Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.
Snuggle in close to your computer screen because I'm about to hand out a publishing secret today. Ready?
As an agent, I had a huge advantage over the average author when it came to becoming an author myself. But...
Not for the reason you might be thinking. I didn't call in any special favors or reach out to my secret publishing contacts. In fact, my secret agent weapon is one that any author out there can get for themself.
I do a ton of critiquing. I edit client novels, I send notes back on manuscripts, and I'm constantly critiquing for contests and events for new authors. I spend a lot of time looking at novels and picking apart what makes them shine and what makes them sink.
All that critiquing makes it easier for me to notice my own writing faults and identify ways to make my work better.
I often find that the issues I most notice in other people's writing are the same ones I deal with myself. If I find myself making a lot of comments about distant POV or passive phrases, I know I need to go back to my latest project and do a double check. Chances are, I'm going to find those exact same problems all over my work.
When you enjoy a good book, it's easy to get swept away in the story and forget about mechanics. But you can't do that when you're critiquing. You've got a job to do. And that means you have a reason to stop during an excellent scene and dissect why it's working. This is valuable information for the author (so they know not to change it) and it also allows you to possibly discover that little something missing from a scene in your own work that isn't glowing yet.
Another way critiquing other people's work can help, is exposing you to the editing process. When I'm critiquing, I'll often make notes about a sentence being clunky or confusing. While I rarely give an alternate version of the sentence in my notes, I will rewrite that sentence in my head, just for practice. It's a great way to work those editing muscles and getting use to playing around with words until they flow just the right way.
You don't have to be a literary agent to gain all the benefits of critiquing. Authors are always looking for a keen eye to check over their latest work. You can join sites like Critters.org and give feedback to authors through a formal process or just raise your virtual hand whenever someone puts a call-out for critiquers or beta readers on social media. You'll be making new friends, growing your personal reach, helping others and gaining valuable insight into how to be a better writer. What do you have to lose?