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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Yes, Virginia, you do need a critique group.

Over the years I've taken a middle-of-the-road approach to critique groups. I waffled. I tried to see and accept opinions that I didn't entirely agree with. And now I give up.

You need a critique group before you publish.

When you make the choice to move from Hobby Writer to Writing For Publication your need to scour your neighborhood and the internet and find a critique group that is lively, educated, and that has a history of turning out published authors.

When you find the critique group you need to spend at least six months as an active member (critiquing, the forums don't count) before you consider sending your manuscript into the world. I don't care if you are self-publishing, going with a small press, or if you're chasing the agents and the Big 6 (5? 4? whatever), you need this experience. You need to have someone do a real critique that tears your work apart and makes you question everything. You need to learn how to give that same kind of emotionless critique so you can use that experience when you edit your own work.

The reason I say this is that the more I read, the more I am aware of who has the critique group experience and who doesn't. It's less noticeable in the world of Press publication where an author works with an editor or an agent/editor pairing. In a way those are mini critique groups and done correctly they turn out excellent work. In self-publishing the critique group experience is one of the factors that makes or breaks a book. The other major factor is how much the author is willing to edit, grow, and listen to good advice, but that's a post for another day.

"But, Liana!" I hear you wail. "My book is perfect and I live nowhere near fabulous Authorly types! Surely I don't need a critique group!"

Yes you do.

Find an online critique group. Critique Circle and Absolute Write are two I will recommend to you. Try both, find one that suits, get to work.

"But there are reasons I can't be in a critique group!"

Let's break that down, shall we?

Someone will steal my work... pack up your toys and go home, you are not ready for publication. Let me introduce you to a harsh fact of life: if you publish someone will pirate you. There's almost no way to avoid it. I know. I tried. It sucks. If you want to never see someone steal your work, don't publish.

My book is ready for publication now... no it isn't. Don't lie to me. Don't lie to yourself. Your book can be better. It's great that friends read and edited your work, but it's not enough. You need someone who doesn't know you, or how you think, and who hasn't exchanged 300 emails about the character's motivations to read the book and make sure it makes sense.

I tried a critique group and I didn't fit in... try another one. I've seen this in multiple places and I get it, sometimes the crits you get don't make sense. Sometimes no one there understands your genre. Keep looking for a group that lets you fit in.

I don't want anyone to say something mean about my book... you are not ready for publication. Sugary sweet reviews are for books you only show friends. If you want to publish you need to learn to take a hard edit of your book, including the one that says this chapter is trash. Cry it out, and get back to work. Remember that just because you write a bad chapter or book doesn't mean you're a bad writer. We all have bad days. Keep moving.

I'm not going to change anything in my book... then you'll never be a good writer. Seriously, you're not going to get anywhere with that attitude. You can self-publish and pat yourself on the back, but you won't be writing great books. Editing makes your writing leaner, tighter, better. You need to edit. You need help editing.

No, not all critique groups or partners are created equal. Not every piece of feedback you get will be useable. But you will learn from all of it if you're smart. Critiquing other people's work will give you a firm idea of what is good and what isn't. You'll make connections in the publishing industry that will be invaluable as you continue to publication. Your book will be better.

If the only people who have read your book are you and your bestest friends, you aren't ready to publish. You need more than a finished manuscript and Amazon to be successful. Consider a critique group your boot camp for publishing.


  1. Constant, reliable feedback is so essential to knowing if you are engaging your audience. I threw four novels in the trash before I learned this lesson.

  2. What is your position on beta readers/critique *partners*? If you have several of them, does that constitute a critique "group?" Curious commenter is curious . . .