Critique Groups, Reading Groups, First Readers… whatever you want to call them, they are worth their weight in gold.
I’m coming to the whole “Crit Group” thing a bit late. I’ve already written four books of various lengths and genres without ever partaking in any organized reader/feedback/critique group. So why am I doing it now? Well, despite having the books written, they remain unpublished. Is that because they aren’t good or is it because I simply haven’t found the right combination of Publisher + timing + luck?
Maybe it’s a bit of both.
Whenever I find myself asking questions like that I know I have to find the answer and fast. I can ask my family and friends what they think, but am I really getting an unbiased answer?
I decided to turn to a Critique Group: critters.org to be exact. For those of you who don’t know how critters works, it is very simple. You register with critters, and you critique other people’s work. In turn, you are able to submit your own for critique.
So I signed up about 6 weeks ago and began to provide feedback to other people. A couple weeks later I submitted the first 3 chapters of “The Goddess Renewed”. Since Critters has a large number of submissions, my chapters didn’t hit the top of the queue until last Wednesday.
So far, I have received 6 reviews of my work. They have touched on a wide-range of things with no two being the same. One talked about how the chapters felt emotionally, one concentrated on line edits and a couple talked about plot and characters. All different and all useful to me. The thing that makes me very hopeful about the entire exercise is that the majority of the responses said they wanted to keep reading (despite the flaws I need to fix). In fact, several of the responses said that they had expected the story to follow the same old plot lines that have been done a thousand times with all the associated cliches and how pleasantly surprised they had been to find out they were wrong.
Major score there!
Was all the feedback equally useful? Not at all, but it did give me a good idea what to tackle. It also told me that different people want different things in their reading (I had a couple contradictory comments) and that’s alright. I already know that my writing may not appeal to everyone.
Now before you think I’ve forgotten about the other ways to get feedback, let me assure you that I haven’t. I tried to attend a reading group a few years ago and was very disenchanted with it. I suspect it was just timing for me, but when I was there nothing was actually discussed (specifically relating to anyone’s writing, anyhow). I believe that reading groups can work, but you have to be in tune with everyone else and find one that is dedicated to getting its members published. I have no doubt that a group that fits you will be of tremendous benefit. (The other thing for me is I’m so busy that the online group is more flexible).
First Readers are another challenge. Finding someone who truly loves the genre you write in and who is insightful enough to be useful can be tough. I’ve tried asking friends, family, fellow writers I know and I’ve never been successful. Is it a case of not asking the right people? I’m sure it is. If you know some of the right people who want to help, let me know. Regardless, having First Readers you trust is crucial. It means finding someone who can work with your personality who you know will be honest, even brutally so.
Easy to describe, tough to do but I’m told the results are nothing short of magic.
That’s something else I hope to get from Critters. I’m able to ask for dedicated readers which I have done. To date, I’ve had someone agree to act as a dedicated reader. If things go well, she may agree to be a dedicated reader in the future. That could equal First Reader for me. Time will certainly tell.
I have submitted my most recent YA story to Bundoran Press. I had the opportunity to meet the Grand Imperial Editor herself, Virginia O’Dine at World Fantasy Con and I believe the story could be a good fit. Fingers are crossed.
I’ve passed the 30,000 word mark on my NanoWriMo story. I’m hoping to surpass 50,000 sometime next week. Yay!
I have started working with Dragon Moon Press in a voluntary role as their Facebook page administrator. If you are interested, please come by and join us (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dragon-Moon-Press-Books/23441824179). I’m hoping to build the page into something rivaling our bigger cousins (like Tor, for example).
Have a great week.