Monday, June 20, 2011

Critiquerly Interview with YA Author Sarah J. Maas

(Or, Be the Critiquer who Opens Doors)

Sarah J. Maas, a young adult writer whose debut comes out next fall, is (pull out your Kleenex) my final Crits for Water interview (*sniff*). She's got a 50-page critique up for auction starting Tuesday, June 21st. And thanks to everyone who has already donated, the Crits for Water campaign has raised over $6,000. What does that mean? 300 people (including kids) now have access to clean water. Wow.

Sarah is also working together with Susan Dennard next month in offering a free YA aspiring writers workshop. You can read about it on Sarah's blog here or on Susan's blog. I love, love how fantastic these two are in giving to Crits for Water, and how dedicated they are in giving back to the to-be-discovered writers. It's like whip cream with chocolate fudge atop a scoop of ice cream—a beautiful thing.

Sarah is another author represented by Tamar Rydzinski at the Laura Dail Literary Agency (we met her agency sister, Brigid Kemmerer here). And Sarah? Knows how to lend much needed support to her critique partners. She opens doors.


Sarah J. Maas is the author of QUEEN OF GLASS, a YA re-imagining of Cinderella, in which Cinderella
is an infamous assassin forced by a corrupt empire to fight for her freedom. It will be published
by Bloomsbury in Fall 2012. She lives in Southern California, and over the years, she has developed
an unhealthy appreciation for Disney movies and bad pop music. She adores fairy tales  and ballet,
drinks too much coffee, and watches absolutely rubbish TV shows. When she's not busy writing
YA fantasy novels, she can be found exploring the wonders of Southern California.
(She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog.)

NAE: After a writer gets back an in-depth critique, what would you recommend in terms of a review/revise process?

The first thing I'd advise a writer to do is to Do Nothing. Well, they should first thank their CP for sending them an in-depth critique, because whether or not you liked what they said about your book, they DID put in a lot of time towards critiquing. But then I'd let the critique sit for a day or two. Mull things over. If you dislike what your CP suggested, are your gut reactions actually logical, or are they done out of a resistance to change?

Really try to take a step back from your manuscript and see things through the eyes of your critiquer. Be brave and fearless and brutal--if you're against a certain suggestion, try to figure out WHY. Is it for the good of the book or because you don't want to murder your darlings? If you have questions, ask your CP. Don't be afraid to get a dialogue going--brainstorm together, and discuss the issues your CP had with the manuscript.

One of my critique partners, Susan Dennard, sent me a FIVE-page critique for my debut novel, QUEEN OF GLASS. She outlined what she thought worked well and the spots that could use some improvement/cutting/expansion. After I'd had some time to process her critique, we scheduled a skype chat and wound up talking for well over two hours about how I could revise the book. Once I spoke with her, I not only felt GREAT about the revisions I was going to do, but also felt like I had someone that I could bounce ideas off of in case I got stuck again. In the end, Susan's suggestions about the manuscript really took it to the next level.

NAE: What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?

Always make sure you and your CP are on the same page in terms of the level of feedback that you want. Some people don't want line edits--others do. The best kind of CP relationships start out with both of you understanding what you want to get out of the exchange--and the level of critique you'd like.

Also: be sensitive. That doesn't mean go easy on your CP, but if you're making a particularly major suggestion, phrase it nicely. No one wants to have their work ripped to shreds, and no one appreciates snarky comments. Remember that while you're both here to improve your work, you're also there to bolster each other's spirits. Be someone who opens doors--not closes them.

NAE: When you critique someone's work, what is your general process?

I first ask my CP what level of critique they want: line edits, general feedback, focus on specific sections, etc., and then go into reading with that in mind. If I'm doing line edits, then I'll usually read the ms twice: once to get a good sense of the book's voice, meaning, and pacing, and the second time to do line edits (so that my cutting is in-tune with the feel of the book). If a CP needs the ms back from me ASAP, then I'll just do one super-round (which requires a ton of coffee/focus, lol). I take notes as I go along--both in the manuscript (via track changes) and in a larger word doc/email. When I'm finished, I'll expand more on my larger comments and fully explain the reasoning behind my suggestions. And then I always make sure my CPs know I'm available to chat about the revision suggestions/help them in any way!

NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?

Even if my CPs ask me not to line-edit, I have a hard time turning off the part of my brain that always looks out for run-on sentences, inconsistencies, and typos. But usually I'm drawn to pacing--do things happen too quickly or too slowly, do vital bits of character info happen too soon or too late, should X-scene be moved to Y-section, etc.. I feel like pacing feeds into other essential parts of the book (characterization, plot, world-building).

Question added by SM: How did you find your critique partners?

SM: Most of mine were online friends before we became CPs--though some were acquaintances who just wanted to swap (and later became good friends). I gravitate towards CPs who write similar stuff to my own--YA fantasy, sci-fi, or paranormal. Mostly just because they're usually really well-versed in the genres and understand where I'm coming from with my writing and what I hope to accomplish.


Thank you, Sarah. I love that you skype with your CPs. Great idea! (Dear CPs: Hint, hint?)

Again, you can find Sarah's critique up for auction Tuesday, June 21st.

And thanks to all the NAE readers for coming along on my Crits for Water journey, for reading and commenting on all the interviews, and for donating to the campaign. I heart you guys for it.

If you didn't get a chance to donate to Kat Brauer's campaign but you'd like to help provide clean water to someone you'll never meet but who will owe you the world, here's the charity: water information again.


Anonymous said...

Hooray!! Thank you so, so much, Mary, for hosting such a WONDERFUL series of interviews on your blog, and for inviting me to be interviewed!! You've been such a pleasure to work with!!! <3

Marybk said...

Sarah: The pleasure is all mine. Thanks for the awesome donation to CfW.

Anita said...

What a wonderful review, and of course, a wonderful cause. WOW. I'm so glad so much money has been raised. Both of you ladies are true advocates!

Pacing is very important to a book. But I sometimes have a hard time zeroing in on that in my crit partners' projects. So kudos to you for being a pacing junky!

Thanks for another wonderful interview, Mary!

Marybk said...

Thanks, Anita! The Crits for Water critiquers have been amazing.

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