There’s been a be it of a debate over at my critique group. This isn’t the first time this has happened. Our long-standing debate has been a kind of a glass-half full/glass half-empty philosophical conundrum for as long as I have been a member (three years).
The feature in question is the Hook Queue, in which members can enter the first 1,000 words of their story and get feedback. This sounds great on paper, and in practice many, many members like it. I don’t happen to be one of them.
See, here’s the thing. The whole critique group is based on a credit system; you have to critique the work of others to earn the credits you need to spend in order to submit your own work. It creates motivation and an atmosphere where giving critiques is as valuable or more valuable than receiving them. Which is actually true.
The Hook Queue is a little different. Entering into the Hook Queue costs you 3 credits, but you can earn them back by critting 10 other hook submissions. Here’s how the queue is described:
This queue is a little bit special. Here the critter is playing the role of an underpaid editor searching for that special perfect snowflake of a manuscript amongst a pile of hopefuls.
Anyone can post into this queue but you must have extremely thick skin. The queue is meant to give you an indication of how good your hook is and where editors might stop reading, and more importantly, why.
The theory is that you should run though these quickly (you are timed) and when you feel like stopping, make a short note explaining why at that spot. It is quite a contrast to the regular story queues we use for chapters, in which additional points are awarded to critters for making more verbose critiques.
The Hook Queue is only open one week per month. And after each one the debates roll out anew. Some people (myself included) want more detailed comments on these all-important opening pages of our story, not a cold brush-off. We want to know what is working so we can make more of that. But the entire concept of the Hook Queue is that members are asked to pretend they are editors or agents, when mostly likely none of them actually are. Critters are only guessing at what an editor is looking for. These people are writers themselves — an entirely different breed.
The people in favor of this method like to point out (according to everything they “know” to be true about slush readers) that they are all just looking for reasons to reject your manuscript. One member went so far as to suggest they already have all the clients they need and the slush pile is their lowest priority, so in order to get home to their families they slam through it — just like the Hook Queue is designed.
I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so.
The editors, agents, and slush readers I’ve spoken to (quite a few) express their love of their work. They can’t wait to find the next great book that takes their breath away, and they invite anybody with an Internet machine to send them their manuscript. But don’t take my word for it. The other day I ran across an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) on Reddit, being conducted by a slush reader for a New York literary agent. He answered questions for hours revealing, among other things, that he does it for no pay because he simply loves books, and would rather read a good story than watch television. Here are a few of his comments/answers:
Most agents will read nearly 100% of all queries and probably something close to that in full requests. What the readers like me are doing is helping to level them out. We’re making sure that good stuff gets noticed quick, because the agent is racing to find new talent before someone else scoops them up. And we’re leveling the agent out when they fall in love with a book that may have some serious flaws. Trust me when I say this – Agents and readers alike want desperately to be in love with your writing and your story. We live for it. Look at it less as gate-keeping and more as trying to find the gold nuggets in the sifting pan faster because there’s only one giant pan and a thousand gold-hungry sharks swimming in it. More eyes is better than less.
A good slush reader has to be aligned with the agents interests. The agent wants to find great writing and great/talented authors to sign. Slush readers that are just looking for reasons to hate things last about as long as critique partners who like to tell you how horrible you are at writing (maybe a week?). Now, we sure may get a bad rep for pointing out things that we feel are flaws (especially when the writer doesn’t agree) but I can tell you that what we present is opinion and sometimes Agents ignore their slush readers completely and go with their gut and sign authors they simply love.
Anytime a [slush] reader likes a work, it’s good for the author and the agent alike. A reader helps the agent have a pulse on what the “average joe” reads and likes. It gives the agent a more rounded opinion of the work. It can help the agent overcome a gut reaction or objection, and it can point out a flaw that the agent didn’t see.
So, if you are in the query trenches right now, desparing because you think the keepers of the keys to your publishing kingdom only have eyes for your mistakes, buck up. The people you’re querying want to love your book. As this slush reader said, “There are exactly 1000 things pulling the attention of an agent at any one moment. If you can keep them from caring about anything but reading the next sentence, you’ll have an agent by tomorrow morning.”
Now, I just need to wade back into the debate and convince everyone that our Hook Queue has got it’s head on backwards.