profile pic 2013Today it is my pleasure to bring Sylvia Liu to the Tuesday 12 x 12 series. This is Sylvia’s second year partaking of the challenge, and she has been a huge supporter and enthusiastic giver of her expertise the whole time. Sylvia understands the value of external motivation and peer support and how both are vital to growing as a writer. She gives freely of her knowledge on her blog and website, and I highly encourage you to go there after you read her post today to be wowed by her amazing art. Here is a woman headed for high places. Please welcome Sylvia!

The Value of Critiques

by Sylvia Liu

Sometimes when you write a story, don’t you feel it’s just perfect, and you can’t wait to send it to a publisher or agent so that you can be discovered already? Yeah, I felt that way about a recent manuscript. I shared it with one of my critique friends, and she essentially said, “meh.” She also gave me some great suggestions to improve it. After I got over my shock that she didn’t think this would be the next worldwide picture book bestseller, I realized all over again why it is so important to have my work critiqued by others.

1. The Story in Your Head is Not What is Written.

When I write, I know the feelings and images I want to convey. But the words I choose are rooted in my own experiences and emotions that are not necessarily universal. Someone who doesn’t share my worldview, sense of humor, or baggage background may not get the same feelings from my words. By trusting my story to fresh eyes, I can gauge how close I am to achieving my intended effect.

2. A Writer Does Half the Job; the Reader Does the Rest. 

The corollary is that, in any story, the reader brings her own life experiences. A good story takes a life of its own as people react to it in different ways. Critiques help me discover the range of reactions a story elicits. For example, in one story I shared, half the readers thought one of the main characters was imaginary and the rest thought he was real. I had intended him to be real, but I liked the other interpretation too. As I refine the story, I will consciously keep the ambiguity.

3. Any Story, No Matter How Brilliant, Can Be Improved.

No matter what level of writing we are at, constructive criticism can improve our work. Even the most accomplished writer can get too attached to a hard-won turn of phrase or lovingly created scene that may not move the story forward. Writers who know the rules (such as show, don’t tell; use active voice; raise the stakes) can use reminders. And writers exploring unfamiliar genres may need to learn the conventions (for example, the Rule of Threes in picture books).

4. Critiquing Others Will Help You Grow as a Writer.

Author Sarah Pinneo recently wrote an article on how critiquing queries is a great way to improve one’s own queries. It’s so much easier to identify ways to improve other people’s manuscripts, even as I struggle with the same issues. And once I notice a common pitfall enough times, I try to avoid it in my own writing.

5. All of the Above Applies to My Art as Well.

In some ways, I need less feedback on my illustrations because I can compare the finished project with my mental image. But I have still found critiques to be invaluable. Comments on composition, color choices, perspective and other issues that I did not notice have all been instrumental in making my pieces stronger.

12 x 12 is A Great Place to Get Critiques

Because of all these reasons, one of the best parts of 12 x 12 for me has been all the opportunities for getting critiques of my work: (1) the first 250 words in the Forum; (2) the ability to connect with critique partners, and (3) the PB Illustrators Critique Group, a Facebook group open to illustrators in 12 x 12. It is also through 12 x 12 that I discovered Rate Your Story, a great way to get free professional critiques of picture book manuscripts.

All who have critiqued my work have been generous with their knowledge and constructive in their criticisms. Without a doubt, my work has improved as a direct result.

Sylvia Liu is a former environmental lawyer turned artist/illustrator/writer. She is working on several picture book projects and developing an illustrated chapter book. She blogs about children’s illustration, picture books, ebooks, infographics, and Blogger tips at Sylvia Liu Land. Check out her portfolio, Art and Illustration by Sylvia Liu, or find her on Twitter @artsylliu, Facebook, Pinterest, or Google+.


Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. You make a great point in No. 2. Thanks for reminding us of all the places for critique too. I always enjoy your blog too!

  2. Thanks so much! Everything she said was right on target! I recently changed my way of thinking regarding my storyline and it was based on an ingenious suggestion and it made everything better. The reader’s feedback and determination is what counts. Good advice.

  3. Sharalyn Edgeberg

    Thanks! I thought all your points were helpful. Also I am interested in knowing more about your illustrated chapter book. I hope we can connect. Thanks again.

    • Hi Sharalyn. Thanks for your comment. My illustrated chapter book is in its infancy…I’m still writing the very rough draft, with some ideas for illustration. So it’s a long term project…

  4. Fabulous post. I couldn’t submit my writing without the help of my critique groups. Their feedback helps me see things I might not have.

  5. Great post, Sylvia. Number one is number one on my list, too!

  6. Terrific informative post Sylvia. Thanks for sharing the link to I didn’t know about it and will need to start learning about how to write queries soon. Much success with your stories! :0)

  7. Great post! Ugh! I SO identify with that feeling of having a perfect, absolutely ingenious story. When my critique partners start talking, it’s so obvious what went wrong!

    • Me, too! It’s so hard to see flaws in one’s own work. Then–if you’re lucky–they become glaringly obvious when someone else reads the work. How great that we get to revise, even though it is painful and difficult, so we can at least try to meet our own expectations.
      Sylvia, you really have said it all in this post!

  8. Sylvia deserves a round of applause for starting the 12×12 PB Illustrators group! So glad to be a part of that! And I wholeheartedly agree with the benefits of critiquing other work!!! The more I read, the faster and better I get at it, but more importantly my own has improved by leaps and bounds! Great post, Sylvia!

  9. Thank you all! Point 4 really was an “aha” moment for me, when I read Sarah Pinneo’s article on how critiquing others helps one grow as a writer. It’s always so much easier to see what works and doesn’t work in someone else’s writing because we don’t have all the preconceived ideas we bring to our own writing. And Julie R, I am loving the PB illustrator’s group – what a great place with lots of talent & heart.

  10. Melanie Ellsworth

    Sylvia, I really needed the reminder in your point #1. Thank you! I enjoyed looking at your illustrations on your website; the birds on the traffic light particularly struck home – my daughter spent a fair amount of time being absolutely fascinated by traffic lights. She would still love a book with traffic lights in it.

    • Thanks, Melanie. I have found that a lot of my picture book ideas come from the paintings I’ve done (instead of the other way around). I’m about to work on a piece involving birds and overhead wires, so I think there could be a story in there somewhere.

  11. It is so deeply assuring to have someone say, to lay out in such clear terms, what I know and feel I’ve learned internally on my writing journey, but could never quite get ‘said.’ Sylvia, you did that for me, and I am printing these five truths and stickin’ ’em on the wall! Thanks. I remember especially when I realized #2 with my first critique group ever, and it rings so true (as all your points do).

  12. Sylvia, wonderful advice and needed reminders. And so apropos – I’ve just joined a new critique group and am having pangs about the feedback…..but it’s all good – even if it’s bad.

  13. Super post, Silvia. I have a new critique group from 12×12 and they are fantastic.

  14. I love your comment ‘A writer does half the job, the reader does the rest.’ Rate Your Story is a great service, 12 X 12 is invaluable as is a critique group. Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Sylvia.

  15. It’s so nice to see you here, Sylvia! Excellent advice. My favorite ones are #2 and #3. Never thought of it, but so true that the reader helps the story evolve. And I learned the hard way that no matter how great we think our story is, it can always improve. That’s why it takes me forever just to finish a PB. Great post, Syliva!

  16. Excellent, practical advice, Sylvia – you present the realities of our journey in a great, supportive way.

  17. I enjoyed learning more about you and your writing, Sylvia! I especially love this line “A good story takes a life of its own as people react to it in different ways.” 🙂

  18. Sylvia, I always appreciate all your helpful responses on the 12x FB page. I love the breadth you give us here of the value of critiques.

  19. Hello Sylvia! I thought I had commented on this post, but I don’t see it. Must have dreamed the comment. 😉 Number four hits home with me. I think # 2 and 4 are kinda intertwined, at first anyway.

    And ANY story can be improved. Truer words were never spoken. Thank you for taking the time to share with us. *waving*

    • You’re right… coming at a story from a reader’s perspective is different from a writer’s perspective. It’s great when you can put on the “reader’s hat” for your own work.

  20. Wonderful insights. I’m so glad you organized the 12x illustrators critique group, too. I learn so much from critiquing and reading others critiques.

  21. Thanks so much for this post — it resonated with me, too. I currently don’t have a critique group, as I’m writing in three genres at once and unsure how to find a group that will speak to all that, but I have a friend who reads everything I write, and gives cogent feedback. I don’t know what I’d do without her!

  22. I’m trying to get caught up on my blog reading. Nice post, Sylvia. They are all great benefits we receive from critique groups. But I love number 1 – The Story in Your Head is Not What is Written. What better way to find that out than to have someone else read it and comment.

  23. Nice post, Sylvia! All so true. I’m partial to your #1 The story in your head is not what is written. “Ummm…what, you can’t read my mind?” ought to be my motto. Thanks to my critique groups I’m finally getting better at conveying the info via actual words.

Powered by WishList Member - Membership Software