As I was watching American Idol this week, I realized that the contestants on the show are much like writers trying to get agents or publishing deals. We all have a dream, we all believe we have some level of talent, and we want to impress the people that can help us realize our dream.
These people go on the show, wait in impossibly long lines (slush pile) then present what they've got to the judges (agents) for about a 1% chance of being successful. So when I'm watching the show and see contestants walk in so hopeful only to open their mouths and sound like a dying cat, I always wonder why these people went through so much trouble? Don't they know they're terrible? I mean this guy seems honest in his surprise (sorry this is not from this season, couldn't find a good one yet on YouTube).
But time and time again, we see those contestants break down in tears, exit the room, and run into the arms of their genuinely astonished friends and family. Inevitably, the mother is murmuring, "They don't know what they're talking about, honey, you're wonderful!"
And herein lies the problem. If the only people you ever sing for are your family and friends, you're not getting any true help. They aren't lying to you necessarily--they just love or like you and are looking for the good in you. This is the same thing that happens if your only beta readers are your mom/friends/co-workers.
ANYONE who has any obligation or loyalty to you in real life is going to see things through rose-colored glasses. You have to look at what the person has to lose by giving you a harsh feedback. For instance, if you're writing YA and your friend's teen daughter offers to read your manuscript, she is already set up not to give you a negative opinion. You are her mother's friend and an adult. She's going to want to please you.
So, I know I'm probably preaching to the choir, but do not send your work out to agents before you've found unbiased beta readers (including people who are writers, not just readers) or joined a crit group. (I'm speaking from experience with novel #1 here.) Otherwise, you may end up getting the same reaction from the agents that the judges gave the guy in the video above.
Yes, there are some people who are born with some amazing innate talent and nail it the first time with no help. BUT they are the exception--and if you've watched the movie He's Just Not That Into You--remember that most of us are the rule, not the exception.
So give yourself the best possible chance for that agent to fall in love with your work. Getting a crit can be terrifying the first few times, but wouldn't you rather hear negative feedback from a fellow writer than blow your opportunity with your dream agent or publisher? Your manuscript might just be a few critiques away from amazing--give yourself a chance to reach that.
*steps off soap box*
--Alright, you only have until tonight at midnight (central) to enter the "win a crit" contest (are you getting tired of me reminding you yet?), enter here if you haven't already.--
I've noticed a few of you have left comments this week that you are looking for a crit group. So in addition to regular comments, feel free to leave a "personal" ad for what kind of crit group or beta readers you are looking for and leave your email address so that others who may match up with you can contact you.
So am I the only one who jumped the gun on her first novel and queried before I had unbiased beta readers? When did you decide you needed to join a crit group? Who would you want as your literary agent--Randy, Simon, or Cara?