Critique, Beta, Groups and Partners

Yesterday I finally got around to reading the new RWR and the piece on critique groups caught my eye. Interestingly enough, the always wonderful Alison Kent has blogged on this topic today as well.

I don’t have a crit group. I never did. I started writing by myself and I didn’t really know anyone I felt comfortable asking. I didn’t even know about places like Romance Divas or the RWA at that time. So I sort of got imprinted in a solitary way.

And after a time, I had some readers I trusted and asked to do beta reading for me. One of them has been with me since A Touch of Fae, I count her as a friend and I value her opinion greatly – Tracy kicks butt and I’m sooo lucky to have a beta reader like her. Likewise, Renee, reader extraordinare, has done beta for me for the last five or so books and she’s a huge help as well as being a hoot and a wonderful friend. I’ve got other marvelous folks I can email and ask for help who will drop everything to read for me sometimes at the last minute so that’s a big help to me because it’s not so much that I need the help with syntax or grammar, I want to know if readers are getting what I’m trying to say, if the story flows, if the characters have good chemistry, etc. The function of a good beta reader is to tell you, “okay, I really hated her when she did that” and sometimes I ignore that as a personal quirk but usually I give it attention because if you’re lucky as an author, your beta readers are insightful folks who like your writing and your voice so if you do something drastic enough that they comment, you’ve made an error.

Once, one of my beta readers hated Conchobar. Like seriously loathed him. She still hates him to this day and if he’s in any other books she wrinkles her nose at me and complains, LOL. But Con is probably the hero people comment on loving the most. Still, I had to really examine him and his motivations and actions because I trust her opinion so much. But she was wrong and I lurve to tease her about it!

As for critique? I have crit partners that I absolutely trust with my life as well as my words. Megan Hart and Anya Bast have critted many things for me and they’re both very different in the things they see but together, their crit finds everything! I don’t want to be petted on the head, I need to know, flat out, what doesn’t work (not that I don’t love those little comments when they tell me they really loved some bit of dialog or a scene). I’ve brainstormed with both of them when I got stuck as well and they’ve both given me great advice. I find that sort of support and assistance invaluable and I know my proposals go to my agent way better than if I’d just done it myself. A good cp is going to point out things you don’t see because the story is in your head and it all makes sense to you. Repetitive words, stuff you’ve said more than once, things your characters do that don’t make sense with their overall personalities, etc. I know Anya will make me be more descriptive (what does the alley look like?) and Megan will make me cut repetive stuff (of course she stands “up” you can’t stand down)

I do know that I’ve had crit from people I didn’t find helpful. Mainly because I tend to get annoyed quickly by people who take glee in telling me how harsh they are but they’re not effective critters, they’re just getting off on being mean. I want harsh, effective criticism, if I wanted mean, I’d go back to 10th grade. It does nothing but stroke ego and nine times out of ten, those folks can’t handle constructive criticism of their own work.

I have a thick skin. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. I’ll take what I need and reject what I don’t. If people don’t tell you what’s wrong, how can you improve?

I don’t know if crit groups are helpful or not. They wouldn’t have been for me. The process just isn’t one I find useful. But I know many authors who do find them helpful and continue to participate in them long after they’ve been published many years.

I suppose it’s like everything else in this business – you do what works for you. There are so many things out there to utilize and so pick and choose what helps and don’t do what doesn’t.

5 comments to “Critique, Beta, Groups and Partners”

  1. Sasha
    December 13th, 2006 at 2:04 pm · Link

    I also started out completely solitary. I had no idea abotu groups like RWA or even what a Crtitque was. I was lucky enought hat when I did find them, and I staretd to get involved, I’d already sold half a dowzen short stories.

    However, I found that critiques, and contests were not really for me. They wreaked havoc on my own confidence, and I started to change my style. Only when I finally decided to forget them, adn do things my own way and trust my own instincts, did I start to feel better about what I wrote, and to find real success. I do have two wrioter friends who are honest. I don’t call them CP’s because they don’t critique for me. They read, and they talk with me. They brainstorm with me, or listen t o me whine and moan about a problem…They accept that half the time I’m not going to change anything, I’m still going to do it my way, but I still value thier opinions, and they give them. Sometime’s I do change things, sometimes not, but what they say defintiely keeps me thinking…and I love them for it.

  2. Maura
    December 13th, 2006 at 5:59 pm · Link

    I currently test read for several authors and I can tell you that I really hate people who say they “test read” but instead what they really do is bully or act superior. That’s not at all helpful!

    I definitely do set the expectations before I go in that if anyone wants a pat on the head, they don’t want me. I don’t think I’m ever mean but I do try to state my opinions clearly and explain them to the best of my ability (though it can be hard to explain some visceral reactions). Things come back with lots of “thought bubbles” and I sometimes think I’m TOO verbose but everyone I’ve read for tells me it’s helpful.

    But I try hard to not mess with voice. The writer’s voice is part of what makes that story THEIR story – it’s not supposed to be MY voice if it’s not MY story!

    And I never take offense if my suggestions or feedback is NOT taken. My job as a test reader is to offer feedback that may make the story better and I trust the author to give it due consideration then pick and choose from what is offered.

    I love test reading and would gladly apply to any of my favorite authors (including you) – but that makes me sound like a sad little Rabid Fan Girl, no? 😆

  3. Loribelle Hunt
    December 14th, 2006 at 3:33 am · Link

    I’m sure crit groups are wonderful for some people. I didn’t know about them when I started or know about places like Divas or RWA. I don’t think they would have been very helpful to me anyway. I’m very stubborn lol. And now I am just so busy. I’ve been asked to join groups here and there, but I feel it would unfair because I just don’t have the time to put into them.

    I do have a group of readers though. They don’t read everything, but when they have time they’re invaluable. I also have a group of writer friends I can count on to look over problem areas and I return that favor gladly. But mostly, I write, revise, edit, and submit without crits. So far it’s worked for me lol.

  4. Sasha
    December 14th, 2006 at 7:03 pm · Link

    It seems to me that the way people write best, is the way they start. Writers who start out working with critque groups and such, swear by them. Thos e that start out on their own, like it that way . 🙂

    Which is great, cuz it takes all kinds. 🙂

  5. N.J. Walters
    December 20th, 2006 at 5:29 pm · Link

    I started out as a solitary writer and the only person who has ever read my work before I’ve submitted it to my editor is my hubby.

    Luckily, he’s a fantastic reader. He makes me work harder–pointing out places where I skimp and also letting me know when I’ve done something before. He’s also great at letting me know what I’m doing right. I’ve become a much better writer with his helpful criticism. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with some fabulous editors and I’ve learned so much from them that I apply in each new book I write.