My family recently attended an annual one-man art exhibition by my uncle, Eldridge Bagley, at the Glave Kocen Gallery in Richmond, Virginia.
Because my daughter, Ann, enjoys photography, I encouraged her to ask the gallery director his opinion of her work. He liked several of her photos, and guided her on which types of images would sell in Richmond versus which would be more appealing to buyers in D.C. He also mentioned that in the future, her work might be included in a juried exhibition held at their gallery. This means she will receive feedback from other knowledgeable professionals.
We were pleasantly surprised by this possibility. Not only had the director offered tips, but if Ann is able to participate in the exhibit, she will gain more feedback. This feedback might help her decide where to place emphasis in her studies at Liberty University since she is interested in several fields of discipline.
Her experience made me think of writers and how they can garner effective feedback. Today, I’ll share a few of my ideas:
1.) Agents: Agent feedback is one of your best sources, but only if you are on the cusp of needing representation. This is because agents (and editors, for that matter), are only able to focus on manuscripts they might be able to pursue. Unfortunately, most agents are unable to give meaningful feedback to queries sent to their slush piles, especially if the manuscript has multiple problems. At our agency, we try to answer all legitimate queries. But we simply have too many queries to have time offer our detailed opinions on every submission. Also, as Steve Laube noted in the comments section of one of my posts, sometimes agents’ attempts to edit manuscripts may not be beneficial. But if you do receive helpful comments from an agent, pay attention. The agent may be opening the door to a working relationship with you.
2.) Contests: Writers can gain excellent insights from contests, particularly from those requiring judges to comment. However, contest coordinators want judges to be encouraging. So while you can learn much from contests, be aware that any comments you gain are likely to be filtered toward a positive bias. Also be aware that a contest win, or even several successes in contests, won’t guarantee you will soon be awarded a contract. Why? Because entries are judged on quality and not necessarily marketability. Many quality manuscripts are not marketable. However, contest success does tell agents and editors that your work was good enough to be noticed. For more on contests, click here.
3.) Conference meetings with agents and editors: These are superb opportunities to see if you might work well with a particular agent or editor, but I find it impossible to evaluate a manuscript in fifteen minutes. Granted, I have helped many authors during these meetings (manuscript starts in the wrong place; theology is controversial for CBA), but the meetings are most effective as relationship starters, in my view. Be prepared to discuss your work; just don’t expect a full evaluation then and there.
4.) Critique partners: Once you find a great fit, don’t let go. That chemistry isn’t easy to find, as I pointed out here. However, critique partners with knowledge of the industry, love of story, and with a genuine interest in your success are a perfect way to gain detailed feedback on your work with very little professional risk.
Have you gotten feedback on your manuscript? From whom?
How do you deal with unflattering feedback?
What was your best feedback experience?