Calling Henry Higgins

Let a woman in your life,
And patience hasn’t got a chance,
She will beg you for advice,
Your reply will be concise,
She will listen very nicely
and then go out and do precisely
What she wants — Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady

I was reminded today of the Writer’s Workshop I did for Orycon. One of the authors had written a fairly interesting fantasy piece, and aside from the usual “show don’t tell” advice, I mentioned that I thought he might want to revisit the beginning, because it was a little slow. In fact, it didn’t start to get interesting until page 11 for me, and if I hadn’t promised to read through the whole thing and mark it up for the workshop, I would have put it down after about page 2.

The other two commentators in the workshop expressed the same opinion (and I was not the first to go, so they were by no means following my lead). So, here we have an unpublished author who pays a fee to get his “manuscript in progress” professionally critiqued, and all three reviewers comment that he should probably rewrite the beginning to make it more engaging.

Naturally, you would expect that since he paid for this session, he would be taking notes, asking questions, gathering as much feedback as possible so that he could incorporate the suggestions into his manuscript and get it ready for submission. Instead, he told us all, very politely, that he had already tried it that way and it didn’t work out, so he really needed to leave it exactly like it was, thank you very much.

So he paid the critique fee… to basically ignore the critque?

Now I completely understand why an an author would choose to stick to his or her guns over something, but if that is the case, why would you pay for a critique? Why waste your time and money (not to mention the time of the poor critiquers who had to read your schlock instead of doing something more productive and are now sitting at a table with you, listening to you completely ignore their critique) if you’ve already decided that your manuscript is perfect as is?

I guess I have a problem understanding that, because in my line of work, nothing ever ends up the way it starts. Take a magazine ad, for example. I start off by making up 2-3 concepts, then it gets routed around. The text is tweaked, the images are tweaked, none of them work so we start from scratch. Nothing that I do — a press release, a newsletter, the layout for a manuscript — is EVER so perfect that not a single change is made before it is finalized. And I’ve been doing this for 25 years.

Not only do I expect that every single thing I do can be improved, I actively seek out opinions and work comments and advice into the next round. That doesn’t mean I give all comments received the same weight, but I do listen to the feedback and incorporate what I can into the next version. After all, what’s the point of asking for feedback if you’re going to disregard it all, anyway?

Contrast that with the other author in the workshop. She took notes. Asked questions. Laughed about some of our comments, solicited more feedback. She thanked us all for our time and for our candor. She will go home, review her notes, make some of the changes, disregard others, and will otherwise polish her manuscript feeling like she got some bang for her buck because she’s now one step ahead in the submissions process. She’s already heard what the editors reading her submission are going to think, and she’s going to think about those concerns in advance.

In so many ways, attititude is everything. It can really make the difference. And marketing is no exception.

If you are following this blog, it’s because you are looking for advice on marketing your book. I’m hear to dish it out, and you are free to take it or leave it. There’s more than one way to get things done, and if you are open to new ideas, new technologies, new methods for putting yourself out there, you will come out ahead eventually.

Otherwise, why bother?



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One comment on “Calling Henry Higgins

  1. Denise Tanaka says:

    Thanks for sharing this story! I know what you mean. I’ve seen this scenario many times in workshops and critique groups that I’ve attended over the years. Beginning writers often don’t understand that it takes patience and diligence to build up the skills needed to rewrite effectively without the story falling apart. Rewriting is critical but so difficult to do well. Beginners have achieved so much by imagining something and committing it to paper that they’re afraid to touch it lest the souffle collapse. His response says it all. He had tried it one way, and it didn’t work, so he doesn’t want to try something like that again. What’s unsaid is that he doesn’t yet have the skills to receive and incorporate the comments into his style. He doesn’t ask questions because he doesn’t know what questions to ask. Why was it his first impulse to start out “that way” exactly as the unanimous chorus of critiques had suggested? Why did he change it? How did he change it, and why did he feel the changes didn’t work?

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