(Or, Don’t Jump into Scalding Hot Water)
My sister introduced me to my next guest. Well, not in person. She sent me a link to one of his blog posts. Ever since then, Nathan Bransford’s blog—where he writes about eBooks (see his recent post about the $.99 eBook phenomenon), offers page critiques, and has a mad lib formula for query letters—has remained on my must-read list. I’m interested in Nathan’s take on critiques because I like the fact that he’s a writer, and has dabbled¹ on the agent side as well. In fact, he still shows up as one of the all-time top queried agents on a particular online query-tracking system.
Oh, and also? If you read his blog, you’ll know he’s an all-around fantastic guy with down-to-earth advice for writers.
And if you haven't met him yet, then I'm happy to introduce him to you.
Nathan Bransford is the author of
a middle grade novel about three kids who blast off into space,
break the universe, and have to find their way back home, which
will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers on May 12th.
He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd., but is now
the social media manager at CNET. He lives in San Francisco.
NAE: After a writer gets back an in-depth critique, what would you recommend in terms of a review/revise process?
NB: I recommend treating an in-depth critique like a pool of scalding hot water. You don't want to jump right in, you want to gradually acclimate yourself and let it sink in. If writers are anything like me it's difficult to hear that certain things need to change and it's important to gradually lower your defenses. Read it once, let it sit, read it again, think about it some more, and let some time pass. Your brain will be working in the meantime, and as long as you're open to everything you'll be able to listen to your gut without your defenses or ego getting in the way.
NAE: What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?
NB: I think the absolute most important thing is to leave aside how you would write it if you were the author and instead focus on trying to help the author achieve their own vision.
NAE: When you critique someone’s work, what is your general process?
NB: I edit as I go. I don't really do very close line edits and instead focus on broader elements that are/aren't working.
NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?
NB: It really depends on the particular work, but basically I just try and keep an open mind, zero in on something that doesn't feel like it's working, and then try and figure out why it's not working. So it could be any one of those elements or a combination.
Thanks, Nathan! It’s interesting how you point out that critiquers are there to help an author achieve his/her own vision, not theirs. I completely agree, but this is easier said than done.
Check out Nathan’s JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW (Amazon link below).
Question for NAE readers: Have you ever found yourself critiquing as if you’re the one writing? If so, how do you reign yourself in?