Friday, July 18, 2008

Lessons from Snark Camp: Skin Thickening 101

The contest in the post below has not ended yet, however, I think it's safe to assume that I ain't gonna win. Though I didn't expect to win the contest, I did expect my opening to fare much better. Instead, the majority ruled "No, didn't hook me."

Why did I expect better? this opening has been through the wringer. In the past year my prologue and chapter 1 have been critiqued by 2 editors (Caitlyn Dloughy S&S & Krista Marino, Delecorte) as well as my critique group (all who are very honest). Both editors invited me to submit the story once it's finished.

The editors were both encouraging and though they had plenty of constructive advice. The opening wasn't a concern for them. The same goes for my critique group and the others who have read my MS thus far.

So, I had to ask myself "What's the difference? Why has my opening made it this far unscathed only now to be rejected by the majority?

At first I wanted to just make excuses. But what good would that do? the people have spoken and these people represent the readers: the ones who buy the books or pick them up at the library. These are the voices inside the head of our editors and agents.


What can I learn from this experience?

Here's what I've learned so far . . . .

This contest was like a simulated slush pile. If we want to get a small taste of what an editor thinks when they have a stack of manuscripts on their desk, then just go over to the contest submissions and read each one. There's 114 by the way.

By time you get to submission #10, or sooner, you stop reading the whole thing. UNLESS . . . you really like it. There's a ton of stuff to weed through and you're not going to want to read it all. If it doesn't hook you right away, chances are, you're going to give up on it pretty quick. Editors and Agents don't have all day. If we don't hook them right away, lets face it. We aren't going to hook them at all because they aren't going to read any further.

I figure that I received positive feedback in the past because my MS was critiqued at a conference and a writing retreat. The editors were expected and paid to read all of what I submitted. But the reality is . . . had that MS landed on their desk with the stack of other manilla envelopes, had I just been another stack of paper in the pile, they may have very well passed it over because the opening didnt' hook them. My opening is fine when read in the context of the entire chapter, but the first 250 words by themselves . . . needs to be better.

You may have something that they very well could like. But if it doesn't grab'em right away, it may still be passed over.

For me, this is very eye opening. Why share my defeat? Why not delete the post below, pretend I didn't enter and try to hide my shame? Because this is apart of my journey as a writer. I want to improve and a writer needs to learn how to write for their audience. not just ourselves, not just the editors and agents.

Although the negative feed back stings a bit, it is also necessary for improvement. So I thank all who offered their opinions. I'm also thankful for those who had kind words to say, those words were balm to my wounded pride. ;0)

I do suggest that all who aspire for publication to submit to this type of contest. It's good for thickening the skin and it's also another good form of honest feedback. Things we all need if we're going to be published. I'm glad I entered and I learned a lot.

back to work on draft 4 (then 5, 6, 7 . . . heck! who knows how many it will be!) But I'm diving in!!!!! :0)


Tabitha said...

I hope I wasn't one of those with negative feedback! :( I tried to be helpful...hope it was. Otherwise I really need to work on my constructive criticism skills.

I think the nature of this contest was much, much harder than everyone thought it would be. We were only given 250 words, and that's not very much. I think it also depends on the nature of your story. My opening depended on curiosity more than hooking, and there's not much I can do to change that (the secret agent even said so).

So don't take this contest too hard. Learn what you can, let it toughen up your skin, then go in full tilt with revisions. :)

C.R. Evers said...

Hi Tabitha! Aren't you sweet! I'm not sure if you wrote anything, (I'd have to go back and check) but even if you were one that wasn't hooked, that's OK. It's what I need to know to make my manuscript better and I appreciate ALL the feedback that I received. And. . . I'm ready to dive into revisions. :0)

I'm not discouraged, it was just very eye opening to see just HOW important those 1st 250 are!

Good for you for putting yourself out there on the line too! I'm sure we'll both be better writers for it! :0)


Brenda said...

I have not had the chance to read any of the stories in the contest, so maybe I shouldn't be commenting at all...

I try to remember that not everyone has the same taste as I do, and I'm almost afraid to admit this, but I did NOT like Harry Potter...I could not get into the books or the movies...I just don't like these kinds of stories as a whole...Did she have a great hook? Some would say yes, I would say no because it did not make me want to read more...Was it a great story? A lot of people thought/think so, yet I couldn't figure out what all the hype was about...

To each their own...The people who did not like your 'hook' may have been people who didn't/wouldn't like your type of story as a whole...Your story may have been their Harry Potter...that doesn't make your story bad, it just makes their tastes in reading material different...


Tabitha said...

Brenda has some really good points, especially about Harry Potter.

I think that if the opening of the first Harry Potter book had been entered in this contest, it wouldn't have done well. It doesn't have a huge hook for a beginning. The only reason I read beyond the first chapter was because a friend of mine assured me it was good. Actually, if it hadn't been for her, I wouldn't have read the books at all. :)

So just because your story doesn't have that "grab you" beginning doesn't mean it's a bad story. Or, that you're a bad writer. It may just be the best beginning for your story. :) This entire industry is subjective, anyway. :)

Ian Sands said...

First, you got a lot of very positive comments and that is good. Yeah, you got a few "no Hook" comments but they could all be Peter Pan fans....

you want my unsolicited advice? You need more underwear references. Let's try it again with my suggestion:

The underwear, tighty and whitey, raced low above the Keahlah harbor where four passenger underwear swayed in the icy depths. Charaka stood on the pier watching the underwear crash against the distant cliffs. Foam hissed against the jutted underwear.

See what i mean? Pure hook!

C.R. Evers said...

Brenda and Tabitha, thanks!!! You have a very good and encouraging point. Since I've had a couple of editors intersted in what they've seen in the story, I think I'm on the right track, but I'm still going to work on the opening and see if I'can't make it a little more grabbier. :0) You guys are so sweet! you really made my day!!!!!

Ian, LOL. From now on I will consult you for all my first lines. You have a gift for grabbing attention and your suggestions are flawless. Captain UnderPants and the Perilous plot of Professor Poopy pants would be proud! :0)

kai said...


I have only read a few of the entries from the contest and I have no clue if I read yours or not, however I had to share that your outlook on this adventure of yours is inspiring. Thank you for not only taking it on the chin, but doing it publicly so that wimps like me can learn from it.


C.R. Evers said...


thanks for stopping by my side of blogland and being so sweet! :0)

I'm sure you're not a wimp. the skin really does seem to thicken over time, and my critique group has given me lots of practice. :0)

Thanks again for your kind words! And good luck with your own writing!

Jacqui said...

I haven't been over there yet, so can't comment on that, BUT, I do want to 1) admire the maturity and lack of swearing, pouting, and threatening others with which you are approaching the comments, and 2) say that I agree with the commenters here who have warned to maybe not make so much of the contest -- not only because there's no accounting for tastes, but because the readers are approaching these openings with a very different mindset that an editor or a young reader would. Any of us who comes by here regularly knows you know how to hook us.

kai said...

I blogged about you today.

Hope I did you justice.


Authoress said...

What an awesome attitude -- I'm really proud of you. :)

And I'm encouraged by your response. This is the kind of response that turns good writers into great ones.

Hooray for you! And thanks for playing.

Mary Witzl said...

Wow -- I'm proud of you too, and we barely even know each other!

I've just read what Brenda has said about Harry Potter and oddly enough, a girl my daughter likes has said the same thing. She loves C S Lewis' stories and many other MG books I know and enjoy, but not Harry Potter. When I asked her why, she just shrugged and said that she couldn't get into it. It really does make you think.

Well done, both on taking the sting of rejection so well and posting about it here. We all go through this, though not all of us are so honest about it.