The past few weeks I’ve critiqued six writing projects: three at a writers conference, two for an independent publisher, and one for an agent.
I wasn’t an expert on any of those topics. But I came to each piece with not only an objective eye, but also one trained in what makes writing succeed.
Both are needed. Even experienced writers can get so close to their topic, they can mistake others’ familiarity or interest. An outsider can judge if the opening paragraphs and pages will attract and engage readers. And if the following material connects all the dots.
Likewise, an outsider can see if all the pieces fit. Last week I told an independent publisher that her client’s manuscript had parts of two books. While the introduction promised one topic, the text didn’t get to that material until more than halfway through. The lion’s share, while potentially interesting, had little relation to the promised topic. Worse, it stopped partway through the opening story.
As an outsider, an hour’s scan of the manuscript showed significant structural issues invisible to the author.
Then there was the writer whose manuscript I critiqued at the conference. The tone suggested someone who lectured on dusty topics. In person, he turned out to be a self-made entrepreneur. I simply encouraged him to let his writing sound like himself, not a weak imitation of his favorite scholar.
While all six projects had potential, they also needed significant work. Maybe none of the six belonged to a writers group, or maybe their peers were also too close to see the problems.
Fortunately, many writers conferences still offer the option of professional critiques. Done well, they’ll show you what you most need to know.