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Below is my interview (alongside my mentor Holly Faur) with details of my writing process, my takeaway from Pitch Wars revision process, how I connected with my literary agent Jaida Temperly, and a few fun facts about Holly and me. (This interview was first published in Brenda Drake’s website on June 21, 2017.)

Here’s Part 1 of my experience as a mentee of Pitch Wars 2016.

Hema Penmetsa

Hema Penmetsa. Twitter: @hemapen

Hema is the author of BEYOND THE CARVED WALLS, a novel set in the famine and war-ravaged Mughal India of the 1500s. She writes historical fiction on an intimate scale that shines light on the lives of unsung heroes: women who embody courage and grace and rise above their restrictive circumstances. As a compulsive writer and lifelong devotee of the world’s vibrant cultures, she is committed to promoting diversity in published novels. She lives with her family in Texas—locked in a perennial battle against the heat to keep her precious garden alive—but she grew up in India to bedtime tales involving its rich past and alternate histories.

Hema, what was it about Holly that made you choose to send her a Pitch Wars application?

The first time I read Holly’s wish list, I couldn’t believe my eyes—it was as though she was asking exactly for my novel.

Then I researched her Twitter presence and author website, and like I mentioned in my previous Pitch Wars interview, I found that she was easygoing and had a wonderful sense of humor (two crucial qualities in someone with whom, with any luck, I’d be working closely for the next two months and hopefully developing a lasting friendship).

So, Holly took the top spot on the list of my mentor choices (along with five other fabulous mentors who were also looking for themes like mine). As I began working with her, I realized that I couldn’t have chosen better, because Holly has this way of infusing you with self-confidence and a quiet purpose that helps you to keep moving forward.

Holly, what was it about Hema’s BEYOND THE CARVED WALLS that hooked you?

The query hooked me right away since it was filled with everything I wanted: places new to me, strong women, and diversity. Her pages proved she had an amazing sense of story and I was caught up with the MC on page one—and she hadn’t even tempted me with descriptions of Indian cuisine yet! But what I loved the most was the obvious care and respect in which she wrote about a difficult time in India.

Hema, tell us about the revision process for Pitch Wars?

Holly first sent me an edit letter with suggestions of over-arching changes and structural improvements. After she line-edited half of my whopping 400-page book (so that I could carry over the edits through the rest of the book), she sent me a second edit letter with detailed suggestions that were specific to scenes and individual character arcs.

Once we discussed (over emails and phone conversations) our mutual vision both for the big changes and smaller tweaks, every time I added a new scene or made huge alterations, I’d send her the word file (with track changes on) at the end of the day. She’d read the additions and suggest tightening them in places. I believe this micro-critiquing helped the process of final line edits that much smoother and kept it all from overwhelming either of us. Once I finished revising the entire book, I sent it off to Holly again. She graciously read it one more time and gave some more line-edit suggestions, which I finished quickly.

And that was how I ended up with a novel that was shiny as a new penny by the time the agent round rolled in. Although it was a grueling and exhausting two-month period of non-stop writing, revising and re-editing, I wouldn’t change a single thing about the process.

Holly, tell us about your experience mentoring Hema.

I learned so much! One reason I love manuscripts like Hema’s is that I’m always looking to learn about and embrace the world in new ways, and what better way than by story? We also brainstormed a lot, finding ways to move scenes around, or adding more feeling and descriptions. We kept going, even after the agent round, and I’m so excited this manuscript has found an agent home.

Hema, after Pitch Wars, you signed with Jaida Temperly of New Leaf Literary and Media Inc. Please, tell us about “The Call.” We love all the details about the offer, how they contacted you, how you responded, celebrations, emotions . . . How long did you have to wait and how did you distract yourself? Anything! We love hearing about all of it.

Suzie Townsend, Jaida Temperly’s colleague at New Leaf, was one of the agents who had requested my full manuscript as part of Pitch Wars agent round. But she soon decided that my novel might align better with Jaida’s tastes and shared it with her. Within a week, Jaida read my full and absolutely loved the setting and my voice, but she believed some plot points needed further fleshing out. After an exchange of a couple of emails, we had an hour-long phone conversation during which I got to learn not only just how much Jaida believed in my novel’s premise but also how well she understood “story” at both macro and micro levels. By the end of the call, I was determined to revise based on her input asap. Which was exactly what I did and updated her (and all the other agents who already had my full either through Pitch Wars agent round or my cold queries) with the revised version. Much to my pleasant shock, within two days I received an offer of representation from a (different) fabulous and noted agent!

I couldn’t have timed “The Call” better myself if I’d had any control over it, because I was scheduled to leave on vacation early the next morning. Things got pretty hectic that day once I hung up the phone, because I had to send a million “I have an offer” nudge-emails to all the other agents who had my full and also those whom I’d cold-queried and hadn’t heard from yet. Although I had to field quite a few emails with questions, new requests and regretful step-asides from agents while I was on vacation, going away with family and enjoying the sights of a new city proved to be the best distraction. I also had a long and (quite fun!) chat with an established client of the offering agent and that conversation helped settle my nerves because it reinforced my own impression that the agent was not only wonderfully professional but also personable and kind. Once I returned home, I received three more offers (for each of which I am still humbled and immensely grateful), which led to more phone calls, obsessive online research, frantic comparison of agency contracts, and more back and forth emails.

One of those latter offers was from Jaida. She emailed saying she loved re-entering the world I had created in my book and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it since she’d read it first a few weeks ago, and she was thrilled to offer me representation. I talked to her at length again, where she outlined a detailed vision (which totally matched mine again) for revisions. She also came prepared with a list of editors and imprints to whom she’d like to submit once the book was ready. That clinched it for me, and I soon signed with her.

Hema, how do you feel Pitch Wars helped with your success?

Pitch Wars has made a huge contribution to where I am today as a writer. I learned not only better revising and editing techniques through the process, but I also became aware of my strengths and weaknesses (which is invaluable for a writer like myself who’s in it for the long haul). Also, the several requests I garnered through the agent round led me to believe that my story has a market, which helped me to keep faith and stand true to my premise. Ultimately, I connected with Jaida—even if a bit indirectly—through Pitch Wars!

In addition, I made wonderful and lasting connections. Holly has been—and continues to be—a huge support; I’m seriously awed by the mentors’ generosity and commitment to helping virtual strangers succeed. And I made several new friends from among my fellow mentees, which is brilliant.

To me Pitch Wars represents everything that’s positive about the writing scene in the US.

Now for some fun! The following questions are for you both to answer.

If you could live in any fictional world and take everything you love with you, where would you choose to live? What would you do there? And why this world?

Swiss Family Robinson TreehouseHema: I grew up in India on a steady diet of classics. So, I happened to read THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON by Jonathan David Wyss very early on and that book set my imagination on fire. Oy! Just the thought of living permanently on top of a tree and setting off on a different adventure each day made me starry-eyed. I’d love to experience that setting (minus the distress of being ship-wrecked, of course) in real life. Imagine my delight when I accidentally stumbled upon the Swiss Family Treehouse at Magic Kingdom in Orlando (no one had told me that it was one of the attractions!)—I wouldn’t shut up for the next two hours until my family fully appreciated the significance of my find.

Holly: Not fictional really, but Prince Edward Island has held a place in my heart since I first read about Anne Shirley.

Somewhere in the (known or unknown) universe, you’re in a high-speed chase and have to escape the bad guys. Who are you running from and what fictional character is your side-kick?

Hema: In a fantastical universe, I (in my gallant queen avatar) am being chased by enemy troops, and once I have them exactly where I wanted, I’d turn around and decimate them, mwahaha! A witty poet and court jester like Tenali Rama would be my side-kick—a light moment or two to help me and my soldiers relax would be just the ticket.

Holly: I’ve obviously thwarted some evil plan in which I must now escape, but Wonder Woman has my back so we’ll be home in time for tea.

What do you think is the most fascinating invention from fiction and what book is it from?

Hema: The Flying Carpet from THE ARABIAN NIGHTS: being able to fly with wind in your hair, not to mention lotsa legroom and no restrictions on luggage? Priceless. 🙂

Holly: Books themselves are the very best inventions! Helene Wecker’s THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI has a golem come to life (and a jinni) and I love the process.

Share with us your writing process. Do you write every day, in sprints, early in the morning, in the bath, pen and paper? What works for you?

Hema: Being only two books old, I don’t yet have a set writing process, per se. Since I write diverse historical fiction (where I drop my made-up characters into the midst of real historical figures and time-period and have them respond to the circumstances), the process I have going now is rather front-loaded. I research extensively and frenetically about the social, political and cultural aspects of the time period so that the norms of that era become as familiar to me as those of today. Then once I sit down to plot and subsequently write, I tend to get lost to the real world for the next few months as I write, write and write some more each day. I’m not big on word-count; rather I focus on finishing a scene or two per day.

Holly: I do prefer mornings, before the house is awake. I write in small chunks, but sprinting does not work for me. I’m nearly always researching or reading a book on the subject I’m writing about, or browsing Pinterest for inspiration. Sticky notes are everywhere.

You have one day to finish the last pages of your next bestselling novel. What food/drinks do you get and where do you go hide out to meet the deadline?manasarovar

Hema: Ideally, I’d retire to my cozy cottage at the foothills of the Himalayas with an unobstructed view of the Manasarovar Lake. And I’d have an endless supply of chai and warm scones with clotted cream. But IRL, I find a quiet corner in one of the local libraries (or get comfy at my writing desk at home) when I’m getting ready for a stint of writing. And, boring as it may seem, a big bottle of water is my trusted friend on these sojourns, because in addition to keeping me hydrated, it forces me to take breaks and walk around, which I tend to forget to do once I’m in the zone.

Holly: I’d hide out in Ashville tea and almonds if I could. But reality would be my dinning room table as it has always been (no office here) and my stash of chocolate.

What or who keeps you motivated, inspired, or is your biggest support to keep writing?

Hema: My family. They’re my biggest cheerleaders and support system. I also have wonderful friends who encourage me to keep going, especially when the going gets bleak. Writing is a lonesome vocation, so I’m immensely grateful for the faith my friends and family place in my work—it keeps me motivated to step determinedly forward.

Holly: My husband, not because he’s the loudest cheerleader, but because he’s never doubted me. My children cannot imagine me as anything but a writer, and always tell their friends I write “books”, so that in its own dear way is a huge encouragement. I also have a merry band of writer friends who keep me level and heartened.

Please, share any last words you would like to add.

Hema: My two significant findings so far as a writer are: Perseverance is key, of course, but so is trusting your instincts and standing your ground if you believe in your story.

Holly: When it feels like you’re just spinning your tires and getting nowhere (manuscript troubles, agent hunting, awaiting submission) make sure you take the time to enjoy the view.

Thank you for reading!

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Those of you who have been following my blog for some time know that I’ve been working for the past few years at getting my writing published. I have now signed with the fabulous and inimitable literary agent Jaida Temperly at New Leaf Literary and Media Inc!

This is a dream come true and a huge step in the right direction for me. I’m currently sharpening my historical fiction manuscript BEYOND THE CARVED WALLS (find a few tidbits about it below) to its best shape possible before Jaida can approach editors.

I connected with Jaida, even if a tad indirectly—more details coming up shortly in my next article on this blog—through the Pitch Wars competition founded and hosted by writer-extraordinaire, Brenda Drake.

I’m seriously awed by Brenda’s and all the Pitch Wars mentors’ generosity and

PitchWars-Logo

commitment to helping virtual strangers succeed. The competition not only helped me hone my craft but I also made lasting connections with several wonderful fellow-writers who are as serious about publishing as I am.

Pitch Wars for me, in short, is everything that is positive about the writing scene in the US.

Pitch Wars 2017 is right around the corner, so those of you who are serious about writing and are in it for the long run, do check out the Pitch Wars website and #Picthwars hashtag on Twitter for more information.

I’ll leave you with a short interview (which was first published in Brenda Drake’s website on October 27, 2016) I did along with my fantastic mentor Holly Faur.

Pitch Wars Interview with Hema Penmetsa and her mentor, Holly Faur

Hema: Why did you choose Holly?

Holly’s wish list, her elegant yet quirky website, and her mentoring style indicated that she was easygoing and that she had a wonderful sense of humor (two crucial qualities in someone with whom, with any luck, I’d be working closely for the next two months and hopefully developing a lasting friendship).

Although none of Holly’s favorite books were the same as mine (no problem. It only meant my TBR list just grew more mouth-watering), we had a lot in common when it came to favorite writers and TV shows.

And then her “List!” This was when I got really excited. Each of her requirements read like she was talking to me about my manuscript:

  • Historical – check
  • Strong women – check
  • Diverse characters – check
  • Complicated “unlikeable” people done right (my MC turns into a loathsome woman for part of the story because of circumstances, and if I hadn’t done her right, then I hoped Holly would see the potential and set me straight) – check
  • Cultures and countries around the globe – check
  • Polished and professional manuscripts written by serious and professional people – check

By this time, I was close to swooning with giddiness at the “match factors.” And this is how my submission shot through the ether and lodged into Holly’s Inbox.

I am beyond excited and humbled that among all the sparkling submissions Holly has received, she placed her faith in my writing and chose BEYOND THE CARVED WALLS!

Holly: Why did you choose Hema’s manuscript?

I chose Hema’s manuscript because it would not leave me alone! Besides being everything I wanted–rich in culture and diversity, strong female lead, “foreign lands”–I literally dreamed about it when I was on fence between a few MSs. Sounds silly, but I woke up knowing I HAD to mentor it. Then after talking with Hema on the phone after picks, it just felt like kismet.

Hema: Summarize your book in three words.

Survival, Self-discovery, Redemption.

Holly: Summarize Hema’s in three words.

Betrayal. Strength. Hope.

Hema: Tell us about yourself. What makes you and your MS unique?

Although I currently live in the US, I grew up in India to bed-time tales about its rich past and alternate histories. It gives me great pleasure to acquaint my newfound home with my original homeland through my stories.

I grew up in the regions of India where Hinduism and Islam jostled each other over centuries and settled into their own grooves. This provided me with a singular perspective into the disparate traditions and practices but also similarities in the day-to-day routines of the two religions. This vantage point, twined with my love for history, gave birth to BEYOND THE CARVED WALLS, an adult historical that traces the epic journey of a Hindu girl sold into the Mughal (Islamic) harem in the famine and war-ravaged 16th century India.

Holly: Tell us about yourself. Something we may not know.

I do not own a single book case. As you can imagine, this is a very serious problem. I collect coffee mugs and tea cups. I once won a “sexiest lips” contest. Molly Weasley is my patronus.

–0–

Thank you for stopping by! Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into my writing world, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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I participated in a webinar led by agent Mark McVeigh a few weeks ago. He had invited a group of writers, who follow his blog, to this webinar; I happened to be one of the lucky participants!

Mark worked as an editor for eleven years, most recently as editorial director at Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, before he opened his own literary agency, The McVeigh Agency.

He spent 90+ minutes explaining the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry: how to get a literary agent, how to present your work in the best possible light to people in the business, and how to make connections with editors and others in the industry. He left plenty of time at the end to answer the questions that we had.

His presentation was clear and concise. (He was a sixth grade teacher before he entered the publishing industry and his experience in that field and his love for teaching came shining through during the session!)

And the added bonus? None of us had to rush to the airport on time, take a two/three hour trip to get to the destination, or check into a hotel in order to attend the seminar.

We used a web tool to connect, so we could not only hear each other, but also see each other. All we had to do was log in from wherever we happened to be at the time for which the session was scheduled!

Do you want to grow as a writer? Then you have to hear Mark’s advice in that area:

  • Write every single day.
  • Get into a routine to write.
  • Be part of a critique group – online or face-to-face or both.
  • Become involved and immersed in the writing community.
  • Work on different genres for different age groups: get out of your comfort zone.

At Mark’s suggestion, a number of the participants, including myself, immediately formed an online critique group.

I found out soon, much to my delight, that this group is pretty eclectic in the genres and age groups for which it writes. I belong to a wonderful face-to-face critique group already, and now I’m very excited about being a part of this new one also.

Overall, it was a pretty cool session — one which gave me a chance to not only learn from one of the pros of the publishing industry, but also connect with a bunch of like-minded writers who are willing to learn and grow alongside me.

I hear Mark is planning on conducting more of these webinars, which don’t require anything special besides a webcam on your computer. Keep your ears to the ground!

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I mentioned in my post last Monday that I happened to go to an Agent/Editor Day ten days ago, held by the local chapter of SCBWI.

I already shared with you my impressions from the topic discussed by Rachel Orr, the agent from Prospect Agency.

Now I present my impressions of what Margaret Miller, the other speaker for the day, had to share with all the writers gathered to hear her talk.

Margaret Miller is an editor for Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA, having moved there from Harper Collins Children’s Books in summer 2008. Authors she has worked with include Dan Gutman, Daniel Pinkwater, Philemon Sturges, Ann Rinaldi, and Kathy Lasky. At Bloomsbury, she will focus on middle grade and Young Adult fiction, with a few select picture books.

Margaret’s topic for the day was:

Working with an Editor: Your Bill of Rights – What to expect when you’re working with an editor when you, the writer, decides to submit your work directly to an editor at a publishing house without the aid of a literary agent.

Margaret basically explained the nuts and bolts of the relationship between an editor and an author at various stages of the book’s life:

  • Before a writer submits his/her manuscript to an editor.
  • When a writer gets an offer from an editor.
  • During the editing process.
  • After the editing process is finished.

She had this to say about what an editor means to an author:

  • an advisor
  • a champion
  • a therapist
  • a cheer leader
  • the one person who will read your manuscript with the utmost attention

She encouraged writers to:

  • keep their relationship with their editor professional (it means do not call her every single day, please!)
  • choose an editor who will help them to fulfill their vision for their book and
  • choose a literary agent to represent them, if possible.

One point that Margaret made in the course of her talk heartened me, because it is one aspect of the publishing industry today that keeps me awake at nights: book promotion by the author.

Let me explain.

Looks like in this technology-crazy world (sorry, I know that’s a strong statement, but isn’t it true though?), everybody’s attention is being pulled in several directions every second. So, most everyone is, whether willingly or unwillingly, trying to promote themselves and/or their products.

Authors and their books are no exception. Even if each publishing house has its own publicity and sales force, authors are expected to work hard at self-promotion and also at publicizing their books.

This includes school visits, making use of internet as a tool, book signing tours etc.

I hear everywhere these days how important it is to brand yourself, as an author, in order to promote your work. This means hosting your own web site in addition to blogging, face-booking, tweeting, and networking in all sorts of ways that you can think of.

That is all well and good, but the amount of time that an author has to put into publicizing his/her one book is time that the author spends on:

  • not working at her craft
  • not putting time into his next project
  • not working at improving her style and content
  • not networking with a very important group of people: his core critique group
  • not taking some time to relax and rejuvenate herself, before she can tackle all those ideas hammering at her brain

Yes, these all worry me.

That’s why I loved what Margaret had to say before she went on to answer questions:

It is good to network, but not networking won’t necessarily make or break your book.

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That title caught your attention, didn’t it?

Did it make you think that there was an editor and an agent dueling for my manuscript? Ah, a woman can dream aspire, can’t she?

But that is not at all what’s happening. I happened to go to a conference last weekend, held by our local chapter of SCBWI. It was an Agent/Editor Day.

Rachel Orr, a literary agent from Prospect Agency, and Margaret Miller, an editor from Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA, came to our chapter, and spent valuable time:

  • providing critiques to some local writers of children’s literature and
  • providing information and encouragement to a roomful of writers

It was a very interesting day for me. I hadn’t been in a room choking with so many like-minded people in a while. Whichever way I turned, I could, without much effort, decipher the looks in the eyes, and the words spilling out of the mouths.

Nobody had to explain the jargon to anyone, and nobody had to stop and ask “You know what I mean?”

It was as if there were a hundred of me (looking and sounding as different I as I could get) aspiring for the same thing. It was most inspirational and uplifting and humbling all at the same time.

My Impressions of the guest speakers:

I haven’t had a chance to meet with either of them in person and hold a conversation, but from having heard them address us all, I’d say they are funny, witty and quite down to earth.

Prospect Agency’s web site says this of Rachel Orr:

Rachel Orr joined Prospect Agency in 2007 after eight rewarding years editing children’s books for Harper Collins. She enjoys the challenge of tackling a wide variety of projects and is particularly looking for middle-grade and YA novels right now, as well as the next big picture-book illustrator.

Rachel values her close relationships with authors and believes that nothing feels as good as a fresh, clean line edit.

Rachel chose a wonderful topic, and a very timely one for me, since I’m in the midst of a revision for my novel. Here are my impressions from what she had to share with us:

Topic: Character and Voice

The character in a book should be:

– Likeable: Make them likeable, but not entirely good and picture-perfect. Make the antagonists agreeable, too.

The characters should be likeable enough to make the reader want to go on reading the book.

– Changeable: Books should show how the characters grow. The change in them could be driven by one of an internal, external or a global change.

Original: Make the characters well-rounded and not flat.

–  Believable:  Characters should be true to their age, gender and the time period in which they live.

In a nutshell: The more the author understands a character, the more the reader will.

Voice: The voice of a character is what sets it apart from the others in the book.

– Catch phrases, rhythm and dialogue, when used in the right manner can help set the voice of not only the characters but the book.

Margaret Miller also chose a very interesting topic to share with us:

Working with an Editor: Your Bill of Rights.

I’m going to share with you all my impressions of her topic, next week.

I’m going to end today’s post on a small anecdote (if it can even be called that), that you all may appreciate.

Four of us were returning to the conference venue after lunch, when suddenly, one friend exclaimed, “This is why writers get killed all the time!” I was startled out of the discussion I was having with the other two ladies, and quickly looked around.

She was right! The four of us were so immersed in our own world that we had stopped dead, as one body, in the middle of the road and were swapping stories with each other oblivious to how we were offering ourselves up for possible annihilation.

Okay, so annihilation was just a little dramatic, but hope it helps make my point.

Not just writers – isn’t this the case when any two meet, who are of the same mind?

I find it most exhilarating when I look into a pair of eyes, not my own, and surprise the dream – the same one that I have been cherishing – smoldering in them, patiently biding its time.

 

P.S:

  • I have a topic quite as interesting, but of a very different sensibility, lined up for you this Thursday. Please be sure to tune back in!!

 

  • I’m going to blog only two days a week from this week onwards – every Monday and Thursday. I enjoy blogging, almost a little too much, if I have to be honest :0). Lately, I have realized, however much you may deny the fact, that there are only 24 hours in a day.

And there are only so many words within that time period that your brain can willingly put to paper. The time has come for me to divert a little of that time and some of those words into finishing my novel.

Hope you’ll all forgive me this indiscretion and still keep popping by my blog, as you so kindly have so far, and continue to root for me? Thank you!

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I have never been more in awe of whoever it was that had coined the phrase “Ignorance Is Bliss”. Truer words have not been spoken. That person must have been knee-deep in documents related to the world of writing when s/he had an epiphany and yelled those words out.

No, seriously, the more I research the publishing industry and the business side of writing, the more I become aware that it is an infinite ocean.

The art of writing – though on some days, writing feels more like a science experiment gone wrong – is a slippery slope. The faster you try to scale the slope, the faster you lose your foothold and scramble downwards.

I believe writing is something that you discover, experience and learn over time and with patience and perseverance.

As I gather information about literary agents, editors, submission guidelines et al, I keep hearing two words – loud and clear – again and again. Critique Group. That seems to be the mantra today in the writing business, and rightly so!

As the publishing industry stands today, most of the houses are refusing to accept unsolicited manuscripts. In plain speak, they are not accepting manuscripts that come directly, if they are not exclusively requested by them, from the author. They will only look at manuscripts that reached their tables through a literary agent. This guarantees, for them, that the manuscript has gone through at least one round of checking for marketability and viability, along with some editing.

Literary agents, I hear, in turn want to make sure that the manuscript that they consider has at least been objectively reviewed. And this is where our two magic words come in.

A critique group consists of, as its name suggests, a group of people (writers in this case) who come together to critique each other’s work, objectively. Now, that last word is key.

So, who constitutes a good critique group for you? A group of writers who are serious about writing, and are willing to be interested in your work enough to be critical about it.

Choose a group that fits with your personality and your expectations of the level of critique. This is very important, or you’d be left being part of a group that does nothing for your learning process.

It also helps to have the various members of the group writing for different age groups and in various genres. This provides for a better scope of learning.

I have been part of a face-to-face critique group for almost a year — I’ve been lucky enough to find my peers (now my dear friends) on my first try.

I’m told this is not always so. In which case, try different groups until you can find one that suits your needs.

Online critique groups are in now. And why not? They have some advantages (along with disadvantages, of course) over the traditional group. They eliminate the need for meeting in person at a fixed time – you can work at your own pace and time. The same point may also sometimes work as a drawback. Due to lack of a restriction in meeting time, others things may bump critiquing down the list when your plate is full.

It is also advised that you belong to more than one group, in order to get as varied and in-depth an input on your work as possible.

This is what my critique group has been for me when it came to my writing:

–          My support group

–          My coaches

–          My cheering squad

–          My fellow-students

–          The harshest critics of my work

And I wouldn’t want them any other way. I have been fortunate enough to find a group where everyone is serious about writing and is committed to the mutual growth of every member as a writer.

In short, your critique group is a big part of your writing family.

Here are some basics that my group follows implicitly:

When you are offering a critique:

  • Begin the critique you’re offering with positive feedback.

 

  • Any comments (even the negatives you bring up) can and should be made constructively. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to wear kid gloves every time you offer a negative comment, but it doesn’t hurt to modulate it.

 

  • Offer your opinions as such and not as hard facts, because they are just that – your opinions.

 

  • Critique the work and not the writer. Refrain from using words like: “You said here…”. Instead, say, “This character sounds older than his age.” etc.

 

  • Remember that if a character expresses debatable opinions, that does not necessarily mean that the author subscribes to those opinions.

 

When you are receiving critique:

  • Be open-minded. You are asking for feedback, so be prepared to hear both positive and negative comments. In fact, be hopeful that you will receive more of the second kind, which will help you better your work.

 

  • Remember you are not your work – learn to effectively divorce yourself from your writing. This will allow you to receive comments/critiques much more openly.

 

  • Be respectful of others’ opinions. You have asked for them.

 

  • Finally, week after week, if all you hear is “Wonderful work”, “Nothing amiss” etc., then it is time to look for another group.

Did you notice something?

The principles above do not necessarily apply to only writing. They hold equally well to any other situation in life.

Consider the following scenarios, for instance:

–          You are required to review a technical document written by a peer.

–          You are discussing right and wrong with your child.

–          You are trying to pitch a new idea to your boss.

–          You are bargaining for a car at the dealership.

Aren’t the above rules relevant to these settings, too?

I think that’s the beauty of belonging to any group that thrives on the principle of give-and-take. It provides you with the discipline needed not only to have a better life in a particular field, but a better life. Period.

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PART B

Critique:

Hema: Is it advisable to get your manuscript read to a classroom before it is published?

Mark: No, not at all! (Mark was emphatically unequivocal about this point.) This exercise will not produce an objective critique for your manuscript, which is what you should be seeking. And I say this for two reasons:

  • The kids will say they love it anyway, because the book will provide a break for them in the day’s routine.
  • The teacher will say she’s excited about it; I was a teacher myself, so I know. Most everyone when they ask for criticism, they’re only willing to listen to positive comments about their work. So, the teacher will only focus on the positive aspects of the manuscript and will not be able to provide the kind of objective critique you’re looking for.

So, I do not suggest this kind of exposure for your manuscript. You should be part of a critique group which has published authors, or authors who are working at getting published. They can provide objective comments for your work.

I would advise you strongly against including anything like “I had my manuscript read to a classroom and the kids loved it” in a query letter; no one will look at it favorably.

(I always thought that reading it to a classroom would be a good beta test for one’s manuscript. Mark’s answer was sure an eye-opener for me!)

Questions Related to McVeigh Agency:

 

Clients:

 

Hema: What are you looking for in a client?

Mark: I am looking for authors who: 

  • Have a unique voice.
  • Have something they need to say that will be of interest to a wider audience.
  • Take a professional approach to writing.
  • Are willing to take criticism.
  • Are aware of industry trends and market direction.
  • Can write multiple genres for multiple age groups: picture books, middle grade, young adult, the lot.
  • Are not reluctant to talk to the agent. Authors should be upfront about what’s working and what’s not in their relationship with me. When I provide them with editorial suggestions, they don’t always have to take them. They should be able to tell me if they don’t agree with my suggestions.

Hema:    What is the ratio of established authors vs. new authors in your client list?

Mark:    About 2/3 of my clients are established authors and the rest are new talent.

 

Query Process:

Hema: What do you look for in a query?

Mark: I look for a letter that is simple and professional. See the submission guidelines in my web site for more details.

Hema: Writing a good query letter is a whole different ballgame than writing a good story. It’s very hard for the author’s voice to come through within the expected 250 words or so. I see that your submission guidelines include a query letter and the first 20 pages of the manuscript. So, if a query letter does not grab your attention, do you leave it at that, or do you go ahead and read the pages included in the email?

Mark: When the query doesn’t grab my attention, I do go on to read ten or so of the pages included. It depends upon those initial pages whether I will go ahead and read all 20 of them.

Hema: Thank you very much, Mark, for taking time out of you busy schedule to answer my questions!

======

At this point, I had at least a dozen more questions that I would have loved for Mark to answer for me, but the 15 minutes allotted me were regrettably up.

Mark’s new blog is going to be officially launched soon, with interviews with publishing legends, give-aways, videos, and more. He also promises to up the gossip quotient to make it worth the time for those who follow his blog.

Need more reasons? Then how about this: he is going to give away more of these free chats in the first week of April! So, go on and start following his blog, if you aren’t already doing so.

It was a pleasure to talk to Mark, and he gave me a lot of food for thought. Thank you, Mark, for sharing all this excellent information with me and the readers of my blog!

Here’s Part A of the same interview.

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