Monday, June 13, 2011

Critiquerly Interview with Author Kendra Highley

(Or, Giving the Manuscript a Rest)

You may have been waiting for this Crits for Water auction, the one where YA author Kendra Highley has donated a full YA/MG manuscript (ADDED 6/15: or Adult Fantasy/Paranormal/Soft Sci Fi). Yes. You read that correctly. A full. Bid on it starting Tuesday, June 14th

Kendra is represented by Shana Cohen at Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency, Inc., and she’s got a lot of critiquerly spirit. Read on to see her methods of critiquing genius.


Kendra Highley--a mom, cookie-baker-extraordinaire and hopeful romantic--is a
YA writer with a penchant for fantastic tales.
You can visit her website at , or look for her on Twitter.


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

KH: After getting back a critique, particularly a somewhat tough one, I always suggest time.  Meaning, take a few days to think about the review before you do anything with it.  My own kneejerk reaction is to start fixing too quickly.  I’ve found that giving the manuscript a rest helps me be more objective about the things that need real work, places that need smoothing, and places my gut tells me to leave alone.  After a few days, I roll up my sleeves and go through the critique at a high level, then chapter-to-chapter to see if there are any themes I need to fix throughout.  Once I’m done with the big stuff, I focus on sentence level issues.  I find if I break it down, piece-by-piece, the revisions aren’t as overwhelming.

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

KH: Don’t get lost in the weeds.  It’s tempting to fix small things, like punctuation errors and sentence structure.  Sure, those things need called out, but…Not. Every. Single. One.  Instead, point out recurring issues once (or twice) then focus on characterization, voice, plot, world-building and general story-telling.  Lots of published books break well-known writing/craft rules but what the best have in common is that they tell compelling stories.

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

KH: I do two things– I do line edit to an extent as I read.  If the writer has some basic problems with grammar and structure, I put some focus to it.  But I also try to comment on the big things as I go along as well (i.e. “This character isn’t in voice.” Or  “That plot point seems out of place.”).  Finally, I write a summary commentary about the overall manuscript.

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

KH: I do love my grammar (I actually have a t-shirt that says “Grammar Punk” on it), but I’m really big on character.  Do they sound right? Do they ever do things that make me raise an eyebrow and ask “would they really do that?” Are they unique enough?  Is the voice strong?  That’s what makes a manuscript stand out to me.

Question added by KH: How many critiques/betas do I need? 

KH: Honestly, that’s a question everyone asks and the answer varies for all of us.  I think once you develop a strong crit-partner group, you’ll know who’s going to help with what and at what point you can call the manuscript “reviewed enough.”  Until then, just use your gut.  If something still seems to be missing/not working, one more pair of eyes might help.


Thanks, Kendra. Um. I want that Grammar Punk t-shirt. Or maybe we could get t-shirts made more specifically for Not an Editor. Critiquer Punk. What do you think?

Alright, folks. Lots of reasons to take a look at Kendra’s FULL YA MS (ADDED 6/15 OR MG OR Adult fantasy/paranormal or soft sci fi) auction on June 14th, not the least of which is that clean water saves lives.


Kendra said...

Thanks, Mary! I really appreciate the interview and let's raise some money for clean water!

Marybk said...

Thank *you*, Kendra. Woots for clean water.

Marewolf said...

Great interview! I recently purchased a "Prose before Hos" t-shirt (complete with a picture of Will Shakespeare) and I love it.


Anita said...

It's always so interesting to me how many authors agree on the point of "let the crit stew before re-seasoning the soup." It's so true. In fact, sometimes I'll go a few weeks or so, just letting the critique and the ideas it generates build up, so I know EXACTLY where I want to go with things.

Also, loved this advice: "Don’t get lost in the weeds." What a great way to put it!

Thanks Mary and Kendra!

Marybk said...

Marewulf! Now I'm wondering why *I* don't have any fab t-shirts like these. #WhatIsWrongWithMe #BehindTheTimes

Marybk said...

Anita - You are so right. A few week, eh? I think I've done that as well. Thanks for the comments!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Good interview. I like that idea about the waiting after a tough critique, one that really challenges your mc's motivations. I'm doing that right now. Taking the time to digest the comments and see what (if anything) I need to do.

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