Monday, October 17, 2011


by Lorna Kerin Beall

I recently attended a wonderful Children’s Writing Conference in Springfield, Missouri, and had a chapter of my middle-grade novel critiqued by, oh joy, an acclaimed editor!

When I registered, I was handed a one-page critique along with my manuscript pages, but didn’t have time to read it beforehand. What did I do during my precious fifteen minutes with the editor? I blabbed the whole time, hardly giving her a chance to speak. Later a friend and fellow writer confessed that she’d often find herself doing the same thing. How do I prevent this from happening again? And better yet... 

How do you get the most out of a conference critique session?

1) After writing it down, practice what you are going to say. (Jana has told me that she has done this for “screenplay pitch sessions.”)
2) If you haven’t put the genre and targeted audience at the top right hand corner of your first page (or wherever they might request that information), tell the person that information. Also mention the word count/and/or number of chapters.
3) Briefly tell the plot of the story and what is unique about it. Also relate the ending.
4) Write down questions you want to ask, and feel free to take notes. (Some of us have senior memories.)
5) If you’ve had a chance to read the written critique, and you need the person to explain or elaborate, this is the perfect time to ask.
I didn’t notice until days later that the editor gave me a wonderful compliment in her written critique. She graciously said my chapter of The Wormy Bean Winter reminded her of some of the best work of O.E. Rölvaag, the acclaimed author of Giants of the Earth, (A novel about homesteading in South Dakota, first published in 1927.) I admit it, I’d never even heard of him. But I immediately looked up information on the Internet, and requested his books from the library. The only one available was Giants of the Earth and I loved it! Because of the time era I expected to be bogged down in lengthy description, but I wasn’t. It has a unique slant, (especially for that time period) bringing out both the Norwegian husbands and wife’s viewpoint about homesteading in the desolate prairie. This is too simplistic- but Per Hansa was exuberant about the whole experience, while his wife, Beret, nearly became suicidal.

After devouring the book, I decided to make up for my neglect in responding to the editor’s gracious comment about my work. Since my book has a Finnish protagonist, I found a thank you card that said thanks in several different languages. Of course, it didn’t have the Finnish word, so I added it at the bottom of the list:“Kiitos!”

6) Lastly, whatever the editor, agent or author says about your work be thankful for their time and effort. And express it. You may disagree and that’s your right, but often when they suggest changes it’s more helpful than accolades. I got both from the editor who critiqued mine. Though I have to admit her compliment was like a sweet taste of molasses. (I started to say honey, but molasses figures largely in my old-timey prairie story.)

Keep writing, going to conferences and having consultations. It’s worth it!

Note: Some guidelines adapted from The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators' handout, "Manuscript Consultations."