Three People Read 20 Pages of My MS and the Result was Weird

I’m back. No more three-week breaks between blogging. I mean, I need this thing. It forces me to make progress on the noveling. Also, I love it when people talk to me about my posts—so I guess I better write them, huh? (Btw, I have still been blogging at The Write Practice–feel free to check them out at any time!).

So the other day I found out I am a finalist for another writing contest called the Abalone Awards. Basically, it’s a contest for love stories that have a cultural, interracial or multicultural hook. Check! The difference between this one and the Marlene contest is that finalists are given an opportunity to read the judge’s comments and revise the entry before the final round.

Great! Right?

Well, when I opened the first score sheet, all I saw were 3s (out of 10!).  There were a couple of 5s and a 6 here or there, but not many. My reaction was WTF, how did I become a finalist?! The comments weren’t that much better. She didn’t like my switching points of view* (it felt disjointed to her) and she said the opening scene needed work (I’ve since changed it completely for like the 5th time—but not just because of this). Um, ouch. It hurt, but OK. (She did like my characters though :))

On the next two score sheets I received a bunch of 9s—whew! Those judges said the story flowed and they loved the opening scene! In addition, one of them mentioned she did not like my male character but conceded that characters don’t need to be liked to be successful. (For the record, I think he’s likable).

So this is what’s weird: the judges had completely different reactions to the exact same things. What’s a girl supposed to do with that?!

I already know that I’m not going to please everyone—even J.K. Rowling has a few 2 star reviews. But it was a very strange experience to read such starkly different reactions to my work.

My first instinct was to ignore the hater.  But…the whole point of entering these things is to get feedback (right?). My second instinct was to try to address all of her concerns. Too much work. Plus, no.*

Ultimately I decided to take the following approach:

  • Read through the comments with an open mind, genuinely respecting the judges’ opinion.
  • Note any issues mentioned by all three judges.
  • Go to sleep.
  • Revise without returning to the comments, the assumption being that I have internalized the feedback.

While it’s important to take criticism seriously, the process is inherently subjective.  All I can really do is trust my instincts and stay true to the story, so that’s plan.  Plus—in this case, the contest entry was only 20 pages (out of a 300-page manuscript!) Gotta keep it all in perspective.

Til next week! (I promise!)

* Side note: My manuscript currently alternates between the first person (the female protagonist) and the third person (male protagonist). Every time a group has read pieces of my manuscript, someone has commented on this technique. Future fans let me explain:

  • I wanted the female protagonist to be an unreliable narrator. An unreliable narrator is someone who the reader cannot completely trust because her perspective is skewed. The first person is inherently less reliable than the third person because you only have access to that character’s knowledge, opinions, etc. I wanted the male protagonist to be reliable.
  • I wanted the voices to be distinct. In case you didn’t know—this is my first novel. I was very concerned when I began writing that the voices of the two characters would be too similar (because they were both coming from me!) Alternating between first and third person made it a lot easier for me to accomplish this goal.
  • This isn’t a crazy idea. Terry McMillan has done it. Emily Giffin has done it. So why can’t I? Even if you find the switch initially jarring, I promise you will get used to it after reading another chapter or two.


I’m a Marlene Contest Finalist!

I was really excited to blog this week about the ways minority skin is described in fiction (here’s a challenge for you: try to do it without using food metaphors), but that will have to wait because I received some news.

I’m a Marlene Contest finalist!

Marlene pic

What is the Marlene Contest?  It’s a writing competition sponsored by Washington Romance Writers.  I chose to enter because it seemed perfect for a love story set in D.C.–like Lessons from Robin  (Although I now believe that the novel didn’t actually have involve D.C. to qualify, but whatevs—it couldn’t have hurt!)

I decided to look for a contest to enter after scanning several “query letters that worked” (that is, pitch letters that led to agent representation) because they often included  credentials such as winning a contest or being published in a literary journal or magazine.  I decided that those credentials—rather than whether they were “pithy” or “had a hook”—is what truly made them stand out, but others may disagree.  Since pitching literary journals is almost as difficult as finding an agent, I figured a contest was my best bet.   It also seemed like an easy way to gain some exposure (at least 3 people read each entry) and the prize is a free critique.  That’s a pretty decent prize given how expensive those things can get.

Anyway, I entered the “Romantic Elements” category, which is described as “a work of fiction in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.”

The winners are announced next month at the Washington Romance Writers retreat.  I wasn’t planning to go, but now I’m like why not?  Many people have recommended attending writers conferences to me in the past (apparently they offer great workshops and opportunities to meet agents and editors in person).  Plus, I’ve been putting off the final edits to my novel, so now I have a deadline to get it done.  I’m getting this thing in tip-top shape by April 4!!  Can’t wait!