Like most writers, I started out protective of my manuscript. I thought I knew best from title to craft to concept. It took me a lot of tough love in the publishing world to realize I needed a lot of guidance and direction. After rewriting my manuscript several times to its final draft, a major problem was found. And not by me.
Then I went to Author Salon (AS), an online community of aspiring authors who have the opportunity to connect with agents and publishing house editors. Writers must pass through a rigorous critique process that involves reviewing each other’s profiles. A profile includes a synopsis, biography, plot details and prose samples. This is the stage where I’m at on Author Salon. I’m critiquing my peers and they’re doing the same for me; hence, how I found out about my manuscript problem. A peer at AS noted that a major character seemed out of place; for the reader, it ruined the flow of the book. I mulled over the advice, but didn’t incorporate it until a publishing professional gave me the same feedback.
I learned that, once again, even as an experienced writer, I need to let the reader dictate the experience, and if there is a major flaw in the manuscript, it must be changed. That’s why I’m grateful to AS, which pointed me on the right path and saved me from potential disaster.
However, AS is not for everyone. As stated previously, the critique process is intense and long, which AS clearly states. Critiques are not praise-driven; they are meant to identify the potential flaws of the manuscript, and in doing so, the writer can fix it. Critiques are thoughtful, detailed, respectful and take a while to complete. For example, to complete the first critique stage, it takes a few months. Once a writer passes through this stage, it’s time for peers to critique her/his manuscript. So if you’re a writer looking for a quick “in” or a gimmicky writers’ site, this is not it.
Instead, AS focuses on quality. And quality takes time. For me, it’s fine because I know a great manuscript takes multiple revisions and tons of criticism by others. I love using the Denis Lehane example. He is the author of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island. It took him 13 drafts to perfect Mystic River into a bestseller. I heard Lehane give a speech at Harvard back in 2006, and he said when writing Mystic River, his editor would make notes on his manuscript such as “eek!” So, I figure this is the reality of the publishing world: agents and editors are brutally honest, so writers need to learn to put their egos aside and take the gems of advice. That’s what I’m doing.