3/14/12

Should I Pay for a Critique at a Conference?

Maybe. It's not a clear cut yes or no answer.  I've been to several conferences (big and small) and writer workshops with different types of critiques. Through my experience, all of my paid critiques have been a learning experience, whether they were helpful or not.

Here are a few of my thoughts.

1.  Round Table Critiques vs One on One
These seem to be the top two styles of critiques. Round Table critiques usually consist of an editor or agent moderator and anywhere from 5-8 peers.  Your peers could be PB, MG or YA (assuming you are attending a children's literature type of conference.)  The peers within your genre will probably be the most helpful.  Typically you have an alloted amount of time, 8-12 minutes to read your first 500 words (everyone gets a copy to make notes on and follow along with) and hear their comments.  Your peers usually comment first ("usually" is the key word here) and then the agent/editor will give their feedback.  This is the time, writers, to listen and shut your mouth, NOT be defensive.

One on One critiques can be more stressful BUT you get one on one time with and editor or agent.  Approximately twenty to thirty minutes.  Typically the editor or agent has received the pages ahead of time and has already made notes on the first 500 words.  Usually a one page synopsis is included, to give editor/agent an idea of where the story is going.  The pages are discussed, problems and pros are pointed out. This is your opportunity to ask the agent/editor, what you can do to improve?  Where do they see this type of story in the marketplace?  It's your time to pick their brain on your project.

2.  What are you really looking to get out of it?
You've got to ask yourself, what do I want in return for paying for a professional critique?  Practice putting yourself out there? Practice making your pitch?  To honestly hear if what you have is viable? If these are your answers, then I say, yes, go for it.

If it's to possibly get an agent or a book deal? Well, your MS better be spit-shined and polished. Even then, the chances of you getting an agent/editor that is looking for your specific type of story is slim at best.  Not saying people haven't gotten agents through paid critiques but it's a rare thing, not a common occurrence. Don't get your hopes up is all I'm saying.

Or maybe you just want a critique on your work?  Why pay for something you can get for free?  Find critique partners and betas.  Found one but didn't work out? Look again, find another until you find someone that works well with you.  Where do you find them? Well, that's another post entirely.

3. Understand what you might get from a critique.
I've had people not even know what "paranormal" means and who have never read YA and wasted my alloted time asking me to explain those things.  I've had peer groups who wrote mostly picture books so they had blank stares after I read my pages. But it's not all bad.  I've had gushing comments on my writing. I've had a lady stop me in the bathroom later that day to tell me how awesome she thought my story was.  Once, an editor circled all my verbs (which, when I saw her circling away, dread took over me) and then commented "Brilliant verbs!!!" Keep in mind, that just because someone else is a writer, does not mean they will be able to give you strong, solid advice.  Most of the time I've received generic comments.  I have never received any feedback that I 1.) hadn't already heard from my CP's or 2.)knew myself I needed to fix.  No matter how the critique goes, take positive notes home.

4. My advice...learn from my mistakes.
You should never take a first draft to a professional critique.  No matter how excited you are, you're wasting your time and moola.  Even Libba Bray will tell you, "First drafts SUCK!"  You know it.  I know it. Sure, there are morsels of goodness in there and the concept is solid but don't waste your time and money on something that's not ready.  Whether, Round Table Critique or One on One, they are all going to tell you what you already know to fix.  You WILL NOT receive some ingenuous insight that will solve all your plot/voice/story problems.

My advice, pay for a one on one critique when you have a query ready manuscript. Otherwise, save your dollars.

How about you?  What's your paid critique experience?

3 comments :

  1. Great post, Dana! You hit on so much truth!!! I've done both, but I agree--it's a mixed bag. Sometimes roundtables are better, sometimes the one-on-ones. Just depends.

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  2. Smart advice! I'm doing my first one-on-one paid critique in June at the SCBWI NJ conference. An editor will read my first 15 pages. My manuscript is pretty query-ready. I'm just looking forward to getting a set of fresh, professional eyes on my opening chapter. This editor is also an author herself so I thought she'd give interesting feedback. I'll see how it goes!

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  3. I've done round tables and paid one on one's critiques. I've gotten golden nuggets out of each one. I've been at different points in my MS each time and the critiques helped me add new filters that drive revisions.

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