Today I’m thankful for the ability to have other people critique writing, and I invited some awesome authors over to talk about their critique services:
MANUSCRIPT CRITIQUE SERVICES (Jessica Spotswood, Paula Stokes, Tiffany Schmidt, Elizabeth Richards)
Who determines what books everyone works on?
Paula: As stated on our website, we do allow writers to submit to one specific editor if they feel strongly about who they want to work with, but suggest that they remain open. The vast majority of our clients don’t specify an editor of choice, in which case the major deciding factor is which of us gravitates the most strongly toward the submission.
The four of us are very different and tend to click with different types of writing, and the best editor for your project is one who is engaged and intrigued by your work. So although we do have a system in place assuring that someone is always technically responsible to respond to each submission, if I get a sub that isn’t a good fit for me but I feel like one of the other editors might really like it, I’ll send an email to the entire group and suggest that they take a look. Of course there are more practical concerns at play too. If one of us is on a major deadline, she might temporarily opt out from accepting new editing work.
What kind of feedback do you provide?
Jessica: For a big-picture critique, I typically break down my feedback into various sections: characters, plot/stakes, setting/world-building, and line notes. In the character section, I’ll note moments when the protagonist comes alive to me, feels very sympathetic or funny or clever. I’ll make sure that she is driving the action, not simply reacting to the situations and people around her. If her love interest is coming across as more of a creeper, or her parents disappear in convenient ways, or she slut-shames her best friend and that’s never addressed, I’ll note my reactions to those things. I’ll also note moments when I laugh or swoon. As a character-driven writer, I tend to linger on that section.For plot/stakes, I’ll point out when the pacing lags, when I don’t understand the character’s actions or motivations, and when the writer undermines the stakes by hinting that all will turn out well or veering away from conflict. In the setting section, I’ll let you know I’d like to see more description of the protagonist’s home or superhero lair. Particularly in a fantasy, if the rules of magic or the society’s government don’t make sense, I’ll ask about that. Finally, I’ll point out issues like unnecessary adverb, awkward construction, overused words or phrases, etc. The specifics depend, of course, on the state of the manuscript. But I hope that my edit letter will give the author tools to do a thorough last revision and take the next step, whether that’s querying, submitting the manuscript to an editor, or self-publishing.
Elizabeth: I think the hardest and most crucial thing about critiquing another author’s work is ensuring you make it the best novel they want it to be, rather than the best novel you want it to be. The distinction is important because a good editor understands what it is the author wants to say; they are sympathetic to the author’s voice and the story. We are here to help authors achieve their objectives for the book and to ensure it is the best version of what they want it to be.
What can great editing do?
Paula: Great editing will not only elevate the level of the manuscript being critiqued, but it will also give the writer new tools and insights about the writing/revision process in general and their own strengths and weakness in particular. Great editing will not necessarily guarantee that a book will gain representation by an agent and/or be published in the traditional marketplace–I cannot stress this enough. For one, the decisions made in the publishing industry are very subjective. It’s not enough to write a well-crafted story at a high level. You have to write the right story at the right time and make sure it gets seen by the right agent and/or editor.
Secondly, we get submissions at all levels here at MCS. I’ve personally worked with writers who came to me with excellent prose and after working together they were offered representation. I’ve also worked with writers who were much earlier in the process who came to me with good ideas and rougher prose who left as more skilled writers but still weren’t ready to submit to agents. That is my main goal with editing–that every client I work with walks away a stronger and more confident writer regardless of where they are on their publication journey.
When should a person apply to MCS?
Tiffany: A writer should submit his/her story to MCS when s/he has reached the point where s/he cannot improve it any more on his/her own. Every writer reaches a stage when revision has become less about refining and enhancing the story and more about moving commas around and procrastinating. When a person reaches that “revision blindness,” s/he is ready for outside opinions and feedback to help point out the blindspots, lapses, or places that need a big more polish. The final step in my personal revision process before outside feedback is to read the whole draft aloud. (Yes, the WHOLE thing). It helps me hear and process the novel in a new way and lets something that’s very familiar be viewed (heard) through a fresh new perspective. I know writers who do something similar by changing the font or layout on the page as their final step before seeking feedback. Whatever your process, by the time you send your story to MCS you should feel like you’ve exhausted the work you can do independently and are as eager for our feedback as we are to give it! Happy writing!
Thanks to all the authors over at MCS for helping out with this post! To learn more about these authors, read their bios below and connect with them over at the MCS website!
Paula Stokes is the pseudonymous author of VENOM, BELLADONNA, and STARLING (writing as Fiona Paul), as well as the author of THE ART OF LAINEY, LIARS INC., and four more forthcoming YA novels. LAINEY was selected for the American Booksellers Association 2014 ABC Best Books For Children catalog and LIARS received a starred review from Kirkus. Paula works with writers at all levels, from pre-published to indie to those traditionally published at places like St. Martin’s, Penguin, and HarperTeen. Her crit partners describe her editing style as “bluntly insightful” and she would add that she is thorough (yes, perhaps even nitpicky) without being snarky. She frequently compliments things she likes, but doesn’t often rewrite sentences so as not to dilute a work’s narrative voice. Paula gravitates toward commercial stories with complex characters and a compelling voice. She prefers books set wholly or partially in this world, including contemporary romances, mysteries, and thrillers, as well as light sci-fi, and urban fantasies. Her favorite authors include Libba Bray, Stephanie Perkins, Holly Black, Kendare Blake, Barry Lyga, Siobhan Vivian, and Victoria Scott. Paula is also a Master’s level RN and will review just the medical elements of a YA/NA/adult fiction manuscript upon request.
Currently accepting submissions (Worldwide)
Jess is the author of the Cahill Witch Chronicles: BORN WICKED, STAR CURSED, and SISTERS’ FATE. The historical fantasy trilogy sold to Penguin Young Readers in a major pre-empt and was featured in Penguin’s Breathless Reads campaign. Both BW and SC were Indie Next List picks and BW received a starred review from VOYA. Her first contemporary YA novel, WILD SWANS, will be published by Sourcebooks in spring 2016. She is also the editor of PETTICOATS & PISTOLS, an anthology featuring short stories by authors such as Elizabeth Wein, Marie Lu, and Marissa Meyer, to be published by Candlewick in winter 2016. Jess is a children’s library associate for DC Public Library and teaches writing workshops for tweens and teens for Writopia. She’s worked with critique partners who self-pub, who are not yet published, and who are traditionally published by Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Bloomsbury, Hyperion, Sourcebooks, and Harlequin Teen. Her critique style has been described as “incredibly insightful” and “a warm and encouraging hand.” Jess will leave smiley-faces and hearts in your manuscript next to the things she loves – while asking questions to enhance your world-building, sharpen your characters, and heighten the stakes. Her focus is on historical, fantasy, and paranormal YA, but she also loves issue-driven contemporary. Her favorite books feature clever, independent girls who nevertheless get in a fair amount of swoony kissing, and she especially loves stories about sisters, complicated female friendships, and witches. Some of her favorite authors are Kristin Cashore, Marie Rutkowski, Sara Zarr, Courtney Summers, and April Tucholke.
Tiffany Schmidt is the author of SEND ME A SIGN (Bloomsbury, 2012), BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE (Bloomsbury, 2014) and the forthcoming ONCE UPON A CRIME FAMILY series, which begins in May 2015 with HOLD ME LIKE A BREATH. Her background as a former sixth grade teacher combined with her extensive work with teen writers allows her to provide feedback that has been called both “nurturing” and “full of tough love.” Her feedback style tends to be a mix of encouragement and praise for things that are working as well as probing questions and redirection when plots and characters start to run amok. Tiffany has experience providing critiques for a range of writing abilities: from young writers looking for some guidance to New York Times bestsellers. While she’s critiqued everything from paranormal, to fantasy, to horror, thriller, contemporary and back, she’s happiest when working with character-driven novels of any genre (and happier still when those characters spend at least a little time kissing or making her swoon!— or fighting to the death… ). Tiffany’s reading tastes are equally eclectic. Some of her favorite authors are: Ally Carter, David Levithan, Stephanie Perkins, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Richelle Mead, and Gayle Forman.
Currently accepting submissions (Worldwide)
Elizabeth is the author of BLACK CITY (Penguin, 2012), PHOENIX (Penguin, 2013), and WINGS (Penguin, 2014). Her debut novel, BLACK CITY, was selected as one of Penguin’s Fall 2012 Breathless Reads and was nominated for MTV’s Favorite YA Novel of 2012. Prior to publication, the movie rights were snapped up by Screen Gems and the film is currently in development. Her critique group nicknamed her “The Red Pen of Doom” because of her ‘take no prisoners’ editing style. Her comments are honest but never harsh and she will often leave personal notes in the ms when she really loves something. Elizabeth enjoys commercial stories, especially if they feature paranormal creatures, aliens, dystopian worlds, explosions, and hot boys (preferably all of the above)! Her favorite authors include Suzanne Collins, Beth Revis, Veronica Roth, David Levithan, JK Rowling, and Anthony Horowitz.
Currently closed to submissions. Opening again in Spring/Summer