06-18 Sarah Raplee – WHY PSYCHIC AGENTS?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Critique Partners with 'Unlike' Minds

I love to write (and read) mysteries and romantic suspense/thrillers tailored to an adult audience. That’s why I initially sought critique partners who focused on the same genres and shared my sense of humor and fondness for snark.

They “got” me—and my writing style.

However, mostly by happenstance, I’ve widened my critique/Beta reader circle. I belong to a five-person local critique group (four women and one very secure man). We meet one afternoon each month for an intensive critique session. We’ve been at this for several years.  We limit the size of the group to five so we have the time to provide in-depth critiques.

Here's our gang at Danielle Dahl's book launch for her fabulous memoir, Sirocco. From left, me (Linda Lovely), Jean Robbins, Danielle Dahl, Donna Campbell, and Howard Lewis. 

Howard's working on a young adult fantasy. Donna's an author who focuses on Southern-flavor, character-rich short stories. Danielle is busy penning the second installment of her coming-of-age memoir loaded with family conflicts and set in war-torn Algeria and a France less than welcoming to refugees. And Jean continues to explore psychological mysteries with a deft literary hand. 

Our backgrounds are as different as our writing styles and reading tastes. Our birthplaces include Algeria, two Southern states and two Midwestern states. Our former professions include English teacher and labor union representative, engineer, translator and manager, GED teacher, and me handling all types of public relations and advertising projects.    

To prepare for monthly in-person sessions, we each email five+ pages from a work in progress. These submissions may or may not be sequential. For example, I may choose a love scene I’m insecure about, pages with troublesome dialogue where I’m trying to surreptitiously shoehorn in some backstory, or a section where I want to see if my attempts at humor are actually funny.  We also read completed manuscripts for each other once we’ve polished them and feel we are nearing the finish line.

While I’d never give up the invaluable feedback I receive from fellow hard-core mystery/romantic suspense authors, I find the questions, suggestions, and comments from authors who don’t share my mindset to be equally valuable. A male critiquer—no matter what genre he writes—is priceless, because he can warn when a hero’s dialogue is pure nonsense—“No man would ever say that.”  Having critique partners from different parts of the country helps you discover which regional sayings are fun versus ones so puzzling they cause a “huh?” reaction that takes readers out of the story. 

I firmly believe the more diverse your critique circle the more likely you are to appeal to a broader audience—plus you become a more nuanced writer and reader. I didn’t know how much I could enjoy fantasy, short stories, memoirs and literary turns of phrase until I joined this group.

I also have recruited members of my book club as Beta readers. The more (and more diverse) the merrier. 

Who critiques your manuscripts? Who are your Beta readers?


Sarah Raplee said...

I really like the description of how your critique group operates. I belonged to a group which, while giving fabulous feedback, demanded way too much of my time. Your group limits time demands.I also like the fact that from month to month, pages do not need to be sequential.

My 3 best writer buds are my current critique partners. We critique on an ad hoc basis, rather than having a formal schedule. My Beta readers range in age from thirteen to 88 and are eclectic readers. I aim for at least 4 Beta reads per book.

Great post, Linda!

Judith Ashley said...

I really like how your critique group works! And I'd sign up for something like that - 5 pages, once month and a final read through? Even with five members -that's 20 pages and doable.

My initial reader does not read romance (except for my books *smile* and she does editing for political blogs, campaigns, etc. She is Very Visual and I'm not, so her feedback is very useful. While we are going through the ms., she questions story elements, character motivation, etc. and I can "see" what I need to do so a visual reader understands the story and characters.

I'm grateful I found a professional editor who works with romance authors because she catches that element. I think I'm a little different than many writers because at the end of this process (which includes my going back through the ms. with the editor's feedback and then back through it again and reading it out loud) I do not send it to more readers. I start the publishing process.

Pippa Jay said...

My group aren't anywhere near as formal or organized, but I have a very wide group of beta readers and critique partners that I've made along the way. I've been writing different sub genres of speculative fiction and mixing them up, so most either write in or read a lot of the genres I'm writing, so I always have *someone* who knows the genre, as well as a few who don't as a kind of test. If I can get them reading and enjoying something they wouldn't normally chose to read, then I know the heart of the story is working.