Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


My moment in the spotlight

At one of the first local SCBWI conferences I attended, I submitted a manuscript to be reviewed by a New York Editor. I was so excited when my manuscript was one of ten selected to be reviewed and discussed in front of the entire audience.

Before the conference we received copies of the other manuscripts. I hate to admit it, but I was secretly glad when I saw that my story was better than the other nine submissions.

All the conference attendees crowded into the auditorium where the New York Editor would spend a full five minutes critiquing each story. She loved the first manuscript (which wasn't very good). The second manuscript (which was worse) she loved even more. She went on and on extolling its positive qualities and told the author to please send the entire story to her publishing company - she'd like to consider it for possible publication. It was hard to restrain my mounting excitement.

And then it was my turn. I picked up my pencil and got ready to take notes on all her compliments and any suggestions she might have.

The New York Editor made a sour face. "There really isn't anything I like about this one," she said. She shuffled my manuscript to the bottom of her pile and went on to the next story.

I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I remember trying to keep a smile plastered on my face, and walking through the rest of the conference on auto-pilot.

The positive outcome from this experience? I didn't give up. I went on to write several successful published books. The story that she hated (and which I still like) I use as a very successful story writing prompt with kids when I visit schools. And when I became the person giving critiques at SCBWI conferences, I remember the sinking feeling I experienced, I remember that opinions differ, and I always treat each author I review with gentleness and respect...and find at least one nice thing to say about their story.


Christy said...

David, I love the build up here as you recount your story. Your thoughts and feelings are vivid and familiar. I feel rejected along with you! How strange that you got no critique from that editor.

You've hit the nail on the head--opinions differ. Thank goodness there were other editors who recognized your talent and committed to sharing it with readers.

I also appreciate what you internalized from the experience--the need to treat others with gentleness and respect and find something positive when critiquing.

Stephanie said...

Oh my gosh, that's awful! But I love how you used your own experience to make sure you don't do that to anyone else. It is so much better to start out with something positive.

Lauren said...

David, this recounting is so painful! You tell it very well and like Christy, I am right there with you. Ugh! Thank you for having the compassion towards others that this editor obviously did not have. Yes, opinions differ, but there are ways to offer these opinions that can be helpful and useful.
I am not sure I read many more of these Potato-Scrooge moments! My stomach hurts.

Edie Hemingway said...

I was right with you, too, as you recounted this story. Now I can't imagine a more considerate, understanding, and helpful critiquer than you!

Laurie Miles said...

Glad you truly believed in yourself and your work to keep going. The world is that much richer for what you have published since the comment of the New York Editor. And what a timely reminder for me as I gear up to start all over again on a project. Thanks, David.

betsy woods said...

Oh John, I am smiling all the way to you. The communal lesson is persistence.

Diane Adams said...

I had not read your post when I e-mailed the quote about your writing talents(that thousands of people in the writing industry have seen by now - hopefully one of them being that editor)! Thank goodness you continued on after that horrible experience, and have been spoken of as the brilliant writer that you are!!

Mark said...

Along with the others, I am rather shocked that the editor would be that rude. Apparently she didn't know the most fundamental "rule" of giving feedback (start with positives then move into the critique) -- or perhaps she felt exempt from having to show basic decency... I mean, come on -- there was NOTHING she liked? What a crushing blow. But as so many others on this site have done, you took that negative experience, persisted, and eventually triumphed! As someone who works in the mental health field with children, I'd also like to compliment you on remembering how it felt and making sure you do not act the same way now that you are at the front of the group. It's something I'm always trying to tell clients who face bullying or whatever and then later, when they grow older, repeat those same hurtful actions to their younger peers. You, though, have shown the true way to rise above such negativity. Congratulations!

(Though taking the high road is always the way to go, in my opinion, I can't help but indulge my snarky side and say I wish you would have invited her to the Sid Fleischman Humor Award Ceremony -- and asked her to introduce you!!!)