On Saturday I attended the annual Utah/Idaho SCBWI conference in Salt Lake City. There were some wonderful presentations which I shall blog about in the future. I met some old friends and made new ones, and I was privileged to have the first ten pages of my WIP critiqued by Chelsea Eberly, assistant editor at Random House Books for Young Readers. She also met with me for 15 minutes to talk about my work.

Ms. Eberly had some great feedback on my work and she wanted to know more about where I was going with my story. So I dove in and told her the main plot points, which really sucks because some large plot points can be turned on small details so I felt like a mumbling idiot, but she followed along with me and I generally felt pretty good about it. But then I got to the very end and Chelsea asked how a certain major plot point would be resolved. Admittedly, I hadn’t written that part yet and I wasn’t totally sure how it was going to work, but I told her what I had planned for now and that’s when she grimaced. “Be careful with that,” she said. “I’m not saying it can’t work, I’m just saying that it has the potential to be a real letdown to your reader.”

*%$#! Double *&%#!

I’ve been trained to take criticism graciously. Never defend, at least not in that moment, because your head is not in the right place to think clearly about such things. So I said I could see what she meant and I would work on that. At the end of it all Ms. Eberly gave me encouragement and said there was definitely room in the market for a story like mine and we parted.

I should feel good right?

The rest of the day I continued to deflate and by the end I felt horribly depressed. No matter how many nice things Ms. Eberly had said about my work I could only focus on that one thing, and the reason was because I was pretty darn sure she was right. And it wasn’t just a little thing, it was a key element of my story that will take some major surgery to fix. She had stabbed my story right in the center of its deformed little heart.

I spent the rest of the weekend eating chocolate and contemplating various ways I might commit literary suicide without looking like a total quitter; chop off my fingers, pick out my eyeballs, bash my head against a rock until I can no longer form complete sentences.

But really, after the initial disappointment subsided, I began to realize that this is a good thing. I was shown a significant weakness in my story that I might have ignored from a lesser critique and that probably no professional would have taken the time to point out. But after listening to Ms. Eberly speak, I believed her to be a rather sharp editor and I had to believe that she chose her criticism and advice with care. She was trying to help me see what works and what doesn’t and why.

After I ate enough chocolate and said a few cuss words and ran a few miles, I began to get new ideas, ones that will work. I’m not sure if they are the absolute right solutions for my story, but it showed me that I haven’t hit a brick wall. There are more ideas swimming in my little brain.

So I thank you Chelsea Eberly. Even though your tonic was rather bitter, it may in the end make everything all better.


4 comments

  1. Liesl, I totally know how you feel. Why is it so much easier to focus on the negative and forget about the positive? You’re right, though – better to see that problem now, when you aren’t as heavily invested in the story and don’t have thousands and thousands of words you’ll have to throw away.

    I got an invitation to revise and resubmit from an agent today, and although I’m excited about some of the changes she suggested, I know it’s going to be a lot of work. Still, it’s for the best, so I’ll push on. (Somehow, we always do, don’t we?)

    The bestest best of luck with Herbert, Liesl. I really want him to be the One, too.

  2. Criticism like that is always hard for me and takes a few days for me to actually accept it. Usually my story is so much better once I do come to terms with it and make the changes. My problem lately is that I keep getting conflicting advice. “This character is my favorite!” versus “This character is too stupid to walk and talk at the same time.” Which makes it hard for me to know what to do.

    Good luck with the idea swimming!

    • Liesl

    • November 16, 2010

    • 1:28 am

    Thanks Krista and Jeni,

    Krista, good luck with the revisions! I hope you feel the changes will make your book stronger.

    Jeni, I think when it comes to conflicting advice you just go with your guts. Can’t please everyone. (Curse everyone!)

    • ali

    • November 19, 2010

    • 6:57 am

    Oh, I have sooo been there. Still, I wish you didn’t have visit Letdownville, too. Because, it sucks.

    Good for you for being able to see the upside though. It usually takes a lot longer for the tonic to work for me.

    Good luck Liesl. You can do this!

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