Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The value of a critique group

Over the years, I've been a part of several different critique groups, some good, some not so good, but all of them useful.  For a very short time, I tried one sponsored by Romance Writers of America, but that didn't go well. Overall, that was not a favorable or productive experience. One of the cardinal rules in joining a critique group is knowing when they are helping and when they are not helping. If the group has something negative to say, it is important that it is constructive and that they speak from a position of knowledge and/or experience. To say "I didn't like it," isn't helpful. To say "You don't know what you're talking about," isn't helpful. To point out "you've used the word 'just' six times on this page" is helpful. To point out "Your character doesn't ring true for me. I have experience/know someone in that position, and his experience is X." is helpful.

For the last several years, I have been a part of a very small, and yet very helpful group.  They are tough! They don't pull any punches!  And my writing has improved tremendously since I've joined their ranks. So yeah, sometimes I'm a little put off by a comment, but given a day to think it through, I can appreciate the weight of what they say (or discount it, if that is the right thing to do). The thing of it is that I trust them, and I know that even if they don't "get it," what they say is of value. I've had my share of comments from them that didn't apply or that I couldn't use, but the majority of what they've shared with  me has been invaluable.

We've been together through the transition to e-books, which I understand now outsell bound copies. We've shared market experience, conference experience, sources of reference, marketing ideas and more than a few stories. We write different genres, and while that can sometimes be problematic, it is also helpful for an "outside" look into what works. For instance, I'm not a fan of sci-fi as a rule, but that doesn't mean there aren't sci-fi novels that I've enjoyed. If a story is well written, it surpasses the pigeon hole of genre, and that is the main goal: to write well.

I've just received Mist on the Meadow back from my editor. I knew there were rough spots, and my wonderful critique group pointed some of them out. I knew they were right, and having the editor validate those points was no surprise.

This critique group has a high bar, and we hold each other to it. Sometimes we don't like what we have to say to each other, but in the end, we all understand that the comments are worthwhile. Right or wrong. The editor I'm working with now I have a lot of confidence in, and for her to validate what my group has found is an added bonus rather than redundancy. I'm grateful to my group for getting me close to "done," and thankful to my editor for pushing me over that final hurdle.

With that being said, Mist on the Meadow is in its final stages. I'd hoped to shoot a photo for the cover - a stag in the snow, but we're not getting snow in Chicago this winter! So I've been hunting down other people's photos and considering a cover artist who could photoshop it for me, but first I have to take care of the writing end.

Anybody have a photo they want to share?


  1. And I have a winning photo! Thanks MJC!

  2. Got your comment, Mario's mom, but it seems to have vanished in the ether! Thanks for thinking of me, and it'll be a couple of weeks before I can move forward, so if you have a great photo, I'd still love to see it.

  3. Mariodacatsmom has left a new comment on your post "The value of a critique group":

    Oh good - you have a photo,. I was wishing I had one because it would have been a great honor to have it appear in your book.