Monday, January 2, 2012

Critiques as a New Beginning

from Mia Marlowe...

No one is born knowing how to write a novel. The learning curve can be steep, but like a mountain climber, I was helped by a team. Working with Connie Mason was terrific. My beta reader is an invaluable help. And my next guest was instrumental in the creation of SINS OF THE HIGHLANDER. She's Ashlyn Chase, my critique partner and, I'm blessed to add, my friend.

Since she writes light-hearted paranormal, she was great help when I decided to add a bit of the supernatural to SINS OF THE HIGHLANDER. Our heroine, Elspeth, has the gift of Sight and our hero Mad Rob has frequent vivid dreams of his dead wife that convince him she's trying to communicate with him.

Please welcome Ashlyn Chase to the New Year's Blog Bash!
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Ashlyn Chase: Mia Marlowe is my critique partner, so I’m relating this month’s theme to my good fortune. If you look at it correctly, critiques are a second chance to make a first impression. Do you need a critique of your work before you turn it in to your editor (or self publish?)

In short, yes. Something you think is interesting, exciting, and clear might not be. You've worked on your story for too long, and invested too much of yourself into it, to judge it objectively. You need someone to save you from yourself.

Furthermore, even the best writing leaves opportunities for improvement that the author can't or won't catch. You owe it to your readers, and to yourself, to take advantage of those opportunities. Methods for acquiring critiques vary widely in terms of cost, speed, and required effort.

In general, you have three choices: critique groups, partners, and critique services. Critiques groups and partners are usually the cheapest way to get your writing critiqued. They require a time investment, because you'll be expected to critique other writers' work in exchange for their critique of yours. A partner is generally faster than a group since you’ll have to take your turn after a few other people have had theirs.

Yet a group has its own benefits. It's easier to identify weaknesses in other people's writing than it is to find them in your own. Critiquing others' work will give you practice. Different people look for different things. One may listen for repeated words and another may catch your run-on sentences. Still another might look for passive writing or overuse of adverbs.

If you receive more than one critique, you're likely to get contradictory feedback. So what do you do? First, recognize that whatever other people think, you are the author. Only you can decide what works for you and for your story. Having said that, consider each comment carefully. Gracefully accept any feedback you’re lucky enough to receive, then evaluate what you want to do about it later.

Critique services are usually the fastest way to get a critique. If you want professional feedback quickly, this may be the option for you. Prices vary, so shop around. If you can't afford to submit your entire manuscript, send an excerpt. You can learn a lot about your writing from the critique of twenty or thirty pages.

Accepting feedback, especially critical feedback, can be difficult. You worked hard on your story. You poured your heart and soul, not to mention many hours of your life, into it. Having someone criticize it can be devastating. Keep these important things in mind as you listen to, or read, your critiquer's comments.

First, they're not personal. They're intended to make your writing better. Your critiquer is genuinely trying to help you. Second, you asked for, and possibly paid for, her honest opinion. Don't get upset when she gives it to you. Third, no matter what problems she finds, you can correct them.

If you have the opportunity, ask questions to clarify your critiquer's comments: "Can you give me an example?" or "Do you think it would help if I made this change?" These kinds of questions are productive, and her answers will help you make the appropriate revisions.
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Mia: Thanks for sharing, Ashlyn. You forgot to mention that copious amounts of coffee, Diet Coke and other caffeine delivery systems make for great critique sessions!

Leave a comment or question for Ashlyn and you'll be entered in this hour's drawing for a Kindle version of TOUCH OF A THIEF (another one of my titles she wrestled through with me!) Be sure to leave your email address so we can contact you.

30 comments:

  1. I am not an author, but I think this post is very useful for starting authors. After all, most critique is the result of personal tastes. Of all the books out there, there are good and bad reviews, and sometimes it is really unbelievable how someone can love a book I totally disliked for some reason. And vice versa of course.

    Thanks for the giveaway, this book has been on my wishlist for a while now, as I love a touch of paranormal in almost everything I read.

    auriansbooks at gmail dot com

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  2. The thing about critiques that differs from reviews is the level of feedback. We get down to the nitty gritty of each word. "Is that the best word for that? How about this one instead?" Seriously, we're that picky.

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  3. Interesting post, I didn't know there were professional critique services available, thought it was mostly done by other writers. Another venue I think that might bear referencing is "beta" reading by some non-related readers. While their viewpoints on the technical aspects of your writing might not be spot on, they can usually tell you how a reader would view your book.

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  4. Thanks for sharing! Thanks for the giveaway! Happy New Year!
    -Amber
    goodblinknpark@yahoo.com

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  5. You're right, Maria. I use a beta reader whenever I want an "overview." I just got feedback on my latest and it was very short. "Loved it. Up to your usual standards."

    Not sure if a fan is the best beta reader, but she did promise to be honest.

    It's important the reader knows what my writing style is and enjoys it. I don't want feedback from the a**holes who hate my genre on principle, or readers whose tastes run counter to what I write or those with no sens of humor who just don't "get me."

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  6. Thanks, Venus. Good luck with the drawing.

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  7. Aurian--When I used to sing professional opera, we had master classes with established singers, These sessions were attended by opera lovers. They wanted to peek behind the performance and see how it was all done. That's what Ashlyn's post was about--the nuts and bolts of bringing a beautiful book into the world...with a little help from a friend!

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  8. Maria D.--I never turn in anything till my beloved beta reader has a chance to weigh in on things.

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  9. Thanks for popping by, VampedChik.

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  10. I agree. It always helps to have an extra pair of eyes read over your work. You don't know how many silly mistakes I missed that my critique partner was quick to help me correct.

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  11. Mia, I agree whole-heartedly with your comments. I have a couple, trusted, first readers. We've been working together for almost 7 years now. The trick is to find a positive support group. That can take a while. My first critique group, and so many that beginning writers get snared up in are about ego, this writer feels better if they cut that writer down. Those are meant to be abandoned at first notice, burning ships are less dangerous.

    But a good group of trusted readers, focused on helping each other find the best story, that is a prize worth gold.

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  12. Ladies, is a critique partner instead of an editor? Or before the book goes to your editor?

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  13. Wonderful post, I am running a little late on them

    lead[at]hotsheet[dot]com

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  14. I'm a much better author since I acquired a critique partner. I highly recommend it!

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  15. I love Ashlyn's writing!

    robindpdx(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  16. I'm glad to hear you have a critiquer too, Sidney. Not one of us is perfect.

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  17. Hi Aurien,

    No, a critque partner sees your work before the editor does. She's the only one who gets to read the ugliest first draft. Hopefully, it's cleaned up a bit before it goes to a beta reader or editor. Editors really hate correcting a lot of stupid little errors.

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  18. Awww, Robin.

    Big hugs and kisses for that. It's readers like you that keep us going.

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  19. Great information on critiques. Thanks for the giveaway.

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  20. Love your titles... They sound terrific... :)

    maybe31 at yahoo.com

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  21. Thanks for stopping by and reading my post, Crystal and May!

    And all the rest...I'm going to sign off for tonight. Mr. Amazing an I have plans. (wink)

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  22. Great post! Good points that can be taken away to use in other situations. I've found myself in a few jams at work with someone who wants me to look over a memo or email before it gets sent out to the masses. Sometimes I don't know what to say or how to say it so it doesn't come out like I'm being mean or something. Then vice versa when someone critiques mine.

    yadkny@hotmail.com

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  23. Everyone has their own opinion & it will vary from person to person. Wonder how a professional critique service works?

    Must be hard not to take things personally tho.

    thumbelinda03@yahoo.com

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  24. Hi Yadkny,

    I'm glad you're able to extrapolate the info to use in your own life! Good on you!

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  25. Hi Linda,

    It's hard to take any criticism completely impersonally, and perhaps it should be called feedback since we also tell each other what we're doing right...most of us are are trying to be constructive!

    If a critquer is mean, that's not the right person to critque with. (And she'd better look out when it's her turn! Mwahahahaha)

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  26. So true! I belong to a crit group of 6, which I never thought possible. We all bring something different to the table, and it works.

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  27. I'm so glad you all work together so well. Your group has written some awesome books, Dalton!

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  28. What a fantastic post! I have a question for you, Ashlyn, but it's more personal, actually. I have two sons that are very creative writers - they are grown now, but during school their teachers were immensely frustrated with them for daydreaming. Was that something that you struggled with as a child?
    You are a new to me author, and I adore paranormal books, so yours are on the top of my wishlist!
    Thank you so much for the awesome giveaway chance!

    Happy New Year!

    Gena Robertson
    robertsongena@hotmail.com

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  29. Hi Gina,

    Nice to meet you!
    Now, what was the question again? Oh yeah! Daydreaming. (snicker) Yes...the brain of a writer is different from so-called normal people. Some have even gone so far as to say we're a little schizo. Be that as it may, a good imagination is essential for a fiction writer.

    I got my nails done today and the manicurist asked me if I was going to write a 'real book'. Okay, I used to get that all the time when I wrote ebooks. But we were talking about my mass market paperbacks. When I asked her what she meant, she said, "You know...a true story."

    I said, "Wow, that sounds boring. Why would I want to do that?"

    Thanks for your comment and question! Hugs to you and your son.

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