Friday, January 28, 2011

Panel: Listening to Feedback with an Open Mind

Welcome to SCBWI TEAM BLOG coverage of the 2011 Annual Winter Conference. Check in often throughout the weekends as we offer live coverage of the conference as it happens.

Today offers a Writers' Intensive and an Illustrators' Intensive.

Before the Writers' Intensive critiquing kicks off, an agent and two editors are offering advice about handling a critique situation.

Edward Necarsulmer (McIntosh and Otis): Do your best to listen, but also understand that I'm just one guy. There are plenty of books out there that I've passed on that have become bestsellers. (He's found 3-5 novels through SCBWI events.) He gets that the idea of criticism in general can be hard to hear, but it's about turning off the defensiveness, and understand the critique for what it's worth.

Julie Strauss-Gabel (Dutton Children’s Books): The thing that surprises her most is when she asks, "What is this about." She find writers often don't really know what they're writing about--her assessment is very out of line with what the writer thinks she's putting on the page. Critiques are about being open--it's part of your professional process. There's nothing personal about it. At least stop to think about why you are hearing a particular critique or why certain questions were asked. If you're in a ccritique group, remember that they only work if they include honest discussion.

Liz Szabla (Feiwel and Friends): I find gold here. (She's currently working with two writers who she discovered at the SCBWI Winter Conference.) Remember that editors are thinking about your work in terms of the market. Go into a bookstore and really look at what the market is right now. She finds that a lot of writers are really surprised when she talks about market--but market is important. Critiquing with editors and agents, is a way to get another sort of compass as to where you are with your writing.


  1. It's always useful to be reminded of how to respond to criticism. My main instruction to my writing students is "Don't argue" -- just listen and ask questions solely to make sure you understand exactly what the reader is saying. Never easy, but it's the only useful way for a writer to react to a critique.

    Yet, my sympathies go to all the writers there today, exposing their darlings to the critical eyes of strangers! I did it last year, and sweated before, during, and after. I got some incredibly useful tips, from the responses to the other pieces as well as to my own, but it was a painful lesson!

  2. Great advice. I can't wait to see what's going on in the Illustrator Intensives!