Why Critique Partners are Important

1-They push you to be better.
They tell you when your work isn’t good enough. Sometimes when I write, I have a tendency to think everything’s great. I get the honeymoon period a lot. Me and my manuscript. Running off into the sunset holding hands. I become too familiar with the words and too in love with the characters. This is bad. Critique partners aren’t afraid to tell you that your prose is murky and your characters are flat. They push you to dig deeper and write harder.

2-They lend an ear and a shoulder when you get rejected.
I don’t know of a writer who hasn’t faced rejection. (And by all means, if you’re out there reading this and you haven’t been rejected on your writing journey and your walls are full of shiny book-lovin awards…don’t mention it here. You will be stoned.) It’s easy to feel down when someone in the industry says your work won’t be picked up. It’s easy to take it as a personal attack on you instead of a simple decision on your work. Critique partners keep things in perspective. They remind you that you’re not the only one struggling to make it. It’s not personal. Have a drink. Or a donut. It’ll all be better in the morning.

3-They celebrate in your victories.
I had a little victory when Dark Tide Rising got a five star review from The Romance Reviews. (Love the shameless plug.) I was jumping up and down. I was ecstatic. I read it a dozen times. I cried. Seriously. But there was no greater feeling than my writing friends congratulating me. I could hear the excitement in their emails. (OMG! WOW! CONGRATS!!!!! GO YOU!!) Victories, even little ones like starred reviews, are better celebrated together.

4-They GET IT like no one else in the non-writing world gets it.
It’s hard to explain to a non-writer how important the Golden Heart awards are for romance writers. It’s hard to explain why I enter the Daphne Contest. (I enter both every year.) The first thing a non-writer asks after seeing me toil over the submissions is “what do you win?” The answer is simple: A necklace. It’s the most simple necklace infused with honor, respect, and writing glory. Truth be told, I don’t even want the necklace. The necklace isn’t what it’s about. It’s about knowing my work means something. It’s about my work getting the stamp of approval from my peers. Writers get it. We gather year after year at RWA National, get all spiffed-out for the red-carpet award ceremony the final night of the conference and watch as our friends, colleagues and FAMILY take the stage to claim that simple necklace. Not so simple after all.

3-They plot!
I had originally planned my paranormal series to be three books. Enemy, Beloved is about a shape-shifter and a vampire (and a bunch of other cool fight stuff). Immortal, Beloved is about a human and a vampire (and a bunch of reincarnated lover, death all around stuff). The third in the series (Untitled) was going to be about a fallen angel and a vampire elder (and a bunch of other totally awesome stuff I haven’t really figured out yet).

But…after a recent development which I can’t share yet, I’ve put the third book on hold. Not for good. I’m still going to write it should a publishing house pick up the first two. (PLEASE PLEASE THEY’RE GOOD I PROMISE) Now, though, I’ve decided it’s probably a better career move if I write something in a new direction. If I build a new world. If I stay in paranormal romance but write new characters in a new and equally exciting world.

Why, you ask?

Because I have to prove that I can write something other than the series I’ve already started. It’d be great to say I have The Crimson Bay Series and yet another coming down the chute that’s the same, but different.

But I have no freaking clue what that book is going to be about. I have a general premise. I know I want to write angels or ghosts. I know I don’t want to write demons. I know I don’t want to write any book about people/monsters/otherworldly things rising up against God. Period. All the other details still need to be worked out. That’s where my awesome critique partners come in. I talked with one last night while giving my kids a bath (Side note: NEVER attempt to plot while giving small children baths. Your bathroom will flood. Just sayin’.) Even though I felt like I had nothing to go on–a blank canvas that needed something beautiful painted on it, my critique partner started chucking globs of literary paint onto my blank slate. We mashed around colors. We smeared ideas right and left. Although my canvas now looks more like mess than art, it’s a START. And I have my critique partner to thank.

4-And lastly (too long a post, although I could go on and on), they balance you out.
During the above plotting session last night, my critique partner and I realized that we write books the EXACT OPPOSITE way. I come up with a premise. I figure out the major conflict. I figure out who my hero will be in that conflict–major role, obviously. I then determine who would challenge him most in that world. There’s my heroine. She, on the other and very interesting hand, develops characters first, then throws them into complex situations. She’s a great writer. I’m honored to read and critique her work. I stand to learn a lot. But that’s why I think we work. Without the balance we’d never learn, right? Yin is nothing but a funky crescent moon lookin’ thing without Yang.

And I think that philosophical gem is a great place to stop.

Thank your critique partners today. They’re your lifeline on this crazy journey toward publication.

The Value of A Good Reader/Crit Partner

When I finished my first novel, (a contemporary romantic suspense where I killed the hero in the end) I had no idea what it took to be published. (It’s safe to say I was WAY off the mark in every aspect.) I had no clue that a romance novel required the HEA (happily-ever-after) ending to be published. I thought I could simply write a story that struck me, find an agent, and sell it. Boy, was I wrong.

Over the past two years I’ve learned so much about the industry. Note that I said I learned about the industry. It’s not enough to perfect your craft. You have to understand market trends, where your novel would be shelved in a library or bookstore, and what audience you’re targeting. Is your book geared for Young Adults? Middle grade? Adults? Is the market saturated with vampires? Weres? Are you writing another typical vampire story? If you are, better have a major twist to stand out…

My point is that it’s not enough to write for the sake of writing or for the idea of being a writer. Writing is a business. Get to know it.

So how do you know if your writing is up to snuff with your competition? I’d say the first way is to READ, READ, READ other books in the genre you’re writing. If you like J.R. Ward’s Blackdagger Brotherhood (YOU MUST READ THEM IF YOU HAVEN’T YET–just sayin’), and want to write that style of book, read as much of the likes of her as you can.

Another great way is to land yourself a valuable critique partner. If you’re asking yourself what “valuable” is, I can sum it up in one word: HONEST.

The person I let read my first novel (the person who gets the first reads of all my novels, actually) is someone who’s been my friend a long time. (I’m talking since the fourth grade, folks.) She’s smart. Educated. Reads a ton. But that’s not why I initially gave her my material. I had tons of friends offering to read for me with the same qualities.

I knew she wouldn’t be afraid to tell me if my writing sucked. No matter how much I knew it would hurt to hear, I needed to know.

And she didn’t disappoint. (Oh, I took a major blow to my ego, let me tell you.) She told me it “wasn’t good enough” time and time again. Still does. (Yes, we’re still friends. No, I haven’t thrust her into a story to kill her off in one of my battle scenes. What on earth would make you think that?)

The point is this: when I sent out my first book to be read, I wanted validation. I wanted to be told that my writing had potential–that I COULD be an author if I pushed hard enough. If that’s what you want, let your mother or sister read your work. They’ll validate you like nobody’s business for finishing a novel.

I’ll tell you now, it’s not enough. Not if you want to make it in the business. However, if you have a mother or sister who’s an honest crit partner, I suppose you have the best of both worlds! But for others, we have to pick and choose our readers with care.

Last night I sent over a new chapter to my brutally honest reader. She always calls after reading the pages sounding bright and cheery. (Even when she’s telling me it’s terrible, there’s a smiling lilt in her voice.) I always grimace, waiting for the review. Last night she told me it was Great. She said I shouldn’t change a single thing.

What meant the most weren’t the words–thousands of readers and crit partners around the country probably tell authors the same thing. It meant so much because only a few reads before, she told me I could do better. She said the character’s motivations fell flat. She was disinterested in where a particular story thread was going. (She didn’t use those words, but that’s what she meant.)

So last night when she said it was Awesome, I know that it is. I no longer wonder if she’s just telling me that so as not to hurt my feelings. She doesn’t sugar coat. And that’s exactly what I need.

What do you need from a reader or crit partner? Do you like their comments to be soft and careful? Or brash and brutally honest? Can you get past the initial hurt feelings if they tell you it sucks? Or do you find another crit partner? I’m curious how the other side lives…