Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Better News On The Critique Front

You may remember that a month ago I had a critique from The Literary Consultancy which I found quite hard to deal with. I know others have said the same, so I thought my reaction was normal. I took on board all your input and tried to be positive - but three weeks after receiving the critique, when I'd stopped being miserable, I still wasn't finding enough to work on.

So I wrote my own critique of the critique - and in the process began to think there really were things wrong with it. For example, TLC invite writers to pose specific questions in their covering letter if there's anything they want advice on. I'd posed three: one had been answered, one agreed with - as in 'yes you need to address that', which isn't much help - and one ignored. That didn't seem right. And I couldn't see why the reader was suggesting I should continue working on the book when she had only criticism for the style, characters, plot and structure. She praised the protagonist in general and one aspect of her character in particular (although she thought that needed more work), three connected scenes, and one sentence. I wasn't expecting fulsome praise from a critique, but with so little sense of what she thought was good about the book, and no sense at all that she found anything worthy of positive comment in my writing, I couldn't see why she thought I should go on. And some of her specific input was confusing, too, e.g. she criticised my style for being too 'chick lit' for the subject matter, then suggested some plot changes which as far as I could see were pure 'chick lit'.

So last week I wrote a two-page letter of complaint to TLC. And, bless them, they have come up trumps, with a thorough apology. Apparently my reader was doing her first job for TLC, and it wasn't up to scratch; also, they should have picked that up, but they didn't. So they have offered me a new critique or a 50% refund.

I'm pleased about that. But I really could have done without going through the last month of misery and woe, and I also could have done without the delay - I've had lots of time in August that I could have spent doing revisions, and now, whatever I decide, I'll be doing them in October or thereabouts when I'm likely to be madly busy with other work. A less robust person might have given up altogether on the basis of that critique, and I'm now quite scared about getting another one. But TLC do have a good reputation; I chose them carefully; and everyone makes mistakes. So I guess I'll take the plunge...

17 comments:

DOT said...

Tough, not to say thoroughly disheartening, Zinnia, but I am glad TLC have made amends and I think you are courageous but correct to return for a second critique.

I too, till now, have only heard good things about them.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Well first of all, I'm sorry you have had to go through that, it was very unfair and surely, if the critique was new, your work should have been looked at again by a more experienced member just to make sure the new critique was doing her job properly, if you know what I mean.

But I am glad you have told us this; a few months ago I almost gave up on my current WIP simply because an extract which had been entered into New Writers North comp had received somewhat negative feedback, apparently my work wasn't/isn't original enough and it really got to me. My work is taken from many personal experiences even though I know I have to "beef" them up in order for any chance of publication. I was having a conversation with a new author from my area who advised me to continue with my current book and finish it. Then have it looked at again. She made me feel better and you have today. I am sure, after reading your post here and speaking to various other authors, that one person's account of someone's work might not be enough. Is definitely not enough. Sorry to go on but you have given me a little inspiration today, Zinnia - thank you.

CJ xx

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Thanks, Dot - and, CJ, I'm glad my story has been useful for you. Yes, one person's response is not enough. I'd had a number of other detailed responses, and of course I get ongoing feedback on my writing from blog commenters - but for a couple of weeks after I got the critique I was convinced they were all being nice because they were amateurs while my TLC reader, as an experienced professional, must be right. I very nearly gave up on my novel, and if it hadn't been for the support and encouragement of a few key people, I might have done. Now I'm very glad I didn't. And I'm glad you're not going to give up on yours, either.

NoviceNovelist said...

Zinnia - I'm really pleased that you had the faith in your writing to trust your gut instinct to tell you all was not as it should be with your critique - and upset on your behalf that you had precious writing time wasted and your confidence (also a precious commidity for a writer) messed with. Glad that you are going for a second critique and I'm sure that TLC will ensure you have an experienced reader this time round. Good on you for hanging in there and having faith in yourself Zinnia. Really hope your next critique is just what you need (other than your own faith) to help you onward with your novel.

Fiona said...

I think they have done the decent thing but like you I'm worried that this could have put off or destroyed another writer.

I wonder if TLC write follow up letters to people who've received critiques - good or bad - from them. I think they should.

A month is a long time.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

NN, thanks for that; I hope so too!
Fiona, I too wondered whether they would ask for feedback, but - in my case anyway - they didn't.

Debs said...

Well done for letting them know how you feel and for them replying to you as they have.

Such a shame though that you've missed such valuable writing time in August, let alone having to deal with such a ghastly critique.

I agree that a less robust person might have given up altogether.

Dx

Lane said...

I'm so glad you've followed your instincts with this. As you say, a less robust writer might have given up due to unconstructive criticism.

It's a shame you've lost a whole month but I'm glad TLC have responded appropriately.

I hope the next report is constructive and leaves you enthused, with plenty to get your teeth into:-)

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Thanks, Debs and Lane - and, Lane, I hope so too! I know my novel needs more work; I just need help with sorting out what that is, and then I'll be able to get on with it.

Calistro said...

Oh Zinnia I'm SO relieved to read this post. I know how stumped you were by the feedback you received and how you down you felt. But it was a newbie who didn't know what she was doing. Hooray!!! Let's hope you get a much better, more detailed critique that gives a more balance assessment of your novel and useful pointers for fixing anything that may need work. So glad for you. And also think you're incredibly strong and brave for complaining. I'd have been a cowardly custard and said nothing and gone off for a cry!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Awww, Cally, thank you! I did be a cowardly custard and cry for at least a fortnight (and was hell to live with into the bargain; spare a thought for poor Top Bloke, everyone!). But eventually I realised it wasn't my novel that was the problem, it was the critique. I know I can take and use constructive criticism, I've done loads of that from different people on drafts 2, 3 and 4. But I just couldn't find much to work with - the reader did make a few good points, but they weren't enough to help me move the book to another level.

liz fenwick said...

I'm impressed with the way you worked through the crit and then took it back to them. I think this will have made a better and certainly stronger writer although a painful way to do it. You seemed to have gained a good distance from your work to look at it so effectively. Well done and well done on the result although I think they should give you both the new crit and the 50%refund :-)

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Hey, Liz, that's a great idea!!! If only... Anyway, I've emailed them now to say 'yes please' to the new critique, so maybe sometime around the end of October I'll have a report I can work with.

Kate.Kingsley said...

Thank you SO much for posting this Zinnia! It is a really valuable lesson for us all, and I'm just sorry you're the one who had to go on this learning curve and suffer the wobbles it brought with it.

I'm one of those who would probably buckled under the lacklustre review, so a huge well done for taking it further ~ and it proves that your 'writer's instinct' is well honed.

Fingers crossed that the replacement review is much more workable! :-)

L-Plate Author said...

Zinnia, when I worked with my agent, I had five readers reports. Each of them said some things the same, each of them suggested plot changes etc. Although I can categorically say that I went with my instinct, I changed most of what they said to suit. Then the next reader would probably want what the last reader didn't. And I even 'stuck' firm on one idea that I didn't want to change because everyone else did and that time I should have listened.

It just goes to show that critiques can go both ways, I suppose. Sometimes I felt really positive about the report, if the comments were good, and if they weren't I was really pissed off. Maybe I shouldn't have taken it to heart. But I always did.

In the end I changed what I wanted to, backwards and forwards and that's why I've decided to scrap it. There have been too many changes now. I often wonder if it would have been better left well alone but now I will never know.

What I realise now that I'm working with a mentor is that I hadn't even got the writing dynamics right, never mind the story. I firmly believed when my agent was ready to submit it to a publisher that I had 'got' it and continued to write like that... I clearly hadn't got it right. What a waste of time.

Your gut instinct was right honey, don't let anyone take that away from you. Someone will always love it, someone will always hate it, if that doesn't sound too horrid. Onwards and upwards, here we come! x

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Kate, I'm so glad it's useful for you too; that (almost) makes it worth it.
Mel, thanks, yes, that's one of the big problems about this business, none of us can please everyone - not even J K Rowling meets with universal approval. I don't mind any criticism of my writing as long as it's constructive and I can use it to improve.

Captain Black said...

Thank you very much for sharing this with us, Zinnia. For me it was a bit of an eye-opener. I'd always assumed that editors, publishers and critics would know what they're doing, but you have shown us all that it's always worth getting a second opinion.