We’re getting closer to our 2017 From Dreaming to Doing SCBWI Conference! Many of you have submitted manuscripts for a critique with your fingers crossed, hoping you’re assigned to an editor or agent. But what if you’re paired with an author instead? Presenter Erin Hagar explains why that can still be a career-changer below.
Erin Hagar writes fiction and nonfiction for children and teens. Her manuscript, later published as DOING HER BIT: A STORY OF THE WOMAN’S LAND ARMY OF AMERICA, was a Katherine Paterson Prize finalist. She is the author of AWESOME MINDS: THE INVENTORS OF LEGO (R) TOYS and JULIA CHILD: AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE IN WORDS AND PICTURES (both Duopress.) She earned her M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Saturday, 2:00-2:50pm: Historical and Biographical Nonfiction: It’s About the Story
Nonfiction is more than a set of facts strung together. Like good fiction, nonfiction books need characters we care about, a problem to solve or a question to answer, and vivid details that place us right in the thick of the action. In this interactive session, we’ll explore how to weave the strands we gather from our research into a compelling story.: Historical and Biographical Nonfiction: It’s About the Story (Saturday breakout)
And now, on to her great advice!
Why Author Critiques can be a career-maker!
You did all the things: registered for the conference, filled out the forms, polished your pages, paid the fees, mailed a copy here and a copy there, and …
You got paired with Justin Author for your critique session.
How can this be, you ask yourself? Big name agent Ivana Signya is going to be at this very conference, not to mention the famous editor Arthur Maker. This is your chance to have your work seen by movers and shakers in the industry. How are you supposed to sit through a critique session with Justin Author, when people’s dreams are coming true at that table three feet away?
Look, I get it. The writing life is hard. We all fantasize about peeling back the wrapper on the Wonka bar and finding gold. And the truth is, agents and editors do find new talent at conferences, although they will tell you that this is rare and not the only reason they come to conferences.
But a critique session with Justin Author can be a career-maker, too, admittedly in a different way. Here’s why.
First, Justin isn’t going to buy your book. He just isn’t. This means you can put aside all those pre-critique jitters, calmly walk into that critique, and really listen to the feedback. How are your characters coming to life on the page? What does it feel like this story is trying to be? What questions linger in a reader’s mind at this point? What will keep us turning the pages?
Writers talking to other writers about craft—the very point of critique.
Of course, agents and editors give great feedback focused on craft. But because of nerves and that “golden ticket” effect, (parsing every word the agent says for clues about whether you’ll be leaving with a contract in hand*), the feedback might be hard to process.
Second, let’s talk about the market. Actually, let’s not. What sells, when, and why is as much a mystery to Justin Author as it is to you. Of course, there are conventions an author will be familiar with and share with you, but the focus will be on your story, how it’s being shaped, what expectations you’re setting for the reader, where the momentum shifts.
The very best critique I got at an SCBWI conference came from author Jen Bryant. She told me what was working in the piece, asked good, hard questions, and showed me places in the manuscript where she’d laughed out loud (thankfully, those spots were moments I was trying to be funny.) She made me feel like someone who deserved a seat at the “grown up” table.
She made me feel like a writer.
Laura Bowers had a similar experience after learning her critique would be offered by someone she thought wasn’t a perfect match.
“I submitted a manuscript for a critique, hoping to be matched with a young adult editor. I was very disappointed to discover I was assigned to a nonfiction editor instead. But to my surprise, she gave me brilliant advice for my story and even offered to read the entire novel once it was rewritten. The critique was worth its weight in gold!”
No, an author can’t hand you that golden ticket. But we’ve been where you are. In fact, we’re probably there right now, facing a similar struggle with one of our own works-in-progress. We’re happy to share what we’ve learned, offer some insights, reach out an arm to lift you up, make you feel like a writer.
Or maybe we can spend our time swapping chocolate recipes. We’ll open up our own dang factory.
*Even when a critique goes spectacularly, it doesn’t work that way.
Thanks so much for the great advice, Erin, we’re looking forward to seeing you at the conference!