By Ariel Bernstein
Please welcome our guest blogger, Ariel Bernstein, a debut picture book author whom we met in person for the first time at NJSCBWI.
I attended the 2016 NJSCBWI Conference this past weekend. I was excited about almost everything – seeing friends, the presentations, the food. Okay, maybe not the food. The one thing I was nervous about was a critique I’d signed up for from an editor. I had been feeling pretty good about the picture book I submitted. While I told myself I wanted the editor’s honest opinion about ways to make it better, I also worried about what she’d say.
When I entered the critique room, the editor smiled and offered her hand. Then she showed me her critique notes. A very, very short paragraph discussed ways in which the story worked. Did I mention it was short? The rest of the three-page document detailed all the ways she felt my story needed improvement.
During the 15 minutes we talked, there were a few suggestions I immediately agreed with. But for everything else, I listened in a daze. Maybe she just didn’t “get it.” This is a subjective business, after all. And my wonderfully honest critique partners all loved it. They tell me when they don’t love something (in a nice way).
I left the conference feeling unsettled. I respected this editor and the books she worked on. But how could I be so wrong about my story?
The next day I found the books she recommended I use for mentor texts. As I read them, I had my story in the back of my mind. I started to think of ways to change it, and realized I was starting to understand how to write the big overhaul she suggested.
I went home and rewrote my story. I must have kept only 30-40% of the original. It still needs revising, but I really liked the direction the story taking. I showed my draft to a critique partner. Her response? The previous version was good. Really good. But this version was SO MUCH BETTER.
The editor hadn’t been telling me that most of my story was awful (or maybe she was), but she was definitely telling me that the story wasn’t good enough. It could be better. And she was right. You don’t always have to agree with everything in a critique from an editor, agent, or fellow writer, but being open to criticism and suggestions is only going to benefit your writing.
I’m so glad I signed up for that critique.
Ariel Bernstein is a picture book, chapter book and short story writer. She has been published in Scary Mommy and Atticus Review. Her debut picture book, I HAVE A BALLOON, will be published by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books in Fall 2017 and will be illustrated by Scott Magoon. Her chapter book, WARREN AND DRAGON’S 100 FRIENDS, will be published by Viking Children’s. You can learn more about Ariel on her website: arielbernsteinbooks.com.
Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel are picture book critique partners & friends who are passionate about kids' books & are eager to share tidbits from their writing journey with other aspiring writers.