It’s our second day of Kidlit Week and we’re so happy to have Sub It Club member Amy Dixon here to share with us! Amy is the author of MARATHON MOUSE. Her picture book, SOPHIE’S ANIMAL PARADE, in which everything Sophie draws comes to life, is slated to be released on May 5th, 2015 from Sky Pony Press. Amy’s got experience when it comes to dealing with feedback on submissions. And she’s got some helpful tips to help all of us when that feedback gets confusing. On top of that, to help us celebrate Sub It Club’s 2 Year Anniversary, Amy is offering a picture book critique to one lucky winner! Details are at the end of this post. First, let’s learn how to deal with feedback from Amy:
I don’t get out much. Unless you count the constant laps I run from my house, to the schools (where my 4 kids go and I also work), to the grocery store and back again. But other than that, I don’t get out much. So a date night is an occasion. And usually, tired from the above-mentioned circles, my husband and I throw ourselves into the cracker-crumb wonderland we call a car at the first sight of the babysitter, in whatever we happened to be wearing that day. But one day, our date night happened to fall on payday, and I had an extra hour before having to pick up the kids, and I thought, I will spice things up! I will throw caution to the wind! I will be wild and spontaneous! I will go buy…a new sweater! (okay, okay…here’s the part where you tell me I need to work a little on my idea of shaking things up in my marriage. Point taken.)
So I run into the shop and miracle of miracles, my eyes immediately land on a sweater I love. It’s one of those shawl cardigans, long and drapey in the front, in a soft gray. It makes me feel fancy. And it fits. And, most importantly, it’s on sale. So I snatch it up, and I’m feeling great. That night, when it’s time to get ready, I take a little extra time doing my hair, and putting on makeup. I even wear my dressy jeans. When I’m totally done, I put on the sweater and actually take a moment to go to the full-length mirror in my daughter’s room. I look good! I’m feeling confident. Satisfied. Fearless! I walk out to the living room where Rob is waiting for me. He glances up. He smiles. I’m glowing, waiting for the compliment that I am sure is coming next.
I’m sorry. What was that?
I KNOW you didn’t just say Tatooine.
Tatooine? The cesspool of the Star Wars galaxy? The home of the Mos Eisley Cantina? The place where people like this hang out?
So Rob, sweetheart that he is, saw the look on my face, and immediately realized his mistake. And his attempt at backpedaling was actually kinda cute.
“I mean, you know how much I love Star Wars! It’s like a date with a Tusken Raider! One more thing I can check off my bucket list!”
But all the backpedaling in the world didn’t change the fact that I now had lost the delight I once felt in this sweater. Tatooine was, most decidedly, NOT the look I was going for.
But Amy, you might say…
“That is just one person’s opinion.”
“Sweater selection is extremely subjective.”
“The market is simply saturated with sweaters right now…I heard the Sandpeople look is coming back…it’s a trend I’m sure will be extremely hot next season.”
Feedback. We want it and we dread it at the same time. We send out our stories when we’re feeling good. Confident. Satisfied. Fearless! We put on our dressy jeans with that fabulous story, and we wait for the compliments to roll in. But what if they don’t? What if that agent tells us our story is straight out of Tatooine? What do we do? When do we say, “It’s just one person’s opinion,” and when do we revise?
I wish I had a definitive formula to give you. A certain number of rejections + a certain amount of questionable feedback = permanent residence in a drawer. But it doesn’t work that way. Let me tell you another story.
In 2010, I wrote a picture book called SOPHIE’S ANIMAL PARADE. The first editor I submitted it to was interested. I was on cloud nine. She loved it! She compared it to Harold and the Purple Crayon! Clearly, this was the best thing I had ever written. She was going to take it to her editorial director. My confidence could not have been higher. Then came the rejection, with a very vague revision suggestion. If I felt “inspired to revise with a stronger plot,” they would take another look. Well, she was just one editor at one house, and there was a whole publishing world out there that hadn’t had a chance to read my masterpiece. It was only fair that I share my story with the rest of them, right? So more submissions went out. And the rejections started rolling in…
“feels like a string of episodes rather than a narrative text”
“a bit too close to the ever-favorite Harold and the Purple Crayon”
“couldn’t discern very easily what the story’s central theme was”
“felt that the transition to each new animal was a bit abrupt,”
“I enjoy the story when I’m reading it, but then it passes into the fog of my memory; it doesn’t stick.” (ouch!)
And more. I could have, at this point, decided that these industry professionals clearly don’t “get” my work. I could have written it off as a creative difference and stood by my story. But I truly believe that if I had done that, this story would be lounging on a shelf somewhere, instead of off at the printer, getting ready to be released in May.
It was time for me to ask the question, “What can I do to make this story stronger?”
I sorted through the responses, and held them up side-by-side. I looked for common threads in the rejections. Hmmm. The Harold and the Purple Crayon thing was a positive for one publisher and a negative for the other. And the drawings-come-to-life thing was the nucleus of my story. So my first decision was easy: those are elements I was not willing to change. Next though, I did see something interesting. A repeated feeling was that the progression of animals seemed random and disjointed. So I took a look. Huh. They were right. I suddenly was able to see clearly that the animals were out of order. The chaos needed to build, and as it was written, it didn’t. What was I thinking?
So I rewrote. The story became stronger. And it went on to sell!
Here are a few things I learned from this process:
- It’s okay to have some non-negotiables. We don’t want to lose the essence of our stories. I have another picture book manuscript where the main character is a bug, and was told that I might want to rewrite the story with “an animal that is a bit more cuddly.” My response: “This story is about a termite. I would be happy to write a different story starring a cuddly animal, but that is not THIS story.”
- Being confident in your story is a great thing. But don’t be so rigid or emotionally attached that you can’t see your stories’ flaws. The key here is giving yourself time to process the feedback. Sometimes we have immediate emotional responses that prevent us from seeing clearly. Letting the feedback marinate for a while helps.
- Having more than one qualified opinion is key. It can be easy to write off one person’s thoughts about your work, but when you see repeated themes in the feedback, you cannot ignore it.
So, my fellow Sub-It-Clubbers…
Carry on, writing great stories.
Get the confidence to send those stories out.
Cherish the feedback that comes in, because it’s a necessary part of the process.
But hold on to the heart of your story.
Own that drapey sweater like a Jedi
…straight out of Tatooine.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, Amy is offering a picture book critique to one lucky winner! Don’t worry, she’ll be gentle. As you’ve read, she understands all about feedback. To enter, just tell us that you want to be entered in the comments on this post.
For extra entries:
- Tell us you’re a member of our Sub It Club submission support group and/or Critique Partner Matchup group.
- Like us on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.
- Share. If you share this post via social media just let us know and we’ll add extra entries.
- Grab our badge. Put it on your site and link it back here to http://www.SubItClub.wordpress.com and let us know.
I’ll do a random number generation and pick a winner on Tuesday, February 24th. Entries are open until then. Good luck!