Posted by: Katie B | February 9, 2012

Preparing for the Professional Critique

My last few critiques ended in disappointment.  Why?  I went in with the wrong focus: wanting to get my book published.  I’d gotten my novel to the best I could.  I was ready for the good news.  What I got: what I paid for.  Criticism.  Remember, the professionals are walking in with their singular focus:  to do their job – critique.

Honestly, I thought to myself at the time, what else could be done?  My book is great.  Sure, it needs a few tweaks, what piece doesn’t?  But it’s ready to be adored.  I was going in more to make contact with a professional I admired, and who I thought would admire my book, than to hear criticism.  With that attitude, I shouldn’t have wasted my money.  I should never have attended the critique in the first place.  I wasn’t open to hear what they had to say and to challenge them on ways to make my novel the best it could be.

My advice to you: go in with the assumption that your piece is years away from being published.  Prepare yourself for it.  Go in armed with questions about your work.  Take every piece of criticism anyone else has ever given you and challenge the professional.  Ask them what they think.  Specifically ask them what they think you need to do to make your piece more marketable.  Or publishable.  Question whether they’ve seen something like it before.  Is the theme unique?  Does the first page grab you?  Introduce some of the hard decisions you had to make along the way.  Maybe you cut a character or reworked a scene.  Explain the dilemma you went through and ask them what they would have done.  In short, get your money’s worth.

Then, when the critique is done, walk away.  Get a coffee.  Or something stronger.  Think about your conversation, make sure you have the key points tucked away in your memory but don’t dwell.  Put your notes away and let the ideas simmer.  Take the notes out a day later, weeks later, or even months later and see which of the topics speak to you.  Now you’re ready for the hard part.  The grueling hours needed to implement change.

When you’ve finished making all the revisions, sign up for your next critique and go in with the assumption your piece is years away from being published.  Repeat.  And someday, maybe someday, you’ll get a pleasant surprise.  Just don’t go in expecting it.

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