Tag Archives: find critique partners

Says the Editor: Build Your Writer’s Group


A good writer’s group can be really hard to find. I say that having been a member of many that weren’t great. There was the guy who took my manuscript one week when it was up for critique and, instead of being helpful, wrote lovelorn poetry to a girl he’d known in college who had shunned him. (I can’t say that I blamed her, but not because the poetry was bad.) Or the man who told me that I was marketing a different work to the wrong audience and should target it toward teenagers.

It was a Young Adult project, and it actually eventually landed me an agent.

So, yeah. I get it. Finding the right critique group or partners can be really hard.

But making the effor to build your own personal writer’s group is so, so worth it. When you have a group of motivated, like-minded people — and by like-minded, I don’t mean you’re all writing in the same genre or category. I mean you’re all interested in learnning as much as you can about craft and how to improve your own writing — you learn more. The group lifts each other and themselves, all at the same time. Maybe one has a great eye for detail and can help the others learn which details in a scene are important or vital, and which aren’t. Maybe one understands pace and tension.

Most groups, though, don’t operate on such a specific basis. They are simply groups of writers who seek the same goal: to improve. And maybe they don’t have the experience or language or desire to talk in technical terms. That’s okay, too, so long as they can say, “I don’t know what you’re referring to here,” or “I don’t believe this character would do this. Back in chapter 3, she did the opposite.”

Anything that makes you think, stretch, grow as a writer is a bonus. Yes, even the guy who talked about the audience for my then-project was helpful because at times, he could identify when the characters would act too adult. (The rest of the time, we’d hand him our cards for free cookies at the local grocery and let him make multiple visits to get multiple cookies because, hey, it was one cookie per visit, and one visit ended when you set foot outside the store.)

These days, it’s both easier and harder to find good groups — easier because there are so many. Start with your local library. Most have writer’s groups, and many have multiple groups, often with differnet areas of interest, but sometimes, they only have different instructors. The library can also help you find amazing writer’s groups. Some, like Romance Writers of America, are national, with local chapters. Some, like Sisters in Crime, are for both writers and readers, which is a good reminder that readers can be part of your own writer’s group. You don’t have to confine yourself only to writers.

And then there are smaller, regional groups. I continue to love and recommend Pennwriters to my clients; their resources are deep and their conferences top-notch. Best of all, when the conference is in Pittsburgh (which happens in odd-numbered years), you might get to hang out in the hospitality room with your favorite editor. Pennwriters isn’t just a local group anymore, by the way. We have members from across the nation.

Groups abound on Facebook. They gather among hashtags on other social media. They form in bookstores.

Get out. Get networking. A writer’s group can be as small as two people who exchange manuscripts and read and critique. They can be as large as the members can manage, with some offering vocal support, others offering critiques, and still others helping market when you have a publication.

There’s no one-size-fits-all, so get out there. Network. Build your writer’s group, and use that group to learn your craft. Let them help you take your manuscript as far as you can; learn as much as you can. Lean on your network to help you learn and develop as a writer.

No, a writer’s group can’t take the place of a really good freelance editor like me. (Even the groups I’m part of don’t get the full benefit of my abilities, much as they try to pry it out of me.) But what a writer’s group WILL do is help you maximize the investment you make into your editor.

After all, why are you paying me to teach you how to punctuate grammar when you can learn that for free? Wouldn’t you rather have your money and my time be spent on the bigger, deeper issues that will lift your manuscript from good to something more?


#SaysTheEditors Turning Clients Away


I turned away a client this week.

It’s not that I’m currently so backed up that I did it in order to get Steve’s manuscript in front of competent eyes faster (if that had been the case, I’d have called in a subcontractor). Truth is that I’m waiting on about four clients to finish up and send their manuscripts along. If anything, I’m a little bored — and we all know that bad things tend to happen when I get bored. Still, if it means a better manuscript from my clients, I’ll gladly wait.

I’d just like to have something more to work on while I wait. Catching up is only interesting for so long. I mean, there’s a reason that stuff slid in the first place!

So then you’re asking why I didn’t take Steve on. I have the time. I need the income. So what’s up?

Well, I could have. I could have been like all those other editors out there who focus on taking money from clients. I would have done a better job by Steve, of course, because I’m good at what I do, but in the end, I decided it wouldn’t be fair to either of us.

Steve wasn’t ready for me. And he didn’t know it yet.

Folks, using friends and colleagues as beta readers and critique partners is valuable stuff. Learning the craft is vital. Yes, I can teach that. Yes, I now offer writing coaching along with pure editing. Yes, I like to work with debut novelists and first-time writers and all that.

So what gives? What made me turn this guy away?

Well, maybe it’s about morals. That I could have taken his money. A LOT of his money. And I could have given this manuscript my all. But… I’d have been miserable for doing it. I’d have spent too long gnashing my teeth and swearing about why I’d taken this on. Or I’d have hoped he would listen to me and take my advice and the next draft — because there would be a next draft — would be better than the first. Markedly better.

But the simple truth is that I wanted Steve to save his money. To find some critique partners, some beta readers. To join writing groups and spend some time learning craft. It’s a step we as writers all need; not even I, when I am writing fiction, operate as an island. I have people I trust to read and be brutal in their assessments. I have an editor. I read articles about writing, talk craft with my friends, listen to what I say to my clients.

Steve… he wasn’t there yet. He needed to go through all that. And so I turned him away.

Working with him at this time wasn’t in his best interests. It sure wasn’t in mine.

Sometimes, it goes like that.

And sometimes, I’m a little less bored and a lot more in love with my chosen career.

Keep doing the hard work, people. I’m ready for you once you have.