The best and most rewarding way to improve your manuscript is to become part of a critique group. I wish I’d heeded this advice or even knew such a thing existed when I first started writing my labors of love. I didn’t have this crucial support and my writing suffered for it. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was stumbling in the dark blindfolded. Oh, yes, I had editors of all shapes and sizes, but even an array of professional editors can’t match the feedback you receive when a true book lover, reader and fellow author takes 20-25 pages of your latest and greatest and reads it with a discerning eye. Nothing compares to it.
In the past, I’d tried a few friends out as beta readers, but let’s face it, a professional writer sees the flaws in a Nano-second, whereas your friends and family aren’t trained to see the flaws. Not to mention that they love you, and often as not, laud your efforts no matter what you put on the page. As they say no pain, no gain.
When you have good critique partners you get the right kind of feedback. The discerning eye will see errors in content, plot, direction, pacing, likability of your characters, POV, choppiness, info-dump, dull dialogue, and too much back story. Those errors stick out like thorns on a rose bush to someone who writes on a daily basis. Where they may not see the problems in their own work, they sure as hell see them in yours. An unbiased reader isn’t in love with your words the way you are. The result is, hopefully, a better book that flows and builds steadily to a climax, leaving the reader wanting more. A story that is easy to understand, one that a reader can relate to and lose themselves in. A book that entertains by driving the events forward with action and becoming what we all seek, a real page turner.
Prior to my finding my small cadre of critique partners my experience was one of working in a vacuum without that all important feedback. I was adamant that I would be losing precious writing time if I began to socially interact with other writers. However, when I met Cherry Adair at the RT Booklovers Convention in Dallas, she took me to church. I’d signed up for a two-day writing workshop with Cherry prior to the convention’s start. One of the secrets she shared, was that she was a participant of a writer’s group in Seattle in which they read each other’s work and critiqued each other’s work. It dawned on me that if a New York Times bestselling author considered a writing critique group to be important, then I was definitely missing the boat. I made up my mind to find a similar group in Los Angeles.
After years of struggling in a void, I finally joined my local RWA group LARA. There I met numerous authors, some published and others striving to publish. At the meetings, I met both PRO and PAN members who were on the same path as me. It was an eye-opening experience. Soon I was shepherded by my fellow Soul Mate published author Susan J. Berger writing as Susan B. James, into an exploratory get-together of authors seeking to form critique groups. I wanted to be part of Susan’s group due to the fact that I admired her brilliance and her writing. Happily, that is exactly what happened. We ended up being three authors who all write in different genres, which makes our critiques very interesting. We made a commitment to meet once a month and critique each other’s current WIP. We decided 20-25 pages would be a doable commitment, and so it began. Since then we’ve added another member to our small cabal of authors, who lucky for us, is also an editor. You might think that 20-25 pages is not much to come up with every three weeks (we now meet every three weeks) but it’s surprising how successful the formula is. During our 3-4 hour meet-up, each member goes over with a fine toothed comb the other author’s work. We take the time from our busy writing schedules and our hectic lives to critique and encourage. It is incredibly helpful. I, myself, have had to rewrite the beginning of my next novel based on the feedback. What I thought was perfect was far from it. After the meeting, we email the pages with the corrections to each other and then the really hard work begins. I spent 20 hours addressing the questions, suggestions, and input that resulted from our latest meeting. What emerged was a much more cogent, entertaining, provoking, and interesting read. My generous friend/authors even take the time to read over the changes and provide feedback a second time. I am grateful for my fellow authors time and efforts in making my manuscript better in every aspect and I know they too are grateful for the time and effort I give their work.
Take my advice and find yourself a group of talented authors on this difficult journey of authorship. Help each other, improve your skills, and hone your talent. Your generosity of spirit and encouragement won’t go unappreciated or without benefit. You won’t regret the input or the friendship that results.