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We Firebirds are a helpful (and opinionated) bunch. When we received the below email from fellow writer Rue asking about critique groups, we were all too willing to offer some thoughts. I just published my debut novel. The first book in a contemporary romance series. I want to continue to elevate my writing and grow […]

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Dear Firebirds: Finding A Critique Partner

Posted by on Jul 21 2014, 1:15 am Posted in , , , ,

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We Firebirds are a helpful (and opinionated) bunch. When we received the below email from fellow writer Rue asking about critique groups, we were all too willing to offer some thoughts.

I just published my debut novel. The first book in a contemporary romance series. I want to continue to elevate my writing and grow as an author. So far I have not had much luck in the critique group dept. I am focused on treating the writing as my career – scheduling time to write every day, setting word count goals and trying to stay positive, regardless of daily sales. I don’t want to fall into a pity party group. LOL! Even though I may have a private one every now and then. Local writers groups have been a little disappointing – a lot of hobby-writers and not any “authors.” Where can I improve my search? What are the top three things you would ask a potential critique partner? – Thank you, Rue

Someone asking our opinion? Firebirds to the rescue!

From Firebird Lorenda Christensen: I certainly agree that it can be near to impossible to find a critique partner that is a perfect fit. I’ve had more than a couple over the years, and all have fallen by the wayside due to schedules or editing styles. Just based on my personal experience, I would say that the first “must” in a good critique partner is that they really GET your writing. They don’t have to think it’s perfect (and if they do, they aren’t a good critique partner), but they do need to understand what tone/style/voice you’re trying to hit, and help you get there. So the first thing I suggest is to trade a small portion of your work with a potential CP–maybe a chapter or two–and see whether the comments coming back (and the ones you’re sending) are truly helpful to you both.

The second “must” is a realistic understanding of writing pace. For a month or so, a fellow Firebird and I tried out a CP relationship, and I felt her comments were almost always spot-on and very helpful. The problem? I am an incredibly slow writer, and she is a machine…by the time I’d managed to finish EDITS on a manuscript, she’d already written a full book and started out on another. And while I was and still am terribly impressed, I simply couldn’t keep up with the output. Instead of a help, I’d become an anchor around her neck because she was always having to wait for me to catch up. And that wasn’t fair to either of us.

You mentioned the third in your question…it’s important that you find someone who treats their writing seriously. So I think I’d probably grill (nicely) a potential CP about their goals. Are they doing this as a hobby? How often do they write? How many manuscripts have they completed?

Someone once compared finding a CP to finding a spouse…sometimes it takes a lot of “dating” to find your perfect fit. But I feel like your chances go up if you look in the right spots. Writing conferences are a good place to start. The odds go up that a person is serious about their writing when they’re dropping serious money for a conference. Alternately, online chapters are filled with people who took the time to get plugged in. Fellow contest finalists (hi Firebirds!) or workshop attendants are another good
place to look.

From Firebird Kay Hudson: Something to consider when finding a critique group: You don’t have to stick to one genre.  My group currently consists of six writers, two independently published, one in academics, one in short stories, two (including me) unpublished.  Three men, three women. We have two romance writers (one historical, one humorous paranormal), one mystery & flash fiction writer, one novelist now working on a memoir, one biographer, one hovering somewhere between commercial and literary fiction.  But they are all good writers and bring different strengths to critiquing.  I met some of them through a general writers group, and some through the critique group itself.  My point is: don’t think your critique partners/group have to write what you write.  You can learn a lot from good writers in other genres.

And my (Firebird Jamie Wesley) own two cents: Lorenda and Kay have offered up some really great advice. I’ve never thought about a non-romance CP, but I definitely see how they could be useful.

When I first started writing, I, too, wondered how to find a CP. I don’t remember where I heard about the Rom-Critters Yahoo group, but I’m glad I did. You submit chapters and whoever wants to can pick it up for a critique. You’re expected to critique in return. It’s a great way to get a variety of opinions and see what kind of critique partner works for you. And if you find someone great, there’s nothing stopping you from forming a partnership outside of the group.

You didn’t mention if you are a member of RWA. Join if you aren’t! If you aren’t finding what you need locally, there are RWA members all across the world! I’m a member of PRO, which is a subgroup of RWA members. All you have to do to qualify for PRO is show proof of your professionalism like submitting a manuscript to an editor or agent. Since you’re already published, I think it’s safe to say you qualify for PRO. Once you join, you can subscribe to the PRO email loop. People are always looking for CPs on the loop. You are not alone, Rue!

A couple of other sites (although I can’t vouch for their veracity): Critique Circle and Ladies Who Critique.

Rue, I hope we’ve offered you some advice that resonates with you. Please let us know how the CP search goes.

Anyone else have any advice they’d like to offer Rue?

Also, if you have a question you’d love for the Firebirds to answer, please let us know it in the comments or send an email through the Contact link below. We’d love to hear from you!

3 responses to “Dear Firebirds: Finding A Critique Partner”

  1. AJ Larrieu says:

    Great question, Rue! I think everyone has brought up great points and tips about finding good CP. I only want to add something about critiques in general. It’s advice I got a long time ago (can’t remember from who!), and I’ve found it to be true: When someone says something in your book isn’t working, they’re almost always right, but that doesn’t mean they’re always right about how to fix it. I like to think of suggestions from CPs as flags in the road where the potholes are, rather than the concrete I need to fill the pothole. That, I have to come up with myself. 😉

    Best of luck with your search for your perfect CP match, and with your writing!

  2. robena grant says:

    Great question. Ten years ago I joined a large unwieldy group of twelve writers. Way too many! I used to end up with a giant headache after those sessions. : )

    Eventually five of us split off. Three years later we split again into two and three, but the five of us stay close and often solicit a bit of help for a read through or to answer questions or brainstorm. Now I have my one trusty critique partner and we work well together.

    My advice is to join any group and from that group find someone you really click with. Even though it might make your quest for finding a CP a little longer, I think the partnership will be beneficial.Good luck!

  3. Hi Rue,

    I agree with what everyone has said above. I have a fantastic crit group. All have been Golden Heart finalists or winners, and all are now published! (I was the only one not pub’d when I joined them ;0)

    We all write romance but different kinds. YA, Regency, Suspense and Contemporary. So we all have different voices. Protect your voice at all costs, but find great writers to surround yourself with. Then listen, but make only the changes you feel comfortable with.

    Good luck!

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