Archives for category: Feedback for Your Novel

This weekend I attended the Atlanta Writers Conference at the Airport Westin. This conference is very basic in its layout, and if you sign up for the right events, you can get some really great industry feedback. I’ve attended AWC twice so far, and I’ve found that the most worthwhile events are the mixer, the query letter critique, and the pitch sessions.

The mixer is free with your registration for any other conference event, and the agents and editors are obligated to attend. For the cheapest access to the mixer, attendees can sign up for a 30.00 Q&A panel and pay the required Atlanta Writer Club fee, which is 40.00. That would get you into the mixer for 70.00. Yes, for just 70.00 you can spend 3 hours nursing a martini while mingling with 6-8 industry professionals. I’ve made more contacts, and I’ve gotten more requests at this informal event than I have at any other formal pitch event that I’ve attended. Not to mention, I’ve met some of my best writer friends at this mixer.

Another great event is the query letter critique. For 50.00, participants get feedback on their query letter, and at the end of the session, you can always ask your industry professional if s/he would like you to email them your revised query letter. If s/he says “yes,” then you’ve just tacked a successful pitch onto your critique. Way to kill two birds with one stone. Also, when I attended the query letter critique, there were two industry professionals present, which doubled my chances of getting a request.

Lastly, the pitch sessions can be helpful. I had a mixed experience with this event, as the written instructions didn’t match up with what the industry professional was expecting. The person who pitched after me had the same experience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many others did as well. I’m guessing there was a miscommunication in the written instructions that we’d received. It’s really unfortunate to be in a situation like this, as it can sour the tone for everyone. Even so, the feedback from the pitch sessions is generally helpful.

On the flip side, I’ve talked with conference attendees who’ve expressed feeling disrespected or misinformed by their industry professionals during the pitch events. I’d imagine that this happens a lot at conferences everywhere. Think about it: A handful of weary, travel-worn agents and editors are in constant contact with droves of aspiring writers. Someone is bound to get cranky. It is unfortunate when feelings get hurt, and in my opinion, disrespect of any kind is inexcusable. But who am I?

There are some events at this conference that could benefit from improvement, namely the workshops. I usually pay for these because the titles sound enticing, but I have yet to be impressed by any of the speakers or the content.

I have never attended the manuscript critique, which is the most expensive event, at 150.00. I have nothing to say about this event as of yet.

I also have yet to attend the Q&A panels, but I’ve talked with other attendees who have said that the panels are helpful.

A word of advice to writers who are planning to attend an AWC event. You will maximize your time there if you research the industry professionals beforehand. Chances are that of the 6-8 editors and agents who attend, only 1-2 will be acquiring projects in your genre. I highly recommend studying their Twitter pages, bios, and any other relevant information you can find. Know thy audience, right?

I had the pleasure of attending SCBWI‘s SouthernBreeze SpringMingle 2014 in Atlanta this past weekend, and I must say, this conference packed a lot of punch. Not only did SCBWI schedule some of the industry’s most renowned editors and agents, but also the very reasonable entrance fee included three great meals, Starbucks coffee, and cookies that fell straight from the ovens of heaven. Let’s be real; it’s all about the food. In all seriousness, this conference was rich, both in its format and in the support that it offered to its attendees.

SpringMingle is by far the most spiritual conference I’ve been to, with several faith-based books making slideshow appearances. The facilitators held a moment of silence for “thanks” before each meal. Even the regional advisor, Claudia Pearson, wore a wide-brimmed hat, one for each day, that brought me right back to the Easter Sunday mornings in the old Presbyterian church of my childhood. I still see a hat like that every now and then at the church I attend a in Atlanta, but those sightings are few and far between.

Enough about food and hats. What about the conference itself? I went to the conference to meet agent and author Ammi-Joan Paquette as well as editor Cheryl Klein, perhaps best known for her work on the last two Harry Potter books. In addition to meeting these two lovely ladies, I got to see an inspirational presentation from the prolifically talented Ruth Sanderson, and a heart-warming presentation by Cheryl Willis Hudson, editor and author of “My Friend Maya Loves to Dance.” I also got an inside look at what an art director does thanks to the lovable and humorous Lucy Ruth Cummins.

My interactions with the panelists were warm and cordial and the unspoken “no pitching” rule, as in no pitching your books outside of a formal pitch appointment, added to the nourishing atmosphere of this conference. “No pitching” may sound like a huge turnoff to writers looking to sell their book, but let me explain why it’s not. “No pitching” encourages attendees to be in listening, as opposed to talking, mode. Removing the possibility for pitching also makes the presenters less on the defense and, thereby, more likely to strike up natural conversations with attendees. They don’t have to worry about being put on the spot, and attendees can get to know them on a personal level.

Just because you can’t pitch your project in person, does’t mean you can’t pitch via email later. In fact, all attendees were given special pitch instructions for each panelist. The message behind this pitch-later approach is clear: The quality of your writing is what really matters. It’s true that agents and editors might sign with you because you’ve successfully sold yourself to them, but when your book comes out, it’s the writing that sell its. Your book must sell itself. Unless you’re a celebrity, it usually doesn’t matter how charming, smart, or witty you are. Having thousands of Twitter followers is great, but numbers won’t impact the quality of your writing. The agents/editors at this conference are serious about publishing, and when they’re considering your book, they want to know that it can stand up on its own.

If you are planning to attend SCBWI conferences in the future, which I highly encourage you do if you write children’s books (all ages through YA), here are a few tips that I hope will help you to maximize your experience:
1) The Southern Breeze website is buggy. Be diligent and follow up with anything you sign up for.
2) The email list is hard to find, and if you’re not a SCBWI member, you might miss out on important instructions. Try to get on the listserv, if you can find it.
3) Follow the instructions (if you can find them) for anything you submit to the conference. The facilitators are strict about this.
4) Sign up immediately for critique sessions and one-on-one meetings with panelists because these slots fill up FAST.
5) Don’t expect questions or materials you’ve submitted for group activities to get addressed during the conference. You might be one of the lucky ones whose material/questions reach the top of the pile first, but think of any such feedback opportunities as icing on the cake.
6) Be patient. Almost all of the activities are run by volunteers, and things don’t always go smoothly.

Don’t let these minor glitches stop you from missing out on the wonderful opportunities awaiting you at the next SCBWI conference. Also, if you’re not a Christian, no worries. The faith-based touches are subtle and the quiet moment of “thanks” before dinner is religion-neutral. This group is truly all about the writing and the nurturing of that writing. For me, attending SpringMingle was like getting a big warm hug from a Southern grandmother who loves her pastel hats.

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A common comment I get from beta readers is that they don’t know how to critique a manuscript. They oftentimes don’t know what kind of feedback to give, and sometimes this leads to frustration on their end and fruitless comments on the writer’s end. I’ve devised a questionnaire for my betas that I’ve found helpful for the beta reading process. I’m posting it below because I actually get requests from other writers to use it. Here it is for the taking. If you use this questionnaire, all I ask is that, in return, you follow my blog or follow me on Twitter @AliciaTubbs (or both).

A cautionary bit of advice for writers seeking beta feedback. Take it or leave it. Avoid the temptation to turn your beta readers into proofreaders. Even if the reader is–or claims to be–a grammar geek, do not let them line edit for you. Line edits add another layer of stress to the reading, which may make the reader wary of reading for you again in the future, even if the line editing was his/her idea in the first place. And you’ll probably end up changing the manuscript so vastly that the line edits will be pointless anyway.

You can ask for readers to point out general stylistic trends, like words that you tend to mix up or certain grammatical problems that you repeat, but I would highly advise against letting your betas take a red pen to your manuscript. Remember, the purpose of having beta readers is to gage how a general audience might react to your manuscript. If your grammar bothers your betas, then it’s up to you to read a style guide and fix it.

That being said, here’s my questionnaire. Happy reading to you and your betas:

Beta Reader Questionnaire

Instructions: Please read as much of the manuscript as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t finish it. Please don’t mark grammar issues, as this draft is not finalized. My only concern at this point is with the big issues, such as plot, characters, and setting. It would be a huge HELP if you could HONESTLY answer some or all of the questions below. Or simply use the questions below to guide any feedback you would like to give me. Reading the questions before you jump into the manuscript might be helpful to you, as the questions are based on the main concerns that I have about the manuscript right now. Thanks so much for your time and thoughts.

Pacing

At what point did you stop reading the manuscript and why?

Does each chapter propel you into the next or do you feel like you could put down the book without caring about what happens next? During which chapter(s) do you feel this way?

Does the story get too slow or seem to drag? When?

Do any moments feel rushed? Which?

Does each paragraph compel you to read the next or are there any roadblocks that would keep you from reading further?

Title

After reading the manuscript, or the portion you’ve decided to read, please tell me which title you feel is most appropriate for the book?

Hunt for the Invisibles
Have You Seen Gloria Rey?

Introduction

Did the first page of the story hook you? If not, why not?

Did the first chapter hook you? If not, why not?

Plot and logic

Where you confused about what was happening any point? When?

Does any event or situation seem implausible or illogical?

Do the actions seem appropriate for the characters, or do they seem to do illogical or age-inappropriate things? Specifically?

Are there any loose ends or sections that feel incomplete? What are they?

Are there any events that you don’t feel are plausible? What are the?

Audience

Does the story seem appropriate for children ages 10-11? Why or why not?

Is there any other age group or audience that this story might be fitting for? Which?

Characters

Do the main characters feel real, like you’d be able to have a conversation with them in real life? If not, referring to specific characters would be helpful.

Are the main characters unique, like would you be able to pick them out in a crowd, or do they seem generic? Referring to specific characters would be helpful.

Do the minor characters, such as teachers and policemen seem unique or distinct, or do they blur together? Referring to specific characters would be helpful.

Is Gloria a likeable protagonist? Do you care enough about her to keep reading her story? If not, please explain.

Dialog


Do the characters talk like real people, or do their conversations seem unnatural? When?

Does the dialog seem too packed with information at times? At which times?

Description

Can you picture what’s happening in the book or are there sections that are difficult to visualize? Which sections?

Can you feel what’s happening to the characters? Or are there times when you’re confused or unsure about what the characters are sensing/feeling? What moments?

Conclusion

Does the manuscript feel like it could stand on its own as a book (even though it’s part of a trilogy)?

What questions do you have at the end of the story? Do these questions, in your opinion, need to be resolved in book 1? If yes, why?

Does the ending leave you feeling satisfied or do you feel like the story is incomplete?

Style

Are there any blaring, repeated issues with the language, like repeated words or phrases? Words that I keep mixing up or misspelling? Please don’t point out specific occurrences. Simply let me know if you noticed such issues and summarize what they tend to be.

Are there any moments in which you feel like the way I’m writing takes you out of the story? Which?

Photo from
http://www.theguardian.com/education/2009/dec/31/free-books-secondary-schools