Authors and the Art of a Helpful Critique

I am truly excited to announce the impending arrival of Anne Marie Pace at our school this April. Among other adorable picture books, Anne Marie Pace has created the fantastically quirky series, Vampirina Ballerina which has recently been made into a Disney show.


I had the honor of meeting Anne Marie at a SCBWI conference for the MidAtlantic region in late 2016. Like a lot of writers trying out a new genre, I wasn't sure I really understood how to write  a picture book. I had a manuscript which I loved and had worked hard on but it was my first, and I had no way of knowing if what I had produced was picture book quality.

I found out, it wasn't.  

The first thing I saw after introducing myself to Ms. Pace was my manuscript. It was sitting on the table and it looked like it had been handed to a kid to doodle on...there were so many notes in the margins. My heart sank. Was it THAT bad? 

The answer was Yes, and No. It wasn't necessarily bad writing, but it wasn't good PICTURE BOOK writing. There is a difference. I knew that from reading picture books, but I didn't know it from writing them. Ms. Pace taught me the difference. Calmly, patiently, kindly she taught me how to reimagine what I had written so it would fit into the genre I was working in. She gave me suggestions, ideas, resources, and fifteen minutes she changed the entire direction of my craft.

There are a lot of people who will tell you what you're doing isn't good enough. There are far fewer who will tell you, honestly, how to fix it. Opinions are indeed only opinions, but a carefully thought out critique is worth its weight in gold.


In the space of fifteen minutes, I went from thinking I could be at the start of a publishing career to realizing I hadn't even begun to figure out the details of the craft I had chosen to tackle. But why not let "tackle" be our key word here? I felt bad for myself for a few days and then, I picked myself up. I sat down with the manuscript and the miles of scribbles and digested everything she had said. I let it all sink it and then, I tackled it. It was a turning point and it opened a door within the world of writing that has lead me down paths I didn't know existed.

Now, two years later I have the honor to meet Ms. Pace again, and this time as an honored guest to our school. She will speak with our older students about the writing process - a task which I believe she is highly qualified for.

Later, in front of an audience of mostly younger students and friends from the community she will act as inspiration, a doorway into the magical world of storytelling. I expect it will be a visit to remember and I am counting down the days.