Literary Critiques – are they worth it?

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Our generous and inspiring October speaker Joanna Swainson of the fabulous new agency Hardman and Swainson was asked by more than one person in the audience about literary feedback services and whether they are worth doing. This question has been asked a lot over the past year so thought we’d repeat Joanna’s advice here.

Joanna strongly urges writers to be objective about their writing and if possible to hire an independent editor to give feedback.  She says that it is invaluable to get advice early on so that you can get a good idea of whether your book is working before you do the hard work of editing and redrafting. It is an unregulated part of the industry though so do your research thoroughly before diving in.

She also advises to finish your work before you submit though perhaps not always necessary for non-fiction – 3 chapters may be enough – just check the submission requirements of whomever you are sending your work to.

The market is getting increasingly competitive. It’s not enough to simply write well any more – your idea has to have that extra chromosome. As Joanna said: ‘What’s changed is that a book that might have found a publisher 6/7 years ago wouldn’t now. Often it’s because publishers are looking for a high concept book, whether fiction or non-fiction. You might also get a head start if you can encompass your concept in your title.’

Joanma gave the example of The Age of Miracles – the world and time –  suddenly starts slowing down. A big concept that grabs attention and intrigues; we want to know: how will they execute that idea?

At LWC we’ve seen a lot of work from Creative Writing course grads who write well enough but they don’t have a strong enough concept or a sense of what works commercially. That’s fine if you are writing for yourself and friends, but not if you want to be published.

Really what an author wants to know and the questions a critique should answer is:

  • is my manuscript ready to submit? And if it isn’t what can I do to improve it to increase my chance of getting published?
  • is it commercially viable? (As in will an agent or editor think there is an audience who will buy the book!)

The person reviewing your work should look at concept, structure, characterisation, plot, dialogue, setting and feedback to you in report form, via telephone or in person.

Just ask for your feedback in the way that it suits you best and make sure the person you use suits your project. Good luck.

There are many literary services on Google. Here at LWC we offer a limited number of critiques each month. Details here.

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