Monday, October 14, 2013

Working with a Critique Group, by Cristin Harber

(Please welcome Cristin Harber, an author I met last year at a writer’s conference. Cristin is an award-winning romantic suspense and military romance author. Her Titan series debuted three weeks ago with three novels and two novellas. The novels are ranked on the Amazon’s Military Romance Best Sellers list and have been applauded by reviewers as a fresh voice in romantic suspense. The first title, WINTERS HEAT, follows black ops mission gone wrong, and a couple forced together to survive. She lives outside Washington, DC with her husband, toddler, English bulldog, and has a baby on the way. She loves southern food, sings too loud along with the radio, and could spend hours reading and writing. And she has some sound advice about working with a critique group.)

Hi, Jami. Thanks for having me today to talk about critique groups.

I belong to an online group. We’re scattered across the country, but all write romance novels and agree that no one is an expert. Everyone offers something different. We focus improving our craft to meet specific goals—landing an agent, hitting a best seller list, selling to a particular publishing imprint, et cetera.

Based on my experiences, I’m sharing a couple lessons learned and tips from my crit partner adventures.

Why are critique groups so important:
• Friends and family will never be impartial. It’s the truth. At least on your first work.
• Writers can be too close to their work. It’s hard to see plot holes, word echoes, and repetitiveness. A reader who actively studies a manuscript can provide a bevy of feedback.
•Crit partners need to understand your goals and want that for you also. It helps if they are about the same level of writing. A newbie writer and a multi-published NYT bestseller won’t have much they can exchange. Crit partnerships can fail for a variety of reasons, but a few key things to watch out for include partners that:
• Don’t understand your voice
• Don’t read your genre/ sub-genre
• Try to impose their voice on your style
• Crit to make themselves feel better (RUN FOR YOUR LIFE FROM THOSE FOLKS)

Now for what makes a great team—a similar sense of style, a similar reading list. Try to find partners that:
• Bolster your confidence without blowing sunshine. The truth doesn’t have to hurt, and don’t waste your time with someone who thinks everything is incredible. The goal is to improve. Learn what your flaws are and seek solutions to improve your craft.
• Understand that your time is valuable also. Typos happen. Titanic-sized plot holes are easy to miss as an author. But it’s not fair to you to constantly be the spell checker or if you find yourself writing the same notes on each progressive chapter/book.
• Are in it for the long haul. Having someone pop in and out every few chapters doesn’t help the overall arc of the story.

Be a better crit partner by:
• Being honest. If something’s not working, don’t ignore it. If you don’t have time, be upfront.
• Sandwich criticism with praise. Example: Excellent word choice here. I think the second and third paragraphs are running long. I’m a little lost. But, I’m digging this dialogue section. Reads very conversational.”
• Respect the level of writing your partners are at and know where you are also. Offer what you know and learn from what you read.

How to find an online crit group:
• Check out professional associations like the Romance Writers of America. RWA has online and local chapters, many of which have crit groups. They also have forums where critiques can be exchanged.
• Look into yahoogroups. Several groups are genre-oriented and have varying levels of commitment.
• Search for websites that specialize in critiques. Critique Circle is an excellent crit trading website. New ones pop up, but be sure to Google them a little to make sure you aren’t accidently “publishing” your work or sharing your rights.

I hope your find a critique group that works for you! Mine is incredible and I’m lucky I get to thank those ladies every day for their help. I wish you the same success in finding your writing partners.

Cristin Harber
Romantic Suspense Author: Higher Stakes. Hotter Action.

Where to find Cristin:

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