Sunday, August 4, 2013

About Those Manuscript Critiques

Kim Turrisi
A ton of work goes on behind the scenes to make these conferences sing. One offering that means a lot to attendees are the manuscript critique sessions.

The hilarious and hardworking Kim Turrisi makes those happen. This year, she read 372 submissions--10 pages plus a synopsis for each novel, and the entire manuscript for each picture book. That adds up to thousands and thousands of pages.

With each, she matches the writer to the most suitable faculty member. She's just as invested in our success with these as we are.

And she has good things to say about much of what she reads. "The quality of middle grade and YA is improving every year. I read some really fun and good ones that I have no doubt will be sold or get representation from this conference," she said.

What's more, there's a special prize that some fortunate critique recipient will receive. Faculty are allowed to nominate the manuscript they deem most promising for the Sue Alexander award, named for the late SCBWI legend. The nominees go before a panel of judges, and Kim sends the winner on a trip to New York to meet agents and/or editors, depending.

Jennifer Shulman

Jennifer Shulman, a New Yorker, is one of this year's nominees--and the YA manuscript that wowed editor Donna Bray was one that had been sitting in her drawer for several years.

"I decided on a whim to pull it out and get a critique this time," she said. 

What's it like seeing an old manuscript? "It’s like running into an old friend who’s cooler than you remember and more screwed up that you remember," she said. 

This is her fourth conference and she's signed up for a critique each time. "Donna Bray was very positive and very helpful." And she felt like Donna's comments on the manuscript's weaknesses aligned with ones she'd identified.

Her game plan for now is to finish what she's working on, and then "dig back in at the start [of the old manuscript] with all of her great advice in my head."

Meanwhile,  Kim said, if you plan to get a critique at a future conference, remember to follow those guidelines. It's great practice for when you to submit to agents and editors, who don't want to work with people who can't follow instructions.

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