A Professional Critique of my Novel

This is the latest in my series on trying to get my first novel published.

A little while ago I wrote about sending my manuscript off to a professional critiquing service. I chose one of the most reputable (based on my own research) – Writers’ Workshop.

I was happy with my manuscript, but had sent it out to a number of literary agents without luck. During the many drafts I had critiques from a few brave and trusted souls – trusted to give honest feedback rather than glowing praise, that is – but I’d put some money aside and thought a pro critique would be a good idea. After all, this is the first novel I’ve got to a stage that I’d call finished. I’m working on a number of other projects which are at various stages of completion, so if there are important lessons to learn or delusions I’m under then best to find out now.

Writers’ Workshop are frank on their website: they won’t sugarcoat bad news. So it was with some trepidation that I sent my manuscript off. They let me know the name of the chap who would be critiquing the novel. I looked him up (of course) and found out he had a massive number of books published. Most of them are children’s books, but also a fair few that seemed to fit with my novel’s genre and market.

I waited. I held my breath. I twiddled.

An email from my critiquer dropped into my inbox (in very good time, I should point out). Despite being under the weather when the email arrived, I opened it straight away. On a side note, there isn’t a really satisfying way of opening exciting emails. Not like tearing into an envelope or using that weapon of a more civilised age, the letter opener. Oh well, progress.

Now, I knew to keep my expectations in check. I’m self-taught as a writer and haven’t previously had anything looked at by a ‘proper’ author. That said, and if I’m entirely honest, deep down a tiny little part of me really did think the opening sentences were going to be singing the praises of the finest novel of its generation.

Sadly that’s not what awaited me.

First the good bit: he liked my writing style. That’s a biggie. If it turned out that I really can’t write that would be a rather large blow (though not career-ending, judging by a couple of obvious recent bestsellers).

There were major problems though. The critiquer thought the pacing / plotting wasn’t right and, even more crucially, hated the main character – particularly his passivity and refusal to engage. There were other things too (as well as a number of things he really liked), but these seemed to be the biggest issues that will require major work to fix.

Now this is interesting.

Very interesting.

Because after the first draft I noticed these problems myself. Over the following redrafts I tried to fix them with tweaks here and there (alongside other overhauling work), but I never tore out the root of the problem. I thought I could polish the issues away and hoped I’d succeeded. Apparently not.

And this is great news. Not as great as if I’d written the Finest Novel Of Its Generation of course, but great nonetheless.

Why?

It means I can trust my instincts. That’s a fantastic position to be in. I may not be hitting the bestseller lists any time soon, but if I can trust my writing, trust my instincts and keep plugging away then who knows where I’ll end up.

If you’ve had any good or bad experiences with pro critiquing then let me know in the comments – it’d be great to compare notes.

@BornToPootle

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Professional Critiquing Services

This one fits into my ongoing series about trying to get published for the first time.

Quick summary of where I’m currently at (though feel free to have a look back at some of previous posts along the way) – I’ve got a novel that, after a lot of redrafting, I’m happy with and have sent out to agents. So far there haven’t been many nibbles, though I haven’t been quite as proactive about sending it out as I possibly could have been.

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is paying for a professional critique of my novel. Whilst I am hopeful that it’s going to knock the socks off anyone who reads it, I am aware that it’s the first thing I’ve written and polished to this degree and I am entirely self-taught. I’ve been hoping that I might pique an agent’s interest enough to get a little specific feedback but, while I’ve had one little morsel, it’s not really enough to base a further redraft on.

At an earlier stage I got a few trusted friends (trusted also in the sense that I thought their opinions would be honest) to have a read and provide feedback which was invaluable, but now I’d really like something a bit more industry-centric. And that comes with a price tag.

I looked up quite a few different services, and tried to find peoples’ own reviews of them, which proved surprisingly hard. Google something like ‘Novel critique service uk review’, and of course you’re only really going to get links to the services themselves! There were a few that stood out from the pack though, and I’ve ended up going with the Writers’ Workshop. They seem to be at the higher end, both in terms of price (over £500 for my 87,000 word novel) and, hopefully, quality. I figured it’s probably worth going for it though – if it helps get towards publication then it’s money well spent, and any feedback on style/structure etc will be useful for future projects.

They’ve got an impressive list of editors, so I’m looking forward to finding out who’ll be tackling my novel, but what swung it for me were their sample critiques. Loads of detail (one of the sample reports is over 10,000 words!), and looking at things from all angles, including marketability. It looks like there should be the chance to chat with the editor about their feedback, and they have ties to agents and publishers should they think it’s strong enough or close to it. We’ll see.

I’ve been able to ask a few specific questions on areas I’m thinking may need attention (is the first quarter attention-grabbing enough? Is the MC active, or too passive? How the arse do I market it as anything other than UK-centric?!) so hopefully they’ll be addressed in particular detail as well as all the other bits and bobs. It takes a fair few weeks to hear back, but I’ll definitely post about the results.

Have any of you had professional critiques? How useful did you find them?

@BornToPootle