I’ve written several posts over the years on the value of having your work critiqued. And I still believe it is important to have objective readers—particularly those who are in the publishing industry and understand what agents and publishers are looking for—read your writing and identify weaknesses and strengths.
I practice what I preach. I’ve had my recently-completed novel, Gram & Me, critiqued professionally by three separate individuals, plus two avid readers whose opinions I respect and who aren’t afraid to tell me the truth. As a result, I have completely blown up and re-written the opening chapters no less than three times.
So this week I sent off the “final” version to one more professional before I started the process of querying agents. Imagine my reaction when the recommendation she described would return the opening chapters to where they were three revisions ago.
Actually, I surprised even myself by having a laughing fit. I mean, when you’re doing everything you can to play by the rules and create the best possible product before you attempt to sell it, and what you’re told with the last critique is you should have followed your original writing instinct (before paying a small fortune for the first three professional critiques), what else can you do?
I tried to consider if there was any way the recommendations of all of the professionals could somehow be combined to create a “super-manuscript.” But their opinions were complete opposites. “Begin the story where the action begins—don’t try to tell the backstory in flashbacks if it’s critical to the story.” “Don’t muddy up the opening with a lot of backstory—you can show that in flashbacks later.” How much more opposite could they get?
The saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” applies as much to novels as it does to the appearance of a person or object. In the past, agent reactions to my queries have ranged from no-feedback rejections to “I love your writing style, but this piece isn’t quite right for me now.” (No “rush your manuscript to me, it’s a bestseller”, but I’ll take whatever positive feedback I can get!) A writer can be rejected by ten agents, only to have that eleventh agent fall in love with her work. Even with professional critiques, there are no guarantees that you’ll end up with an offer of professional representation.
So what’s a writer to do? What should I do? I think I’m going with the professional critique that aligned most closely with the two avid readers—because, after all, it is the readers who really count.
What would you do?