Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Critique Gone Bad

I know I rant about critiques way too much, but they fascinate me. There are so many inspirational stories out there and some horror stories too. I’m surprised someone hasn’t pulled together an anthology exploring and exposing critiques.

Here’s a funny/sad story about a critique gone bad:
Once I attended a conference and paid for a critique by one of my favorite category romance authors. I read all of her books. I thought her writing style and voice were similar to mine and that I’d get some valuable instruction from her.  When I sent her my chapter, I mentioned what I felt were our similarities. NOTE: DON’T EVER TELL A PUBLISHED AUTHOR YOU THINK YOUR WRITING IS SIMILAR TO HERS--ESPECIALLY IF SHE’S GOING TO READ SOME OF YOUR WORK. That’s like telling a woman you barely know she looks like Barbra Streisand. Some people think she’s a beauty, some don’t. You have no idea how that woman will take what you may have meant as a compliment.

When I got to the conference and met with the author, she tore me to shreds. Obviously, she didn’t think my writing style was anywhere close to hers. I didn’t receive one compliment from her--not one positive, encouraging word. I paid twenty-five bucks to be insulted! She proceeded to tell me everything I could NOT do in my story. For example, she said I could not have a single man coach his young niece’s soccer team. That is strictly a no-no in our society today, she said.
Uh, say what? Single dads/uncles/men do that every day. Don’t they? Well, they do during soccer season!

In addition to telling me what I could NOT do, periodically, she’d hit me on the head with my very own manuscript, yelling “Weenie sentence, weenie sentence.”  She expressed herself well, painted quite the picture. And I think that was the equivalent of her exclamation point.

I had a lot of respect for this author, bought all her books, and looked forward to each new release. No matter how I try, I haven’t been able to read anything written by her since this critique. The voice I heard (and enjoyed) when I read her work has disappeared and all I hear are ‘weenie sentence, weenie sentence” squeals.
Critiques can wound us, make us or break us, make us feel like a dog, but they can also make or break those giving them. You, and you alone, have the final say about your manuscript--at least until you find an agent or editor. I’ll agree that we need to get rid of weenie sentences (if we can identify them) but don’t allow some weenie critique to steal your joy or contribute one ounce of self-doubt to your psyche. We conjure up enough self-doubt on our own, don’t we?

When it comes to critiques: take what you can use, and toss the rest.


Rachel Schieffelbein said...

I agree, it's important to remember that it's just one person's opinion. You may agree with the critique, and you may not and that's okay. Give each critique a good hard assessment, then pick and choose what you think works.

Inger said...

No one deserves a critique that includes slaps on the head!!! This particular author's insecurities and bad manners came through loud and clear in your description of her critique. And, good for you, all that without you saying a bad word about her.

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, the slapping on the head was way over the line. I don't blame you for being irritated over that. Sounds like you got your money's worth only if you'd paid an insult comic to insult you. Sorry to hear about this experience.

Jess * Jessie * Jessy said...

Rachelle, so often we forget that. Thanks for popping in.

Inger - This was supposed to be a funny post. :) Not? I've THOUGHT a few bad thoughts. :)

Charles - money's worth of insults. But this was supposed to be humorous. No one seems to be laughing! Just goes to show how SERIOUS we all are about critiques.

Jess * Jessie * Jessy said...

Ohhhh, Rachel, I'm sorry I misspelled your name! :(

Kathleen said...

You're right. Writers do take critique seriously, which is why it's completely unfathomable to me that this author did this to you!! There's harsh and then there's HARSH. I actually wrote a blog post at The Writer's Dojo about this exact thing called Courteous Critique. Honesty is a plus, but not without some buffer, please!!

Melissa said...

Oh, my! What an experience. I've only had crits done via email, but one of them made me cry. And I don't cry.

I've changed my style of critting, too, over time, trying hard to be more supportive and kind with my wording. It's hard with text as your only medium not to have something come across wrong.

Anyhow, good post. I'm sorry you had such an awful experience. I don't blame you for not buying anymore of her books.

IWSG #179 (At least until Alex culls the list again. :P)

Lexa Cain said...

You make such a good point. It's seriously hard give an honest but encouraging critique to someone whose writing you don't like, but there's no excuse for personal attacks or impolite behavior.
I wonder what was wrong with her? Forgot to take her meds?

Pat Carroll Marcantel said...

Horrors! I'm glad you shared this. I've been to many conferences and have never heard of anyone this outrageous. I agree with Lexa: medication, please.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wow, sorry she ruined it for you! Even with the comment about similar writing styles, she still shouldn't have reacted that way. She lost a fan for life.

Katharina Brendel said...

Goes to show that not every author is automatically a good critiquer/editor. I think you should always find the good in what you critique. I don't meant oversee the bad, a critique is worth nothing after all if the writer does not know what to improve, but also always comment on the good.

I'm doing a publishing internship and even when I read submissions that are a definite no, I still try to find some positives to remark upon.

Jess * Jessie * Jessy said...

Kathleen, we all have our critiqueing methods. LOL I'll try to find your piece.

Melissa, I've never cried but I've felt lower than dirt. A friend of mine used to always cry after her critiques. She ended up selling about 10 books. It's really okay to cry.

Lexa - maybe that's the answer. She forgot her meds. :) I think you've nailed it!

Pat - glad you popped in. Don't let anyone bop you on the head! I think I came close to bopping one our members at BWG once. LOL Not for crits but because of his smart mouth!

Alex, thanks for stopping by. I've learned my lesson about comparisons. :) Even though I still think we're similar whether she likes it or not!

Katharina! Lucky YOU! A publishing internship! I've always wanted to do that. Years ago there was a publishing program at Rice University but I never had the courage to apply for it. That's a serious problem I have: lack of courage. And I think that's why I get bopped on the head with my very own manuscript. :)

Annalisa Crawford said...

Lol - I'm pretty gobsmacked with 'weenie sentence'. The fact you paid for the critique means she should have been a lot more professional. I don't blame you for not reading her books since - I'm not sure I would either!

Anonymous said...

Nightmare author keeps it up she'll lose her audience. I think her insecurities were showing, don't you? One of these days I'll get out of my head and find a CP with a big heart and keen eyes.

Lynn said...

My goodness, what an experience! Love YOUR advice!