Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Getting Feedback

  • New Marketing Your Fiction Class will begin in early Sept. Register now. Contact me for more information.
  • Greyhaus is BEGGING for Hot and Steamy Contemporary Romances for the Mills and Boon Modern Heat Line. Check out the link from Aug. 19th here on the blog for more information.
  • Category Romance Challenge begins Oct. 1. Make sure to check out the details.
I have heard this question from several people so far (both published and unpublished). This is also I question I deal with on a regular basis with my writing classes. When should you get feedback on your writing.

For many, writers, getting feedback on a story is often painful. You have put your blood, sweat and tears into those characters and you certainly don't want someone coming in and telling you it doesn't work. But you know something. Sometimes it is important for someone to tell you the story really isn't where it needs to be. You need that critic. Sure, we want the positive stuff, but hey, if the story is bad, tell us.

The question is, when do you want to hear it.

My recommendation? As early as possible.

Now this goes for everyone. For writers with critique partners, writers with agents and yes, even you editors out there. For all of these people. Save yourself and save your writers the pain and misery and start that communication early to get the feedback.

As you begin the process of writing and start thinking about story ideas, get the idea to Person #2 ASAP (From now on Person #2 is the CP, Agent, or Editor). Don't get too far into the process of a project that is destined to fail from the beginning. If the story is bad, then make sure to stop before you start fighting through the process.

With all of my writing classes, I always work with participants early on with the proposals. They come to me with the ideas and I give them a thumbs up or thumbs down. This is not to train them all to write one way, but to save them the misery of writing something that will simply never work due to market trends, time constraints or even writing ability.

Then after that step is over, get writing, but get some feedback early on in the story. I always recommend getting feedback in the first 3-5 chapters (roughly 100 pages). Most of the mistakes an author is going to make happen in those first pages. The set up of the characters, the approach the author took with the voice and so forth all happen here. Fix it before it is too far into the process.

I would recommend from that point on to get feedback every now and then in the writing. Again, get that feedback from all of the interested parties. After the first three, it may be harder to get feedback from the editor, but the agent and critique partners should be there for you (I would hope). If your editor can't read the work, at least keep them aprised as to your progress. Ask questions and certainly keep them in the loop. If you do have a concern, check with your editor (or have your agent ask if you have one) so that the problem can be fixed before it is too late.

Feedback is not bad. Sure, there are times when it is a tough pill to swallow, but hey, it will be worth it.


  1. Great post.
    I'll take that pill any day. Better to know right off than spending months on a story before realizing the plot doesn't work.

  2. Wow. Another great observation from an agent. Perhaps when there is time (right) all of this information should be put into a booklet and sold. Two questions du jour- more and more agent web sites are insisting they want writers with a "huge platform." Yes, for fiction too! We all want the moon, but we can't all be Scott Peterson's sister-in-law either. How important do you think this now is in the industry? For romance? Why even start if you are not Nora Roberts and slid in the door a long time ago? It is difficult to see what kind of platform a romance writer could develop at this point, apart from being a famous advice columnist.
    Question two, in the why not ask for the moon category, is the statement on one agent website saying that she wants to represent "stuff like Philippa Gregory or Ken Follett." Well hey, don't we all want to wake up in the morning and be one of these two?
    There is something unintentionally hilarious about taking one or two people at the top of their genre, who are wildly successful and have such a distinct style, and insisting that thousands of writers could deliver work like this if they only would get off their duffs and concentrate.
    There is a reason why a few people dominate these genres, and slim chance any of us will be a second Gregory or Follett.
    Please tell us the truth here. Is there any point in this market in continuing on with a book that is simply competent and well-written? I can't find one.
    Thank you for your honesty, Scott. A rare quality in today's world.

  3. Anon...
    So, let me see if I can answer these questions. They are all really good.
    In terms of the "huge platoform" I think what they are really referring to is a writer that can show diversity in their work and not write for such a small market. This is actually why many agents avoid category writers. If the story fails at a category house, then there is no other place to take it to. As for myself, I am always looking for a writer that has a specific brand but the ability to adapt the story for multiple markets.
    Now on to the Gregory/Follett issues. When an agent or editor refers to another author, what they are talking about is the depth and the general style of their writing. They are obviously not looking to replace these people but to find something similar. In the case of the Philippa Gregory writing, they would be referring to a deep and rich historical fiction that is grounded in a lot of reality. Essentially, true "historical fiction."
    As far as just competing with a story that is well written, I am afraid it just doesn't cut it anymore (unless you have connections). The market right now is really tough and the stories have to have that added umph to make them stand out.
    Keep the questions coming though!


  4. Thank you, Scott. You have the lovely gift of being honest without being cruel.
    I feel as if I have become the black raven of Bad News on the website, unintentionally, I assure you. It is only that I read a great deal, and believe one's only chance in this life is understanding the territory, as it were.
    Let me part with a piece of fine news. According to an article in The Writer, Sara Gruen received 79 straight rejections from agents before one agreed to represent her first novel. Almost one hundred. Imagine it! And she still found the determination to keep on in the face of such overwhelming indifference. I am impressed. Back to The Trail.

  5. I agree on the determination thing, but I have to say that I really try to ignore examples like that. I am a firm believer that if a writer does their research before submitting, that number of rejections will often be smaller. I don't know how many times I receive a submission that is apparently mass mailed to a ton of agents. Will this person later claim that had 50, 100, 1000 rejections? Probably.

  6. All right. Point taken, And this means I must jettison the story of Ron McLarty, who states that he wrote TEN novels before Stephen King heard one he had recorded privately on tape, wrote a review for him in a Hollywood trade journal, and propelled him into a major book deal.Sigh. And these are all such good stories.
    In a later version, I did read that McLarty was already working for King as a sub-writer, in the same way that James Patterson hires newbies to pad out his outlines. Just like screenwriting. Many ways to the Magic Mountain, i think. Whatever it takes.

  7. Yeah, I kind of wondered about so many rejections. At first, I was like, wow, that's so cool that the writer kept querying. But now that I'm querying I realize there's only so many agents who rep inspirational romance. Pretty sure there's not 79 of them.
    Thanks for the pick-me-up Anon. :-)

    So Scott,
    I'm targeting category, but if the category houses don't want it, you're saying it's okay to give the story more depth (and more words) in order to market it as single title?
    If so, that's great!

  8. Jessica,

    Great question.
    I have several authors that target both single title and category houses with the same manuscript. In reality, what we are doing is pitching two different stories. Sure the plot is essentially the same, but the depth of the story and richness of it changes. It isn't just a matter of adding more material, but we work on adding additional sub-plots, increase the depth of the history and world building, provide more layering of the characters. The list is endless. In many ways, if you were to read both of the stories, you wouldn't see that they were the same.
    I always recommend for authors to know how they can make that story flexible enough to target other houses. Unfortunately, many seem to think it is just a matter of the word count, which is far from the point.