Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 8, 2017

ASK DIANNE: Getting the Most Out of a Conference Critique

Yvonne Ventresca is the winner of Mike Ciccotello’s Print, STAR SEEKER.

John Smith is the winner of Evolution Revolution: Simple Lessons by Charlotte Bennardo

Please send addresses.

Q: I’m signed up for a critique of my story at a writer’s conference. This is my first one, ever. How can I get the most out of it? (It wasn’t cheap!)

A: Good questions, all. To get the most out of a critique on your writing, it’s important to keep a few thoughts in mind:

1. Check the format requirements (if given) for your submission of work to be critiqued, and adhere to them. Meet the deadline for submitting your manuscript. Not only does this get you off on the right foot with your professional critique, it’s great practice for the submissions you’ll be making to publishers or agents in the future.

2. Before the critique session, think about what you most hope to improve in the manuscript using the professional feedback you’ll get. Is it the language? The plot? The characterization? Do you want to know if it’s really a picture book but a novel-in-the-rough? You may or may not get to ask these questions, but it will help you greatly to be prepared should you have a few moments after the editor or agent has gone through their editorial report. Be specific with your questions, and the answers will yield feedback about those things you are unsure about—that, my friend, is worth its weight in gold.

3. On the day of your critique session, arrive with an open mind. Open your heart and your ears, too. Commit to just listening to what the editor or agent has to say without judging the feedback or yourself. It’s only information.

4. Bring a pen and a notebook to your session. Write everything down. Sometimes the editor or agent doing the critique will write notes on the manuscript pages, or on a feedback form provided by conference organizers, or even type up an editorial letter summarizing major observations/suggestions…but not always. And, often, the editor or agent critiquing your work will have off-the-cuff remarks that may be valuable as you tackle revisions. Whether you agree or disagree, write it all down. Don’t trust memory alone.

5. Put on a very tough, thick skin. Don’t take anything personally. It’s your manuscript under evaluation, not you. Remember that the editor or agent is there to point out the flaws in your story that you can’t see because you’re too close to your work. This is wonderful! The feedback you’re getting is meant to help you become a stronger writer, and to make your manuscript more marketable, right? So remind yourself that while it might not feel great at first, those ‘hey, there’s some broccoli in your teeth’ critique moments are going to move you one more step to publication.

6. Don’t make excuses or argue or try to explain why you are right and the person giving the critique is wrong. You didn’t write a check to see what you think about your manuscript. You wanted a professional opinion. Now it’s time to sit back, and find out the editor or agent thinks. Just listen.

7. Set the critique aside for a few days. Think about what the editor or agent had to say. Some things will ‘ring true’. Others might not. If someone recommended a book or resource, get it. When you are ready to work on the piece again, have the critique at your side so you can refer to the key points you were given as you begin to revise.


Dianne Ochiltree is a nationally recognized author of books for the very young. Her books have appeared on numerous recommended reading lists, classroom desks and library shelves.  Her bedtime book, LULL-A-BYE, LITTLE ONE, was a selected for the Dollywood Foundation’s childhood literacy initiative, Imagination Library in 2007. Her picture book, MOLLY BY GOLLY! THE LEGEND OF MOLLY WILLIAMS AMERICA’S FIRST FEMALE FIREFIGHTER, received the Florida Book Awards (FBA) Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category in 2012 and was chosen for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer list of feminist literature for girls. Her picture book, IT’S A FIREFLY NIGHT, won the FBA Silver Medal in 2013. Her 2015 title, IT’S A SEASHELL DAY, was given the FBA Gold Medal/Gwen Reichert Award as well as the Gold Medal for Florida picture book from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. For more information about Dianne’s books, go to

Dianne, thanks for sharing your expertise with us. Another great answer.

REMEMBER: To send in your questions for Dianne. Use Kathy(dot)Temean(at) Please put ASK DIANNE in the subject box.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thanks for the tips, Dianne.
    And I am so happy to be chosen as the winner of Mike’s print!


  2. Fantastic advice, Dianne! I’ve learned a lot of this the hard way. 🙂


  3. This is such good advice and for those of you who are new to the industry, I suggest you read this a second time. It took me probably about 7 years to learn this on my own! Painful, but true. It’s just information and it’s all subjective and the only way to get used to being critiqued is to keep going to them. And joining a critique group. Eventually you develop the ability to hear what rings true and what you can disregard. Thanks, Dianne!


  4. Excellent tips, Dianne 🙂 I’ve had mixed feelings about critiques because I’ve had very opposing opinions on the same manuscripts, but there are always things to be gleaned!


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