It’s actually kind of intimidating to sit down with an author face-to-face and analyze their manuscript. You know that they’ve put their heart and soul into what they’ve just handed you. And, I know from sitting on the other end of the chair, what you want to hear as the author is, “I love it! Here’s your contract.” (Note: In all my years of doing conferences, I’ve only heard twice about an editor that had come with a contract in hand and/or an offer for an unsuspecting writer. And even that feels high somehow?) As the critiquer, you want to give positive feedback and constructive criticism. You want the writer to feel like you understood what they were trying to do, and that they got some value out of sitting with you.
Here are some things to think about as a writer before you sit face to face with an editor/agent/author that’s critiquing your work.
1.) Come prepared. If it’s been a while since you handed in the work to be critiqued, give it another read so you can talk about it without having to flip through the pages. Think about a list of questions that are pertinent to that manuscript in particular, and your writing in general. Do you worry your characters aren’t fully drawn? Do you usually have problems with setting — is the setting clear in this piece? Do you keep hearing the same feedback in rejection letters that you’d like to get clarification on?
2.) Listen. It is so hard to listen when someone is saying something that you construe as negative about your work. I remember how hard it was in a creative writing class not to try and defend your work when classmates were still giving feedback. This is the same thing. Listen first.
3.) Ask questions. Usually after feedback is given, the critiquer will ask if you have any questions for them. Here is where you can ask them to clarify their comments. If you felt like the critiquer didn’t “get” your work, tell them what you were going for, and ask how you can make that more clear. Ask them the questions you prepared before. Do not pull out another manuscript and ask them to look at it.
4.) Be courteous. If your time is wrapping up, and you see the next group of participants are waiting, end your session cordially. Say thank you, shake hands and give them a business card if they ask. Don’t ask for “one last question” when the next participants are waiting. This looks unprofessional, and the editor/agent/author still has to keep their schedule. We don’t want to shorten another person’s critique because we’re running long. I hope that helps for future conferences!