With just a few days and a few thousand words to go before I finish the first draft of LET IT BREATHE, I’m starting to look ahead.
No, I don’t mean the wine I plan to celebrate with (Van Duzer’s 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, in case you’re wondering).
I mean the stage where I hand it off to critique partners and beta readers and give them the opportunity to devise creative new ways to say, “what the @#$% were you thinking?”
In all seriousness, I couldn’t do this without these guys. I’ve worked with the same two critique partners and three beta readers since the early years of my writing journey, and we’ve fine-tuned the process a lot.
While I won’t claim to be an expert, I can tell you I cringe each time I see someone state a “fact” about the critiquing relationship that goes against what I’ve experienced. Though we’ve all got our own systems, there are some ideas that seem like a load of aardvark poo to me:
MYTH #1: You should only heed advice from a critique partner who’s published. When I started critiquing with my two current partners over six years ago, none of us had a book deal. Though two of the three now do, I can honestly say it doesn’t make a bit of difference.
One misconception about the critiquing relationship is that suggestions are either “right” or “wrong,” and a published author has more “right” ones. Not true. Good critique partners tell you how your story impacts them and how they – as writers – might improve things. It doesn’t mean you have to take their advice. Plenty of times I ignore it, or use it as a springboard to generate an idea of my own. Other times, I’ll make a mental note of something one critique partner stumbled over. If a beta reader has the same reaction later, I’ll take a closer look.
The idea here is to gather feedback from people with different life experiences and perspectives. A good critique partner doesn’t need a book deal, she just needs a brain. And maybe some good Riedel wine glasses.
MYTH #2: I must have critique partners who write in my genre. I agree with this in part. Cynthia Reese (critique partner #1) writes romance, so she knows the ins and outs of the genre. But Linda Brundage (critique partner #2) writes literary fiction, and could probably count on one hand the number of romance novels she’s read.
This is a good mix for me. I rely on Cynthia to remind me of the “rules,” and Linda to encourage me to break them. Cynthia makes sure my story has enough conflict, and Linda points out when I’ve confused “conflict” with “being a bitch.” Cynthia keeps an eye on my characters' budding romance, and Linda questions whether my hero could really get my heroine’s bra off that fast.
The balance of the two perspectives is invaluable. As an added romance safety net, one of my three beta readers is a lifelong devotee of the romance genre. If I miss the boat, she beats me until I get back on it.
MYTH #3: I need a critique partner in my town so we can have coffee and pillow fights when we swap manuscripts. Once upon a time, I traded hard copy manuscripts with a critique partner. This ended after I had the brilliant idea to critique Linda’s manuscript on a boat in the middle of a lake on a windy afternoon.
These days, everything is electronic. Each critique partner or beta reader gets the manuscript in a Word doc, re-titles it using her initials, and plugs comments directly into the manuscript using a different color of text. It’s easy to spot them and simple to delete or ignore. Though critiques are often followed by lengthy email exchanges and phone calls, there’s no need to meet. In fact, Cynthia Reese and I have never met in person – not once in six years. But I’d sooner cut off my left nipple than do without her perspective.
So there you have it. The three biggest myths (in my humble opinion) about working with critique partners. Do you have any to add? Do disagree with any of my points? How does your system work?
Or if you’re new to the world of critique partners and beta readers, do you have questions for those who’ve run the gauntlet before?
Please discuss in the comments.
I’ll be over here gazing lovingly at that bottle of Pinot. Just a few more days, and it will be mine.