Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 7, 2011

Tips: How to Handle a Negative Critique

I thought I was going to get a day off after the conference, but it didn’t work out.  I should have remembered the first few days after the conference are filled with things that require attention.  No need to burden all of you with those details.  I would like to talk about critiques and how you may need to take control when you meet with and editor or agent to discuss your manuscript. 

Here are my thoughts.  I wish I had thought to put out this advice prior to the conference.  But I am sure you will have many other critiques in your writing career, so it still will be useful.

It is exciting to get assigned a critique with an industry professional.  You have written and revised and now you want to show off your baby.  Just image how mortified you would be if you took your new baby out to the supermarket and someone told you had an ugly baby.  That’s exactly how most people feel when an editor or agent doesn’t embrace thier story.

So how do you handle someone who has read your manuscript and doesn’t react in a positive way?

1. You must mentally prepare yourself beforehand to the possibility that the person critiquing your manuscript may not like what you submitted.

2. If they say watch your tenses or your dialog didn’t ring true in places, etc.  Ask them to please point out the places where you did these things, so you understand.

3. If they start out by asking you to tell them a little bit about the story, then make sure you give them your short flap jacket blurb and bring the conversation back to getting them talking.  You do not want to spend your whole time doing the talking.  An author can spend hours talking about their book.  You want the editor/agent to do the talking.

4. If you do not understand what they are trying to say; ask them to explain it again, because you aren’t quite sure you understand.

5. If they scoot the manuscript across the table and ask you to read.  Read it if it is short, but if it is long ask them to please go over it with you, since your time is limited and you want to get the most from your time together.

6. Be courteous and don’t argue with your critique.  Listen and ask questions.  You have paid for their opinion, so don’t waste time arguing with their opinion. Use the time to find out why they think the way they do.

7. Ask for advice as to how you could proceed to make it better.

8. Find out what they think of your story idea.

9. Is it the basic story that doesn’t make it click for them or is it the writing.

10. Don’t get upset.  What you want to walk away with is a clear direction on what you need to do to make your book better.  If you do that you will have gotten your monies worth.

Talk tomorrow,


PS:  If you want to read a nice write up of the conference and see some pictures got to Katia Raina’s blog:


  1. I was thrilled to be assigned to Mary Kole for my crit because of the smart advice she gives on her blog ( And I knew she would channel her Simon Cowell and give me honest feedback. And she did. So I only got one paragraph right in 15 pp. But I learned SO much from her, and I’m ready to get back in there slugging.


  2. These are all excellent points, Kathy. I actually had the pleasure of spending some time talking to one of the very nice and knowledgeable agents, and we were discussing this. She told me she actually did a critique in which the author was really arguing with her about what she (the agent) was saying. She also couldn’t understand why someone would get multiple critiques on the same manuscript and not want to hear what had to be said.

    I pointed out that a lot of people who are getting critiques aren’t actually looking for a critique—-they’re looking/hoping for and EXPECTING a book deal! This is a common mistake attendees make when attending a conference, and it’s typical of those who are new to the conference/publishing scene. Years ago I had those hopes, too, and you find out very quickly just how “fantasy world” that thinking is. Of course, I never actually argued with someone over a critique; I sincerely wanted to understand more about how the agents and editors were thinking. Their critiques are invaluable, and if you hear the same comment/s about your work from more than one, you are wise to examine what they’ve said!

    Over the years I’ve realized that things take time, so much so that THIS year I attended the conference mainly to contribute as a volunteer, and to get to know people better, in general. I have a game plan, know where I’m headed, the manuscript I’m wanting to focus on isn’t at a point where I wanted to waste a critique, and I didn’t want to RE-pitch/critique my picture books, so I never once pitched my manuscripts to the agents and editors I had the pleasure of spending time with socially. Perhaps that was foolish, but this year I felt it wasn’t what it was about. It made for a really pleasurable weekend for me 🙂


  3. Great post! Thanks so much for your advice.


  4. Personality…Ive heard it many times Be yourself…I know you heard it too…Easier said than done right?..The thing is when you meet agents or editors thats what they want. They want to see you as much as the manuscript youre pitching…Sure youll be nervous.


  5. I got torn to shreds. Still haven’t recovered yet!


    • Oh, David 😦 Hang in there and keep the faith. Always remember it’s ONE person’s opinion 🙂 And you can always polish your knuckles over the GREAT job you do as a speaker!!!


  6. Again–found and shared!


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