Last weekend I had two critiques at the SCBWI Writers’ Day at California Lutheran University, an in person portfolio critique with Whitney Leader-Picone, and a written manuscript critique from Jen Rofé.
I’ve done a few manuscript critiques before and the hard part isn’t the same as it used to be. The hard part used to be trying to make a good impression on someone I just met, or at least to not seem insane, while my whole body became an overcrowded, overloud, overwhelming thumping nightclub. Now the hard part comes later, but more about that later.
My Portfolio: Whitney had some nice things to say about my watercolor technique, the emotion in my work, and my cute animals, and she was also nice about the things in my portfolio that still are not working, the proportions and physical mechanics of my human figures, some pieces that lack narrative, some pieces that are too conceptual for the children’s illustration market. She suggested a figure drawing course, IF I want to get work illustrating people. That doesn’t sound so hard, that sounds fun. The hard part for me is deciding whether I SHOULD do that. Should I focus on what I’m already doing well? Should I focus on animals? If I do it wouldn’t mean simply culling all the humans from my portfolio, because some of my more narrative pieces show people. What it really means is starting over. Starting over is hard.
Just right for the market.
Not right for the market.
My Manuscript: Jen wrote some nice things about the manuscript I submitted for critique, a contemporary fantasy chapter book. She liked my voice, she liked my characters, she liked my writing, but she wasn’t sure, based on my synopsis, that my plot was going to sell. She noted some easily fixed, “inorganic,” character reactions. She suggested trying to build up the MS, and see if it could be an early middle grade novel. Based on the First Pages Panel at Writers’ Day, where none of what the writers thought were chapter books convinced Molly O’Neill, Whitney Leader-Picone, or Jen Rofé that they WERE chapter books, I thought this might have been her nice way of saying: “This isn’t a chapter book.” Rats. I thought it was a chapter book, but if it’s not, building it up would be pretty easy too. So here is my plan. I do think my plot could sell, but that my synopsis isn’t selling it. That’s where I’m going to start over first, a new synopsis. Then fatten it up, make it more juicy. Revise. Revise. Revise. Then I’m going to submit it, and submitting is still hard.