Friday, December 19, 2008

It Happened Again

It happened to me again. A newbie writer wrote me from out of the blue. After we exchanged a few emails, he said he was piling up rejections and did not know why. I offered him a possible resource for critique partners. After a couple of more emails, I offered to take a look at his first five pages. I asked him to tell me his genre and his target market.

I was blunt, saying that I would not pull my punches. I also told him that author Catherine Spangler had critiqued me when I was where he was and, while it was brutal, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. He asked me to please be brutal.

He ignored my request for his genre and target market--twice. I read his first five pages anyway. In my critique, I told him his writing was solid, but that there were still issues. I made eight points. Published writers, agents and editors will recognize the kind of things I said:

1) The manuscript started with a dream inside a prologue.

2) Too many strange, long weird words and names.

3) Sprinkling in unnecessary capitalizations.

4) Flat action. The action scenes included long sentences meant to describe fast action.

5) Attribution tags that included “cooed,” “quavered” and “twittered.”

And finally three logic issues I had with the story.

I just read his response. He either responded with his reasons for why he did everything, or he said things like “Hmmmm” to the flat action, or “Well, in English class I was taught to avoid 'said' as much as possible. Which is it?” to the attribution tags.

But the coup de grace was this: I had offered to answer any questions he had about my critique. He responded, “Sure, I'll come to you when I need help...you seem like a good mentor anyway.”

Anyway? Even though I gave you a crummy critique?

This is a public service message: There is only one correct response to a free critique: “Thank you so much for taking the time.”

Even if you do not agree with the critique given, it is inappropriate and rude to argue or defend your manuscript. Throw away the critique if you do not agree with it, but do not come back with counter-arguments. Telling me what the language is does not change the fact that you are using strange, weird words too frequently and will turn readers off.

This is EXACTLY why agents refuse to give more pointed comments in their rejection letters. The newbie invariably assumes they can explain away the comments.

You have just been told why your manuscript is being rejected. Either decide to take the advice or do not. However, have the courtesy to say “thank you” and stop there. It is okay to ask for clarification. It is not okay to say “Well, I was told . . . Which is it?”

End of rant.

9 comments:

Gina Black said...

Just yeah.

Maria Zannini said...

Silly girl. You knew it was a snake when you picked it up.

I had an early CP who had to argue her case on every issue I brought up. Eventually it ended the crit relationship. I can put up with a lot, but arguing and then copping an attitude when I didn't sing praises is a death knell.

Objective critiques are gold. Sometimes newbies have no idea the gift they've been given. You were too generous.

Kaz Augustin said...

What M said.

Heather B. Moore said...

I found in my critique group if I have to start explaining myself or my story, then something is wrong. And it's not my critique group.

Mitch Wallace said...

I'm happy to say that I've finally come around to harsh critiques. I used to get quite offended if someone read my work and didn't understand it or had negative things to say. I now realize that there's usually a good reason for said comments, and most of the time it's not that the reader "just doesn't get me".

Becoming a good writer is a tough and painful ordeal, but damn is it worth it!

Jay Montville said...

Wow. Just...wow. Although I have to say that, when I used to do that sort of thing (in FanFic World, not Real World), I got a lot of the same response. I guess I didn't expect to see it in Real World, where people are supposed to be serious about getting published.

You're a kind person to even offer, Maya.

wordtryst said...

Remember Miss Snark? She warns her published clients to refrain from reading/critiquing the work of unpubbed writers. She actually advises them to say that her contract forbids them to do this kind of thing.

Sometimes, in trying to be kind, you can bring a lot of trouble on yourself - such as having people claim you stole their work. I have found that some people who approach you like this don't really want an honest critique; what they want is for you to wave your magic publishing wand and get them published too.

I make allowances for people I know well and have a relationship with; the others I point in the direction of the resources that have helped me, and gently explain that I cannot read their work because of certain legalities.

I know you know all this. I'm just reiterating because there is enough frustration in a writer's life already.

Marian said...

I've read a lot of, um, not-so-good fiction but this is the first time I've come across a human character twittering anything.

That writer will either learn from further rejections (I did, when I started a novel with a flashback on the first page - what was I thinking?). Or he'll continue to defend his work, which will be a pity because it cuts off any avenues of growth.

You did your best. If they're not willing to hear it now, hopefully they'll remember the good advice later on down the line.

Silicon Valley Diva said...

I'm not sure why he was so offended, but in this world there are just some that take and take. Maya you seem like such a giver. Maybe you should start charging :-)

I hope you don't think all newbies are like this though. I know for myself I hate to ask anyone to read my stories, but when they are nice enough to do so, I only ask for some quick pointers. I know their time and efforts are valuable, and of course, I thank them profusely.