IF YOU CAN’T GET PUBLISHED PERHAPS YOU NEED A CRITIQUE PARTNER (OR TWO) by Virginnia De Parte
I would never have become a published author if it weren’t for the suggestions and corrections of my critique partners.
Several years ago I decided to follow a lifelong urge – and write. I took a couple of summer classes and dragged out a ten-year-old novel and began to rewrite it.
Writing contemporary novels can be very daunting because of the advances in electronics. All sorts of appliances are overtaken by new gadgets and by the time you finish rewriting, several years later, the world has moved on even further. (I now write futuristic novels instead. This way science and technology can catch up to me, instead of my trying to keep up with them.)
A year later I submitted my rewritten novel with its contemporary setting, and waited. After a request for the whole Ms, I waited once more. I received an email that, while praising the plot, pointed out there was too much telling, not enough showing and advising me to get several critique partners.
I ‘got the pip’. I sulked for six months before I realised that the publishers could have simply said ‘no thank you’ and not bothered to give me any advice at all.
Eating humble pie I set out to find critique partners and brushed up on my ‘showing not telling’ techniques. I joined New Zealand Romance Writers because they have a critique list amalgamated with the Australian Romance Writers, and they also produce a very instructive monthly newsletter.
I joined the Romance Writer’s Community on line, and enrolled in their critique list. I approached several people on both lists through the moderator, and began my career as a critique partner. I call it a career because I have learned so much, and have progressed as a writer by critiquing other people’s work. It is also a job. I must set aside time to do this for others if I want them to invest their spare hours in reading my prose. It aids my career as a writer and I take my role as a critique partner very seriously.
I find my own errors now jump out at me, providing I leave them alone for a week or more, and they become a ‘fresh read’. I’ve learned about point of view and how one small word will switch a reader from one person’s head to another. I’ve made friends with people I’ve never met, but I know their skills and weaknesses.
We are writers. We know how to express our thoughts. To critique someone else’s work you must always consider their feelings, the effort it has taken to produce their work and how the piece you are critiquing is like a child to them. Accordingly you must apply tact and offer suggestions – not tell them that their ‘child’ is untidy and bad mannered, but suggest that a little discipline and a good scrub could improve the image of their manuscript and make it more appealing to a publisher. I sometimes volunteer to critique someone’s work, as a one-off effort, because I learn so much by having to concentrate on the content and not skim read for pleasure.
Critique partners come and go. Not for any reason of personal affront or dislike but because their life intervenes. You may be able to produce chapter after chapter, but they may have written one novel, and once you have critiqued all of it, they may have nothing else to send you. This is when you offer your thanks and best wishes, and search for another partner. My ideal number of critique partners, to read a novel, is three. Sometimes I am down to two. At one stage when I started I had five! Each critique partner will have different skills and will zoom in on different aspects of your writing. I struggle with grammar. I have a partner who is a whizz. It took several years to find her and I cherish her comments. Another is great on point of view, and showing versus telling. I am proud that her red comments in my chapters are becoming fewer as time goes by. I accept that I’ll always have some red marks to check because as authors we become ‘word blind’ when reading our own work.
I once read a self published novel with a great plot, but I’m sure it hadn’t been critiqued. It may have been proof-read for grammar and typos, but the head-hopping in it drove me crazy and I never finished reading it. In one scene there were five people, and the author hopped from head to head with everyone’s thoughts and feelings, page after page. He did this in most chapters to a lesser degree until it destroyed the enjoyment of the plot. Had he used critique partners, one of them would have picked this up and he would have been able to correct this fault and concentrate on the various scenes from a single point of view, making it an easy and exciting read instead of creating a form of mental indigestion.
There is no harm in having different points of view within a chapter, as long as the move to another point of view is clearly defined. The maximum number suggested is three different points of views per chapter, if you are writing in the third person. (He/she thought….). This can vary from publisher to publisher, and the genre in which you are writing.
When writing entirely in the first person (“I thought…..), an author wouldn’t have this problem. However, there appears to be little enthusiasm among publishers for books written in the first person, despite the popularity of one book, (Fifty Shades…) originally self published before being taken up by a publisher. I submitted a 15,000 word story to a publisher and had it returned with a request for me to rewrite it in the third person, past. I duly did this during one wet cold winter and it was published. However, I still consider it read much better in the first person. My critique partners had to reread it again in the third person and yes, I missed changing the tense in a lot of places.
My best piece of advice to any author, hoping to dive into the publishing world, is to be brave. You have to be brave to put your ‘child’ out there for the world to read. You have to be brave to send it, piece by piece, to another person, hoping against hope for their praise, while being prepared to see lots of red comments on its return.
I didn’t know Track Changes existed in my Word programme (Ctrl+Shift+E). What a great tool. I use it all the time, as do my critique partners. You can add your comments, change the wording, delete words or sentences, and the original document remains with the changes in red (or any other colour you choose to use). I would suggest you take a page of prose, find Track Changes on your computer, and have a play. I don’t use the ‘balloon’ option, but some of my critique partners do. It’s a matter of personal choice how you place your comments in a document, but your comments are essential feedback to your partner.
If you’re serious about becoming a published writer I recommend that you get serious about finding critique partners. Without them I would still be hopeful and unpublished.
Virginnia De Parte's Latest Release
Stella Corban’s choice is hard - fall in love and endanger her genetically altered family, or lose the one man who makes her heart joyful. For three generations they have avoided the notice of the Department of Defence and its compulsory conscription, but Matt’s acquaintance with the Minister of Defence frightens Stella into avoiding any further contact with him.
Matt Saunders is not a man to be thwarted. He knows Stella is the woman he wants, and he pursues her from the outback to the city and beyond.
The battle between protecting her family and attaining her heart’s desire turns Stella’s world upside down. Would discovering her talents shatter Matt’s passion? Can he be relied on to keep a secret? Can she risk her safety and the whole family’s security by falling in love, or will a life-threatening event remove any choice she had?
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