Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Howdy Schmoozers!

In our ongoing effort to do as little work as possible….ahem….what we mean to say is our ongoing effort to free up valuable time for our own writing and help everyone feel “a part of,” we’ve decided to turn this blog post (mostly) over to the Schmoozers themselves.

We also knew there was NO WAY we could top our Super-Awesome post on last year's PB Critique night anyway (check that one out here:  http://socalschmooze.blogspot.com/2012/02/once-upon-time-westside-writers.html

About 22 of us gathered on April 10th, and we split into four tables, with manuscripts spread out evenly among them.  We got super-fancy this year and decided to name the groups:

  • The Best Table EVER (moderated by Jeff Cox)
  • Running With Words (moderated by Charlie Cohen)
  • The Laughing Bears (moderated by Joseph Taylor)
  • The Island of Misfit Books (moderated by Karol Ruth Silverstein)

Useful feedback was given, and great fun was had by all!

After giving Schmoozers some time to digest their experiences of the night, we queried them with two pertinent questions. 

The most important thing I learned at the Westside Writers Schmooze Picture Book Critique night about my manuscript is…

– That it's funny but needs to be aware of age-appropriate words and lapses in logic. And that it might be better as a mg novel.
Laurie Young

– The importance of a catchy title. Also, how to tighten the writing.

Susan Berger
– That it's not complete crap. To haiku or not haiku -- that is the question. So far, haiku is winning the race...
Cheryl Manning

– There is probably room in the world for my kind of book.

Even at 900 words, it's much too long.

– I got a few necessary pinches and much needed confirmation on where I was veering off track and where my road appears smooth ahead with my picture book.
Carol Green

– I felt a bit like a juggler.  Narrative thread . . . check.  Sensory details . . .check.  Clear quest of the main character . . .check.  Oops . . . flow, transitions needed to be polished.
Hard to keep all those balls in the air.
Marilyn Cohon

– It can always be better.
Jeff Cox

Karol Ruth Silverstein
– That my story really is about Moose and Gus, more so than the human characters.  That the pacing still isn’t perfect.  And that I need more of an indication that the boy in the story will be okay at the end.
Karol Ruth Silverstein

The most important thing I learned at the Westside Writers Schmooze Picture Book Critique night about writing picture books is… 

– That our schmooze members are incredibly gifted writers, and that even though Eric Drachman has sold over 700,000 books, he hasn't really made much money from them. And that even a great idea takes a huge amount of skill to make it work.
Laurie Young

– How to pay attention to form and structure.

– in a good critique session you really only hear what is useful to you and the rest disappears into the ether.  I thought I would be far more wounded by the critique, whereas I came out thinking of the suggestions that would work, most of which were in the back on my mind and the comments and brainstorming brought these thoughts into my full consciousness.

– Everybody has an opinion. Every opinion has value. At the end of the day, my opinion is the one that matters most (unless ALL the other comments are in agreement).
Cheryl Manning

Answering for her hubby, Cheryl added:  The most important thing Richard learned about writing picture books is that he will NEVER write one.

Michelle Villemarie
– If new readers are saying the same thing-- change it!

– Leave plenty of room for pictures. Do a mock up.  If you must rhyme, there is always RhymeZone. You can tell a beautiful story in very few words. (Thank you, Anjali.)

– So much, since I was starting from zero.  The biography format was fascinating. Not all picture books will appeal to me.  Critique is a lot like brainstorming with colleagues, which I love doing.  I have a much better idea of how to put together some ideas I've had for a very long time.
Deborah Cole

– Word count and formatting correctly are super important. Agents are looking for any reason not to read a manuscript, so don't give them one.
Jeff Cox

 – How varied and deep the form is.  Our table had everything from historical to funny to touching to (perfectly done) rhyming picture books, and they were all well realized.  The amazing thing to me was that each genre was right at home in the picture book form; each one begging for art and calling to mind great images.  Picture book texts are interesting because, at their best, they are only half the story.  Their great power is their ability to imply the other half.  And we had some mighty fine implicating going on at our table.
Charlie Cohen

And here are a few more general comments that we here at Schmooze Central thought we’d pass on:

– I'm so pleased to have found this group!
Deborah Cole

– I went home, revised twice more based on the critiques I received and sent it into the big bad woods of publishing.  Now comes the waiting. I had a wonderful time. I met a couple of Pen and Ink fans. I ate some awesome brownies.  Thank you.
Susan Berger

Carol Green
– Kudos and thanks to Karol & Charlie - who offer camaraderie, compassion and formidable brainpower welcoming newbies into the fold and onto the frontline. You're the best!
Carol Green

…We especially liked that last bit ‘o feedback!

Lastly, as promised, here’s that link to the Checklist for a Good and Helpful Critique, sent to us by the ever-so-wise-and-helpful Greg Pincus:

If you were at the Picture Book Critique Schmooze and wanted to be included in this blog post but didn’t bother responding to our lovely request for input….ahem….what we mean to say is, if you were busy with much more important stuff, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

Next up:  The Novel Critique Schmooze on May 8th.  Get those pages polished!

Until then, keep passing the open windows,
Charlie & Karol


  1. Well I already gave my input, but I forgot to say a heartfelt thank you to Karol and Charlie and to the wonderful Santa Monica Brach Library for use of the space.

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