Critique groups and Book-dating

I know – deep in my guts I know – that the next step forward for me in my writing is to find critique partners. A critique partner is different from a beta reader. A reader comes at a manuscript as just that – a reader.  A critique partner approaches a manuscript as another writer.

It’s pretty standard industry knowledge that workshopping and critique partners are a good way to improve craft.  I‘ve been in writing workshops before, and I’ve had various sorts of writers and readers read my work and provide feedback.  I’ve had this done to varying degrees of success.

The best instances are when the person is able to really get me to see the hidden gems that I need to pull forward in my own work. The worst cases are where either the reader just didn’t “get it”, or they tore it to bits without remembering that my heart was buried in there somewhere.

There are many hard parts about this process.

  • I have to respect the other person’s opinion enough to take what they say as potential feedback to improve my work.
  • I have to trust the other person’s intentions and kindness enough to not get defensive about what they say.
  • I have to know that this person knows what the heck they are talking about – that their opinion has weight.   If someone suggests something that would cause a major rewrite – have they done a major rewrite? Do they understand the price of following their suggestion?  (Otherwise, they might make that suggestion too lightly, you see.)
  • The other person has to have the time to devote to my work and respect any deadlines I might have. They have to be available.
  • Preferably, they have something of their own that I can critique for them.
  • Ideally, the CP would be a kind soul who would phrase things in a way that didn’t make me defensive.  If I get defensive about a tone or perceived condescension, it can take me weeks or months to even gear up to be able to read their feedback, let alone be able to do anything constructive with it.
  • Also on my wishlist is a critique partner who heavily favors the speculative fiction side of genre writing – both in writing and reading.  I say this because there are cliches that only another fan could spot, and there are tropes that are sometimes delightful to twist, but it’s only delightful to a Spec Fic reader.

Look at those requirements. Basically, I’m talking about book-dating. This is a relationship, a give and take.  Because it’s really hard to find people who meet these qualifications, and because it takes me a long time, personally, to build up trust in a person, this has to be a dating-toward-book-marriage sort of thing.  I am looking for long-term book-love, here.  No fly-by-night book crushes and one-story stands.

I am online book-dating, a little bit.

I joined critters.org last week.  It is specifically Spec-fic, so it meets that wishlist item. But all of the critiques I’ve heard about the site is that it heavily favors short works. Which means that I might meet up with some good folks there, but I’ll have to take the relationship offline if I want to really go somewhere.     I have a short story that keeps getting near-miss rejections from magazine editors, and I would like to hone it a bit more. I plan on submitting it for this site to take a look at.

I have requested and gotten a few critiques via Twitter, but that has been… hard. I read the first part of the response emails, cringed and haven’t opened them back up to review the story line notes.   I felt sort of shredded just reading the emails.

Just like romantic-dating or friend-dating, my book has made this wishlist. Do any of my blog readers have a book with a similar list?   

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9 thoughts on “Critique groups and Book-dating

  1. I SO GET THIS.
    I’m in the same place. I know I need some CP’s. I also need more betas, but they are for sure two distinct animals.

    I looked into some local writer groups, but the scheduling to be there physically does not work for me, and unless you are there, you can’t develop relationships to then take online and get around the schedule thing.
    I’ve signed up to some online groups, as recently as yesterday, but I have a hard time there too. Just because someone is moved to comment on some work I post, does not make them a good fit for me, or me them. I also have qualms about the whole qualification thing…

    Should I take to heart all comments by someone, who at some point, published something, somewhere? Because that somehow qualifies them? And conversely then give less weight to someone who is unpublished, even if their comments make sense? No, I don’t think so, for a slew of reasons. But then I hold myself (currently unpublished) against that very criteria and think, “well, who am I to critique anyone? What do I have to give in return?” Nasty circle.

    Growing up, I always had just one or two best friends, and then acquaintances. I would rather find that in CP’s, a couple people who get what I’m trying to do, than crowdsource my work and my soul to a mob of acquaintances who might just like hearing themselves talk.

    From the bits I’ve seen online, I appreciate your work. If you ever feel like trading words sometime to see if it leads anywhere (no pressure), let me know. Maybe I can buy your book a coffee. Or tea. 🙂

    • YES! Thank you for commenting! I agree that we should give it a shot, it sounds like you and I are much in the same place.

      I don’t think publication/not matters in terms of “qualifications/” To me, where I think the “qualification” matters is in the effort and awareness of how to write and how much work it is.

      Frankly, I don’t one someone who’s never tried to edit a novel to tell me to write out a character or something.That’s when I get frustrated and defensive. I also think there’s a difference in the spirit of wanting someone else to succeed and the spirit of saying something because you like to hear yourself talk. I think we’ve been cheering one another along for a while now. 🙂

  2. That was a great post. I have had some not so great experiences personally with critters.org, so I am partially biased against them. I have also tried a few other online groups, and not really found what I was looking for. It’s so hard to find a good crit partner! Which incidentally I will be looking for a good few come January 1 I think.

    If you are interested in a crit partner who hasn’t published anything, but loves to read and write and has completely ripped her own stuff to shreds before re-building it once or twice, please let me know. Right now I am concentrating mainly on MG/YA in my own writing, but if you want to chat and see if it’s a fit I’d be happy to do so. That being said, I wouldn’t be able to do much work until after November.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with this, honestly. I decided to put it out there as a blog post because I just _knew_ other people had to be bumping up against this as well.

      I’m not sure how I feel about critters yet – just submitted the story to the queue. I’m going to try my hand at a critique this afternoon. I’ve heard mixed reviews from other writers.

      Let’s get to know each other a little better, Lisen and see if it’s a good fit. I read some YA (and even random MG) but my stuff is pretty brutal and dark (except for this month’s NaNo for some reason which is as fluffy as marshmallow creme. I never knew I could write romantic comedy!)

      • Ha! please don’t think because I am writing MG/YA now that it may not work. I have a masters in forensic psych so I HAVE written the brutal and dark before – in fact that is what I prefer to read. I am just not currently focusing on that until I get my current WIP out of my head 🙂

  3. I’ve done the online critique group thing once, and it was a really interesting experience. One of my partners was so bluntly honest that at first, I could hardly stand it. But as the relationship developed, I learned that that was just how she helped–there was nothing mean-spirited about it, just total honesty–and I will be eternally grateful, because one of the not-so-fun parts of this writer-gig is growing a thick skin. That said, I approach critiquing the way I approached student papers when I was a writing teacher: with gentle honesty and lots of encouragement, because I know I need those things, too. 🙂

  4. I wrote alone for many years, but not from a lack of wanting others to read. I didn’t really value the importance of having critique partners. Beta readers, to me, are also critique partners, because – while they may not know what’s structurally wrong – they sure know when something’s not working. I tried Scribophile for a while, and did have some good feedback, but what I found was it was hard to get the writers you wanted to read your submissions to read them! It’s about gaining points or spending money, neither of which I was too fond of. In all honesty, the two critique partners I’ve found I’ve met at conferences or workshops. I started out joining a group of three writers on invitation following a conference, and each of them critiqued my writing and I theirs. And I learned a very important lesson – the better the writer, the better the critique. It sounds obvious, but you forget that not every piece of advice is good advice. In the end, I wound up exchanging pages with the one who’s writing I thought was the strongest, who incidentally was the same one who gave the best feedback. Bottom line: if you fear having a partner, don’t. It is a must. Start by exchanging a chapter, and read each other’s work. Critique and send back. After that first round, you’ll know if their advice matches their writing. If their writing is good, and their critique is a little harsh, they might be on to something, and it’s something you just might really need to learn. If their critique is harsh, and their writing weak, say thank you and move on. Beware of someone who only says “It’s all great!”

  5. Pingback: Scary Vulnerability [CARTOON] | A.K. Anderson | Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

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