Monday, January 16, 2017

Developing a Critical Eye

One of my most favorite writing events is returning in a couple of weeks, WriteOnCon. What is it you ask? Well it’s an all virtual kidlit writing conference where the events are either free or for a small fee. And by small fee, we are talking anywhere from $1 to $10. Sounds pretty cool right?

Well even better, industry professionals, agents, editors, and authors write blog posts, host live question and answer sessions, and take pitches. And if that’s not enough, there’s a free, yes I said FREE, critique forums where you can post your work, get feedback from writers, find potential critique partners AND possibly get agent feedback or requests from the ninja agents sneaking through the forums. It’s all pretty amazing.

But with all that awesome, surprisingly that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about today. One of the most valuable things I’ve gotten out of WriteOnCon in the past wasn’t just the feedback, or industry advice (and don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic and super helpful), but it’s the forums themselves. And no I’m not talking about the ninja agents, sure they’re exciting and a lucky few people will get feedback and some EXTREMELY lucky writers will get requests, but there’s something valuable right in front of us writers and we don’t even know it.

The actual queries and first pages.

So let me back up a second. Writers join the forums and then post their queries and first 5 or so pages. Then they can read through the forums and critique other writers. So just by having your stuff out there and helping others, you’re likely to get feedback and maybe even find a new critique partner. But the thing I learned the most from was by reading hundreds and hundreds of queries and first pages. And I mean HUNDREDS.

For an entire weekend, you can pretend like you’re an agent reading the slush pile. There’s no better way to learn how to construct an awesome query letter and gripping first pages then by reading a ton of them. The more you read, the more you start to see what works and what doesn’t, what’s common and what’s unique, what mistakes others often make and what comes off stellar.

When looking at our own stuff, it’s often really hard to see where the issues are, but by reading tons of other people’s work, you learn how to improve your query and first page writing. You can read other work, form an opinion and then see how others are responding as well. This activity more than any other, really helps you develop that critical eye. Even better you can see where agents have commented and see if you agree with what they said.

So go out there and enjoy WriteOnCon, and all the amazing advice and activities. But don’t forget to spend some quality time on the forums with the queries and first pages there. You’ll be glad you did! And be sure to tell us in the comments what you are most looking forward to during WriteOnCon.

WriteOnCon is a three-day online children’s book conference for writers and illustrators of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and even new adult. For more information visit