The scariest part for most authors once they’ve completed a manuscript is letting someone else read the book. It is a huge step, and we must take it in order to improve our stories.
My Critique Group Background
When I first joined RWA and my local chapter in 2002, they didn’t have a chapter critique group. I knew I needed feedback on my book and asked around if anyone else was interested in starting up a group. One woman took the initiative to spearhead a critique group and another offered her house once a month on Sunday afternoons. Now I had to put my precious baby novel where my mouth was and sign on.
Taking that first step opened the door for a wealth of information and learning. There were a dozen of us who showed up month after month, and it was a long and tedious process. In order to participate, each person had to submit twenty-five pages and be willing to read everyone else’s submission. That was a lot of reading/critiquing to do, and many of the other people were like me having never been in a CG before. The results were a mixed bag, some comments were useful, some lame, some insightful, others off the mark, and still others were really picayune. As time went on a handful of us regulars noticed each other as being dependable, courteous, thoughtful and thorough. We singled each other out and splintered off into our own critique group.
That year-and-a-half with the Fabulous Fictionists (Yes, we gave ourselves a silly name) was a joy. All serious writers at various levels and abilities, we critiqued honestly with respect, watching how we phrased our comments, being tactful rather than wielding a sword. The beauty was we all learned from each other and grew to be better writers. All five of us are now published, and unfortunately, our group critique sessions are long gone due to some moving away and time constraints for others.
My personal critique journey has narrowed down to one single CP. We met in another small group that could get rather intense, and found our personality styles meshed well. She writes big stories with a lot of sex. I don’t. I write category length at the sensual level. What genre you write shouldn’t impact your compatibility as CPs because it’s about the writing. We both respect and value the other’s writing expertise and our books are always better as a result.
Things to Disregard
Abusive critique partners are unacceptable. Lose them. Now. Always put unnecessarily cruel comments aside, if the CP can’t figure out how to make the point without being rude, they cannot be trusted. Hostile or unkind remarks are uncalled for, even if you’ve written a story that needs a lot of work. A little tact goes a long way in critiquing. Using the HALT method might be the key for best CG results: Don’t critique or read a critique when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
If a CP plays the role of expert and contradicts your facts, gently remind them you’ve done your research (I’m assuming you have)
What to Take to Heart
Consistent comments from more than one CP means you need to take a look at the problem and fix it.
An honest critique is a learning tool for your writing, not a judgment of who you are as a person. Put your personal insecurities aside and focus on the writing tips and suggestions. Critique comments should be given with your improvement in mind. Learn from them. It is important to grow thicker skin in order to improve in a critique group setting. When critiquing, though, like the old song says – accentuate the positive!
Due to today’s busy schedules, many people turn to on-line critiquing. This works for long-distance CPs, or in my case, two super busy ladies who can’t find time to meet regularly at Starbucks. The best way to approach the long-distance critiquing unit is to put on the tracking device and insert your comments as you read. Consider reading the submission twice and only inserting your thoughts on the second go-round. Agree on a set number of pages you’re both willing to critique at any given time and stick with it. Give your word about how soon you will get the critique back to the other person and keep it.
E-mails are easy to misunderstand and to read into. It takes a bit more care to communicate thoughtfully, always keeping the other person’s feelings in mind. I suggest you re-read what you’ve written and think about reading the same words for one of your own submissions. If anything strikes you a “pingy or slammy” fix it, in other words, re-write the negative.
When Things Don’t Work Out
We live in a complicated world, often the best laid plans don’t work out. If your CP isn’t keeping her end of the bargain and it’s preventing you from making progress in your book, it might be time to end the relationship. Be honest but not to a fault. Many people have life issues that interfere, and we never know the whole story behind the change in diligence and consideration, so be kind but firm. However, there is no point in continuing an unsatisfactory critiquing relationship.
Recap on the Gracious Critique Partnership Qualities:
Critiques that are: Dependable, courteous, thoughtful, thorough, diligent and considerate.
Critiques are given: Honestly, respectfully, tactfully.
CPs who are: Compatible (It isn’t necessary to be friends or to write in the same genre) and who value each other as writers.
Put aside: Personal insecurities.
Focus on: The writing. Accentuate the positive. Re-write the negative (comments)
The CP covenant: Promise to critique a set number of pages a week/mo, and keep it.
Are you in a critique group? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? If you’re not in a critique group, what keeps you from joining one? Has this blog made you change your mind?
Lynne Marshall is a multi-published author of twenty contemporary romances for Harlequin in both Special Edition and Medical Romance lines, and also in single titles with The Wild Rose Press. She is also venturing into Indie publishing with One for the Road due out this fall.
She lives in Southern California with her husband of many years, and is the proud mother of two adult children. She is a dog lover, a cat admirer, a woman of faith, a curious tourist, and is known to take long, meandering walks, especially when it’s a beautiful day.
The second book in the Grady family duet, The Medic’s Homecoming, is a July 2013 Harlequin Special Edition.
Making the Surgeon Smile was book #7 in the NYC Angels Medical Romance continuity in June 2013. Watch for the upcoming 200 Harley Street 2014 Medical Romance continuity in which she also takes part.
You can connect with Lynne Marshall on the Web:
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Back of the book blurb for The Medic’s Homecoming:
Lucas Grady never planned to return to Whispering Oaks. But when family duty called, the prodigal son arrived like the good soldier he’d been for years. And with him came the unfulfilled expectations of the past—expectations his neighbor, Jocelyn Howard, knew all to well.
Jocelyn had been in love with the rebel next door since she was a little girl. But she couldn’t shake those old insecurities that she’d never be good enough, for Lucas or for anyone else. Still, the newly discharged Army medic had scars that could never be truly healed—or so he thought. Maybe together, they could mend their wounds…and make each other whole again…
Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Additionally, Seekerville recently helped match up a few critique groups. Let us know how that's going in the comments and Seekerville will give away a surprise package to each member of your group. Or if you already in a group, share why it works to have your group entered.