Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Alphas, Betas, and Critters


Sir Edward Burne-Jones.
Green Summer.
Looks like a pre-electronic crit group, doesn't it?

Critique groups are highly recommended. So are critique partners and beta readers with discerning eyes.
For various reasons - some of them good - I have been The Cat That Walked By Himself and at present do not belong to one.
I do have a loose circle of beta readers, I have benefited greatly from comments on this blog, and I pay close and devout attention to Miss Snark and Evil Editor.
A certain part of my reluctance to approach any group is a feeling that my novels do not really "fit" into any specific genre - not really romance, not really historical, paranormal is often defined as either weres or vamps, etc.

Various horror stories about crit groups and the people therein also give me the willies.
Members who turn on a writer the moment s/he acquires a contract.
Members who are determined to subvert a story with their voice, theme and style.
Members given to excessive bibliolatry - One. Must. Not. Use. Sentence Fragments. Ever.

Then there is the Road-To-Hell-Is-Paved factor.
Remember the writer who requested her group e-bomb a certain editor with praise for her submission?
Have spotted another of this ilk recently - someone who writes long, effusive, disjointed eulogies about her friend's novels on an agent's web-site. Someone who "means well" can be more deadly than any enemy.

Your experiences? Good and bad?

Gigglers: New words and definitions from the Washington Post's Mensa Invitational:

Bozone: A layer of gas surrounding stupid people which stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little signs of breaking down in the near future.

Beelzebug: Satan in the form of a mosquito that enters your bedroom at 3:00 AM and cannot be cast out.

Cashtration: The act of buying a house which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

32 comments:

Steve G said...

I've never been in a crit group and have nothing good or bad to say. A few folks see my stories as they develop, but most of their comments are either nitpicking or too good to be true.

December Quinn said...

Have spotted another of this ilk recently - someone who writes long, effusive, disjointed eulogies about her friend's novels on an agent's web-site. Someone who "means well" can be more deadly than any enemy.


I saw that, too, and was like, What do you expect this agent to do with that information? Do you think it's actually the friend, or the writer him/herself? Either way, do you think it's really helpful?

If I was the friend, I'd be irritated. You've made me look unprofessional before I even make contact.

As for crits--I'm lucky, because I have a great CP whose work I love and who loves my work. I've tried sharing crits with other people, though, and it hasn't worked out as well. One person did those nitpicks, but over things in the setting, i.e.--"You have a guest house in the back, but wouldn't a series of cabanas connected by paths make more sense?" Uh...no. It's not the Beverly Beach Club, it's a private residence with a guesthouse. Why? Because I wrote it and I say so.

It is very difficult, and yes, some groups do harm more than they help.

I'm always happy to read and help is I can, btw. :-)

Kirsten said...

The problem is that an ideal crit partner has to be well-read, appreciative of the genre/form you're writing, diplomatic but not afraid to speak the truth, incredibly discerning about and sensitive to language, somewhat knowledgeable about how publishing works (or have enough common sense to guess), have loads of time to devote to you, and be willing to devote this time for whatever you've negotiated in exchange, if not out of the love of his/her heart. An angelic visitation is perhaps more likely. Yet how can one settle for less? It's like taking a survey of one individual and then extrapolating from it the response of your entire prospective readership, not to mention the publishing industry. I have a good friend who is an avid reader; she read one of my unpubbed novels & pinpointed its flaws perfectly. But she doesn't care for the sort of magic realism I've veered off into since so I've lost her for my latest two WIPs . . .

Carla said...

"Looks like a pre-electronic crit group, doesn't it?"
Um, they all look so thoughtful and nobody's in tears, so perhaps not :-)
I've heard both good and bad things about critique groups, electronic and real-life. I haven't been in either kind so can't comment from direct experience. I do know from reviewing other writers' work in a professional capacity that the most useful comments are those that focus on the reading experience, e.g. 'I got lost here' or 'This part drags on too much' or 'This doesn't agree with what you said earlier' or 'I think this means A but I could also read it to mean B, which do you mean?' or 'This raises question X which isn't answered anywhere, should it be?'. These are much more useful for improving the finished product than comments that change one word for another or (mis)apply some real or imagined grammatical rule.

Erik Ivan James said...

I live too far from the civilized world to participate in a crit group.

Beelzebug. Bug.

Bernita said...

Both nitpickers and praisers are useful though, Steve. One is a heads-up, the other is encouragement.

"Made me look unprofessional before I even made contact." My thought exactly, December.
Reading those posts made me wince.
My problem is I suspect only someone experienced would be of any help and someone experienced has enough on their own plate!

That sums it up very well, Kristen! Genre appreciation is probably a necessary criteria.

Alternatively, a reading at a book signing, Carla?
Yes, those are the holes one needs a spotter for, the disconnects, the places that require expansion.

Some crit groups don't sound "civilized" exactly, Erik...
Yes, Bug fits from what you've said, especially at 3:00 AM!

Dennie McDonald said...

I belong to a couple differnt groups - you have people who will help you as best as they can, give you support and encouragemnt and then there is that one or two who will remind you you're not all that becuase they have one more book than you (she really did even though mine are romance and hers are quilting...)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I have a crit partner, and several people who will, on in infrequent basis look at work for me.

The important thing is that you put value in the opinions that you get. If you think the person is out in left field. Then they're of no real use to you.

There is a point where people will try to suck your voice out of your work. That's where you need to draw the line!

Love the picture...maybe this is Erik's "...far from the civilized world..." crit group...LOL!

EA Monroe said...

I don't have any crit groups or partners either, other than a couple of friends I trust for their honesty. The best thing I ever did was take Mel Odom's class and lucky that he was generous enough with his time to point out flaws and ways to improve my writing, plus he shared his experience and knowledge. Now, if I can only get those lousy chapters back that he's holding hostage!

After Mel's class ended, I tried the crit group with some of the other writers, but I was bored to tears and figured the Sunday afternoons time better spent writing and rewriting.

My novels are not genre-specific either, Bernita, and when it comes to approaching other writers to join a group, I'm too shy (believe it or not!). I'm pretty much a loner trying to learn everything I can -- and that includes visiting you and reading the comments.

Sela Carsen said...

I belonged to a great crit group for a while, but then life intervened for several of us at the same time and it broke up amiably.

I tend to take on cp's as needed. If I know someone, whose opinion I respect, is good at the aspect of the story that's in question, I'll send it out to them.

I've learned not to send out rough drafts too often, though. They get other people's fingerprints on them and they're hard to wipe off.

Bernita said...

Argh, Dennie! I wonder if she thinks she's a Real Writer - but you just write "fiction." I do dislike that "I'm a greater authority because I have four books out and you have only three."

You're fortunate, Bonnie.
Sometimes, I suspect, it takes a while to be able to see just where some people are coming from.
I think a guy might join that group in a heart-beat...

I'm inclined to be a shy loner too, EA. Have also found that reading blogs and particularly the comments has been a wonderful resource and education.
And you meet people like December who, I just realized on re-reading her post, will offer - in spite of having her plate full with her own books coming out - to help another writer.
Maybe when I get my next rejection I will take her up on that careless offer.
The difficulty is always what of possible equivalent value can one offer in return.
Think the best crit arrangement are based on a quid pro quo.

Bernita said...

Sounds like a solid arrangement, Sela.
And you are right about "fingerprints" and other subtle influences.

December Quinn said...

The difficulty is always what of possible equivalent value can one offer in return.
Think the best crit arrangement are based on a quid pro quo.


True...but often, getting to read a friend's work is its own reward.

Bernita said...

As I have suspected from the first, December, you are a sweetheart.

Robyn said...

I am very fortunate that my best friend and I bonded over our love of the genre, wrote a story together, and now write a blog together. She is my only critter, we are good enough friends that she can be very, very honest with me. I trust her to give me a rave when its due, a bleeechh when it is merited, and tell me when she had a big WTH? moment. She gets me; knows what I want to write and the audience I think will appreciate it. She is priceless.

S. W. Vaughn said...

The bozone layer has been pretty thick around me lately. :-)

Crit groups -- haven't found a good one yet. I prefer the close circle of beta readers who will be brutally honest and yet make an effort to understand what it is you're writing about.

I think you're on the right path!

Gabriele C. said...

I don't agree on the genre appreciation. Some of the best crits I ever got were by someone who never reads historical fiction except mine because he for some reason likes it.

During the years I write, I've had three or four critiquers who really helped me, but I've long ago left an online crit group because I didn't get the feedback I needed. Right now, I have none but I hope I'll find someone once I've actually finished something.

Cynthia Bronco said...

LOL
Here's one form the Urban Dictionary word of the day:

Meanderthal: a person who walks without purpose and blocks your path in a store.
"I couldn't get past the meanderthal in women's footwear."
..and now I can comment on blogs again!

December Quinn said...

As I have suspected from the first, December, you are a sweetheart.

Not so loud. I'm trying to build up a rep.

Savannah Jordan said...

I have a few test readers, and recently picked up a brilliant proofer (thank goodness!), but I have no group affiliation. I've run damage control on a poet friend of mine who had her work repeatedly ripped by a group--one member didn't like this, one member thought to add this, blah blah blah. Some constructive criticism is fine, but you truly cannot please all of the people.
Too many witches stirring the cauldron spoils the brew...

Bernita said...

I am sure Missie feels exactly the same way about you, Robyn. I think you're priceless anyway...

Hee, Sonya. Honesty is essential, otherwise one keeps looking for what they did not say to get a clue.

Think that sort of clear eye is really, really rare, Gabriele.
"Actually finished something..." just because one decides something needs revision or tweaking or polishing doesn't mean it's not finished in the usual sense.
I can't believe all your exciting novels are half done!

Have met those, Cynthia. Nice to see you again!

Opps, December!

Bernita said...

Ooops...that should be...

True, Savannah.
A big difficulty is separating out comments based on purely subjective and private taste.

Gabriele C. said...

I can't believe all your exciting novels are half done!

I have a very busy internal critic.

Bloddy bugger.

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

I’ve tried to have my husband critique my work, telling him I need brutal honestly and that I truly welcome and encourage his constructive criticism, but it just doesn’t work. He’s ultra-biased and overly protective. He thinks everything I write, even stories that have been rejected for publication, are pure gold. Seriously, the poor man even thinks the worst crap I’ve ever penned is gold-plated. LOL Aside from that he also becomes very upset if I get a negative review or rejection.

While I’ve never belonged to a crit group (heard too many horror stories through the years) or had a formal crit partner, I do turn to one longtime, trusted author friend every so often when I need a solid opinion and he does the same with me.

kathie said...

I love the words at the end of the post. God to be that creative. Do you think the guy who coins those terms has a crit group? Funny you bring this up because I'm struggling with listening to me, my inner voice and I on how to proceed with my most recent critiques. One very prolific writer I correspond with has never used one for the very problems I'm currently encountering. Too many voices spoil the textual soup. So, I'm trying to balance feedback with what I know is right in my gut. Great post.

MissWrite said...

For me, the problem with crit groups is your 'the road to hell' theory. I just have gone way past them. I used to use them a lot in the beginning. They have a purpose, but it's--well in my opinion only--more for those just starting out.

I DO heavily abuse my beta readers (and adore them without end. Good ones must be treasured beyond compare).

LOVED the gigglers. I'm still chuckling.

Bernita said...

For critiques, Daisy, it seems husbands fall into three main groups: the good, the useless, and the must-make-jokes - no matter how generally supportive of our work they may be otherwise.
I never show my husband my stuff until it is published.
I'm beginning to think that past a certain level, a good crit partner is much better than a circle.

Kathie, think these are a collection from a vast number of different people.
You must always remember it's your book. Only yours. No one else can write it.

Bernita said...

After reading other's experiences, Tami, I am inclined to agree with you.
Past a certain level of skill, they may provide minimal value.

normiekins said...

why is it i come in contact with alot of individuals who have a bozone layer......?

seems to me too many opinions, especially in a group format = trouble & jealousy

anna said...

Back! I have had a wonderful critique group, a really dreadful one - oh my! Mostly I think smaller is better but jealousy almost always abounds in group things.

Been reading your back posts
illuminating as always

loved the hand one!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Hey ea...Mel Odom is a great Christian Fiction writer. He had a new book come out in July called Paid in Blood...very good read. He must be a great teacher!

Bernita said...

Book by committee doesn't work too well, Normie.

Glad you are back, Anna. Thank you.