A Glimmer of Hope from Useful Feedback

Feedback is a precious thing, and yesterday I received the best kind–the useful kind, where my work was systematically analysed and marked against a criteria sheet by a published author. Like I said, it’s precious.

Obtaining such thorough feedback isn’t common. Most of the time, when I send off writing, the most I receive back is an email saying, “Thank you but your submission was not successful at this time. Yada, yada….” I understand why they don’t say more than that, but gee, wouldn’t it be nice to know how you missed it? Wouldn’t it be great to receive a clue or two about what to change or to know if you were even close to being considered?

So, to all the writers who are reading this and wondering what wonderful agency doles out such useful feedback, here it is: Brisbane’s annual CYA Conference. The 2012 conference will be held in July, so get something ready to enter in their contest. It will be the most useful $17 you’ve ever spent on a contest entry fee.

Their contest has several categories, including picture books, non-fiction for children, chapter books, illustrations, graphic novel, and, the category I’ve entered for two years, young adult fiction. The prizes aren’t going to make you rich, but the depth of feedback that you receive is pure gold.

This year I entered two pieces. One was a short story called Saving Aggie Blue, which won second place. I was sent the criteria sheets of both judges, so I could see where they agreed and disagreed. One suggested a publisher that would be a good match; the other encouraged me to expand the story into a novel. On one of the marking sheets, I received a perfect score on all 50 or so criteria, which is very encouraging and affirming; the doubts that a writer experiences on a regular basis are a fact, so seeing that someone likes your work is such a boost. One of them wrote, “If you are not yet published, I think you are not far off.” Wow, what those words did for me.

It was the other entry that I found most helpful, though. It did well, but not well enough to be shortlisted. A Thousand Miles to Meet is a novel I started at the end of last year. I had conversations with an agent in New York about it, but in the end, her input, though valuable, was confusing and I became discouraged. I couldn’t write her story, so I shelved it. On a whim, I entered it in the CYA Conference contest, just to get some feedback on the idea.

Both judges were very helpful, pointing me to appropriate publishers and suggesting ways of strengthening the submission. One pointed out that it would be helpful to make my protagonist Australian rather than American, especially if I plan to seek publication in Australia. She mentioned her own experience of having to rewrite characters as Aussies at the behest of publishers. Point taken. I can do that.

That’s the great thing about receiving feedback. It spurs you on; it gives you hope to carry you through the inevitable moments of doubt. And it’s just plain interesting to know how someone reacts to your writing.

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