You’ve shown your manuscript to your mother; she adored it. You’ve sent it to your brother; he says it’s brilliant. All your friends are poised to buy hundreds of copies once the book is published.
Only problem is, no one else cares. Agents aren’t calling or answering queries. Editors run shrieking into the bathroom when they see you at conferences.
The truth? I’m sorry to tell you, pal, but you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking your writing is God’s gift . . . when it isn’t.
Go ahead, take a minute to lick the wounds to your ego. I’ll wait for you; I’ve been there myself . . .
After you’ve gone through the various stages of grief incluing denial, anger, bargaining, self doubt and general pissiness, you’ll be ready to get back to work.
And at that point, you’ll have some choices to make. Should you edit and revise on your own? Do you want to talk with your agent (if you’ve got one) and ask for help? Would it be a good idea to hire a freelance editor or bookdoctor? Or do you want to start/create a critique group?
I’ve done all four. Each one has its merits. However, I like critique groups because when they gel, they’re incredibly helpful and supportive.
When they don’t, they’re hell. Here are some of the pitfalls I’ve seen first hand:
* Ego and personality clashes
* Members ganging up on others
* Smarmy, half reads — sugary critiques that aren’t worth anyone’s time
* Stealing ideas
Whew. I’m glad that’s over with.
Now for the good stuff:
If you’re fortunante enough to land in the right critique group, the experience is tremendously affirming and instructive. It’ll stretch you as a writer and a reader.
What makes a good critique group? Here’s my take:
This isn’t a social hour, it’s a work session. The group I belong to follows the basic guidelines set up by Clarion. You can read two good articles on this here (how to workshop) and here (insights into how to react when being critiqued).
Participants need to feel that everyone in the group has the same goal when they’re reading and critiquing: to help each other write and tell the best stories possible. That’s it.
Do I need to mention NO STEALING? I sure hope not.
Participants have to be willing to read the good and the bad, and to treat each submission — and each member — with utter respect. No showing up without having read the submissions, no comments without considered rationale.
Only gab or complain about participants in the group IN the group — and rarely do that, if ever. Keep mum about other people’s works-in-progress.
5. Similar levels of writing experience
It’s uncomfortable and inappropriate to have writers with vastly different levels of experience in the same group. If you do, some participants become "experts" while others are peons. How can you possibly nourish the useful kind of democracy that promotes honest communication in that case? I don’t think it can happen.
The group I belong to in Albuquerque has five members and that’s all we want. Every one of us has been published by a traditional press and has years of writing experience under our belts. The other participants are: Pati Nagle, D. Lynn Smith, Sally Gwylan and Gerald Weinberg. We meet every two weeks and read approx. 50 pages of each other’s WIPs. We all have very different perspectives and personalities and write in different genres. We’re not best friends, but have vast amounts of respect for each other. And we’ve become a wonderful little community, a support group of writers who yearn to improve and grow in our craft.
Writers: What works for you? Have you ever participated in a critique group? What happened? (Horror stories are as welcome as happy ones.)
Non-writers: Have you ever been part of anything similar to a critique group in your professional life? Tell us about it.