I found out this weekend that I’ve got seven manuscripts to critique for Austin SCBWI’s Write in the Heart of Texas conference next month. I’ve got plenty of time to get them done — the conference isn’t until April 26 — so I’m not at all worried about that. But tonight I suddenly became aware of a pressure of a different sort.

Before you get published, as the years and rejection letters mount, writing for children can begin to feel like not just a hobby, but an increasingly expensive one. There are the big expenses, like workshops, and the smaller ones, like books and postage, and somewhere in between are fees for professional manuscript critiques.

Even at just 30 bucks a pop — a bargain by some standards — those fees can give a writer pause. “Is it really worth it?” they might ask. “Is this the best use of my money? I mean, really, the guy doing the critique — his books are all just under contract. That’s not the same as published.” Hard to believe, but from time to time, writers do harbor such doubts about what they’re doing.

The pressure I’ve newly become aware of is to make those seven writers who have entrusted me with their work feel like they did a smart thing in adding the extra $30 to their conference registration check. I’ve critiqued lots of manuscripts over the years, but this is the first time I’ve been compensated for it, and I want these folks to feel like they got their money’s worth, and then some.

There will still be things that they doubt, but I’d really like for this expense to not be one of them.