Saturday, August 21, 2010

In Which I Get Critiqued on

A split fiber optic cable on the sidewalk
in front of my parents' house
WriteOnCon (which even managed an online mention in Publishers Weekly) was last week.  After the first day I had thought about reposting some of the entries that interested me the most.  Then, after traveling through most of the second day and having my access to the internets cut off (more like "ripped apart" -- see accompanying photo) for the third day, I gave up on the idea.

In the weeks preceeding the conference the organizers opened up a series of pre-conference forums where people could post their queries, first 500 words or first chapters for feedback.  Having spent some time over at Nathan Bransford's query forums I've developed a good eye for what works and what doesn't work for me in a query.  I spent some time on the pre-con forums responding to some of the queries, hoping to help other writers and to better solidify what was lacking in my own query.

Identifying what's not working in someone else's writing?  Not much of a problem.  Identifying what's not working in my writing?  About as easy as writing my own resumé.  (That is to say, it don't work well for me.  At all)

On the first day of the con I posted a slightly tweaked version of my latest version of my query and hoped people would help me identify what wasn't working.  (The overall verdict: Good first and last sentence but the middle was too factually bland and not engaging enough, both in character, stakes and in voice)  It was a good experience and I appreicate the helpful criticism.

Today I received an email from my CP that read:
"I meant to email you - I saw Kathleen's comments at WriteOnCon. How encouraging! She read through the whole thing and it was a clear case of 'not my style' as opposed to 'this needs work!' Great job. :)"
And I had no freaking idea what she meant.

I did a search on a distinct keyword in my title and came up with only comments to my query.  Then I remembered a few weeks before WriteOnCon Elana Johnson wrote an entry calling for the first 500 words of WIPs for a possible review by an agent.  I tossed my firist 500 words in and promptly forgot about it.  Until today when I did a distinctive keyword search on a phrase from my first 500 words and found this.  (I'm the last one on the list)

Agent Kathleen Ortiz had this to say about my first 500 words:
"Part of me is thrown off by the fact that the main character is referred to as ‘the boy’ and the other part of me isn’t really pulled into the story enough because of its formal tone. This is a pass for me."
The first part of this didn't bother me at all.  My main character is referred to as "the boy" intentionally until sometime later in the first chapter.  The "formal tone" throws me a bit because I'm not quite sure what to make of it.  I know I'm not writing like a kid, using all sorts of modern-day hip jargon, but is that even what she meant?

In the introduction to the critiques, Ortiz does say:
"If I simply say “I didn’t connect with the voice,” then that’s what it means. If I say “It’s not for me,” then it’s just simply not something I typically gravitate to and the writing / plot wasn’t enough to suck me in and change my mind. Please understand that this is such a subjective business. My thoughts may be completely the opposite of my fellow industry professionals or they may mirror other agents’ thoughts."
Instead of analyising this to death, I think I'll take heart in what my CP said and consider myself grateful for having an agent say "this doesn't suck, it just isn't something that I'm drawn to."

Meanwhile, I'll keep plugging away at the query.

--- Tom


  1. I think you've reacted to this perfectly Tom. I checked out that post and I agree with you. The voice seems appropriate to me, considering the setting, I think it's just not the kind of story this agent is generally into.

    Great work on taking the feedback and not letting it get to you. It's all SO subjective.

  2. Thanks, Matthew. I'm comfortable with the voice and I'm glad it seems appropriate to someone who doesn't know me in RL.

    Subjective is subjective. At least I now know not to include Kathleen in my list of Agents to Query.

    -- Tom

  3. Hi Kay,

    Actually, since my WIP is a Steampunkish MG Adventure, Laurie McLean is an agent I need to include in my list of possible agents. She has a great, positive attitude towards the genre and is (gasp!) actively seeking it(!).

    Thanks for stopping by with the link to your blog entry. It's greatly appreciated.

    -- Tom

    p.s. The WriteOnCon entries are still online at their web site. They're definitely worth checking out.

  4. I think we all have the same problem, with identifying the problems in our own writing. I think you're query is very well written. The only thing that stands out to me is that you say it's humorous, but I didn't get that from reading the query. Perhaps that's part of what Kathleen was getting at.
    I don't think she means you should use slang, but don't be afraid to let the humorous tone shine through in the query.

    Also, WriteOnCon was AWESOME!

  5. Heather Kelly said my query read more like a synopis than a query -- something I took to mean as "just the facts, m'am" instead of providing a voice to the query that reflects the writing and the humor. Heather is right, of course. The query describes the action, but doesn't stand out at all.

    (I really think Critique Partners should be the ones to offer up a first draft of the body of a query. They know the story but aren't so emotionally involved in the story and the writing to be able to query it well. That's just my theory, though)

    (Can you tell I really really don't like querying?)

    I'm working on a rewrite, one bit at a time, while also doing other writing/reviewing. By sneaking up on it, I'm hoping to not overthink the process too much.


    -- Tom