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The Backlash Cometh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Oct-11-11 10:27 AM
Original message
Advice from reader/editors which proved to be near useless.
First of all, I'm thankful for any advice that anybody can give me. I've been extremely lucky that the people who have read for me, who were not paid for the services, just good souls doing a good deed, told me what I needed to know in the kindest of terms.

But when I was ready for the next step, getting advice from paid professionals, I braced for the worst. I discovered that as long as I understood their critique, I took it very well. Especially the comments that were not flattering. Because their advice helped me condense the story by encouraging me tto introduce the backstory sooner so the reader could follow more easily.

But here's the thing. Some advice didn't make sense at all. Especially the editor who said that she couldn't tell me what my story was about when we only submitted the first three pages for critique. I thought this over, thinking back on all the stories I've read and most, if not all of them, you would never know what the story was about in the first three pages.

In my story, you know by the end of the first chapter. So, I decided that sometimes advice from "professionals" should be discarded.

Am I being arrogant with that decision? Or have others reached the same conclusion?
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DavidDvorkin Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-12-11 12:26 PM
Response to Original message
1. Her comments do make sense from an editor's point of view
Editors -- and agents, for that matter -- want to be able to tell from the first few paragraphs (some of them say the first paragraph) what the story or novel is about and whether they'll want to read more of it. They have to read so many submissions that that's they only practical way they have to winnow the pile.

It's probably not the approach you were expecting or wanting, or perhaps needed, though.
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sybylla Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-12-11 04:18 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. I'm not sure...
Edited on Wed Oct-12-11 04:22 PM by sybylla
I understand wanting to have some sense of the nature of the story at the very beginning, but to have more knowledge than a statement of the inciting incident, the path it's starting me down on and some really good sense of who the major characters are doesn't seem necessary.

Or is this simply a communication problem, where the editor assumes that the writer will know the criticism is about a lack of those key elements when she says what she says?

I mean if you can tell the whole story in the first three pages, then what are the other 342 pages for?

To some degree this is exactly the kind of nebulous response I've gotten from a few professionals. Not all. Some manage to be much more specific as to the problem and precise in making recommendations.

If I'm paying someone for professional editorial services, I think I'd expect more detail than I can get from a critique group.
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DavidDvorkin Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-13-11 09:47 AM
Response to Reply #2
7. One reason I like Victorian novels
is that they don't rush into and through the story too quickly. They may take an awfully long time to reach the resolution, but if I like the story and the characters, I'm happy to spend a long time in their company. The modern habit of editors and agents of rejecting submissions based on the first paragraph -- or even the first sentence -- isn't doing literature any good. Actually, I think the change began with the pulp era, so it's not something new.

I think you're quite right to expect more detail, and more helpful detail, when you're paying for editorial services, though.

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sybylla Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-12-11 04:55 PM
Response to Original message
3. I have mixed experiences too.
I've not paid for any professional editorial services yet, but I've had professionals give me some advice on manuscripts through workshops, conferences and contests. It's amazing how the opinions from numerous professional writers, agents and editors who all read the same piece, fall occasionally to diametrically opposed, outright contradictory critiques. Try figuring out which are the useful bits in that scenario. I was never more disappointed in my entire writing life.

Some are very good at giving advice and delivering helpful criticism. Some not so much. This three page critique sounds more like a whine than helpful advice. I agree with you. I've read a lot of romances that you would never know by the first three pages were romances if it hadn't been all over the cover first. Same with romantic comedies, mysteries, thrillers, etc.

What does not knowing what the story was about mean? Was this editor talking about category (literary fiction, mystery, romance, etc.) or the story itself (as in they wanted more detail or back story or some clear statement of the story problem or some clarification of other elements)? Clearly, if they provided no more detail and aren't available to take a question or two on their comments, they just wasted your time and money.

I don't think it's in the least arrogant to discard advice that doesn't seem complete, well thought out, or appropriate to the story. It would be like getting some unknown fruit or vegie from a friend (or a food coop) and having no idea how to prepare it and no way to figure it out without some more specific information. You might as well throw it away.

On the other hand, my goal is to always find some useful nugget in the worst advice/critique. Look at the subtext of the incomplete advice (or in my case the weird-ass, left-field, diametrically opposite critique). Beneath the red ink, there might be something else there. For example, is there something about your story that this odd criticism may be a symptom of? Did you inadvertently misdirect this reader somewhere, resulting in confusion about your story? Obviously in three pages it would be hard for that person to tell. But you might, or another reader/professional might be able to detect the cause or at least be assured misdirection is not it.

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The Backlash Cometh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-12-11 11:21 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Always very thorough with advice.
YOU should be paid for advice. You were much more thorough than she was. What she said was that I needed to take a breath because, from the first opening line, she couldn't follow the dialog between the husband and wife. She didn't know what the story was about.

what I really got from her advice was that she had a lot of three page critiques to get through and didn't take the time to pay attention.

The one place where her advice made sense was that I needed to be more direct with the query letter. I would be fine if I could expand the letter to two pages. Just getting the hang of the process.
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sybylla Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-13-11 08:48 AM
Response to Reply #4
5. I think I have about 20 version of a query letter in my marketing folder
From minor revisions to major rewrites, I'm never happy with them. Over time, I think they've improved. But now I've about run through all the agents who take my category of work.

I just submitted to another contest and am preparing to do so for a second one. I've only ever justified paying the money for them because of the feedback you usually get (there are so many entrants in these things that placing, not to mention winning, is a long-shot at best). Hopefully I'll get something more useful out of it than I did the first one. Three readers - all supposedly successful professionals in the field - and one tells me the exact opposite of another. The third said nothing - no red ink at all. One scores me really low, two score me really high. WTF?

If you're looking for a good analysis of the first chapter or even the first 50, the people who run the Writers Institute in Madison, WI will do critiques for fairly low cost. They are university professors who are also successful writers published in literary and genre fiction, non-fiction and poetry. They know how editors and agents think. I submitted my first 10 for a conference a couple of years ago and got very thorough feedback.

Find out more under critique services at this website: http://www.dcs.wisc.edu/lsa/writing/index.html or if you can manage it, consider coming up for the spring conference. Here's the address for the Writers Institute weekend conference in April http://www.dcs.wisc.edu/lsa/writing/awi/index.html (You can share a room with me for free if you can figure out the transportation and registration fee B-))
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The Backlash Cometh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Oct-13-11 09:26 AM
Response to Reply #5
6. Wow! Just wow!
I'll see what the budget looks like in January. By then I'll have a good idea as to whether I can make the trip. Professors are probably the ones that would appreciate what I have to deliver.

In that last copy of Writer's Digest the topic was Agents who were looking for writers. Maybe you can get an online copy and browse to see if there's anyone new in your genre?
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Tansy_Gold Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-11 07:45 PM
Response to Original message
8. You're arrogant. The first three pages are all you get
Whether the person perusing those three pages is an editor, an agent, or a browser looking to buy something to read on vacation, if you don't capture their interest in the first three pages, you're probably S.O.L.

It's simple economics -- editors and agents don't make money reading stuff that's not publishable. They're looking for good stuff, and if what they're reading is obviously not good, they aren't going to read further in hopes it gets better. 99.99% of the time it doesn't. They know this.

Read Shelly Lowenkopf. He blogs extensively. Read everything you can of his AND BELIEVE IT. Don't make excuses why your writing is so good and so different and so wonderful that the rules don't apply to you. THE RULES APPLY TO YOU, TOO, BELIEVE ME.

If you possibly can, get a copy of Lowenkopf's Feb. 1982 article from The Writer "Creating a Rejection-Resistant Novel." I haven't been able to find it online and only one reference to it, but it's one of my two absolute bibles for writing fiction. The other is Ashmead, Schweitzer, and Scithers' "The Ultimate Rule."

Check out the weekly "First Page Saturday" thread at www.DearAuthor.com . Find out what readers, writers, etc., think of various first pages.


You have three pages max. You might blow it on the first page or even in the first paragraph, and then you won't even get those first three pages. But barring any major flubs, you'll likely get three pages before the reader gives up, or is hooked.


Tansy Gold, who supposedly is being reprinted by Pocket but isn't holding her breath

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sybylla Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-11 08:28 PM
Response to Reply #8
9. Your criticism is misdirected.
In the OP, the critique claimed they couldn't tell what the story was about. They didn't say they weren't interested.They didn't say they weren't drawn in.

AFAIK, there's a big difference. Which is what the problem is in the first place - an editor/judge/beta who lacks clarity in their criticisms.
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Tansy_Gold Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Oct-19-11 08:56 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. The poster asked if she/he was being arrogant. I responded to that.
How can that possibly be "misdirected"????


The OP wrote --
Especially the editor who said that she couldn't tell me what my story was about when we only submitted the first three pages for critique. I thought this over, thinking back on all the stories I've read and most, if not all of them, you would never know what the story was about in the first three pages.

In my story, you know by the end of the first chapter. So, I decided that sometimes advice from "professionals" should be discarded.

Am I being arrogant with that decision? Or have others reached the same conclusion?


Shall I elaborate?

IMHO, advice from "professionals" should never be discarded, or at least not without understanding the grave risks one takes in doing so.

Keep in mind that the potential purchaser of a published book -- even if digitally self-published -- will have some idea what category/genre the book is in before they open the cover or download the sample chapters. They'll have cover blurb and illustration, or an ad, or "Readers who bought X also bought Y, Z, and Q."

That first three pages hits an editor's or agent's (or first reader's) desk with pretty much no introduction. The author has to make the first sale with no lead-in, no cover copy, no endorsement from NYT best-selling authors. That opening has to be absolutely dynamite.

Needless to say, the rest of the work has to maintain that level of quality, but it's not something an author has the luxury of building up to. Especially an author with no track record. "It grabbed me from the opening sentence," is a goal every author should strive for.

Now, you're perfectly free to ignore everything I say. No one's paying me to write this, and I really don't care if you or the OP ever get published. I'm assuming, however, that both of you would like to be published. If all you want is unbridled praise, please, let me know. If all you want is affirmation of your decisions and opinions and no challenges, fine. But that's not the way to get published, especially if you've been through the submission process without success.

Instead of discarding the editor's opinion, the writer should analyze it. Why would the editor say she couldn't tell what the story was about in the first three pages? What's in the first three pages that would confuse her? What's in the first three pages that DOESN'T pertain to what the story's about? What stories/novels has this editor worked on and how do they open? How do other stories/novels in this genre open in terms of letting the reader know what the story is about? Etc., etc., etc.

The OP didn't say the editor lacked clarity in her criticism; the OP said she didn't agree with the editor's criticism. Big difference.

I stand by what I wrote.


TG
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The Backlash Cometh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-23-11 07:31 PM
Response to Reply #10
13. Problem is TG, is that there wasn't much to go on.
I think it would boil down to the numbers. I can already see you can't convince every editor, so I'm happy if I get a 60% success ratio, since I see few people who make it through without a few rejections.
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SheilaT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Oct-22-11 03:44 AM
Response to Reply #8
11. I must concur.
Almost twenty years ago I was in a very serious writing workshop -- it was for science fiction, but certain basics apply to all genres -- and the extremely well-known (in that field) editor who was part of the workshop kept on telling us at what point he would have stopped reading the work had it been submitted to him professionally. Usually we got only the first page, maybe first two pages to grab him.

The reality of the publishing world is that if you don't get the attention of the editor very quickly, you stand absolutely no chance of being published. Yon CANNOT say things to yourself like, "It all become clear in the fourth chapter" because the editor isn't going to read that far. Neither will any prospective readers.

In one of the writing workshops I took, it was emphasized that the essence of any work of fiction was contained in the first sentence. Yes, the first sentence. Think about it.

It was the best of times and the worst of times.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.


You get the idea.


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The Backlash Cometh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-23-11 07:33 PM
Response to Reply #11
14. Thanks the advice, but if it depended on the first sentence, she shouldn't
have had any trouble understanding. It was the one thing which the other editors gave me high marks.
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The Backlash Cometh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-23-11 07:28 PM
Response to Reply #8
12. And, yet,another editor who read the first chapter had nothing but
praise for the writing, and also gave me praise for the hook.

We keep hearing stories from successful writers who said that their material was rejected numerous times before they found a publisher. I'm more inclined to believe an editor who shot down a three page critique, if they accepted follow up questions. Remember, we're talking about someone who was getting paid for the critique.

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SheilaT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Oct-23-11 11:48 PM
Response to Reply #12
15. Then maybe the problem is paying someone
for the critique.

Actually sending stuff out to real editors is the actual test of publishability.

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The Backlash Cometh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-24-11 09:41 AM
Response to Reply #15
16. I appreciate your interaction, Sheila, but that advice makes no sense.
If what I'm looking for is feedback to make the story stronger, I'm less inclined to get it from a publisher who is just breezing through manuscripts.
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SheilaT Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-24-11 01:17 PM
Response to Reply #16
17. Had you been thining what you'd written was
ready for publication? Or is it still in an early place, and you know it's going to need a lot of work, which is why you're seeking feedback.

I had thought you were ready to submit for publication, but if the latter, I still don't think paying someone to assess your work is all that good an idea. In the past I've read many cautions against going to a paid reader/editor. :shrug: Join a writer's group. Take some writing workshops. Go to writing conferences. I've done all of those and have actually been published because the feedback from those sources is very good.

Publishers are looking for manuscripts they can actually publish, although these days it can be incredibly difficult to get one through to the publisher unless you have an agent. But agents, as I understand, will read and often comment on manuscripts. They also sometimes attend conferences. A lot depends on what genre you're writing in, that much I know.
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The Backlash Cometh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Oct-24-11 04:27 PM
Response to Reply #17
18. Very early stage of writing.
Not finished with the first draft. Also, I live in a place which is a desert when it comes to creative writing groups, and even if they were around, it's a small town where I would be better off not sharing information with local people. I learned the hard way. It doesn't work.
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