Tag Archives: critique

Secret Agenting

charlie's angelsSo, guess what? I was the “Secret Agent” on the Miss Snark’s First Victim blog last week! I was so flattered when I was asked to participate. I mean, have you seen the roster of Secret Agents that have participated?! Thank you, Authoress! And, if you haven’t read the Miss Snark blog, go do it now. Even though it hasn’t been updated in 8 years, it’s still up on the interwebs for all to read, learn from, cringe and laugh at. Totally worth it.

But enough about Miss Snark and Authoress… this is MY blog and well, if you haven’t figured it out yet, It’s all about ME! (Just kidding, dear readers, it’s all about you. No really. I mean it. It really is about you.)

images-1As I re-read the comments I made on the 50 (FIFTY!!!) entries to the contest, I really got that I don’t sugarcoat anything. I mean, I don’t want to sugarcoat it if I’m saying what needs to be said, but there’s also the part where I want people to like me. So, for the participants of the Secret Agent contest, for queriers who I’ve rejected yet given feedback to, to people at conferences who have received critiques from me, to my clients whose work is at the other end of my red pencil, I have this to say: It’s my commitment to drawing out the best work that’s in you that has me say the things I say. I feel it’s necessary that you know how your written words might be landing to an agent reading your work. It may be harsh to hear, but I’m more committed to helping you improve your writing than I am to making you feel good.

So, I certainly apologize if I’ve ever hurt anybody’s feelings by a critique. But now, put those feelings aside and get back to work. You’re a writer, after all. That’s what you do.


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Checklist to See if Your Manuscript is Ready for Submission


1.  Can you confidently say what your story is about, in 3 sentences or less?

2.  Have you let your manuscript sit undisturbed for at least a few weeks, and then read it again?

3.  Are you finished sending it out to critique partners, beta readers, or helpful friends, with an “input welcome” sticky note attached?

4.  Is it the best work you are currently capable of?

If you have 4 check marks, you are ready. Now, write a kick-ass query letter, research the best literary agents for your work, and send your baby out into the world!

But wait! How do you know if you’ve written a kick-ass query letter? How do you know if the agents you’re sending it to are the best agents for your work? Well, you can read this to check in about your query and look at this about researching agents. Good luck!


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First lines and query letters: How soon is too soon?

My friend, the very talented writer, Ruth Horowitz, gave me some good advice about what to blog about next. She said:  It makes sense that as an agent your emphasis is on the product that appears in your inbox — query, first sentence(s). For the writer, these concerns should only arise after a very long process of creating, crafting and revising. Thinking too much about them too soon can be stifling, because it puts you in the role of editor when you need to be a writer. It might be nice for you to blog about how/when aspiring writers should be applying your really excellent advice.

Well, Ruth clearly forgot it’s all about me and my needs. Oh wait! Did that slip out of my mind and onto the screen? It’s not true! It’s not true!

See that? That paragraph just above this one? That is what I mean when I tell writers to stop the throat clearing. When I’m asking to critique first lines I’m not asking for all that nonsense. But guess what? You need to write that nonsense! You need to write it so you can get it out of your head, just like I did. You need to write it because sometimes other things come out of it. Or it provides back story that you need to think about. Or like I did above, just to warm up before getting to the heart of the matter. Just don’t send that to me…

A Twitter follower  (hi @LauraRenegar!) said: I’d love to read about how to beef up a manuscript when the story is in place, but the wordcount is low. I’m good at tightening but sometimes it’s hard to know what to add when you’ve finished a draft.

I told her: You can’t add words to increase the wordcount. You add words to tell more story, expand on ideas, draw a more detailed picture. Filling out a story when you just have bones is when you spin the tale, embellish, explain, trim the tree, decorate the house! (Metaphorically. Trim the metaphoric tree.)

I think there is something wild and primitive and elemental to the act of writing. I think if we think too much about it it doesn’t come out true. I think our characters really do have lives of their own and if we just listen closely enough we’ll be able to hear them tell their stories. To me there’s something Jungian about writing fiction, like we’re just capturing something that’s already out there in the collective unconscious and getting it down on paper. Listen to your characters.

And I beg you, don’t send me a first line for critique until your manuscript is complete. How can you know if you’ve started it off correctly if you don’t actually know where it’s going to go. You can‘t know, until you’ve arrived at the end. Ruth is so right. Allow yourself to craft your piece. Let it grow into something beautiful and authentic and honest. You don’t want to start trimming and clipping, editing and thinking too much, until it’s well formed.

After your story has been told, it’s already down on the paper, you’ve expanded and filled it out and it’s just a big, full-blown mess, that is the time to start revising, editing and thinking about first lines.  And that is when you can enter a first line critique.

Don’t even think about writing or sending a query until you are 100% finished with your whole manuscript. 100% finished means totally, wholly, thoroughly, utterly and absolutely complete.

Any questions?


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