Wicked Wednesday: Mythbusters VI–Getting Advice on a Manuscript

Mythbusters_ critiquersPre-published and published authors get lots of advice on getting advice. Some people say you must have a writers group to succeed. Others say that kind of review stifles creativity and produces homogenized products. Some people have beta readers, some use outside editors. There all kinds of opinions about what advice you need, when you need it, and what to do with it once you get it.



Edith: I think what kind of critique a writer gets depends partly on her personality. I don’t Editedpagemind sharing scenes with my in-person writing group, even if they aren’t fully polished, because the members have such good feedback and they know my several series by now. I know some writers, though, who cringe at the thought of getting scene by scene critiqued. At this stage in my career I do rely on an outside editor (yay, Sherry Harris and yay Ramona DeFelice Long!) to be my beta reader/developmental editor before I send the book in, but I didn’t for my first couple of books. Some of the Guppies find manuscript swaps invaluable.

Liz: Agree with the personality comment, Edith. With writing groups, I think the structure and level of the group matters as you get further along in your career. As you grow, your writing grows, which means you need critique partners who are also growing and maturing in their work so you can help each other. I enjoy getting plotting help from my fellow Wickeds and a few other creative folks while I’m in development mode. Then when I have a good draft, Sherry offers her invaluable advice and feedback (we sure do keep her busy, don’t we?). If there’s time, I’ll get other opinions from those I trust, but alas, I often don’t leave myself enough time!

Barb: I’ve been in a writers group for twenty years. It’s taken a long time for us to learn how to critique–that different levels and kinds of comments are needed at first draft, second draft and so on. We have different strengths as critiquers–structure, plot, action scenes, pace. And we know each others’ foibles. “This is very over-written, but we know you always do that in the first draft and simplify later, so no worries.” So it’s a comfortable, safe place. I also have a developmental editor who looks at the whole draft once I have it (Hi, Sherry! Another shout out.) What I’m lacking are “virgin eyes.” Someone to look at the next book who hasn’t read the rest of the series and can tell me if someone who is new to the series will be able to follow. I find it harder and harder to judge that.

Sherry: I have that same new eyes worry too, Barb! And it’s been weighing on my mind as I write the fifth book in the Sarah Winston series. I write my first draft and ship it off to Barb Goffman to do a developmental edit! She’s really great about making me up Sarah’s internal dialog and emotional reactions to the events happening in the book. I rework the manuscript and send it to a group of Beta readers who change depending on who has time. Their input has been invaluable and they always seem to spot different things. Thanks for the shout out ladies! I’m honored to be a small part of your writing process and learn from all of you.

Jessie: I agree with Edith about the value of the groups being tied to personality. I sort of wish I wanted to join a writing group but I don’t, not really. I feel very private about my early drafts and never share any of them with anyone at all. I think if I knew I had to let anyone see those first stabs at the story I would be unable to write at all. In fact, the only person I always share my work with before it goes to the readers is my editor at Berkley. I usually have my husband cast his sharp eyes over the last couple of drafts for plot holes but not always.

Julie: I don’t belong to a writing group. I have tried a couple, but for whatever reason it hasn’t worked for me. My first reader is my friend Jason–he loves cozies, and is a good “this doesn’t work” “I didn’t understand why she did that” reader. He is also very encouraging, and I feel “safe” having him be the first person I trust with my baby. I do find the Wickeds to be great sounding boards, and I also benefit from the Sherry read through. I was once in a workshop that was so detrimental with feedback that I didn’t write for a year. As I’ve gotten better, I’ve learned how to filter feedback, but for early career writers, take heed. Choose critique partners well. As I progress as a writer I am looking for more detailed feedback, but I still work alone through the first draft. And then, of course, there are my editor’s eyes, which are incredibly important in the process.

So there you have it. One Wicked doesn’t show her manuscripts to anyone until her editor sees them, and others get multiple levels of critiques–and everything in between. Like all the Mythbusters posts, this shows there’s no one way to write.

Writer friends, what are your thoughts on critiquing? Readers, do you think you can tell when a manuscript has been under or over-critiqued?






30 Thoughts

  1. I’ve had mixed experiences with writing groups and critique partners. When I started writing I joined a Guppies group–I think there were five of us. We were all new to writing, and the skill level varied widely. One member was a lovely older woman who I think wanted friendship more than constructive criticism–she rarely made any of the suggested changes to the work she submitted. On the other hand, I’m still in touch with one of those members.

    For a while I swapped manuscripts with another writer, and I thought we worked well together over the course of several manuscripts each. Then I made the mistake of criticizing a plot point in her latest manuscript, and she not only stopped speaking to me at all, but she made nasty comments about me to other writers. That kind of soured me on the whole experience.

    Now I rely on my publisher’s editors, which have been a mixed bag, from one who insisted on tearing my manuscript to shred (the editor really wanted to impose her own voice) to another who sent it straight to copyedits without a comment. I’d prefer something in the middle–all of us can use that fresh eye.

    1. Wow Sheila, that is a cautionary tale! I heard and author say he thinks plotting groups are better than critique groups because critique groups bring a whole range of motives with them from love to jealousy.

  2. I was in a critique group years ago, but it eventually disbanded because we all had to travel so far to a central meeting place. I’ve always relied on my husband as beta reader, but he doesn’t see the ms. until it’s in good enough shape to submit. I have nothing against the idea of using a developmental editor, but I’ve never been tempted to hire one myself. If I can let a ms. rest for a month or two before the final revision, it’s almost as if someone else wrote it and I can then spot any remaining problems for myself. Of course, it does help that I’ve been at this a loooong time!

  3. Love this topic because there are so many opinions and experiences. I’ve been in larger crit groups, smaller groups and for the past 4 years I’ve had 1 crit partner and her advice and encouragement has been invaluable. I’ve learned to be cautious about sharing my work, knowing when to ignore someone’s comments because their comments are constructive but just useless (only a few times that happened). The best piece of advice I ever received for how to handle a critique is to set aside the comments for a brief period of time and then go back to them and try to prove the person wrong based on what I wrote. Most of the time I found the critique was accurate. Write and learn. 🙂

      1. I forgot to add, if one commenter doesn’t like a particular point or character, you can file it away and consider it when the sting is gone. If two or more people give you the same criticism, you’d better look hard at your manuscript, no matter how much you love it.

  4. I used to be that writer who wouldn’t share anything until I had polished the manuscript to what I considered a high shine. Then I tried an online critique group. Suffice to say it didn’t work. Members were at all different levels of writing and goals, and one by one we fell away.

    Then I was asked by a dear friend to join her face-to-face group. I don’t think I could write a novel without these folks. I can put an earlier draft in front of them. Not Draft Zero, but something I’ve taken one pass through. I do a lot of telling and they call me on that. They call me on “This reads like something the author wants to happen, not something people would actually do.” But they are also generous with the praise when something really works or they like it.

    And after they are done, I often engage the services of Ramona DeFelice Long for developmental editing.

    Of course, I don’t have a contract and I’m not on anybody’s schedule but mine. All this may change if and when I get a publishing contract, but for now I can’t imagine finishing a novel without these folks.

    1. Gee, Mary, I can’t imagine who or what you’re talking about. 😉 I’m ever so glad you accepted that “dear friend’s” invitation.

  5. I forgot to add–Neil Gaiman says, “Remember: when people tell you somethings wrong or doesnt work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

    I have found this to be completely true.

  6. I love my critique group, but I’ve been in some awful ones, too. Those bad experiences make me treasure the partnership I have with my current group all the more.

    Bottom line (as evidenced here) is: there is no one right path. Find what works for you at this moment.

    Great conversation, Wickeds!

  7. I use all three: a writers group, beta readers and an independent editor. All three have been invaluable in improving my writing and I’m certain I wouldn’t have full MS requests had it not been for them.

  8. I can tell when an author gets feedback on a book and takes it seriously. But as you’ve all shown in the post and comments, it takes various forms. The form doesn’t matter nearly as much as just making sure you get it. At least that’s this reader’s take on things.

      1. It’s for the better. I can tell when an author gets too big to listen to advice and stops being edited. The quality of their books begins to suffer.

  9. I love critiques, seriously. Writers circles keep me going when the wheels start to stick, they give that extra push to hurl my story back on the track. I’m having trouble finding such a group since I left college…no writing has been complete…outside of my blog.

    1. That’s the perfect attitude to have towards a critique! If we only want praise, we’ll never improve. Good luck finding a new group — it isn’t easy to find one!

      1. I like your blog — I took a quick look around and will be back to read more! Have you tried libraries or meet up groups for a critique group?

  10. I started writing fiction by taking writing workshops, so I got feedback that way, learning big picture items such as head hopping and how point of view works. Then some classmates and I formed a critique group, which worked well for a few years until my then day job became overwhelming and I moved farther away, making participation difficult. Eventually I got lured into another critique group, which also worked well for a few years, but we’ve now gone dormant too. But those critique groups continue to have a positive influence on me. Reviewing others’ writing really helped me to see ways I could improve my own writing, and it helped me gain the skills and confidence to become an independent editor (developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading in case anyone is interested). I’m so happy to be able to help Sherry Harris’s books shine, as well as those of other authors.

  11. I have to say, I always feel like something’s wrong with me because I don’t use a developmental editor. I just can’t afford one! I belong to a writers’ group of non-mystery writers. There are four of us and I find their feedback very helpful from a non-mystery reader/writer standpoint. Then there are my fellow Chicks at chicksonthecase.com. They all read my upcoming book, BODY ON THE BAYOU, and gave great feedback. With my new ms, two were busy meeting their own deadlines, but one was kind enough to read and comment. I go over the ms myself time after time, then send it to my publisher. I know it’s imperfect, but so far I’ve gotten great notes from their editors. And honestly, I’ve learned to trust myself. I’ve been taking notes since I began writing plays in 1982. I’ve learned the hard way what to take and what to ignore. But still, I feel really bad about that developmental editor thing!

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