Friday, November 4, 2011

Fixing Authors Who Can't Write

One of the popular things for literary agents to do on their blogs is to post first pages (with the author’s permission) and then provide comments and/or allow their readers to provide comments about what works and doesn’t work with the piece. The concept is that since agents typically see nothing more than the first page before rejecting a novel, the first page is very important. I’ve participated in these and have enjoyed doing so, but there’s a point where it isn’t fun.

The other day, an author submitted a first page and it was brutal. You can usually find something good to say, but this was a case that I felt like I was lying to the author by mentioning the good parts. There wasn’t much hope in saving it. All of the people who responded were nice about it, but I couldn’t help but thing that if I were the author reading those comments I would cry.

But then I looked at the author’s website. This particular author has a few books out, is a public speaker, and she gives writing classes. What a classic case of getting the cart before the horse, but I fear many authors are doing the same thing. So many authors are doing all the right things to sell books, but they can’t write.

Sadly, I think we’re doing the wrong thing by patting them on the back and saying, “Don’t worry, you’ll get there.” It is impossible to improve if you don’t know you need to. Encouragement is fine, but we shouldn’t encourage the wrong behavior. But at the same time, there is a point at which it is painful to give an honest critique.

Have you ever submitted a first page for critique? Did you find it helpful? Why or why not?