Sunday, May 22, 2011

Critiquerly Interview with Author Susan Dennard

(Or, Critiquers Unite!)

Susan Dennard writes young adult fiction, and she’s another wonderful Crits for Water author/critiquer. She is represented by the fantastic ladies of Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation, who have done a lot to save lives in the Crits for Water campaign.

Sara Kendall mentioned how fantastic Susan Dennard’s Let the Words Flow blog is, and may I say? Glorious revision advice. Susan’s Crits for Water young adult/adult fantasy 50-page critique is up for auction starting tomorrow (5/23) here.

Susan Dennard is a 27-year-old reader, writer, lover of animals, and eater of cookies.
She used to be a marine biologist, but now she writes novels. And not novels about fish
either, but novels about kick-butt heroines and swoon-worthy rogues (she really likes
swoon-worthy rogues). She lives in Germany with her French husband and Irish setter,
and you can learn more about her crazy thoughts and crippling cookie-addiction on
Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads. Her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY,
will be available from HarperCollins in 2012!


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

SD: I think it’s best to read it and then let the criticism/feedback sit for a day or two. No matter how nicely worded a critique is, it always stings to learn you’re not perfect. :) As such, I think letting that sting wear off and allowing the truth behind the critique to sink in is critical before you tackle it.

Then, once you’re ready to work, you’ll be able to take each comment and decide if you agree or disagree with it.  No matter who’s critiquing you (even if it’s your agent or editor!), it’s up to YOU to decide if you agree or not. I have gotten some pretty rotten critiques before, and I am SO glad I didn’t listen to them—I wouldn’t be where I am now if I had!

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

SD: Don’t be condescending!  Try to word your comments as nicely and non-confrontational as possible.  No matter how long you’ve been doing this, then it’s always possible you’re “wrong”—boy, have I given some crappy feedback in the past!  But at least I know I gave it nicely and the author wasn’t offended.

Remember: writing is subjective, and your feedback is nothing more than your opinion.

As such, the key to a critique is to always start your comments with “I”, so it’s clear that the feedback is ultimately just your belief.  If you phrase it like: “I think you might…” or “I noticed…” or “I thought this…”, you reduce your risk of offending the writer and raise the chance of helping!

NAE: When you critique someone’s work, what is your general process (e.g., line edit as you go along, read once before editing, read several times, etc.)?

SD: I tend to read through and make comments as I go (possibly line-edits too if the author wants it). Then, I write up my broad thoughts on a separate page.  Finally, I go back through and check that all my comments are 1) nicely worded, 2) appropriate/helpful, and 3) accurate (in case I realized later I misunderstood a passage).

NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing (e.g., plot, grammar, characters, emotions, etc.)?

SD: It definitely depends on the writer’s request. If he/she wants line-edits, I’ll provide that. If he/she is just looking for overall feedback, I’ll focus on plot, character, and pacing—the Big Stuff.

NAE: If there is another question you think I should add to this list, what is it, and what would your answer be?

SD: Some people seem to think having a CP isn’t helpful—that it means you “don’t trust your own writing”. What do you say to these people?

No! :) I think each person has to decide what does/doesn’t work for him/her. I know that, for the majority of writers (that includes me!), having a fellow writer read and offer feedback was a defining step in developing our craft.  I know I can’t live without my CPs or beta readers!

I don’t “not trust my own writing”. What I don’t trust is my ability to distance myself from my writing. I need other eyes to catch where characters behave inconsistently, the plot confuses, or the pacing is bogged down with introspection. After I’ve been working on the same novel for over a year, it’s almost impossible for me to catch that sort of stuff anymore!

So, my advice is this: don’t be afraid to let other writers see your work, but at the end of the day, you have to decide if you want to listen or not. The only way a fresh set of eyes on your work could ever hurt you is if you choose to quit because of it—but notice, that’s your decision.

Critiquers unite!


I think Susan has coined my new catch phrase: Critiquers unite! Love it. Now I just need someone to compose a theme song. :)

Thanks, Susan for sharing your critiquerly ideas and suggestions. It’s a great idea to do that extra step of checking over your critiquing notes before you send it back. After all the time spent reading and writing up notes, it’s a simple but important way to ensure your critique is worded in a way that the writer will “hear” what you’re saying.

Remember to bid on Susan’s Crits for Water YA/Adult Fantasy critique auction tomorrow (5/23). Fifty pages! Wow.


Ella Schwartz said...

Great interview. I agree that a writer absolutely must have a CP - and more than one. I've read my novel a hundred times and still miss the little things - and sometimes the big things. Critique does sting, but you need to develop a tough shell if you want to be a roaring success.

Marybk said...

Hi, Ella! Love your name. YES YES YES: more than one crit partner is optimal. So glad you stopped by!

Krisz said...

I agree with #1. Read the critique and then let it sit for a while before getting back to it. It always stings, but time always softens it. That is so true. And when the sting is almost gone, that's when we can receive it openly and make great use of it.

Marybk said...

Krisz--I agree. Sometimes, the more I needed the feedback, the more it stings.

Kat said...

I'm totally with Sooz on the "too close to tell" syndrome. This is why fresh eyes are so stellar. They let you know what you overlooked especially in those cases when, to you, it's obvious. XD

Anita Grace Howard said...

What a great interview! And I couldn't function w/out my critters, I'll yell you. I SO don't trust my writing. I mean, I do to degree, when I'm pushing to get that first draft out; but when I'm ready to polish, I MUST have other eyes. It's too easy to be soft with your own work. Those words are your babies, after all. Thanks ladies for the insights!

Marybk said...

Hey, Kat! I agree -- I can't tell you how many times someone caught something in my writing that I've caught in someone else's. It's just so hard to see in your own projects.

Anita, I love how my critiquers handle my word-babies. :-)

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