The Professional Critique: The Writer's Best Friend

Guest Post By Janice Gillgren

My children's picture book is just 12 pages long, but I've been trying with this particular story for over a decade, pitching it to about 20 different publishers in that time, with no success.

Finally I decided to try a competition. The fee included getting a professional appraisal (critique), and the first prize in its category is publication, by a royalty publisher.

I was so excited to find out my entry was shortlisted, and the got into the finalists. Even more exciting, though, was the result of the appraisal. It was a lot more positive than I'd anticipated.

I really felt like I had a win-win chance with this book. If I won the competition - fantastic! If not, the critique should help to sell the book to another publisher.

A professional critique:

We often think of a criticism as only a negative thing, but did you know that the word 'critique' comes from the word 'criticism'? A well-written critique really can be a writer's best friend.

I was considering paying for a professional critique, so when I realised the cost of subscribing to the group (Omega Writers, Brisbane, Australia), plus the entry fee for the story, would work out about the same - especially as their critiques are also at a professional level - it definitely seemed a worthwhile investment. I don't usually consider competitions to be investments on their own; but a professional critique certainly can be.

Does that mean that getting a critique, even by a professional, will guarantee success for you? Of course not. Some may not even be very helpful. However, it is probably better to take any negative comments seriously, especially if where they are accompanied by suggestions for improvement.

The critique: the self-publishers best friend.

Self-publishing has opened up wonderful opportunities for writers who simply can't get their books accepted by conventional publishing companies. It has also opened the door for some appalling writing to be published, which pulls down the reputation of self-publishing, and even writing in general.

· I recommend any writers I know of who are considering self-publishing their book to get as wide a range of reader's critiques as possible, although you need to remember that friends and family are likely to be either overly nice or overly harsh.

· Be willing to reimburse those who you ask to read your book, especially if you expect the person will give you a thorough and honest appraisal, rather than simply reading it and telling you how they feel about it generally.

If you can't give a financial reimbursement, negotiate some way of showing your appreciation. Writers may love reading - but that doesn't mean they have time to appraise every hopeful writer's material for free.

· Learn as much as you can about the process of self-publication and marketing before you pay a printer.

· Approach a professional editor. If you know your writing skills are not at a top level, this is even more important. Even the best writers make mistakes.

· You may also benefit from a professional appraisal at other levels, such as the story's flow, the strength of the characters, the plot outline and so on.

Getting your book published may be easier now than ever before, but that doesn't guarantee it will be easy to attract readers. Do your best to get your work to the best level you possibly can, and people will be asking you for more.

PS My little book didn't win the top place, so I shall have to keep trying. However, with a professional critique to accompany it, I know its chances are now much greater.

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