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 10 Jan 2012, 18:38 #139289 Reply To Post
Random House publish authors such as Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett. Orion are part of the Hatchette publishing group, whose authors include Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer and Ian Rankin.

We are pleased to also announce that Little Brown, publisher of authors such as Twilight author Stephenie Meyer (and youwriteon member Charlotte Betts who wrote The Apothecary's Daughter!) have provided an Editor critique this month.

Each month on editors from Orion and Random House provide an indepth critique of up to three highly rated YouWriteOn Top Ten novel openings, and mini-reviews of the rest of the top ten stories. This aims to assist all authors in their story development by giving feedback as to what editors are looking for in novel submitted to them.

Click here to view the story extract links for the stories reviewed below which are listed under December 1st for 2011
This post was last edited by ProfessionalCritique, 10 Jan 2012, 18:49
 10 Jan 2012, 18:39 #139290 Reply To Post

Dear Phil Revell

Congratulations on being selected for a professional critique by your writing peers at YouWriteOn. I really enjoyed reading these early pages of A SPURIOUS BROOD. While I don’t think the material so far needs a huge amount of reworking as it is already in fairly good shape, what I hope these editorial notes will do is provide you with some useful pointers as to how you can hone and develop the existing chapters, as well as give guidance on what to pay attention to as the novel progresses.


Structure is the backbone of a novel. It gives shape, focus and drive to the narrative. If your story isn’t sound in structure, the very foundations of your novel are compromised. The opening pages are shown from Jacob’s POV (point of view), and from what I can gauge from your synopsis, it seems that other chapters will also be shown from Katherine’s POV. This switch in character perspectives will bring texture and variance to your narrative, hopefully ensuring the reader never tires of one storyline, and also affording a unique perspective whereby both main characters are shown from both their own POVs, and the POVs of others.


While I enjoyed reading this opening chapter, it didn’t sweep me up in its narrative in the way I’d been hoping. For instance, the very first sentence of your novel lacks impact. You’re too focused on informing the reader when and where the novel is set. I would suggest having ‘March, 1609’ as a subheading, so it doesn’t detract from the flow of the narrative. And instead begin ‘Jacob Blakeway awoke to the all too familiar feeling...’ Remember that less is often more in writing. You don’t need to overstate to the reader.

Similarly with the next paragraph, there is too much information at this early juncture in the novel about the specific location of where the scene is unfolding. Does the reader really need this level of detail so early on? You need to focus on pulling the reader into the story through characterisation and plot, not feeding them unnecessary detailed information. Again, less is more. There is too much focus on describing the local and exact location of The Star, and this isn’t particularly engaging for a new reader who has just begun your novel. Detail needs to be interwoven seamlessly, not presented in great chunks, otherwise you risk distancing the reader from your novel.

In short, the first chapter seems too focused on setting the scene and introducing the characters, rather than dropping the reader right into the middle of the drama and really immersing them in your narrative. Your priority should be to hook the reader from the very first page, and details and description about setting and characters can be introduced gradually as the narrative progresses.

The scene where the trio on horseback are attacked and one of them killed lacks tension, pace and drama. The scene is delivered quite matter of factly, again with a focus on describing people’s appearance and clothes, rather than pulling the reader into the action and getting them on the edge of their seats. As Jacob begins to move towards the clearing, the narrative suddenly flashes back to a previous time when Jacob was getting sword-training. This again detracts from the tension of the main scene and dispels any sense of urgency. Stay focused on the scene, and more importantly stay focused on the action.


As I have mentioned above, you tend to over-describe characters’ appearances and what clothes they are wearing, but fail to portray them as engaging, individual characters. We are shown that Jacob is strong and brave, yet as a character he lacks the charisma of a protagonist, and so you don’t quite succeed in making the reader really invest in and connect with his story. From reading your synopsis, it’s clear that the novel is very much a character-led story, of fated romance and obstacles. And so your characters have to be engaging enough to make the reader want to follow them on their journey until the very end. You need to work on getting under Jacob’s skin in this first chapter, as at present he seems like a stereotype and cliché of a brave swordsman, but one that lacks character and personality. You need to focus on what makes him unique and why he is so attractive to women. You have to capture his magnetism and charisma on page.


Setting, of course, is only the backdrop to your story, but it can also be a character in its own right. It can very much help build atmosphere and even go some way in influencing the tone of the narrative. Whilst you ably describing the setting of your narrative, the description often overshadows the drama of the scene, and there is too much unnecessary detail about the specifics and the geography of where the novel is unfolding. In short, your descriptions are very factual but lack the poeticism to really conjure up this vanished world in an engaging and evocative way. Your focus should be more on describing what is unique about the setting, and capturing its atmosphere. Again, remember that less is more. You don’t need to overload the reader with information. Your priority should be bringing this landscape to life as vividly as possible.


You have classed this as historical fiction, but one that is based on a true story. As I’m sure you’re aware, historical fiction is a very competitive area of the commercial fiction market, and to stand out from other novels, yours needs to be able to sweep the reader up in a dramatic plot, fully immerse them in a richly evoked setting, and make them fall in love with the characters. And you still have some way to go in achieving that. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read as widely as possible in this genre to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work in this area of the market. After all, the first lesson in being a good writer is in being an astute reader.


I hope these notes have been helpful to you. As I have already said, I think these early pages are a promising start but this first draft does need work. With some polishing and developing as you go along, I’m sure you will be able to make this leap off the page. I wish you the best of luck in making that happen, and hope you continue to enjoy writing.

Best wishes

Natalie Braine
 10 Jan 2012, 18:40 #139291 Reply To Post
Professional mini critique for Young, Gifted & Skinned by Dante O’Donnell

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading your short story. I thought it had an interesting premise that managed to keep the reader guessing as to what would happen. You categorise the short story as ‘horror’, which I don’t think is an accurate description as it lacks suspense, atmosphere and an underlying sense of terror, which is intrinsic to any horror story. In short, I thought this was a competent story, if a little underwhelming.

Professional mini critique for The Invisible by Jenny Knowles

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. However, you describe the novel as ‘literary’ fiction, which instantly implies that the novel will be poetic and elegiac in its prose, and insightful and thought-provoking, which these early pages don’t quite achieve. The narrative feels quite didactic in tone and style, almost like a children’s fable, which can be a risky approach when your intended audience is an adult readership. While your descriptive prose is very good, I felt at present that the main character is rather weak in his portrayal and not quite strong enough to carry the weight of the narrative. You need to work on making him a more distinctive and charismatic protagonist. I also felt that the time between Leyla and Abdul felt very rushed, and this segment of the narrative could be expanded upon.

Professional mini critique for Chrissie’s Story by Isabella Bee

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. You state that this is the sequel to a previous novel but it is clear that it can be read as a standalone novel, which is important in attracting new readers. While I found these opening chapters very readable, the actual unfolding drama felt rather rushed in places. For example, the conversation between Chrissie and Charlie about the letter very quickly leads to the confrontation with Jack, rather than there being any dramatic build-up or sense of suspense. The chemistry between Chrissie and Charlie could also be drawn out more to really engage the reader. A small point, but it’s unnecessary to list the narrative’s themes when you are submitting your novel to a literary agent.

Professional mini critique for Seal of Confession by Jon Brownridge

Congratulations on being well-rated by your peers at YouWriteOn. I enjoyed reading the early pages of your novel. It was an interesting concept and one that poses a difficult moral dilemma, instantly provoking the reader to question what they would do in the protagonist’s position. However, I did have some serious reservations. These opening chapters are extremely dialogue-heavy, with hardly any descriptive prose. Remember, less is more, and it is often more dramatic leaving some things unsaid than overstating. From reading the synopsis, I was unsure whether there was enough dramatic potential and drive to the narrative to sustain a full-length novel. It seems that your story hangs on one issue, with no subplots to bring texture and variance to the narrative.
 10 Jan 2012, 18:45 #139292 Reply To Post
Little Brown Editor Critique of Young Woman in Old Detroit (formerly Crazy Nola June's Daughter)

YOUNG WOMAN IN DETROIT – Editorial Critique

Dear Yael,

First of all, I must say, it was a real pleasure to read the opening chapters of Young Woman in Detroit. I was really impressed with what you have achieved so far in terms of evoking a sense of place and the way you use carefully considered language to wonderful effect. You have a languid, lyrical writing style that suits the genre and period perfectly. In some respects I found it reminiscent of the early novels of Toni Morrison and also felt it contained shades of the recent international bestseller The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

What I hope to do with this critique is offer you some suggestions as to how you can hone and develop these chapters, and present some broader points to consider as the story progresses.


As mentioned above, your writing style really suits this genre; there’s something almost haunting about the way you describe the characters and setting. However, I think you should consider removing the text breaks, as they interrupt the flow of the prose here and therefore have a tendency to detach a reader from the story.

In some places I would tweak the phrasing slightly for clarity, for example, in the third paragraph ‘Olivia’s attendance at the one-room schoolhouse had been perfect until she was past fifteen.’ I would suggest replacing ‘perfect’ with ‘fine’. Also, in paragraph six, you describe Seborn Killion’s dead body looking ‘as if he had posed himself’, and this read slightly awkwardly to me. I would suggest substituting it with ‘as if he had struck a pose’.

There are some wonderful images conceived in these chapters, for example, the passage about the ice cream is extremely touching, and I thought the visual quality you created with Olivia imagining herself in a portrait as she’s walking in the snow was wonderful. Although I must say, it was at this point that I found myself wondering whether the novel would work better as a first person narrative, as the reader would be instantly pulled into Olivia’s world of hopes, fears and aspirations.

Something else to bear in mind as you revise these chapters, and the rest of the manuscript, is to look carefully at points of consistency and repetition. Consistency is particularly vital when it comes to names and you currently use both ‘Uncle Scruggs’ and ‘Uncle Lorenzo Scruggs’ in these chapters. I would suggest you pick one and retain it throughout to avoid confusion. Similarly, repetition can often have a dulling effect on a reader, but there are times when deliberate repetition can enhance a narrative. With this in mind, I wasn’t sure if the close repetition of ‘nosy neighbor ladies’ was deliberate or not.


In order for a reader to fully engage with a text, it’s imperative for an author to ‘show not tell’. There were moments of exposition in your opening chapters where I felt that you could have shown the reader the action, rather than relaying it in the past tense, for example, in the fourth paragraph you describe Olivia looking after her father in a few sentences, but I would suggest that you insert a scene in this first chapter where the reader has the opportunity to glimpse at a snapshot of her reality, so that they can fully empathise with her. It’s important to get a true sense of the drudgery of her life from the outset, so it’s clear why she’s so keen to leave and start afresh.

At this stage I also felt it may be necessary to make a little more of her thoughts about Olivia’s mother, as they’re clearly significant, but perhaps this is explored later in the novel.


I absolutely loved the opening – I found it arresting and curiously intimate – your carefully chosen words and phrases create a vivid setting and strong sense of place and period. However, I found myself wanting to know more. You mention a little about the house that Olivia and her family live in, but what does it look like – Sprawling? Crumbling? Imposing? And where is Maple Street – on the outskirts or in the heart of the town?

The sense of place is clearly going to be even more key to the novel by the time Olivia and Mourning have reached the inherited land and begin to work it, adding plenty of texture and colour to the story. The way I see it, the changes they create in the landscape could be be symbolic of how their lives, and their relationship, progress throughout the novel, which could add an extra dimension to the poignancy of the descriptions. I anticipate that there’s going to be something rather eerie about the place itself, and because of the tragedies that befall Olivia from reading your synopsis, I imagine that in spite of her tireless efforts, it will always retain an inhospitable atmosphere, almost as though it is another character in the novel. In this vein, something to consider may be whether the homes of Jeremy Kincaid and the Stubblefields could act as a subtle secondary commentary on their motives and support their characterisation?


I get the sense from reading the opening chapters that the characterisation of Olivia, and also Mourning Free, will gradually take shape as the story continues and this is clearly going to be a character-driven novel. From reading the synopsis, the success of this novel is going to hinge on the presentation and execution of this central relationship, which sounds extremely complex. It’s a difficult balance to strike in a novel – to create chemistry between protagonists that’s convincing enough for the reader to be willing them to consummate their romantic relationship, without them subsequently feel cheated when the characters don’t remain romantically involved. It’s also important that whatever happens, Olivia remains a sympathetic character, so consider this when looking at how their relationship evolves.

However, in the mean time, it would be helpful for the reader to glean more about Olivia in these opening chapters (which will happen organically I think if you decide to re-work the novel into a first person narrative). We know the colour of her hair, etc, but perhaps when she goes to visit Mr Carmichael, it would be an opportunity to see more of her character from the way she behaves – is she awkward? Forthright? Vulnerable? What does her body language imply? A good example of this is the opening image of chapter two, where the reader is reminded of Olivia’s youth and innocence as she attempts to catch snowflakes on her tongue.

Critique continues next post
 10 Jan 2012, 18:45 #139293 Reply To Post

Although I must stress that these are minor points as, on the whole, your characterisation is subtle and very well executed. I thought Nola June was beautifully rendered and is a fine example of the economy of your prose; in just a couple of sentences, I could picture her very clearly, as almost ethereal. And the way you describe Mr Carmichael so succinctly by using the children’s’ reactions to his appearance makes his depiction extremely vivid.

It would be beneficial, I think, to get a clearer sense of the brother/sister relationship between Olivia and Tobey – when he says ‘Well we’re orphans now…’ the tone isn’t very clear. Is it matter-of-fact? Despairing? Their relationship has the potential to really move the reader and perhaps this is explored further in later chapters. How does Olivia feel at the prospect of leaving him? There is definitely an implied closeness there, but I think you could take it a little further, either in these chapters or later on in the novel.

I also found myself intrigued by Uncle Scruggs. It’s important that the reader understands the significance of these family ties, so I hope this strand is developed further in the novel. Why was Olivia his favourite? Maybe you could introduce a flashback, perhaps as a short prologue.


The pace of the first chapter is very brisk, perhaps too brisk and the overall effect is a little superficial. As I mentioned above, I do think there is room for you to slow down at this stage, so that by the time Olivia is leaving Five Rocks the reader is eager to accompany her. Developing a greater sense of character and her personal history will help with this enormously.

In addition to the section depicting Olivia’s life as the sole carer for her father, I found the passage where she is addressing the issue of making a claim on the land a little rushed; it would be great to see her feistiness and ingenuity come to the fore here. Perhaps Mr Carmichael disagrees with the feasibility of Olivia’s claim to the land at first, but through her intelligent interpretation of the terms of the will, he ultimately has to concede that it is, at least a possibility. Similarly, by winning the argument, the reader feels that she’s clearly up for the challenge of whatever is going to come her way over the course of the novel. Olivia says she can use her mouth ‘just as good as Billy Adams’, so let’s see it!


On the basis of your synopsis for Book 1, you’ve clearly thought carefully about the plotting and the structure, peppering the story with interesting and three-dimensional secondary characters. I think the subplots will add depth and drama to the narrative and there are plenty of opportunities to ratchet up the tension, particularly with Olivia’s illness, her traumatic attack by the Stubblefields and their subsequent demise.

If you haven’t done so already, I would suggest that you put together a list of all your characters, think about their objectives within the story and how you’d like them to develop by the end. This will be a useful resource when you’re revising the novel so you can ensure that their various trajectories are sustained throughout and work in tandem with the plot.

Maintaining a driving force within the narrative is also vitally important. Often, novels have a tendency to drag somewhat in the middle, particularly when the primary objective of a protagonist is achieved (in this case, perhaps Olivia reaching the land). Do ensure that every line in the rest of the novel is as considered as those in these opening chapters and don’t act as ‘filler’ to pad out the story.

It’s fantastic that you’re thinking beyond this first book already as readers of historical fiction often enjoy reading part of a series, but it’s important that both novels can stand alone, so do consider this when you’re writing.


This is rather a small point, but I felt I needed to raise it. I’ve got to be honest and say that I don’t feel that the current title sells the novel in the best way. I actually preferred the previous title (Crazy Nola June’s Daughter) as it gave a sense of character and intrigue, but having said that I can see why you abandoned it, as I’m not sure it’s quite right either. I would suggest considering something more evocative – perhaps think about phrases or images you have concocted within the novel to come up with something suitable that packs more of a punch.


I hope that you find this critique useful. I think this novel shows a lot of promise and I hope that embellishing a little on the points above will help it to really shine.

I wish you the best of luck with your writing.
 10 Jan 2012, 18:46 #139294 Reply To Post
Random House Critiques to be added soon for December 2011.
 18 Jan 2012, 12:14 #139867 Reply To Post
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Tuesday, 10 Jan 2012 18:46
Random House Critiques to be added soon for December 2011.

Thanks so much for the encouraging review. I know your remarks wil help me improve the manuscript and I truly appreciate you taking the time.

 26 Jan 2012, 17:06 #140545 Reply To Post
Thanks, we'll pass on feedback.

 14 Feb 2012, 20:06 #142901 Reply To Post
Hello Yael I read Young Woman in Detroit, which I enjoyed
very much. I have just read this feedback too. If you
have a moment would you mind emailing me: I am doing a project
about YouWriteOn website for an MA Creative Writing.
I just have a couple of questions. Brief ones! Best wishes, Andy.

Quote: yaelpoli, Wednesday, 18 Jan 2012 12:14
Quote: ProfessionalCritique, Tuesday, 10 Jan 2012 18:46
Random House Critiques to be added soon for December 2011.

Thanks so much for the encouraging review. I know your remarks wil help me improve the manuscript and I truly appreciate you taking the time.


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