Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Critique Roadshow

I have had three picture books and a middle grade novel progress from the slush pile to acquisition meetings at several different major publishing houses. Unfortunately, my work has been rejected at this point each time. The feedback I get is very positive. I'm finding it very frustrating because I don't really know what the problem is, so it makes it difficult to address it. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do to improve my chances?
I try to let people know what the feedback was at acquisition meetings when something doesn't pass, but if you're not getting that, then you need to try to find feedback wherever you can. What does your crit group say? If they're no help, try to find another group or individual critiquers (perhaps on the blue boards). That you keep getting that far says that your work is very close to publishable... but there may indeed be some piece you're missing. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

This is a bit of a shot in the dark, but in my experience as an editor many times the situation you are describing (close but no cigar) is the result of a manuscript not having "spark"--or whatever you want to call that intangible it-factor quality. This is also the hardest thing for an editor to describe or explain because it is a bit nebulous, and we can all imagine you reading that critique and saying "what the *&#@ does that mean?" Or more to the point, "how do I fix it?" My thought would be to double-check the level of personality coming through in the story. One area in particular would be your characters. If your characters are really well-developed, quirky, lovable, than your stories will be much harder to resist.

In another vein (if you haven't already) you might want to research other similar stories on the market. "Nice but nothing new" is another big reason why an otherwise well-written story might not make a great acquisition. Stories ultimately need to be sellable, so if your editor has trouble selling it to a room of say ten people, then that can be a sign that consumers might feel the same. (not always! but sometimes)

Good luck.

Unknown said...

Stupid question...what's blue boards?

Anonymous said...

Thanks ea! I don't actually have a critique group as such. However, I have shown the novel to colleagues of mine in children's lit academia, who have said that they were 'floored' by it. They said that the dialogue was witty and crisp. The only criticism they had was that I didn't use a female protagonist.

I do realise, though, that an editor is coming from a different perspective than researchers, reviewers, etc. So, perhaps I ought to find a group of writers to get feedback from ...

To anon 10:07 Thank you for your comments too! I have certainly experienced the 'What the' factor, quickly followed by the deep frown and forehead rubbing! It does make it difficult to revise a manuscript when you don't what to change...

With regards to my characters, I'm hesitant to say that they are not the problem, because something clearly is. However, the feedback that I have had (from colleagues) suggests that they are quite quirky and loveable.

I have done some research on the market, and there appears to be nothing that is the same. Yet, I am wondering whether longer 'fairy tale' stories, for middle grade readers, are not so popular with publishers. Could this be the case? If I was to make a comparison of type only, I would compare it to Pullman's series of 'fairy tales' i.e., "The Scarecrow and his Servant".

Thank you again for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the first anonymous summed up brilliantly what I was going to say, esp. the second paragraph.

I seem to hear the word "commercial" a lot. As in, "I like this story but it's not commercial."

Or as a news reporter might say: "a hook."

I wonder if your book is getting to the meeting and no one can find the hook. That doesn't mean it's not good, it just won't compete with dragon riders, storm gods and magic chihuahuas.

And if they DO publish your story and it doesn't have a hook, then you're just going to break your heart watching sad sales numbers roll in. (Just like me, sniff.)

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...


The blue boards are here:

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:09pm. I think you are right about the hook! I have read ea's posts about the 'hook', and understand the concept, but still have trouble identifying it. I guess that doesn't bode well for my chances in an acquisition meeting.