The Ultimate Critique Partner

Today we have the pleasure of a guest blogger, my friend, the always helpful and patient Loretta Carlson. Take it away, Loretta!

Making the Most of Your Conference Critique Experience

Has it really been four months since we gathered in Frederick? Since that time, Fearless Leaders Sue Peters and Sue Poduska have been hard at work planning events for the 2015 Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia conference on March 28–29. With registration opening on January 19, now is the time to ask yourself a crucial question:

Claggett scene

Should I get my manuscript critiqued?

My answer, as Conference Critique Coordinator, is a resounding YES.

If you are a faithful reader of As the Eraser Burns, you know that we are big fans of critique groups. Working with fellow writers on a regular basis is one of the best ways to improve your craft. Having your work critiqued at a conference gives you a golden opportunity to talk with and receive feedback from an agent, editor, or published author.

It’s a no-brainer, right?

So now that you’ve decided to submit your manuscript, here are my Top Five tips for ensuring that your manuscript makes the best impression and takes the smoothest path through our submission process.

5. Follow the submission guidelines.

Agents and editors note that one of the top reasons they reject manuscripts is because the writers failed to follow their guidelines. Even if you have written the next Wrinkle in Time, your masterwork may never be read if you do not follow the submission guidelines.

wrinkle in time_carlson

Please pay attention to the genre preferences on the critique webpage. It may be true that Agent Smith and Editor Jones represent picture books, but if the critique form specifies that they will critique young adult and middle grade only, that is their stated preference.

Think of the conference critique as your submission dress rehearsal. Learn your role, and you will eliminate one big barrier between you and the agent or editor of your dreams.

4. Use the sample.

Never fear. We will provide sample pages on the conference website to help you face the submission guidelines gauntlet with confidence. Here are the basics.

  • Submit a maximum of 10 pages for full-length works.

• Do not end your submission in midsentence. I’ve been astonished by how many people do that. If the last sentence on page 10 carries over to page 11, eliminate the partial sentence.

• Do not include a title page or cover letter. You have 10 pages to impress the heck out of your reviewer. Make every page count.

  • Submit only one picture book manuscript. (Although picture book authors send fewer pages than novelists, they have the advantage of submitting a complete work. We novelists envy you!)
  • Submit as a Word or PDF document.
  • Use 1-inch margins all around.
  • Double-space the manuscript. (Double space. Really. Not 1-1/2 or 1.15 spacing.)
  • Put your name, age group, genre, and title on the first page.
  • Put your name and page number on every subsequent page.

3. Proofread one more time.

  • Check the manuscript for errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
  • Did you follow all the submission guidelines?
  • Did you review the sample pages?
  • Did you remember to include the names of your first three choices in the e-mail?
  • Do the reviewers you have chosen critique your genre and age group?

2. Strive for “good enough.”

I know, I know. It is so difficult to send out those 10 pages.

Notwithstanding my advice about proofreading and following the rules, there comes a time when you must send your darling into the world. You want to send your best work, but for a conference critique, “good enough” is truly good enough.

1. Submit early.

Down_the_Rabbit_Hole_public domain

The best way to avoid last-minute stress is to start planning now. Polish the manuscript and review the guidelines. Once the conference webpage goes live, check out the faculty bios to see who might be a good match for your work-in-progress.

We have a limited amount of time available for critiques on Saturday, and the agents, editors, and authors tell us how many critiques they are willing to do. If you simply must have Perfect Agent A review your manuscript, submitting early gives you the best chance of snagging one of his or her slots.

Remember that three things must be completed before I make critique assignments:

  • You must register for the conference.
  • You must send an electronic copy of your submission via e-mail.
  • You must send a hard copy of your submission.

Bonus Tip: Have Fun!

Sitting face-to-face with an industry professional as he or she critiques your work can be nerve-wracking, but it can be fun too. Imagine: an agent, editor, or published author has spent time reviewing your work. How cool is that?

Always and forever, keep on writing!

A writer all her life—but mostly of the corporate communications variety—Loretta Carlson joined SCBWI in 2010 because she wanted to stop talking about being a novelist “someday” and start doing something about it. She’s completed one young adult novel and is working on her second. When she is not writing, she is reading, pampering her cats, watching birds, and eating chocolate—also known as avoiding writing.


About susandilldetwiler

Freelance illustrator living in Baltimore
This entry was posted in Conference Information, Guest Contributors, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Ultimate Critique Partner

  1. Thank you for this, Susan and Loretta. I had a critique at the March conference in 2012, and although I didn’t think it was something I really wanted to do (invite criticism), it was an invaluable experience.
    This is what I wrote just after that in my blog, encouraging others to go through the same process:
    “I received my critique from Rachel Orr, agent with The Prospect Agency, also a former editor at Harper-Collins, and an author herself. She kindly and patiently reviewed what I now realize was a disaster of the first ten pages of my novel. Overall…somewhere along the way in my learning, I forgot my audience.”
    The critique experience got me back on track and helped me see flaws I personally could not see. I strongly recommend writers do this; it is a great SCBWI benefit.

  2. Thank you for the great tips on proper manuscript submitting.

  3. Stacy Couch says:

    I have found feedback on my mss. ESSENTIAL. It’s so hard to get out of your own head and see your story the way a reader would. Thanks for letting us know how to submit our work for a professional critique!

  4. Laura Bowers says:

    Thanks for the great tips and for being such a wonderful critique coordinator! Your efforts are truly appreciated. 🙂

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