Listen to Your Critics. They Might Be Right

by Nancy Massand

Wow, that’s really good!

You just submitted your latest draft to your critique group. Or your writing class. You bask in their praise. You are an author! Then you shop it around to every agent with a penchant for steampunk YA time travel fantasy romance, because you just know it’s gonna be a best seller. But no agent will touch it. Most don’t even reply. What happened?

What happened was that you stopped at “Wow, that’s really good.” Satisfied with the glib assessment, you didn’t press for more information. As an author, I’d rather hear “Your draft really needs work, starting with the title.” Your worst critics are your best friends.

Have you ever entered a writing contest? It’s a great way to get expert feedback on your manuscript before it ends up in an agent’s slush pile. In some competitions, judges give detailed critiques explaining their ratings. I once received three such critiques as a “prize” for being a finalist in the Romance Through the Ages historical fiction contest. I’ll always think of these judges as the three bears.

Baby Bear gave me a rave review. Love-love-love. Period. Since she had to include at least one negative to prove she was breathing, she said my formatting was a little off. It’s the kind of review every writer lives for. Easy fix. Search and Replace. Click. Done!

Mama Bear loved the plot and characters but found issues with the pacing. Her review was spot-on, I felt, because she loved the same elements I loved. Her criticism was substantial enough to take a few days of work, so I’d feel righteous about my creation but humbled that it wasn’t perfect.

Now for Papa Bear. I read her critique last, after I’d done my happy dance. Good thing, too, because if hers had been first I would have spent the evening with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a pound of Godiva. This reviewer did not hold back. My protagonist was unrelatable. Her boyfriend was more like a creepy predator than a love interest. The first chapter was boring and she couldn’t focus after that. Too much background info. Too little passion. And that was just the first paragraph of a two page critique. Single-spaced.

So which one did I listen to? Papa Bear. I recreated my protagonist. She morphed from fearful to feisty. Her boyfriend toned down the suave and upped the compassion. The first paragraph exploded. Literally. A rock through the front window. Did I follow EVERY recommendation to the letter? Well, no. But I weighed the advice carefully, and I learned a ton. When the thing was finished, all the fat was trimmed and the meat of the story was lightly grilled, sizzling on the outside, sweetly rare and meltingly soft on the palate. And bottom line, when I resubmitted in the final round, it won first prize. The final round judge, editor Debby Gilbert, asked for the full manuscript, and here I am.

Listen to your critics. They have nothing to lose. And you have everything to gain.

Nancy Massand’s debut novel, The Circle Unbroken, is up for release by Soul Mate Publishers in mid-September 2019. nancymassand.com

About Nancy Massand

My debut novel, The Circle Unbroken, was released in September 2019. I live and teach in NYC. As empty nesters my husband and I enjoy the city and the beach in equal measure, but nothing beats spending time with our nine grandkids.
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3 Responses to Listen to Your Critics. They Might Be Right

  1. pamelagibson says:

    This is excellent advice, Nancy. I, too, learned from contests and I’m still learning, even from readers. Many authors don’t read reviews. I do and i learn, especially if there is a consistent thread. I recently had an opportunity to rewrite a backlist book and used my newly-gained knowledge to make it better. Thank you for the reminder, and congratulations on your new release.

  2. Susan B James says:

    Great advice and very well written. Thank you

  3. Beth Carter says:

    Great post and advice!

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