How Many Critiques Spoil the Broth?

Today I’ll give my opinion on a question sent to our blog:

When an author is trying to find the right Genre to write in for a particular subject, is it profitable to listen to only one critique? 

Discover

The author who posed this question is in the discovery phase. Writers who read lots of books and have developed a love for many types of stories often have trouble deciding what to write. Often I receive proposals from new authors who tell me they have written, for example, romance, women’s fiction, and romantic suspense and want me to market all three. From a statistical perspective, that makes sense. Isn’t it more likely that three proposals going to thirty places will be more likely for at least one to find success than one proposal going to six places? Well, no. This is because authors are better off finding their writing passion and pursuing that with the best book they can write rather than researching and writing across the board. For instance, romantic suspense and contemporary romance have in common the fact that the story’s main plot point is the relationship between a modern hero and heroine. However, a romantic suspense writer must be willing to learn about police procedure and the law, but contemporary romance authors usually don’t because their books focus on different types of conflicts.

Listen

My advice to the new author is to pursue the story they most want to see published and to see their name tied to forever. To decide that, think about what story you are most eager to write, and what type of research you enjoy. Though you will still want to write to market considerations, I recommend listening to your heart when choosing genres.

Flourish

Of course, many successful authors write in several genres. However, most of these authors started in one genre and moved to different types of books as their careers flourished. New authors need to get a foothold before attempting to market several genres. This is one area where a literary agent’s advice is invaluable. Our jobs include offering career advice to authors and helping them not to become overwhelmed with too many contracts. This is a nice problem to have, but one that needs the skill of a good agent to manage.

Critique

Critiques are tricky. Finding a match of partners who will work with your schedule and who are also knowledgeable about and have a passion for your genre is one of the most difficult combinations to find. There is nothing wrong with asking your mother or spouse to critique your work. My husband is not a professional author but he critiqued every novel and Bible trivia book I wrote. He was a tremendous help to me. However, when exchanging critiques with other authors, it makes sense to find those who have enough knowledge about your genre to be helpful with what will and will not work in the marketplace. A book about two people living in different countries but who find love in the last two chapters of a book may be a great read, but it won’t work for all genres. Writers of historical fiction would benefit from listening to authors who know their chosen time period to help with tone, voice, and details. Having author friends get behind your work gives you confidence when you first start writing.

Number

So how many critiques is the right number? Popular authors with deadlines usually reach the point of success where critique groups no longer work well. Submitting a chapter a week doesn’t cut it when your deadline is next month. And you don’t have time to critique other people’s work because you are under deadline. So at this point, you may have one devoted critiquer who can drop everything for you, or you may have no one at all. The bottom line is, critiques and critique partners can be a valuable piece of your writing career puzzle, but they should not and cannot be the end-all and be-all of your career. Even the most experienced and well-meaning critiquer is only offering an opinion. Over time you must develop the confidence in yourself and your work to submit your best to your editor.

 

11 Responses to How Many Critiques Spoil the Broth?

  1. Timothy Fish January 12, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    In software, four (including the author) seems to be the magic number. Of course, it is different when you are trying to determine whether something does what it is supposed to rather than determine if it is “good” or not. But even in a situation where it is clearly defined whether something is right or wrong, it is usually the author who discovers most of the problems. While it doesn’t hurt to have other people look at one’s work, in writing, it is the author who understands what the work is trying to accomplish.

  2. Laurie Alice Eakes January 12, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Even when I’m on a tight deadline, I benefit from a handful of people–I actually prefer unpublished for this–reading my first two or three chapters to see if they are confused. I remember before I was published an author asking for this and doing it, and it was a real learning experience for me and helpful to her.

    To me, crit partners shouldn’t be a cheering party, though. You need to trust them to say, “This is awful.” More politely than that, I hope, but if something isn’t working, you aren’t helped by not being told.

    So I’d add honesty. Constructive honesty.

    I’ve been too busy to do critiquing until now, so my former group dissolved, and these ladies are still my support, my friends, my anchors.

    How many? two to five. More gets unwieldy. Too much input can confuse even experienced authors.

  3. Debbie January 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Quality over quantity for me. A couple of people who really “get” what I’m trying to do and can tell me when a scene doesn’t work and why, who will print out an entire ms and scrawl all over it in red biro then post it back to me. And for whom I will gladly do the same.

  4. Uta Burke January 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    I average 4 critique partners per book, before it goes to a professional editor. My favorite critiquer,even after the highly educated co-workers of mine who patiently read my rough drafts,is my brutally honest, 19-year-old daughter. She is not a reader, so when she says, now it’s good, I leave it as is. Of course she rips the ms apart, but you have no idea how helpful that is to a writer. She just finished my recent ms and I am amazed at the stuff she found. Besides, she loves telling her mother “this sucks.”

  5. Tamela Hancock Murray January 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    I really appreciate such insightful comments. I believe one pitfall of being a published author seeking critiques is that critiquers can be in such awe of you that they’re afraid to be honest about less-than-stellar passages. The critique groups described in the comments are people in relationship with one another and have the type of honest rapport you need to be helpful to one another.

  6. Lenore Buth January 12, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

    Thanks for this breath of fresh air. So much of this–and the comments–fit me. I think you’re right how important it is to find the right group. I write non-fiction and for years loved being part of a group with other non-fiction, a rare and wonderful thing, and I found their input extremely valuable.

  7. Peter G. James Sinclair January 12, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    Thanks Tamela for writing: ‘Over time you must develop the confidence in yourself and your work to submit your best to your editor.’ I have successfully self published and sold three books – and now am embarking upon the pursuit of both a literary agent and a reputable publisher. It is confidence that sustains me through the process. Thank you for reminding me of this.

  8. Ruth Douthitt January 13, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    For me, it works to have my friends who are professional editors and also writers critique my work. They give me honest opinions, excellent suggestions, and constructive criticism that has made my books better in the end.

    Great post! Thanks for the insight!

  9. Lindsay Harrel January 13, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    I have been thinking about good ways to find more critique partners, people who are at the same place as me in my writing journey and will be honest and helpful with the higher order feedback I need. Timely post!

  10. Jane Mohline January 18, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Thank you, Tamela, for choosing to give insight about genre choices. I am a published author but in process of rewriting and expanding published material. Your suggestions, and those responding, have helped me better understand which direction to go in. Blessings!

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    [...] me how applicable this statement can be regarding people who offer to critique manuscripts. In a previous post, I addressed the number of critique partners to consider. In this article, I’ll discuss [...]

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