Thursday, December 5, 2013

Critique Partners and Groups


The Pitch Wars writing competition got cranked up on December 2 (if you don't know what that is go check it out here). This year, I'd decided I wouldn't join the stress-inducing activities, because I wasn't sure it would be worthwellthe stress. The more I said I wasn't going to jump into the fray, the more my critique partners encouraged me to enter my newest novel SECRETS I KEEP. It wasn't until the illustrious Fiona McLaren reminded me the most important part of Pitch Wars happens OUTSIDE of the actual contest that I reconsidered and decided to take the plunge.

"What's that?", you must be asking yourself with bated breath. ;) It really has nothing to do with the amazing Brenda Drake, all those awesome mentors, or even the killer manuscripts. The best thing to come out of Pitch Wars for many writers are the new friends they make while stalking the Twitter feed. This year, there's an added feature, the PimpMyBio blog hop, yet another way to get to know your fellow warriors. I've met several really lovely writers, who I'm excited about getting to know better even after Pitch Wars is over. Some of my best friends I've made on Twitter.

highly recommend critique partners, as you can tell if you've read almost any of my posts on this blog. I’ve learned more about writing from critiquing others' work than having my own shredded (not to say I haven’t learned from that too, because I have—truckloads). The reciprocal nature of a CP group is very helpful.

Yes, that's me, well, my face
It just so happens, I've been able to play Critique Partner Cupid for a few Pitch Wars warriors today. This makes me exceedingly happy. As they were tweeting about their new writer's group, I thought of several things my own CP group has learned since we formed. I offered to share some CP group tips with the warriors and they expressed interest, so I decided to just do it via blog post.

My critique group is  The Off Beats. We've been together for over a year now and have become a close, cohesive group, even though we have everything from MG to Erotica writers. I'd be completely lost without them. Before I explain how our group operates, I want to make it clear this is what works for us. Meaning, each group must figure out what works best for them.This post is just meant to be informationala jumping-off place, so to speak.


1. Communication

The Off Beats are scattered across the world, literally. One of our members lives in Cyprus, the rest of us are dotted on the map from Pennsylvania to Texas. We communicate primarily by Facebook Messenger, like chat sessions. We’ve also used Google Chat, but we like the way FB is formatted better. Facebook shows profile pictures, and when there are several people on at once it really helps keep everyone straight (and there are ‘stickers’ we can play with too, which are fun.)  We also email and Tweet to and about one another, all the CPLOVE tweets, not negative stuff. One thing to note about emails, if a group is more than three or four people, email strings can get cumbersome and fill up an inbox pretty quickly.

2. To critique or not to critique

Not everyone writes or reads the same genres. My group’s policy is, if someone doesn't have the inclination to CP a particular project, it's fine to bow out. Or perhaps it’s an issue of time. Sometimes we’re just too busy with our own writing and/or everyday lives to be able to critique. When this happens, we cheer-lead the rest of The Off Beats from the sidelines.

3. Giving notes: be constructive

Honestly, I have a hard time remembering to say the good things. When a manuscript is reading well, I'm too busy just reading. It isn't until I run into a snag that I remember to make a note. Though I do always try to say things in such a way as to not tear down, but to build up and encourage—try being the operative word. Remember, no one communicates their feelings perfectly all the time. I’m sure there are times when my CPs read my notes and then have to remind themselves I’m not a horrible, mean person who just wants to stomp on their manuscript as well as their souls. I usually preface my notes with an email reminding my CPs everything is said because I want to help them make their book the best it can possibly be. Sometimes, I have to say "O_o, this didn't work for me and this is why..." THE WHY is very important—if you can give it. Constructive criticism isn’t actually constructive, if you don’t at least try to give a suggestion. Then again, suggestions should be framed as such. It’s never a good idea to go into someone’s work and mark something, saying, “That sucks. THIS is how it should go.”

4. Asking for critiques

There are different levels of critiques. Our group usually makes it clear to the critique what they are looking for. After all, you don’t want to use up someone’s time as they give you in-depth line-edits if really all you wanted was an overall idea of how they like your project. In that same vein, if you aren’t clear that you’re ready for serious line-by-line edits, you may end up with only plot notes. Be specific, this helps everyone.

5. CP from the NON-SMOKING section

Meaning: DON'T BLOW SMOKE UP THEIRS, and ask the same of them. Taking criticism isn't for the faint of heart, but neither is the publishing business. So if you hear something you don't like, take it for what it is, just a personal thought of one person, it could be helpful to listen or to ignore. But the CP relationship does no one any good if you just tell each other how great your works are. That’s not to imply it shouldn't be said when someone LOVEs something. Then again, don't hold back if something’s not working.

6. Grow a thick skin

It's sometimes difficult to hear bad things about one’s work, but what good will it do to get fluffed-up, positive feedback only to receive all the negative remarks—in the form of rejections—from agents? Better to have an honest CP tell the unvarnished truth so the bugs can be worked out BEFORE the manuscript is sent to those dream agents, than waste that ONE chance with said agent for that MS.

7. Take it, or leave it

Always feel free to IGNORE any or all comments by a CP—it’s YOUR book after all. If something feels wrong for your MS, DON'T DO IT. In that same vein, realize if you CP for others, they may choose to ignore your comments too—and that's perfectly fine. The one thing you must learn as an author is how to take criticism for what it is: a help to you whether you choose to make the suggested changes or not. Because sometimes you just have to go with your gut. Then again, if more than one CP makes a suggestion, you would be wise to seriously consider it, because, chances are other readers [read as agents/editors] will also have these same thoughts about your work. There’s no point in having a critique, if the writer on the receiving end NEVER listens.

8. Give your CPs your tightest possible manuscript

This one is huge! It’s great to get overall feedback on unedited chapters or even a completed first draft, sometimes we just need to know we’re headed in the right direction. However, before anyone asks a CP to give them line-by-line edits, they really should do everything they can to tighten up their prose as much as they possibly can. There are tons of blog posts out there giving tips on how to do this. *queue shameless plug* As a matter of fact, I’ve got a blog series covering this very topic. The Ten Writing Tighteners Series is a perfect place to start. Handing off your baby before it’s been burped and had its dirty diaper changed is just rude, no less so for your book baby.

9. How to find CPs

There are some websites geared for this. CPseek is one I think of off the top of my head. Or you can just put the word out, via Twitter/Facebook, that you’re looking for CPs and you might like to form a group. My experience has been the writing community is very helpful. If you ask, you will most likely be rewarded with people passing on the tweets and FB posts until you’re able to get enough people together. Plus, there are always writers looking for people to help them hone their craft. So offer to critique someone’s book for them, they might just return the offer. Though, I would suggest you not just go asking others to critique your book, without being willing to return the favor. What I’ve done in the past is simply tweeted something like, “I have a [genre] book that needs a critique, willing to trade MSs. Anyone interested?”

10. There is no “cheating” on your CP group

I’ve done a lot of critiquing for authors outside of The Off Beats, as well as having my MSs critiqued by them. Even though I have this awesome assembly of friends/CPs, I still stretch further to seek and offer assistance to and from others. It never hurts to have fresh eyes, especially when the entire CP group has gone through your MS. By the time you've done three rewrites, they may be getting weary, so reach out to get fresh feedback, and in doing so, give back to those outside your circle as well.

11. You’re just dating your CPs, not marrying them

When a person joins a CP group, it’s important to have an open-door policy. If for any reason the person doesn’t mesh with the group, they can leave without any hard feelings on anyone’s part. Also, within the group, if one or more writers find they just don’t work well with another member, it’s okay to agree to just be each other’s cheerleaders, confidants, and so forth. You might still want to have or give feedback on a query or synopsis, without the necessity of the actual manuscript critique. Also, when you are just getting to know someone as a potential CP, you don't have to stick with them forever. It’s perfectly fine to do a one book exchange CP, then see if you like each other’s CP styles. After that, decide if you want to stick together for future projects. There is one author in our group who doesn't care for my style of critiquing, so I don't do hers—and it's okay, because I still encourage her in other areas, as she does for me. There is so much more to being a CP than just the actual manuscript critique.
There are a million writers who have even more great suggestions to add to this list. Are you one of them? Please add a comment below. Thanks for visiting and I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please consider sharing it on Facebook or tweeting about it. Also, I'd love for you to follow this blog via email and join this site through Google (check upper right side bar).

7 comments:

  1. Thank you, Megan and Ellie Mae, I hope it was helpful to you! :)

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  2. Great ideas here! I just started a CP group within my RWA chapter for those of us who write YA (and one New Adult writer). We meet once a month, send our files out ahead of time for discussion in group, with a page limit and some other guidelines the group agreed to. We've had several really good brainstorming sessions. While the CP's I've had who I communicate with solely online (who I've never met) have been very helpful, there is a different vibe to an in-person group where you can discuss back and forth a little more easily. Though this could also be done via Skype or Google.

    I like the idea of working with a variety of partners. I think each person can bring something new to the writing relationship, and like you said, it's extremely important to also give back and be the support other writers are looking for.

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  3. Stephesco! Thanks for commenting...congratulations on your new group! That's fantastic. Yes, I'm sure in person is a lot different than online... and I agree, a variety of partners helps tremendously! Great points all! Thanks again for stopping in.

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  4. Ok, you've convinced me, no more excuses! I need to find (and become) a CP. Thanks for the post.

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    1. KIM!!! YAY! This makes my day! I'm certain you WILL NOT regret it. Now, get out there and FB POST and TWEET that you're looking for CPs... hint:if you are on the #PitchWars hashtag tweet it there...you may just find your true #CPSoulMate ;) Best of LUCK!!

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