I sure hope two people I'm scheduled to meet at the upcoming writers conference have a good attitude. If not, I'm in for some painful half-hours.
I hope they realize they requested and paid for a critique—not an inside track for a double-length appointment with an agent who'd be holding his breath and hoping they'd sign a contract.
Having accepted the responsibility to critique their fifteen pages, this Saturday I gave each at least a half-hour in reading, assessing, and making comments about problems large and small.
I hope the writers realize that's not what I'd have done if I'd been wearing my agent hat. If that had been the case, I'd have given neither more than a couple minutes, if that.
I can't speak for my colleagues, but I don't have the luxury of investing large blocks of time with projects with no potential--or ones that aren't nearly ready. And beginning with the cover letters, I could see that neither was.
It's not a good sign when you have to re-read the cover letter's first sentence to confirm what it's trying to say. Or when that letter for a nonfiction manuscript barely hints at the intended audience. Or that the manuscript's opening anecdote doesn't get to the promised topic (something about spirituality for busy people) until page nine.
And it's not a good sign when the novel's cover letter not only contains Random acts of Capitalization, but also botches the Name of the Writers Group to which the author belongs. (I've spoken at the group's conference, so I know its name.) And things go downhill fast when a vaguely worded opening paragraph leaves readers open to misconceptions that aren't set straight until the middle of page two.
So with an eye toward my years as a mentor for the Christian Writers Guild, I hope to spend those half-hour appointments learning where these people are in their writing career, then pointing out places where they can strengthen their craft. I hope they're prepared to learn and listen.
I still cringe when I remember an appointment years ago at another conference. After I pointed out multiple point of view problems on the opening pages that kept me from entering deeply into the story, I feared the author would burst a blood vessel or punch me in face.
I know not all editors or agents see eye to eye. Still, a conference appointment or critique session offers a rare opportunity to receive feedback from multiple professionals.
Constructing a book or a proposal takes considerable work. Those who've done so can rejoice in how much they've accomplished. So I hope they don't despair—or punch someone out—if they get the news they still have a ways to go. At least they've been shown the way.