My first professional critique experience

Until recently, I haven’t been far enough along in my writing journey to even think about soliciting the services of a professional editor. Now that I’ve received a free critique from The Editorial Department, I’m sold—not only on the idea of paying an editor, but on the services of this particular company. Following is an account of the excellent customer service, quick turnaround, and professional input I received.

Saturday, May 19, 2012
The Editorial Department sponsored the Fiction Writing Contest at the OC Christian Writers Conference 2012. As a second place winner, I won a professional critique of 2,500 words.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
I received a congratulatory email from Ross Browne inviting me to submit 2,500 words or 10 pages. The email from the President/Managing Editor was friendly, inviting and personable. I was impressed. I realized I was being wooed as a potential client so was curious how the overall experience would go.

Dear Natalie,

This is just a quick note to follow up with you on the OCCWC contest and congratulate you on your winning submission. We’re ready to get rolling with your critique, so if you’ll send your your 10 pages/2500 word sample in doc, docx, or rtf format to us via reply-all to this email we can get started. Please feel free to include any additional information about the project to help us better understand your plans and objectives.

Best, thank you, and I hope the conference went well for you! If you have any questions about the critique, just let us know.

Yours,
Ross Browne
President/Managing Editor

Sunday, May 27, 2012
I was happy to have a chance to edit my submission to reflect input I’d received at the conference (after incorrectly assuming The Editorial Department would work from the 30 pages I had already submitted for the contest). I sent a long email with lots of questions—all of which were answered in great detail—and attached my nice and tidy 2,500 words.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012
After Memorial Day, I received prompt acknowledgement from Ross.

Hi Natalie,

I just wanted to write quickly and say thank you for sending the file. (Also your questions, which I’ll pass along to the reviewing editor.) And we’ll be happy to comment on the supplied mini-synopsis as well.

Turnaround time is usually no more than one week, but we’ll let you know if anything changes.

Best, and we look forward to working with you on this.

Thursday, June 7, 2012
Ross Browne emailed me an extraordinary, 1,300-word, 4-page reply from John Robert Marlow, Director of Development at The Editorial Department. In his evaluation, he told me what works and what could be better.

My writer’s heart soared when I read his opening paragraph:

The writing is already good, and quite a bit better than most. The dialogue works, the characters are distinct (though some are rather quiet so far), and things move along at a good pace. You’re very good at setting an atmosphere, a mood—and in doing it quickly, which is essential for a good opening. Whether you want that initial mood to be dark or light (both of which you do well here) is another question…

He provided much-needed advice to help me decide whether I should begin the story with the Prologue (which is a dark, traumatic event) or Chapter 1 (which is a lighthearted, happy time where I introduce my primary characters and set the scene for the story).

Basically, you have two opposite approaches here: the current prologue opens by making readers uncomfortable, while the first chapter sets the reader at ease. Again, you do both well. However, the classic approach is to get readers comfortable first—and then show things going wrong. This is the pattern followed by the vast majority of successful novels and films that deal with personal tragedies.

Part of the reason for this has to do with getting the reader emotionally invested in the characters and, therefore, their story. Think of it like this: You catch news of a terrible car wreck, and your reaction is, wow, those poor people, that’s awful. Two seconds later, you’re thinking about your next cheeseburger. Now imagine learning that someone you care about was in that same accident. Suddenly you can think of nothing else until you find out if they’re all right. And so it’s possible to have two completely different reactions to the same exact event.

Why? Because in the first instance, those involved are strangers, and their fates become statistics. It’s a coping mechanism to keep us from going crazy. In the second instance, you know and care about the people involved—which makes you emotionally invested in the outcome.

As for what could be better—it appears I erred on the side of too little back story. I was so worried about inundating readers with too much detail that I didn’t provide enough.

As for chapter one, it’s well-done overall, but a few things are unclear or confusing because there’s not enough backstory, or because information that is there needs to be introduced a bit earlier.

All in all, the critique made me feel hopeful and gave me the critical tools I need to make my opening “sing.”

I couldn’t recommend The Editorial Department more and hope to avail myself of their services when my project is more developed and when I’m able to afford it.

It appears that I received their Getting Started: $35 Introductory Critique package—a bargain and a real taste of the depth of feedback they offer.

I love coincidences. The same day I received The Editorial Department’s feedback, Mary DeMuth posted Paid Critique? When should I hire someone to professionally critique my work? over at Write Uncaged. As always, her advice was spot on.

(Disclaimer: I’m a satisfied client and have not received any compensation from The Editorial Department for this post.)

Have you had your work professionally critiqued? What was your experience like?

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4 Comments

  1. Nice prize! Lots of encouraging words and valuable insight from professionals. Sounds like more confirmation for you as you move along on the journey.

    Reply
    • Thanks Darla. It was an unexpected bonus to the conference, that’s for sure! Hopefully it’s good for my fellow writers to get a glimpse of a professional critique, too. : )

      Reply
  2. This is amazing to read! (I am reading your posts backwards, lol. I was on vacation during the week you posted this and I’m trying to catch up.)

    One thing he said that struck me as different advice is how he suggested you need to get readers emotionally invested before the big event. I heard that something needs to happen by page 10. I wonder about the feasability of investing the readers in a matter of 9 pages or less so that we can feel the impact of the event, which is supposed to be no later than page 10. (He really explains his position well, I must say.) Do you happen to know how to explain the difference in advice? Or maybe there isn’t a difference, and it is possible to do it all in 10 pages???

    Thanks for sharing this letter. It really feels good to know that there is hope for all of us! 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Kathryn. Sorry for the delayed reply! You pose a great question—one I don’t have an answer for… : ( Now that I’m not going to use my prologue, I’m going to rewrite chapter 1 – but will keep that “first 10 pages” advice in mind that you mentioned. Focusing on the last half of the book right now…

      Reply

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