I’m currently at Borderlands Press Boot Camp, and today is the day that we met with the folks running the group and got small-group feedback. Last night, a staffer read our separately-submitted two-page excerpts (we were requested to send in two pages from a current work in progress) out loud. We were instructed to raise a hand when we felt that we had heard enough to make a decision about the book, either yes or no. The group was brutal. They completely trashed nearly everyone’s submission, and by the time they got to mine (the last one), they were just shrugging their shoulders and asking each other “what the hell is this” and laughing in a not-kind way.
Mr. A, the man furthest to the left, said that it was a mess – he couldn’t figure out what was supposed to be happening. Mr. B, the man in the center, just laughed derisively. He shouted out “Muffin-faced? What does that even mean?” (I find this slightly funny because I stole that term from Paul Theroux, who used it to describe Queen Elizabeth in an article in Vanity Fair.) Mr. C, the man furthest to the right, seemed to want to hear more. He was willing to forgive its obvious deficiencies because he wanted to hear the end.
I was expecting the small-group feedback to look a lot the same – that everyone would trash me and I’d feel like an idiot. Imagine my shock, then, when Mr. A pronounced it “nearly perfect,” and observed that “either you’ve been writing for a very long time, or you’re gifted.” In the next session, Mr. B’s written notes said “I confess: I loved this.” Mr. C, the man I was sure would hale me as a genius, made some very discouraging remarks. He did say that it worked, that I had managed to walk a very fine line between horror and hilarity. I feel like he was tough on everybody, and that perhaps I got off a little easier than some, but it was still much tougher than I was expecting.
Here’s my dilemma, and I know that this has happened to everyone: On Friday night, I sat and listened to Messrs. A, B and C. I listened to how they presented themselves, how they put their thoughts together, the points they made, etc. I decided that Mr. A was a waste of time. I didn’t agree with his ideas or opinions and thought that he was a little full of himself. I wasn’t entirely sold on Mr. B either. He laughed at his own jokes and parroted the words of the other two men constantly. Mr. C seemed the most well-prepared, the most articulate, the most mentally together of the three. I had already decided that I would listen more carefully to his advice than to Mr. A’s or Mr. B’s.
But now that I’ve gotten their advice, I can’t help but feel that perhaps Mr. A and Mr. B are smarter than I had given them credit for. Obviously, they’re smart enough to see what a “perfect,” “gifted,” lovable writer I am. And perhaps Mr. C isn’t quite as bright as I wanted to think he was.
It’s tempting to believe the people who flattered me, but I’m going to go home and look at the dozens of copies of this same 25 pages I’ve now had critiqued and handed back, and I’m going to try the suggestions that Mr. C gave me. I’m not going to rest on my A and B laurels.
I think you judged all three well, but from what I could get, you’d rather go with C. I would too.
We had another round-table discussion with the three men again at the end of the evening, and if I was unsure of my decision at first, I’m rock-solid now. Messrs. A and B seem to be thinking of the publishing industry as it was in the 1970s when they got started, not the current publishing landscape. Mr. C is the harder road, but the right one.
I hold a lot of respect for Mr. C. He has taught me a lot over the years. While he can be incredibly brutal, he can also be incredibly insightful. Every time I have crossed paths with Mr. C (4 times now), he has taken the most time with my projects, and holds the most interest and desire to see me excel.
Having had a chance to look at the comments everyone made, I do have to say that all three made some very helpful observations that I will incorporate into my revisions. Even Mr. A, to whom I had a pretty negative initial reaction, had things to say that were valuable. I think what I reacted badly to was his delivery, which lacked a bit of compassion. But I do agree that Mr. C’s focus on technical detail is, to me, the most helpful.