This is it! You’ve decided to move. Maybe your house is too big, maybe it’s too small. Maybe you just want to live someplace else. Either way,you’ve decided you’re finished with the house you’re living in. It’s time to sell it. To do that, you have to put it on the market. So let’s say you’ve been living in this house long enough to get comfortable. You’ve made a few improvements, tweaked a few things. Maybe you’ve put on an addition. And along the way, your kids have grown, so you’ve added growth charts with some cute little nicks in the woodwork of their bedroom doors. Nothing big, and it’s so cute and heartwarming, you just know the house’s next owners will want to preserve those marks forever like you were doing.
And, well, maybe getting in and out of the master bath is a bit awkward because the door sticks, but if you just give it a tiny kick, it opens just fine. Yes, those stains on the carpet are a tad unsightly, but—hey, it was New Year’s Eve of 2000 and Auntie Em thought the world was about to end when the clock struck midnight, so she was chugging the grape juice. And when the countdown ended and the neighbor shot off his gun…yeah, maybe that’s not as cute now that 2012 is approaching and Auntie Em likes prune juice.
So your house has some quirks that not every prospective owner is going to love…some might even hate them. What do you do? You clean it up. And since you have a hard time with destroying the evidence of some of your best memories, maybe an objective opinion is called for.
You wouldn’t consider selling your house without cleaning it up and having a third party (AKA your realtor) evaluate what you still need to do to show it off successfully, right?
So why would you consider doing anything less for that story you’ve been sweating over for the past several months or even years?
You’ve built your world, met your characters, introduced them to the world, added in a plot so they have tasks to accomplish. You’ve given then a voice and shown them participating in activities that lead to other activities. You’ve crafted a heart-stopping climax and finished with a breathtaking flourish. You’re ready to submit to a publisher and take that bow into the world of publication, right?
No one tells the perfect tale in a flawless fashion. We’re all human – more human than the characters we’ve created, actually. We’re bound to miss a period or a set of quotation marks. We probably have too many commas or a misplaced modifier. We may even…gasp! We might have a plot hole or two.
So, your story isn’t 100%. What do you do? You can send it in and risk rejection before the acquisitions editor reads past the second or third page. Or you can polish it.
Oh, you’ve already polished it? What about page 17, where your character said she hasn’t been home in 10 years, and then on page 24, she says she’s been away for 11 years?
It’s easy to miss the small details by being too close to the story you wrote. And it’s those small details the reader is going to notice and say, “Wait a minute!”
So after you realize you’ve done as much as you can with the story, what do you do? You call a realtor. Or at least a critique partner or a group of them. You need someone to look over your work. Someone who will be able to look at what you’ve crafted with a…well, a critical eye. An objective party. Not the spouse, who will either joke your story’s foibles away or not get it. Not your best friend who will gush about your work because, well, you wrote a book!
You need someone with strong grammar and usage skills, someone who understands fiction and how it’s written. The best critique partners are other authors—this also gives you a chance to critique their work for them to return the favor. Trust me, every time you critique someone else’s work, you will learn also.
Now, I’ve developed a partnership of trust and fun with my critique partners. When they point things out, they’re not trying to undermine me or say my work stinks. They’re giving me insights that I can’t have about my work because I’ve been looking at these pages for so long I overlook things. They’re helping me improve and become a better writer.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun at it. My Achilles heel is the difference between lay and lie. I even tried to teach myself to remember the difference by remembering that chickens lay and people lie. But I frequently miss it because it’s one of those things I grew up with: “The shirt was laying on the floor.” It’s a family colloquialism.
So, what do my crit partners do? They cluck-cluck like chickens whenever they find I’ve done this. We have fun with it because writing fiction, through all its processes, should be fun. Otherwise, why do it?
I trust my crit partners with my baby. I may or may not agree with everything they tell me, but the things they find are things at least I am made aware of. Sometimes, I don’t agree with them and yet I can see I’m not right either, and at such times, critique partners are great persons to brainstorm with. “Obviously plan A isn’t working, so what do you think might fix it?”
As a writer, you owe it to yourself and to the story you’ve been working so hard on, to include crit partners in the process. They are your first line of editing so you can present the most polished manuscript possible to the publisher. And believe me, if you can’t take what a trusted critique partner says without folding, you will have problems when your book goes into the publisher’s editing stage. A crit partner will help you polish your work for the editor to prepare for publication. An editor, on the other hand, has a job to do, and that is to spin your work into gold for your readers to enjoy to the fullest possible extent. The more polished your submission, the easier the process of editing will go.
If you need further convincing about the benefits of a critique partner, consider this personal story. Based on my tag line and brief synopsis, I was invited to a chat pitch with a major publishing house’s top editor. I became finger-tied (the equivalent of tongue-tied) and completely bombed the chat. However, this editor obviously sensed my nervousness, and she changed her question tactic. She asked if I had a critique partner or group, and I told her yes. She asked what they thought of the work, and I told her they liked it. She then asked me for a full submission directed to her attention. Why? She confided to me that my pitch was weak but the fact that I worked with critique partners showed a level of professionalism and dedication, and she knew the manuscript would be more polished than if I submitted it with just my own editing. Editors want the submission to be as polished as you can get it, too. Critique partners are your first line of defense to make sure you get that sought after acceptance letter.
Critique partners can be found in various writing groups at http://groups.yahoo.com/ (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RWCcritique/ is one; others can be found using the search function, http://groups.yahoo.com/search?query=romance+writing+critique) and at reviewfuse.com. Also, eharlequin.com has a forum in the community tab, where you can reach out to and connect with other writers.
Thanks so much, Kay, for such wonderful information. It is VITAL that you have crit partners to help you with preparing your manuscript. I see book on a daily basis that speak poorly about the author because of errors that could have been avoided. Writing partners will ensure you put your best foot forward.
I hope this was helpful. please check out my post last week on Formatting Your Manuscript and I hope you'll visit my Workshop Wednesday next week:)