broad issues. The word critique comes from critic. The goal is to find the problems and help you fix them before the editor sees it and rejects it.

    When I had my manuscript critiquing service I didn't tell people that I liked or disliked a given story. I told them where and why an acquiring editor would reject the piece, why, and where to get the skills needed to correct the problem. That's what you want and need.

    p

    You had it released. Kindle, or Smashwords would have cheerfully released a shopping list had you cared to post it. Yes, you made it as ready as you know how. And yes, people helped each other do that. but we cannot join any writer's professional association on the basis of having self-released, be it alone or as part of a group. And that says it all, I'm afraid. And I say that as someone who has done just that.
     
  23. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Jay,

    I'm confused, what is the different between getting a professional edit and getting a professional critique? I'm guessing there is more than a bit of overlap.
     
  24. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Wouldn't an editor actually edit and let you know what edits occurred and a critic would only give his opinion on what was good and bad?

    As in, the editor would underline every grammar mistake.
    The critic would just say your grammar sucks.
     
  25. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure what the point of this observation is. I made no claim that this story made me a published author. In fact, I specifically stated that I do not consider myself a published author. My point was that at least an outside editorial board did deem it good enough to publish. It's not quite the same as self-publishing, and if you don't understand the difference, I don't think there's anything I can say that will enlighten you. My point was not to "toot my own horn," but to say that I had improved over the last two years as a writer, and a big portion of that is from my critique group. (The piece you critiqued was from a year and a half ago, and it was never shown to my critique group. I actually have not looked at that project since, as I've been focusing on other things.)

    I'm not seeking, at least at this point, to join a professional writer's association, and I don't know what your point is with respect to that.
     
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