Friday, August 21, 2009

Critiques From Competitions

During my unpublished years, I often sent off the required number of pages of my manuscripts for competitions. I’ll probably do it again, in the hope that some judge will see wonderful things in my work and offer me the world. I guess it’s my answer to lottery tickets. I like to enter the competitions where they give feedback from the reviewers whether you won or not. I keep thinking those people must be wiser than I and if I follow their advice it will lead to someone offering me the world. These competitions sometimes give critiques by two different reviewers. The hope, I guess, is if you get two similar opinions you might be willing to put aside your ego and follow them to better writing.
The problem for me is that invariably, when I receive critiques from two reviewers, one loves the work and the other hates it. Sometimes for exactly the same reasons. But if I enter a competition where I get feedback from only one reviewer, that reviewer rarely likes my work. So I wonder: did I get the wrong reviewer?

Of course, I love the one that loves me. I think: that person understands me and what I’m trying to do. I bask in the glow of approval and wish the other opinion would go away.

Then I take a look at the other opinion. As with my editor, once I’ve finished whining about how misunderstood I am, I begin to look for what that person didn’t like and why. And that can be far more instructive, because, while I don’t have to agree with what the reviewer thinks I should do, I have to see why the criticism was made. Often, the same as with disagreements with my editor, I find that there is a third and better way altogether to handle the situation.

I do have a problem, however, with the reviewer who asserted that I should make my 47 year old protagonist younger – say mid-thirties – and maybe without the encumbrance of grown children – and maybe a boyfriend instead of a husband died in the previous book --so that she could have a romantic interest. Excuse me? Just how old was this reviewer?