Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Benefits of Constructive Criticism and Critique Partners by Kimberly Ann Miller
The ability to handle constructive criticism with grace is very important for writers at all stages of the publication process. I had the great luck of having an honest person critique my very first book – my sister. Though family and friends tend to praise our writing for fear of hurting our feelings, she was brutally honest to the point of tearing the book apart and defining every little thing I did wrong, which was pretty much everything!
But she taught me how to accept criticism and use it to my advantage, which is a critical skill in the publishing business. People who have difficulty accepting criticism of their work will have a hard time working with agents and editors who will, undoubtedly, call for some amount of revisions prior to publishing any manuscript.
No writer should be without a critique partner or two and a few good beta readers, especially writers at the start of their careers. The ability to accept and integrate the opinion of other writers, agents, and editors is critical in polishing your manuscript and improving your craft. Critiquing for others is important, too, as it can teach you a lot about your own writing as you comb through a manuscript and learn to find its trouble spots.
I found my live critique group through the SCBWI website and my on line beta readers through the QueryTracker.net forums. Without the help of these wonderful men and women, I would be lost.
Each type of group brings a different experience to the table. With my live group, we meet monthly and submit a set amount of pages to each other via email a week prior to our meeting. That gives us enough time to read through the work, critique it, and then discuss it with the group when we get together. I enjoy this group because we meet at a Barnes and Noble and have the ability to discuss each critique with the other members. It’s also fun because as writers, we tend to spend a lot of time at home in front of our computers, and hanging out with real people in public gives us a chance to socialize while we improve our work.
My beta readers work differently than the critique group. Everything is done via email, and we set no limits on the amount of work we share with each other. We send a chapter or a scene at a time, and usually within twenty-four hours, it is returned to the writer with helpful comments about the plot, theme, character, or dialogue. Some comment on grammar and spelling issues and also suggest great ideas that I’d never thought of!
Having a diverse group of people involved in critiquing your manuscript is helpful as well. Each person brings a different perspective to your story and a different method of critiquing. Whether they go line by line suggesting changes or just comment on the things they see that are—or are not—working, every piece of advice will bring your story one step closer to perfection. Having writers at different stages in writing and publication also helps. Newer writers tend to comment more on broader ideas, such as things they like about the story, characters, and dialogue. People with more experience tend to be pickier, commenting on such things as grammar, style, voice, and consistency. No matter where your partners are in their writing life, they all bring value to the table.
Here are some links and suggestions for valuable sites to find critique partners and beta readers online:
* The Query Tracker forums are where I found all of my beta readers. Query Tracker is one of the most supportive writing sites I have found since I began this journey a few years back. The feedback from the members is excellent and helpful, and the resources on the forum and the main site, QueryTracker.net, are fantastic.
* The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a great place to find critique groups focusing on writing for children and young adults. I found my critique group there almost two years ago, and the women I meet with are amazing.
* Many authors now have Facebook pages. Social media is a great way to connect with other writers and find people who are willing to critique your work.
* Many authors are also on Twitter, which is another social media site in which to find help.
* author blogs - There are a ton of author blogs out there, all at different stages in the writing and publication process. Many of them look for critique partners and beta readers to swap chapters or manuscripts with for help in their own work. In return, they’ll help you with yours.
* agent and editor blogs and websites – Most, if not all, agents and editors are online. Many of them put up great posts on the craft of writing and offer links to help writers improve their books.
* Goodreads is an amazing place for writers as well as readers. The site has many groups for writers of all genres to connect and help each other out.
* The Writer’s Digest forum has a critique tab where members can read and critique each other’s work, and critique guidelines are offered to help newbies learn the ropes.
There are many other sites on the web that can be found via your favorite search engine.
Other options for finding critique partners and beta readers include networking at writer’s conferences, participating in online and live writing workshops and classes, and just sending out emails to writers you already know, asking to swap your manuscripts for feedback.
When reaching out for the first time, a great idea is to suggest swapping only the first chapter of your manuscript. That way, you and the other writer can get a sense of how you both write and how you both critique. If it’s not a good fit, you can go your separate ways. But if you get lucky like I have, you’ll end up with great help for you book as well as new friends.
Do yourself and your book a favor. If you don’t share your work with anyone, find the courage to get a trusted reader or two who will give you honest feedback. Understand that the feedback is meant to help your manuscript, not criticize you or make you feel bad about your skill as a writer. You won’t regret it, and your work will be much stronger in the end.
About the Author
Kimberly Miller received Bachelor's degrees from Georgian Court University and Rutgers University and a Master's degree from The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She is an avid reader and particularly enjoys true crime and young adult novels. She grew up in New Jersey and currently resides in Monmouth County with her husband and three cats. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel to sunny islands where she snorkels by day and stargazes by night. She always takes her Nook with her.
Her first book, TRIANGLES, by Spencer Hill Press, is due for release this June.
Find Kimberly online:
About the Book
A cruise ship. A beautiful island. Two sexy guys. What could possibly go wrong?
In the Bermuda Triangle--a lot.
Hoping to leave behind the reminders of her crappy life--her father's death years ago, her mother's medical problems, and the loser who's practically stalking her--seventeen-year-old Autumn Taylor hops on a ship with her sister for a little distraction. When she wakes up in the Bermuda Triangle, she fears she's gone nuts for more than one reason: that loser's suddenly claiming they're a happy couple... a hot guy is wrapping his arms around her and saying "Happy Anniversary"... and suddenly, she's full of bruises, losing her hair, and getting IV medication. Autumn visits the ship's doctor, hoping for a pill or a shot to make the craziness go away. Instead, she's warned that these "alternate realities" could become permanent.
She just has to ask herself one question--how the hell is she going to get out of this mess?
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