I just finished a new picture book manuscript. It’s a Christmas story. As soon as I finished it, I sent it out to some of my critique friends. The critique process is fascinating. It is rarely what I expect.
I have three critiques back so far on The Innkeeper’s Daughter, each of them unique. I had one concern about my story, and no one commented on that issue. Each critiquer had suggestions, but there was literally no crossover. That’s unusual.
I love to hear what others think of my manuscript, because each represents the thoughts that an editor or prospective buyer might have. I carefully consider every comment. If several readers see the same weakness, then I take a very serious look. If only one person comments on a certain idea, then I weigh that against my own feelings.
Now the sifting begins. Which suggestions will strengthen my story?
As a picture book author, I have specific needs. I don’t need to add detail to the story that can be shown in pictures. I need to keep my word count low. I need to appeal both to an adult audience and a child audience because most picture books will be read aloud to a child by an adult. I need to use interesting language that is accessible without being condescending. If I am retelling a familiar tale, I need to find a fresh approach.
When a reader invites me to add detail that can be shown in illustrations, I know that reader doesn’t understand picture books. When a reader invites me to add detail that will stress my word count, I know that reader doesn’t understand picture books.
When a reader invites me to tighten a phrase, or clarify something that feels confusing, I am excited to try. When a reader invites me to strengthen the ending, the action, the dialogue, that is really helpful. When a reader shows me how to introduce sensory details: taste, smell, sound, sight, feelings, I can take my story to another level.
Do too many cooks spoil the stew? Nah? I love critiques because they make my writing better.