Pre-Conference Polishing

There’s no doubt that this is a tough time for artists and writers. That’s why I’m trying to take hold of all the positive opportunities that come my way this year.  One of those opportunities is the upcoming conference and, this year, I submitted my manuscript for a critique- which terrifies me.  Crazy, right.  I mean, that is the point of working at this craft-to submit work to agents, editors, and publishers.  The only way to publish is to submit work for review.  Logically, I know this, but I still avoid actually submitting my work.  Instead, I polish, re-work, and re-write.

So, why does submitting work cause me so much anxiety?  I’m not the kind of person who worries overly much about what other people think- never have been.  But, I care about my writing.  I want it to be good.  Writing is important to me and I don’t want to hear that I’m not cut out for it.

If you submitted work at the conference, I applaud you.  Maybe this is your first critique and maybe not.  Whatever the case may be, if you’re like me and you can barely focus on the speakers before your critique, I offer you the following tips:

Review your reviewer.  Find out what they’re looking to acquire, what books they’ve written, what style they like.  Visit their websites and remember that we all have different perspectives.  Authors, agents, and editors come to the book world with varied priorities and interests and that’s a good thing.  These unique perspectives can be just the thing you need to take you to the next level.  If you didn’t get the reviewer of your choice, do not lose heart.  All of the reviewers have pearls of wisdom to share with you.  You never can be sure where the specific advice that you need will come from.

Breathe and do your best to relax.  Authors, editors, and agents are people, too.  Bear in mind that they may find the critique process to be stressful as well, but they are at the conference to try and help you to be the best writer/artist that you can be.  Which leads me to…

Listen.  Seriously, pay attention to what your reviewer has to say.  Take detailed notes that you can review when your heart rate drops to within normal levels.  You don’t want to look back on your review and draw a total blank.  Their advice is, after all, what you paid them for.

If your reviewer does not request your work, consider the advice that was given to you, take some time, and determine what changes you may or may not make to your manuscript.  While flexibility is encouraged, the manuscript is your work and you should only make the changes that make sense to you and that you believe will further your work.

If your reviewer does ask for your work, major congratulations!  I strongly advise you not to rush to send it off, though.  Take the time to make sure your manuscript is the best it can possibly be.  Take a month to three months to make sure that your work is ready.  Which leads me to…

There is a fine line between editing and overworking a manuscript.  I know this because I have edited the magic right out of some pieces in an effort to simplify.  Other times, I’d swear that the magic didn’t enter a piece until the editing process began.  Every piece is different and the only thing I know for sure is that the writing and editing  is always easier if I have a clear outline of my story when I begin.  But, don’t take several years to edit.  Sadly, I have done this and when I was ready to submit my manuscript it was no longer high concept.  In fact, my concept had been done to death.  In my case, the editing was a form of procrastination.  Please, please don’t repeat my mistake.

Some tried and true advice:

Spend some time thinking of a pitch.  Whittle your entire manuscript down to a few sentences.  Really, I mean it.  You want to be able to have a catchy answer when your reviewer asks you, “What is your story about?”

Bring business cards and pass them out.  The conference is for making contacts.  Approach people- editors, agents, and authors.  That is rather the point.

Formulate a list of questions for your reviewer-within reason.  Remember that you are only slotted for 15 minutes.  Make the most of it.

Bring a printed copy of your manuscript with you so you can follow along easily and make notes.

After the conference:

Take some time to process everything and find the best possible way to move yourself forward.

For me, the conference is as good a time as any to just forge ahead and submit something already.  Hooray for courage and all that, but…

Now, I’m wondering if my protagonist is courageous, likeable, honorable, and competent.  Does he show enough growth?  Does he use that growth to bring about a satisfying ending to the novel?  Is he smart enough, creative enough?  Are the loose ends tied up in the right way- from least important to most important?  Have I placed my surprises/plot twists in the appropriate places-at the quarter mark, the mid point, the three quarter mark?  Have I kept everything simple enough, but complex enough?

Like children, I guess there comes a time with manuscripts that we just have to trust that we’ve raised them right and let them go-always easier said than done.  But, if we never take the chance, we will surely never see the reward.

I’m excited for the Spring Conference and I can’t wait to be surrounded by all the creative energy of the writers and illustrators in our region.  I could never be in better company.

I hope that 2014 brings the prosperity and recognition that we deserve.

Happy writing and illustrating.

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6 Responses to Pre-Conference Polishing

  1. Wonderful encouragement. I’d like to join in the encouragement by offering to conference goers free critiques of 5 pages of your submission. You may send mss. to me at


  2. mikecrowl says:

    Larissa, this is exactly what I needed to hear. This will be my first conference, and the first time I’ve submitted a manuscript for critique. You’ve given excellent advice and the kick in the pants I need.

  3. Thank you for these wise words.

  4. Pingback: More On the Road to Sparkling Children’s Literature conference news! | As the Eraser Burns

  5. Pingback: Pre-Conference Wrap-Up | As the Eraser Burns

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