Category Archives: Critiques

For the love of critiques, line edits and proofreading, what’s the difference? I mean, seriously, what is the difference?

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cry baby

Quick–what’s the difference between developmental editing and line editing? What can you expect from a critique? Is line editing the same as copy editing?

Not sure?

Don’t cry, my little rose bud! Help is on the way.

These explanations may give you some clarity and clear up those tears.

Manuscript critique – a critique consists of a compilation of feedback in the form of a letter (typically) regarding  pacing, flow of narrative, transitions, voice, structure and other essential elements of stylish prose. This will provide a subjective view of the strengths and current weaknesses of your manuscript. You typically do not receive comments on the manuscript itself, as with a line edit.

Developmental editing – this extensive type of editing allows you to take a birdie’s eye view of your whole manuscript. With this type of editing, you may receive feedback in the form a of lengthy, detailed letter focusing on “opportunities for improvement,” regarding issues such as pacing, flow, transitions, voice, plot, structure, dialogue, character development and more. You may also receive positive observations and suggestions too. Developmental editing does not include the nitty-gritty elements of a line edit.

Line editing – what you have here is the big enchilada of edits, aka “comprehensive editing.” This level of editing, which can vary from heavy to “light” (don’t think fluffy here), consists of a careful combing of your manuscript regarding all of the important elements of fine writing, such as voice, pacing, rhythm, dialogue, character and structure.  Think of it as someone cleaning out the crumbs in your silverware drawer, only in this case, the toaster tidbits pertain to issues like transitions, voice, word choice and character development. You can expect many comments on the manuscript itself.

Not sure about the difference between line editing and copy editing? Check out this helpful article.

Proofreading – the main objective here is to ensure your manuscript is as clean as it can be–free of typographical errors, grammatical gaffs, style inconsistencies or other mishaps that will distract or confuse your reader. This article gives you a helpful rundown on what to expect.

Eventually, every manuscript will need all of these interventions, but for now, take a look at your manuscript and ask yourself what would help you take it to the next level, get you unstuck or unravel a plot knot for you. If you’re a visual learner like me, this chart from Yellow Bird Editors may also help you decide.

[Insert thought bubble here–“Sheesh. Isn’t she going to tell us where to find help?”]

So, my little summer strawberries, where can you get help with your manuscript? (I just had a hunch you’d like to know. ) Sources for critiques and editing are often offered in connection to writing workshops, and are also available via SCBWI, professional services like Yellow Bird Editors or even among your own circle of writing friends or critique group. (And about that last one–if you seek the help of an author/friend–unless you are able to reciprocate in kind–offer to pay them, okay?)

My very best shimmery, summery wishes to you, my talented friends! You can do this.

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. ~ Jack Kerouac

 

how to give your writing shine, volume and manageability

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You’ve seen the commercials. There’s a woman with limpity blahsville hair. Her shoulders, schlumpy. Her eyes, rolled. She blows a puff of air upward from her lower lip and ruffles her scruffy bangs–the universal breath of disgust. Then, some product whooshes onto the screen. It’s a bottle of glamorous, sexy-smelling hope for hair. Ms. Lackluster snatches the wunderproduct, suds it through her sorry locks and voila! Cue the fans to blow a mane so magnificent as to make Fabio throw in the towel.

What if there was a “product” that could do the same–give shine, volume and manageability–to your writing? Good news! There is. It’s called Critique Group.

Here’s how this amazing product works:

Shine. Nothing will give your writing that dazzling sheen you desire like a robust critique. Your group can help you snip those dry, split ends created by worn or useless verbiage, identify stronger verbs and methodically polish your work.

Volume. Receiving regular feedback on your work helps to fuel your momentum, which hopefully, results in higher word counts and more pages than you may have accumulated as a solo act. So luxurious!

Manageability. Critique groups, regardless of how you arrange them, typically come with a schedule for sharing your work. Knowing you have these deadlines can help you plan, set goals and make the whole writing process more aimful instead of aimless.

You say you don’t have a critique group of your very own? Instead of pulling out your hair, let’s find you a group ASAP.

Consider these ideas for either starting or connecting with an established group:

  • Use social media. Let Facebook friends or Twitter followers know you’d like to join or start a group.
  • Visit discussion boards and search “critique groups” to see who’s seeking. For example, you could start with the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and explore the Resources section.
  • Talk with your local children’s librarian or a writing instructor at your local community college about your desire to form a group. You may learn about others who have expressed the same. If there’s a public bulletin board at the library or community college, post a “Want Ad” there.
  • Go to writing conferences or take writing classes and do a little friendly snooping to find out about the groups of your fellow attendees. Who knows, they may be hoping to add a new member.
  • Ask other writing friends for ideas. Ask how they decided between joining a face-to-face or online group (and the advantages/disadvantages of each), how their group is structured and if they know of a group with an opening. If your friend is groupless, ask about starting a new group of your own.

If you’re already in a group and have more ideas, tips for how to structure or improve a critique group, please share.

Wishing you gorgeous “hair” days ahead!

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children. ~ Madeleine L’Engle

looking for front stabbers

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You trust someone, and then you’re stabbed in the back. Hurts, doesn’t it? Ever thought of inviting someone to stab you in the front? Sure, that’d hurt too. But it’d be a constructive versus destructive brand of pain. Okay okay, I know that sounds strange, maybe even a little creepy, but please stick with me for a few more sentences, and I’ll explain as best I can.

See, even though writing by its nature is a solo sport, that doesn’t mean you can’t invite others to join your team. By others, I mean other writers who can give constructive criticism–aka stab you in the front, to hit you where it hurts most–right in your writing.

Losing weight, staying on track with an exercise regime, even cleaning out the garage, are all easier if you have at least one person to come alongside you support, encourage–maybe even push–you. Why should writing be any different? If you’re frustrated with your lack of progress, either in term of pages or improvement, consider opening yourself up to a good, ol’ fashioned front stab.

[At least] three things are certain:

1. Someone pushing you without your permission will only make you want to push back.

2. You need to ask someone to hold you accountable. Nobody volunteers for that job, but most people will say yes if you invite them, especially if you’re willing to reciprocate.

3. You will make better and faster progress with accountability and input, than you will without it.

This is why I am so grateful for my critique group. They’re a friendly bunch of front stabbers who want me to become a better writer and I’m happy to help them do the same.

If you feel stuck with your writing, let me encourage you seek out your own critique group (ask around on Facebook, via your SCBWI chapter list serve or your local library). If a group isn’t already in place, start one. And remember, you don’t have to let geography limit you. Online critique groups can work very well and can include writers from all over the planet, if you like. (I suggest keeping your group Earth-bound. Anything beyond that can get too complicated.) If joining/starting a group sounds like too long of a leap, consider partnering with another writer and setting up a regular schedule for exchanging pages.

Connecting with other writers for criticism and accountability will make a positive difference for you. I promise.

G’head. Take a stab at it.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. ~ Psalm 27:17

My thanks to Ben Redmond, Director of Student Ministries at the Hub, for inspiring this post. He’s a wise man.

how to “get lucky” in five easy steps

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If all it takes to sell a book is talent, work hard and perseverance, more of us would be published. Like it or not, luck is a piece of the process. But can you make your own luck? I think so. You just have to be willing to ask for it, compete, put out, flaunt a little and sell yourself.

1. Ask for it. Whenever I receive a manuscript critique from an editor or agent, I always end the conversation by asking if I can send him or her my manuscript. Pride is too pricey. Go ahead and pop the question the editor or agent is expecting you to ask. (And then make sure you follow through. Send that manuscript and mention the invitation in your cover letter.)

2. Put out. Sweetie, shyness is simply out of your price range. You really must interact with other writers and members of the publishing community via social media. Send cards. Build and cultivate a blog or web site. Comment on other’s blog posts. Be generous and offer your help to others in the form of critiques or feedback. Aside from surrounding yourself with a supportive community of talented people, you never know where those connections may lead.

3. Flaunt a little. Humility is pricey too. You’re going to have to loosen up and show off a little. An author/illustrator friend of mine, Ruth McNally Barshaw, was contacted by an agent after a friend encouraged her to share her sketches online. Ruth wasn’t looking to lure an agent, but posting her work resulted in the start of a fabulous partnership and the launch of her graphic novel series–Ellie McDoodle.

4. Be willing to compete. When was the last time you entered a writing contest? In 2012, I entered a contest sponsored by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. Did I win? Uh, noop. But my picture book manuscript placed in the top 5 out of more than 750 entries. Did that boost my confidence. Yes, indeedy. Children’s Writer and Highlights run themed contests regularly.

But don’t limit yourself to writing contests. If there’s a pricey conference you want to attend, chances are there’s a scholarship contest to go with it. I have had the privilege of receiving funds for both a regional and a national SCBWI conference, as well as for a Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop. And don’t assume you have to be penniless to apply. Check out the requirements to see if you qualify and go for it. Even if you don’t win, oftentimes filling out the application gives you great practice for a query letter or synopsis. So, it’s time well spent even if it doesn’t result in cash.

5. Sell yourself. Have that elevator pitch memorized. Be ready to talk intelligently about whatever you’re working on right now. Know how to introduce yourself as a professional–including a beautiful business card. Work it, Baby.

Make yourself some good luck this week!

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. ~ Seneca

You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help. ~ Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

does this novel make my butt look big?

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frog in pocket

Talk about subjective. Are we comparing my backside to War and Peace or Charlotte’s Web? (No need to answer.)

And what about our crazy winter weather? Earlier this week, it was a frigid -12 where I live. And then this morning on my way to work, it was a balmy 27 degrees. I didn’t even bother to zip my jacket. It’s all relative.

Relativity + Subjectivity = Confusitivity!

And that, my talented, perplexed friends, is every writer’s dilemma. We write. We seek feedback. We rewrite. We wring our hands and rack our brains (simultaneously!), yet how do we know when what we’ve written is worth reading? It’s such sticky, subjective business.

Now, what about feedback–the kind you get from your writer’s group or a paid critique with an editor at a conference. Given that opinions are subjective, how do you know who to believe?

Then once you’ve written something you hope is solid, you have to contend with a submission process swaddled in subjectivity. It’s not that editors are fickle or capricious (generally), it’s that they’re people with particular tastes and needs, like the rest of us. I love kalamata olives and black licorice (not together, mind you). You think that’s gross. You’re wrong, of course. But you are still entitled to your opinion because matters of taste are subjective. And so it goes in publishing.

Let me be brave/silly and try to take a stab at this subjectivity business.

When in doubt, try it out. Let’s say someone in your critique group suggests a subtle shift in your main character’s personality or a major interruption to your subplot. If you trust this person and your respect her work, why not give it a go? If your story is stronger for it, be thankful. If it’s not, then at least you’re affirmed in your initial approach.

At a recent writer’s conference, a Scholastic editor admitted that she’d asked an author to make a major change in her YA novel and then realized she was wrong. After reading the results of six months of stellar revision, the editor had to admit the author’s first take was actually better. I’m sure the editor and the author were both surprised! Scary as it sounds, editors can’t always be right. But I admired the author for following her editor’s instructions. I’m sure she learned a lot in the process–and gained a deeper respect from her editor for trying.

Don’t get mad, get even (better). In my second middle grade novel, one of the main characters goes to school with an aide hired by the girl’s mother to assist her. My writing teacher told me that would never fly in a public school. But I liked the aide and I didn’t want to sack her. I was perplexed. Then, at a writing workshop this fall, two writers, who are also teachers, suggested I change the school from public to private. Perfect! Not only did I get to keep the aide, the private school environment introduced a whole new set of challenges for my fashion forward girl character. I found a way to make it work, instead of being stupid and stubborn by plowing ahead in the wrong direction.

If the reader don’t git it, it ain’t gonna git got. See, that’s the tricky thing about writing. It’s supposed to communicate something. If the sender sends, but the receiver doesn’t receive, well then, no communication. I have to remind myself of this when I’m tempted to “explain” something to my critique group. Sure, I can tell them what the character meant by a particular comment, but I won’t have that option to follow a ten-year-old around to see if he has any questions. There’s no “what the author meant was” button on an e-reader (at least not the last time I checked!) When my manuscript critique-provider/reader is confused, I can’t pass their comments off as subjective opinion, I know I have some refining and polishing to do. Git it?

Hear! Hear!You’re smart enough to know you don’t have to edit your manuscript because one person said she doesn’t like girl characters having boy names. But what if you’re getting the same advise from multiple reliable sources? That’s right. You avoid them all in the future. Who said that? What I meant to say was the obvious–when you keep hearing similar feedback on a particular plot point, you’re wise to heed and re-read. Chances are, your gut was telling you something wasn’t right with it in the first place, you just didn’t know what. Now, everyone’s telling you what’s what, confirming your suspicions. A plot hole is like cellulite. You can try to ignore it, but it ain’t going anywhere.

And speaking of your gut . . .

What’s that, Mr. G? In the end, you have to trust your gut (aka, Mr. G). (You had a gut feeling I was going to say that, didn’t you?) But I think applying the suggestions of trusted, respected writers and editors is still smart. I believe actively seeking feedback and really listening with an open mind and heart is vital to growing as a writer. I accept that I have room to improve (so we’re clear, we’re talking a room the size of a major league football stadium). But, for better or worse, when it all comes down to it, I have to do what feels right to me.

For example, I have a picture book manuscript for very young children that has been declared “perfect” by a professional illustrator and an accomplished picture book author. When I entered it in a contest, it finished in the top 5 out of 750 entries. Does that mean it’s been scooped up by a publishing house? Noop. It’s had close calls several times and received some champagne rejections, but no acceptances. I have taken each editor’s suggestions to heart and made some modifications, but I finally realized I can’t keep re-writing this poor little 375-word manuscript until I don’t recognize it or love it. I’m going to have to embrace it and trust that someone else will too.

Well, at least that’s my subjective opinion.

The faculty to think objectively is reason; the emotional attitude behind reason is that of humility. To be objective, to use one’s reason, is possible only if one has achieved an attitude of humility, if one has emerged from the dreams of omniscience and omnipotence which one has as a child. ~ Erich Fromm

top 3 reasons why critique groups rock

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writing frogs
Why oh why did I wait so long? I wish I’d jumped into a critique group ages ago. But I’m so glad I took the leap!

My top three reasons why critique groups rock . . .

1. Critique group members hold you accountable.
I won’t lie. As much as I love writing, I truly need deadlines to keep me moving at a steady pace. I’m too good at “writing” excuses for myself. Those excuses greedily gobble up my writing opportunities, in favor of oftentimes less honorable enterprises (like watching TV. Ugh!) Knowing my critique group is ready to give me feedback, in exchange for merely meeting my deadline, motivates me to better align my priorities and quit twiddling around already.

2. Critique groups encourage you.
Writing is tough enough. When you add the pursuit of publication to equation, with its inevitable rejections, the process can be pretty painful. Being part of a gang of empathetic travelers who are uniquely equipped to offer roadside assistance when your tires are punctured or shredded is such a perk. More like a perk on steroids. It’s amazing.

3. Critique group keep you honest.
When you go solo, it’s easy to get a tad delusional. Speaking for myself, it’s easy to fall in love with the rhythm of my own words. My critique group helps me to “de-precious” my work. With their help, I can face it in a cool, objective light. Just like all green things, including my budding manuscript, light is essential for growth. If I leave my manuscript buried under a rock, it’ll be safe alright, but there’s no room for growth in a dark place. I say arm your critique group with lanterns, flashlights filled with lithium batteries and torches. You may need to wear shades to your next meeting, but it’s worth it.

Are you still group-less? Let Frog on a Dime encourage you to hop in! What are you “wading” for? (Oh, great. I know my critique group is going to bust me for the bad puns!) Let this article from Harold Underdown’s “The Purple Crayon” site help you get a jump on it.

One last thing . . . my warmest thanks to Monica, Jennifer, Cathy, Kris, David and Mindy. You’re the reasons why our group rocks!

Criticism is the windows and chandeliers of art: it illuminates the enveloping darkness in which art might otherwise rest only vaguely discernible, and perhaps altogether unseen. ~ American drama critic and editor George Jean Nathan