Critique or Kicking?
Money well spent or wasted?
Pleasure derived from reading is something every person can afford to bathe in. I realise to spend money on perfecting how to write is something only some of us have the luxury to afford. Yes I am that sucker who sat once a week for nearly a year of my life, paying £000’s to get my writing reviewed by peer’s and experts at literary versions of X Factor, albeit a lot less captivating. Three years later, after all of the hours spent at both Faber and CBC two or three people (or about 10% ) went on to get a novel published. With work so different from what they read on in the writing course I had to do a Double Take to make sure they were the same writers!
Writing courses are a simple concept. According to the blurb, they would help my journey, hone my craft, and help make my writing better. I would understand how my words are received. Find my voice. Nope. Didn’t do any of that. Were the courses worth the time and effort? The endless critiques? Yes. Like a SAS recruit in training, jumping into a pool of deep cold ice water to see if I could survive, they left me with a diabetic thirst. The need to write well and a compulsive need to discover great writing.
When the courses ended I joined a clever writing group stuffed full of middle class, talented broadcasters and writers, which is great fun. Then set up a monthly book club where most of us are journos and writers and thankfully rarely share the same view.
One of the things I have learnt since I began writing three years ago, is that the moral compass of, not all, but many writers is set at a very low level. Just because someone is supportive and pleasant doesn’t mean your work won’t be copied, cloned or cribbed. Like the friend who never buys a round but you love them anyway. Some of the more desperate and, arguably less talented, writer friends will often happily incorporate a killer plot, that unusual use of a phrase, that premise developed over months, into their manuscript, often without hesitation. It’s not fair, not right and it’s not in any way OK. Avoid anyone who quotes: Good artists copy, Great artists steal. It was a joke only taken seriously by idiots who probably didn’t realise the word con was removed from the original quote.
I have written another book. I sent out a first submission to a few of the well-known names in the literary world and yes, the rejections flowed with polite letters. A few replies were even helpful. It gave me confidence. I asked one of my writing group, a well-known very literary agent, to recommend an editor. She kindly produced three names. I contacted all of them for a price list and immediately I asked for a discount. It did highlight how very different our worlds are when the literary agent asked me about the discount.
“Why did you do that?” With a straight but confused face.
I passed on describing the Irish potato famine and just filled up her glass with more Prosecco.
I’ve learnt, it’s a cottage industry, the literary critique world. Lots of players suggesting redemption from £250 for a read through to £3,000 for mentoring. The biggest assessment service in the UK book world turned over £170,000 in 2018. You do the math.
I needed to know, "What does someone who doesn’t know me think of my 90,000 words?" One of the smaller editing firm's was run by a woman. I say was, we can only hope. She took the literary agent out to lunch, sent her flowers to say thank you for her recommendation and basically fell over herself to get my business. Who knew my £350 (after discount) splurge was so sought after? She emailed to say she was super keen to let one of her professionals loose on my manuscript.
I paid and sent off my Manuscript. Then the assessment arrived. Wow. A kicking in a dark alley, without the blood. My manuscript had run the gauntlet and did not survive — eleven pages of killer criticism. There is a pattern here. Again someone who appears supportive and pleasant but has the morals of a stray cat! “Was there anything you liked?” I asked after a quick first scan of specifics of what her editor had hated. Half a page was taken up with commas in the incorrect place. Only half a page? Really? A literary comparison was made of my work which was flattering but totally wide of the mark. Had they used a template I wonder? Being the academic I am, I couldn’t let it go. Was I being overly sensitive? I asked a friend to highlight anything positive and specific to my manuscript in the eleven page feedback? Nope. Couldn’t actually find one positive line in eleven pages that was specific to the 90,000 words I had written. I emailed the agency and asked, “Could you redress the balance? A line or two that you liked perhaps? ANYTHING? I've had a call back - it can't be all bad? ”
Suddenly the editor and her colleagues were quiet. Well I suppose once you have the money then why bother? I also know it takes a reasonable time to read a book, so it may be a case of you get what you pay for? After all I have eleven pages of killer comments, although I suspect at least eight of them are sent out to every author.
Cheap does not mean inferior in the literary world. A hard cover book is no better than a kindle version. A fancy writing course is still a room full of opinions, many of which will disagree with each other. Wherever you are, someone will still show up with a piece which has the inner dialogue of a thinking cat. Hopefully, if you are really lucky, someone else will tell that writer, unless it's a book aimed at children, to edit it out.
I did an on - line critique editing course with Spread the Word and for my £50 I received six hours of healthy balanced feedback and a 40 minute valuable one to one.
In my writing group we chip in a little over £100 per term and we are supportive, effective and articulate if sometimes a little too truthful!
Maybe just finishing a writing course filled full of people with aspiration and desire then finding the will to continue afterwards is the test of a writer’s true mettle. The saying, “If you can’t bear to do anything else, then act,” for writers it must be, “Stories are like tears, when they won’t stop then turn them to ink and let them dry.” As far as the editing process is concerned, I will get back to you.