Monday, April 23, 2012


Just a wee love note to the entrants of our Mystery Contest.  Because, yanno, Ms. Svetcov didn't mince her words.

Fact is, lots of people in this business won't mince their words.  If it's something you're not used to, it's time to get used to it.

It doesn't mean you suck.

It doesn't mean you should give up.

It doesn't mean the universe is ending.

What it means is:  Some people won't mince their words.  That is all.  You may be expecting something other than what you receive.  You may feel stunned or numb or flabbergasted when you read someone's response to your work--especially if that "someone" is an agent or editor with whom you were hoping to find some level of favor.

Welcome to the World of Showing People What You've Written.

It's not fun.  It's not something that most of us can get used to overnight. But the Thick Skin is an important part of our journey, so if you haven't started growing yours yet, now's the time.

Rest assured that I will never allow trolls or snarky readers or embittered writers to publicly tear you apart.  I will continue to do everything in my power to keep this a safe environment for you to continue to grow in.  But I don't have a big magenta eraser for editing less-than-tactful critiques and comments.  I may not like them, but they are a reality for us as writers.

We need to reel them in with the rest of the fish, and cast them away if they don't serve a purpose.

Interestingly, often they do serve a purpose--if only to teach us to rise above our emotions and keep pressing on.

So there you have it.  I'm sorry if some of you felt the sting.  But I'm not sorry for this wonderful opportunity for you to gather your wits about you and PUSH VALIANTLY FORWARD.  Because that's what I want you to do.

Okay?  This is the life we've chosen.  It's not all daisies and fluff-ponies.  But we're in this together, and I AM ON YOUR TEAM.



  1. My critique by Danielle wasn't as... forthright as she was others. I disagreed with some of what she said as I was reading it (yes, there might have been some hair rending and chest pounding too, but I'll never confess to it in public). After I sat with it for a day and reread, I realized to my astonishment that what she said was absolutely true.

    I sat down last night and started reworking (I have a feeling that's an unending process) and I have no doubt I'll have a stronger piece at the end of this.

    So my thanks to Danielle and Authress.

  2. OH, and there was wine involved. Wine. Not whine.

  3. Anon -- You did EXACTLY the right thing -- bravo! (And who says wine is a bad thing? ;D)

  4. I just clicked through the comments quickly, and I know it's hard when you've put so much time and hard work into something, but the comments left by the agent here are SO valuable. This is feedback you'll beg for when you're querying and getting form rejections that come with not even a hint of WHY attached.

    I think the approach of the previous commenter is brilliant for all forms of feedback. Take a break from it, then come back and look at it with a more open mind. And what Authoress said is so true...welcome to the world of showing people what you've written. :)

  5. Authoress, I'm glad you posted this. A tough skin is required to survive in this business, and when I went through Danielle's comments, I didn't think they were harsh at all.

    If I had a dollar for every negative comment I've received on my writing, I could retire. One of my favorites from my first novel that is rightly in a drawer now, was, "There's too much wrong with this to go into detail." Talk about "Ouch." But I laugh at it now, and you know what, the agent was right. I moved on and wrote something much better.

  6. Authoress does this mean the Danielle doesn't want to see anything further from any of the entrants or is there still a smidgen of hope for some of us?? She was Speedy McSpeederson with her critiques (Friday night??!) so I'm not sure if your original timeframe is still in play. Will you let us know either way?

    Basically, I'm wondering if, like the first commenter, I should start drinking in anticipation...

  7. This is why I think the currently popular "sandwich method" (put criticism inside two positive things) does more harm to writers than good.

    Sure, no one wants to hear negative opinions on their work (or negative facts, if the issue isn't a matter of opinion), but this isn't a book report when you're nine. The agent's job isn't to bolster your self-esteem and tell you how great you are so you'll grow as a person.

    The idea that all criticism has to be softened, or qualified by pairing it with a compliment creates a false impression of the work as a whole. If you have to *search* for something positive, then there isn't enough working in a given piece for it to matter as a whole. But, if you DO search out and mention positives (or worse, stick to the 2-1- ratio of positive to negative), then a writer who might otherwise realize that they have some serious issues to work out, now sees their feedback as "Well, there was more right than there was wrong - YAY!"

    Writing may be your dream, but the second you put something out in the world for possible publication, you just made your dream someone else's business and possible future income, and that makes it a very cold reality.

  8. This comes at a good time for me as my query and first 250 will be appearing at another blog this week with an agent's critique. I've already felt the sting of four rejections, but a nicely-worded form that reads 'this is not for me, good luck' is a lot different from what I'm expecting there. I love the way you've phrased this, a good reminder to look for the positive in the negative.

  9. I'm glad you fight the trolls Authoress. I remember a lady used to leave really snarky comments on the Secret Agent entries and I used to hope someone would put her in her place. I couldn't, because I would've really ripped into her, but I haven't seen her here in over a year and that's a wonderful thing.

    Truth be told, I actually liked Ms. Svetcov's honesty. It was refreshing and tactful, and she made it clear that it was simply her taste.

  10. It's the quality of critiques here that make this site so helpful--instead of "Way to go!" cheerleading or snarky one-liners, writers receive thoughtful, detailed feedback from other readers and writers. That's invaluable.

    Personally, I think when critiques are couched in helpful terms (including at least one or two positive comments), we will hear the feedback better, instead of resisting it.

    Reviewers can usually find SOMETHING positive to say about someone's writing--whether it's a unique concept, a great sentence, an awesome character name, or just a clever way with words/tension/setting. And it's as important for writers to know what to KEEP as what to lose.

    Agents may not have the time to "find the positive" but I believe it's important for us as reviewers to contribute that, along with our thoughtful feedback and suggestions for improvement.

    I'd never want to discourage someone from writing.

  11. I'm of the Ira Glass school of creativity.

    You only get better by doing. So write. Write lots. Write well and write poorly but write write write!

  12. The only critique of value is an honest one. Yes, it may sting, yes, you may want to stamp your foot, grab the nearest bottle of wine and drown your sorrows (wine also works well to celebrate your achievements. ;-)), but in the end, hopefully, you will have learned something.

    I've learned a lot from this competition and I agree with the poster above, it's the quality of the critiques here that make it so worthwhile.

    So thank you Authoress and Danielle.

  13. I've enjoyed the comments from all the critiquers. In the end, I walked away with what I already knew--My log lines are not good. And,even when people like the writing or story or premise, you have to keep searching until you find the agent who likes the manuscript, also.

    Readers let us know who/story type they like when they buy a novel. One may buy romance, one mystery, one women's fiction, one comedy. An agent has that same right when she receives our manuscripts. She/He know what they like, what they want to rep, what they want to devote their time to. Thick skin and rejection go along with being a writer.

    I hold onto the thought that one day an agent will be as excited about my work as I am. Which will have made all the hard work worthwhile. Thank you Authoress and Danielle.

  14. My main concern here was not the honesty of the comments. Authoress is right. Honesty is great, and much more helpful than flowery, false praise. Instead, it was the brevity of some of the comments that bothered me. I understand that critiques take time, and in other circumstances any comments from an agent are appreciated.

    However, in this case, these authors put themselves out there, and the agent volunteered to do this with the understanding that critiquing the pieces would be involved. There are a number of other avenues where you can receive submissions without giving critiques. I don't think that the requirement here was quite met, to be honest.

    There's a difference between a critique of why something does/doesn't work and simply saying, "You lost me at frozen pizza." There is a certain time commitment needed to review and thoughtfully critique 26 (27-1) entries, but that was what was expected. I'm just saying that I don't think this was exactly what was expected. Again, I have no problem saying, "Nope, this doesn't work," but it's the WHY that people need, and we didn't get it here.

  15. I agree with what Someone Else Said above. I think all the authors know that critique (sometimes harsh) is part of the business we're in. There's harsh (as in real-world advice that you can learn from) and there's harsh (as in snarky or unhelpful). I'm glad that the community of writers at this site give advice that propels our writing to the next level.

    I used to have a journalism professor who would write "ugh" and "yuck" on papers. Who can improve from that? :)

    I also encourage all writers to view agent comments are subjective. Sometimes, your work is not his/her cup of tea. Danielle didn't care for mine. Yet, my first three queries on this book resulted in requests for fulls.

    KEEP THE FAITH, WRITERS! We're all with you!

  16. I found the agent's comments to be helpful and honest. I did feel the "ouch" when she simply said to a couple of entrants: you lost me at... I think those entrants can take heart knowing that was basically a "not for me". One of my previous SA entries went for the win, and the second one received the longest rejection I've read yet from an agent on this blog! The agent was so forcefully annoyed by my entry that I actually felt like a winner - in the worst entry category! Kind of like when my mom says "I HATED that ending!" or "I HATED that character!" Gut reactions are priceless, as well.

  17. And thank you, Authoress, for your love note. Even though I didn't enter this one, I'm taking it to heart for the time that one agent ate my lunch, and for every form rejection I've received! :)

  18. Danielle has asked me to share her comments:

    "I read your latest post. I have only one thing to add to it: every agent, even those searching for books in the same genre, has different taste. Some like it hot and raunchy; some like it cold and Victorian. Etc. etc. While one might stop at a certain word or phrase, another may be drawn in by that same word or phrase. For those who felt most harmed by my words, I’m sincerely sorry, but let them know that another agent, and, more importantly, general readers, may quite like it."

  19. "Too busy..." <--not sure if Ms. Svetcov was referring to the entry, or herself.

    I have to second what "Someone else" said. There was a certain expectation here that wasn't met. Although Ms. Svetcov did give thoughtful feedback (both positive and negative) on several of the entries, she dropped the ball on others.

    On a side note (not speaking of Ms. Svetcov, per se), not all "honest critiques" are helpful, as some people here have pointed out. If you don't want to take the time to think about both the positives and negatives of an entry, that is fine. Simply move on and let someone else tackle it. Those brief "didn't like this one" comments may be honest, but they are just as unhelpful as the cheerleader ones.

    On another side note, these contests help writers in so many ways, beyond all the great critiques from fellow writers and secret agents. Just reading hundreds of queries and first words have helped me a ton. I am grateful for (and slightly confused by) Authoress's generosity. Thank you so, so much!

  20. I didn't find any of Danielle's comments harsh and if you want to open your art to agents, editors and the world, you'd better get ready for harsh. Go read what people write on Goodreads and Amazon. THAT is harsh.

    Let it kill you or let it make you stronger. You decide.

  21. So very true. Growing tough skin serves many purposes and the best of all is getting a constructive critique.
    Kudos to all the writers who participated. I've been there and after some time, sifting the comments, you'll agree.

  22. Hi, I'm one of authors who posted. I'm very pleased with feedback from the community and from Danielle.

    Danielle's no BS comments were invaluable insight into the process she goes through as she wades through submissions.

    Yes, yes, I have work to do. This community helps me every time I post. Your collective feedback is forcing me to hone my work. And it is getting much better.

    Authoress, thank you for the encouragement. I *know* my novel will be published. I’ll be back with a success story.

    Danielle, thanks for taking the time. I hope your cold is long gone (saw that in your comments to another author).

  23. Luckily, I've already developed tough skin. Although I did have to laugh, because I originally had my intro starting with the action and I was told by someone else to do otherwise!

    It's all subjective, I know, and I've already been reworking the intro out in my mind, my first step towards revising. It just feels like I've spent more time working on the first couple pages than I have with my entire MS, kind of like I spend more time taming my bangs into submission than the rest of my hair. Oh well, if I can get my bangs to look good, I can certainly whip out a decent intro!

    But I appreciate Danielle's advice, Authoress giving me this great opportunity and the comments from the other writers. Thank you one and all!

    PS~ I still love #21 as is!

  24. Many thanks to Danielle for doing this. I'll be the first to admit that I really suck at writing blurbs. And queries. And pretty much anything that has to be short and to the point. :)

    I think I've got the thick-skin thing down pat, so I love when someone can come right out and say, "Hey, this doesn't work," or whatever. Some of the best (and most helpful) advice I've ever received on my writing has been from agents who weren't afraid to say it like it is.

    So again, thank you, Ms. Svetcov!

  25. I agree with some previous sentiments, that not giving (valid) reasons for why something didn't work or didn't appeal isn't helpful. But then, these contests are free and run out of the kindness of Authoress's and agents' hearts.

    I didn't enter this content, but I've been in some previous ones, and one in which Danielle commented/critiqued. Her comments on my writing seemed rushed and gave me nothing to go on. To top it off, she claimed my grammar was incorrect and that was what turned her off, but it actually turned out to be *correct*. So...obviously not a good fit for either of us! I honestly don't think she read beyond that line. I'm glad I entered, though; I had fantastic, helpful, critical feedback from others (and not the happy-clappy kind, either, but actual useful stuff!)

    All that to say, I still think these contests are great and the community is largely helpful and awesome. Writers, keep it up. Don't let what one agent says become the be-all and end-all. Take it with an entire bowl of salt if need be, and move on. Use it as a way to see which agents are your cup of tea. If you get a response from an agent that's productive, that you can learn from, fantastic. But not all feedback will be like that, unfortunately! Don't give up!!

  26. I have to say, I'm frequently surprised when I read the picks the guest agent likes best. I know it all comes down to personal taste, and I understand and appreciate that, because you want your dream agent to be on the same page as you.

    My surprise here was that because of her bio, I expected our agent to prefer humorous mysteries, when, in fact, she is a fan of the dark and creepy variety. After reading her bio, I had put her on my query list, but after reading her comments (which were brief but helpful), I know I'm not her type. Which was helpful for me to find out.

    My other surprise with guest agents has to do with my inner salesman. When I see a clear fan favorite and even though it may not be my personal fave, my inner salesman screams "ka-ching!" Yet agents often seem to prefer entries that didn't receive much reading interest from the peanut gallery. While we may be writers, we are also voracious readers, which means: we buy books.

    Agenting is obviously different than other types of sales, yet the ultimate goal is to sell, sell, sell. So sometimes I have to scratch my head and wonder why.

    That said, I'm not an agent, nor have I ever played one on TV, so I have no idea what goes on in AgentLand. But I am almost always the top salesperson wherever I work, so my intuition can't be that far off.

    But I learn something from every single agent who takes time out of their busy day to appear on MSFV, so thanks to all of you!

    And thanks always to The Divine Miss A!

    PS- So, what flavor did we choose?

  27. Hey Anonymous,

    Bring that bowl of salt over here and let's make some margaritas!

    And yes, everyone, keep writing!

  28. So we don't get a free fluff-pony every time we enter something on here? Dang~ I wanted a purple one!

  29. Some aspiring writers may prefer blunt crits, but clearly not all writers. And I'm a bit skeptical of anyone who claims they don't need positive critiques, and we should all "grow thick skin" already. Even if you tell me "give it to me straight," I'm still going to look for positives when I crit, even if it's hard to find them.

    We are aspiring writers who need helpful, constructive crits at this stage in the process. Reviews on Goodreads are not crits on WIP manuscripts. At this point, we CAN make changes based on crit. Preparing our thin skin for negative reviews we may get on Goodreads in the future (when we can't do anything to change the finished product) is getting a little ahead of ourselves, IMHO. ;)

  30. I have no objection to harsh- as long as it's relevant and somewhat helpful. (It does bother me if someone says "This all sucks.") Don't worry if one person doesn't like it- it might just not be their cup of tea! (That being said, there's always things to improve too.)


  31. I know what I like to get in a critique, and I base how I give critiques on that, unless the critiquee has something else, specific, in mind. I suspect that if I wasn't a writer, if I was, say, an agent, I'd critique from a very different standpoint.

    There is not ONE way to critique; there are many. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get, and run with it. For example, the 'I stopped at pizza' crit, could potentially be very helpful, IMO. Obviously the critter felt strongly about that particular aspect of the work. So then you can analyze: what is that aspect? Perhaps it was a piece of misplaced characterization? (that'd be my guess – and, author of that piece, I'm sorry to drag it up here). You could then look for instances of this in your work, and try to find better places/ways to get characterization in. Alternatively, if you are on the fence about the pizza, but enough people have mentioned it, you could choose to simply take it out of your opening, and thus have a better chance (perhaps) of hooking another agent.
    Or, you can ignore the critique.

    There are many different ways of critiquing, and there is not only one way of accepting a critique, either.

    Thanks again, Authoress and Danielle.

  32. DJ -- I'm sure Jodi Meadows would knit you a fluff-pony if you really needed one. ;)

  33. I was one of the people fortunate enough to get into this critique.

    While initially I was unclear as to whether Danielle actually liked what I wrote, I know she didn't hate it, and I know I accomplished some good things within that first 250 words. Based on critique I got and the critiques I read of other's work, I will keep Ms Svetcov on my query list as my style seems to match with hers.

    If, ultimately, I'm not her cup of tea or didn't hook her enough to garner a request for pages, I'll survive. I will take her invaluable advice and keep plugging away.

    I appreciate everyone who took the time to read and review my piece

  34. I have a question. If Danielle didn't throw up on an entry - but didn't pick it either - would Danielle take a query?

    Or better to leave Danielle alone and ask Jodi M for a fluff pony instead? I like blue.

  35. Okay, guys -- Jodi has drawn a FLUFF PONY for whomever wants one! Just email her at jodi.meadows(at) She will send you the fluff pony AND she will not reject you. :D

  36. For those of us new folk, would anyone care to interpret the above comment??


  37. I told Jodi that people were asking for fluff-ponies (re: my post today), so she offered to draw one for whomever wants one. :D

  38. :: blink blink ::

    Um... gotcha.

  39. I think the entrants (and the rest of us who watched from afar) gained a valuable insight into how an agent reads the slush pile. They often have hundreds of submissions to read through and are thus quick to know what does and doesn't grab them. Yes, they might like it if they read a bit further but most of them do not have that time. You have been given a peek into the confusing world of literary agents through the eyes of just one of its members. Use that insight when looking at your own work, even the "I would stop reading at..." comments have value if you ask yourself "why?" and "how could I make it better?" Afterall, isn't that why we are all here on Authoress's magnificent blog?

  40. Yay for fluff-ponies and acceptance of who we are (writers and lovers of fluff-ponies)! Thanks, Jodi!

  41. I ordered my FLUFF-PONY and received a FLUFF-UNICORN. Love you Jodi Meadows! :-)

    Now that I look again, I see the fluff-pony within the fluff-unicorn How cool....

  42. oooo. I'm empowered. I have a fluff pony. Begone, bad people, here I come!


  43. Thanks for reminding me that there is so much more to writing than writing. Feedback, helps me grow.


  44. I was stunned by the diversity of mysteries that were posted. There are many more shades of genre then I ever dreamed of. That alone was the biggest take away lesson for me.

    I, too, was a little disappointed in the comments by the agent not only for myself but for several others as well. I would have liked a more detailed critique than 'you lost me at...' which several entries received. I read the agent's comments trying to see each entry through her eyes. I'll be honest, I had a really difficult time. She didn't like some of the things I loved about an entry and seemed fine with things that made me cringe. At the end I just scratched my head and chalked it up to a difference in taste, which I already knew I was up against.

    I noticed there were a few entries that were well received by critiquers. Those same entries didn't seem to appeal to the agent at all. Another head scratcher. I'm dying to find out which ones she'll ask for more pages from.

    Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and critique my work. And thank you to Authoress for this opportunity. I believe there is something to be gained from putting yourself out there. Best of luck to everyone on their journey to publication.

  45. Hey people, I've shelled-out good money for a partial MS assessment - and ouch! - the assessor didn't pull her punches.

    So overall, it was good value!

  46. This was my first encounter with Miss Snark's First Victim. It was by no means my first encounter with literary agents, and I would second every comment made here on the fact that one has to get used to negative reactions. Daniele's were on the whole mild. More useful however were the detailed comments by some of the blog's readers. I am extremely impressed by them. I look forward to meeting these readers again in the pages of this most useful blog -- useful and fun to read!! Thank you.