Let’s be honest, picture book critiques are hard. Whether you are giving the critique or receiving a critique. Over the last few years I have participated in several critique groups. Some groups were a good match and others, not so much. The critiques however, were always respectful and useful. I have just joined a new critique group and I am extremely impressed with their professionalism. I have received 4 critiques on a new story that have inspired and motivated me to revisit that story and make some changes.
Any writer who has worked on a picture book knows that shorter does not mean easier. Picture books have a number of challenges from finding the best words to leaving some of the story details to your illustrator. A good critique can help to get your story in tip top shape.
What is a picture book critique?
Some people say that a review is the same as a critique. The main difference between critique and review is the writer. Critiques are written by experts in the field and reviews are written by people who are interested in that particular field. Picture book authors rely on other picture book authors (experts) to critique our stories.
Why do we need critiques?
It is impossible for you, the author of your work, to distance yourself enough to do all of your edits alone. You know what you want your story to say and convey to your readers. Finding just the right words is no easy task, but because you are so close to your story, you don’t realize where your brain is filling in missing pieces in your writing. We as authors, do not always realize all the places where we could tell the story better. This is one of the comments I receive. You need a fresh set of eyes to see these things. I also appreciate when a fellow authors leave suggestions because they motivate me to make my story stronger.
What does a critique look like?
Critiques I have received utilize the sandwich method. The critique starts with several positives from your story. What are some things that the author does right? I appreciate those positive comments. They assure me that this story is heading in the right direction. Next, is the meat of the sandwich where the weaknesses are discussed and suggestions are made to improve the story. Finally, the critique ends with another positive or supportive comment to motivate the writer. Now I know not everyone receives this type of critique, but I have found this method to be very successful for me.
Should you get a professional critique?
I recommend one professional critique before you are going to submit a manuscript to an agent or publisher. While I recommend getting at least one professional critique or edit, there are ways to get high-quality critiques without having to pay a high price.
The SCBWI message board where members can ask questions about all things kid-lit. Includes a chat forum where people can post requests for critique partners or groups. There is no charge to post on the Blueboard, but you should return the favor and provide feedback on other people’s postings. Membership with SCBWI is required. www.scbwi.org
I have used KidLit 411 for professional critiques. They have a list of vetted published authors, former editors and agents who are offering critiques for a fee. You can click on the links and find someone who you think will be a match for both your story and your pocketbook.
Receiving a picture book critique
If you are receiving a critique, try to remain open. Listen to the explanation that is offered. Remember, writing is a process. Every manuscript in its beginning stages is a mixture of successful and less successful elements. Often the best thing to do after a critique is to put the manuscript aside for a few days and then look at it again with the comments in mind.
You own your story. No one can make you change it. It is good to have feedback from others, though, and to consider another point of view. I have taken advice and been very pleased with the results and I have been stubborn with other stories. Sometimes another person sees your story going in a different direction and I can respect their point of view. When I do not agree, I stick with my original idea.
Giving a picture book critique
The best policy is to try to be helpful, but honest. If you don’t like something, say so, but explain why something is not working. I find that using the sandwich method works for me. I begin with the positives. Sometimes this may be difficult, but in most cases it is probably one of the easiest part of the critique for me to write. I try to save some good stuff for the end of the critique too. Some things I look at are: the opening sentence, is is appropriate for the age group, vocabulary, enough unique illustrations, and is there a satisfying ending. I end the critique with some word of encouragement and support.
Picture book critiques are essential to the success of your book. Critiques are not easy; either giving or receiving. When your critique partners are open and honest with their critique, you will see your story get better with each revision.
I am so glad you’re here and I thank you for taking the time to read this post. I am grateful that I can share my writing journey with you.
I’m looking forward to helping you as a children’s book writer in any way that I can. Speaking of helping — please leave a comment below and let me know what questions you have about picture book writing.
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