Critique Groups, By Maria V. Snyder

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You enjoy writing stories but don’t know where to go from here. First off, getting good feedback about your stories from fellow writers is a good idea (families can be very supportive - almost too supportive as they'll tell you everything is wonderful to avoid hurting your feelings - ever watch the US television show American Idol? Remember the singers who are horribly off-key and are surprised when Simon tells them they're awful? They always say, "But my family loves my singing." Get the picture ;).

I used to belong to a critique group - we met once a month and handed out copies of our stories. We would take them home and read/critique them. Then the next month we would go over our comments and hand the stories back to the writer. My group's comments helped me with Poison Study - and if you look in the acknowledgements in that book - you'll see I thank them all.

A good critique group will tell you a few things they like about the story, but then get down to business and let you know all the weak areas. They shouldn't be nasty or snide - just the facts. They also should give you suggestions to make your story better. A good group will brainstorm ideas with you and encourage you to keep writing. You should feel motivated about writing after a good critique session - eager to go home and make revisions. And remember - if you don't agree with a suggestion - don't change it. You are in charge - however if you get the same suggestion from multiple people - you might want to take a second look at it.

You will also be required to give feedback and advice to the other members of the group. Don't be shy - if you read and write you're qualified to give an opinion. I like to do the sandwich method myself. Start with something positive (the bread) "I loved you characters etc..." then get to the heart of the matter (the meat) "Susie is an intelligent girl, but she's too passive in the big fight scene. Perhaps if you have her outwitting Dr. Evil instead of screaming for help the reader would cheer for her more." Then end with something positive (another slice of bread) "This story has such potential. I can't wait to see the revisions."

How do you find a critique group, you ask? Most areas have local critique groups. You might want to check the library to see if a group is meeting there - or at your local bookstore. There are online groups like and this site helps you find a critique partner The Write Life. I prefer meeting with people in person, but all my beta readers are spread around the world so I do everything by email. Sometimes schools have them - or at colleges and universities - you need to ask around. Also be wary if anyone is asking you for money - critiques shouldn't cost money.

If you are planning to self-publish your book, which means you are going to do everything instead of a publisher (you hire a professional cover artist, buy ISBN numbers, etc...), then my best advice to you is to hire a professional, reputable editor to edit your book for you before you upload it to Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc... You only get one chance at a first impression and if you're book is riddled with typos and plot holes and unlikable characters, no one will buy your next book. Do your research before hiring an editor! Also be careful that you don't publish through a vanity press - if you're going to self publish, then do it all on your own - there are people out there who will help you format your book and set up the accounts, just please do your research so you're working with reputatable people who know what they are doing!

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