Monday, August 15, 2011

Critique Group Case Study: The Critecta

by Mindy McGinnis

Finding the special someone(s) who can complete your writing life is a lot like finding the special someone in your love life—damn hard. Where can you find these excellent people? How do you know when it's a good fit? What should you look for in a critique buddy? And what do you have to offer?

Our little trio met when we serendipitously crossed paths over at AgentQuery Connect, and we quickly discovered that ours was the kind of chemical balance you only find in a room full of professionals wearing white coats. We may all three end up in a room very much like that one day, but that's besides the point. Together, we're going to triple-team the concept of our Critecta—you can see RC's post here, and Caroline's here.

Caroline (Skyval to AQ'ers), Rachel (RC Lewis), and myself form what I like to call our Critecta—a trifecta of critique partners. What makes them the perfect fit for me is that we all write YA but within different genres, which is an important element. We write from where our strengths are, and we also tend to read within our own genres. So when we look at each other's work, we are offering a reader's viewpoint from someone who wouldn't necessarily pick up our book at a bookstore—tough crowd. If we can win each other over, we know we've done something right.

Caroline writes contemporary YA, everything from romance that makes even caustic old me feel a flutter in my tin can of a heart, to gritty issues affecting the real lives of teens today. When I get a crit from Caroline I know that she'll call me out on the relationship aspects—"I need more between these two characters to buy this interaction," or, "Hmm... this dialogue isn't quite conveying what you want here, I don't think." On the flip side, when she LOL's or says, "YES! I knew she liked him!" I know that what I put on the page is conveying what was in my head.

Rachel writes SF, which might seem close to my own area (UrbFan & Dystopian) but to the true genre nerd, it's not. RC's work is more science driven and other-worldly than my own, which means she's an excellent hand at world-building. If I can sell a setting to RC, then I know it's spot on. If she's not feeling it, chances are no one else would either. She's also my DAMMIT MINDY WHEN WILL YOU LEARN TO PROPERLY USE "IT'S AND ITS?" person. Yes, for some reason, I need one of those.

And what do I bring to them? A hatchet, mostly. Yes, the BBC Dialogue Hatchet of Death (it gets renamed periodically) shears down their work with a vengeance. Cutting is one of my talents, and I apply liberally, to myself as well as my partners. I also make sure to let my Critecta—and anyone else I read for—know what's working, what they're doing right, and anything that's clever or amusing. Making someone laugh is the hardest thing to do, I believe, so when someone manages it, I always let them know.

But by far the most important aspect of our relationship, and the one that makes us such good partners, is our honesty. A good critique buddy will tell you when you're rocking, but more importantly tell you when you are not. A compliment circle will gain you nothing but an ego and a manuscript rife with problems. Good crit partners have strengths that balance out your weaknesses, and the ability to point to them without undermining your confidence.

We're no longer limited by geography, and while some people do prefer a "physical" critique group to meet with, there are wonderful online resources where you can perhaps cross paths with that perfect partner. AgentQuery Connect offers a friendly, open forum where you can talk out your fears, discuss the market, and get query reviews. QueryTracker is a free service you can use to track your query rates, and read other users' comments regarding agent response time. Ladies Who Critique is a new service that operates much like, but for women looking for women who read their stuff. And as always, industry and book blogs are great grounds for meeting like-minded individuals.

Do have your own Critecta? (Or duo, or quartet, or whatever...) How did you find them? What’s your process, and why does it work for you?


Rosalind Adam said...

I belong to a critique group that emerged by chance, five children's writers living within a mile of each other, but it works. We too each have our own strengths and we're sometimes brutal but always honest. Anything else would be a waste of time.

Jemi Fraser said...

Love hearing how others work with their crit buddies. I lucked into my crit buddies over at AQ as well. They're fabulous. We all write somewhere within the romance genre, but within different subsets of it. I like that balance & diversity.

Sophie Perinot said...

Think that free books are the best goodie you can pick up at a writers’ conference? Think again! I have a couple of indispensible critique partners and met each of them at conferences I attended.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Rosalind - Absolutely. I agree that anything less than honesty is not worth it. People that join a group looking for a compliment circle are not in the right place if I'm there!

Jemi - I agree! AQ is indispensable for many reasons.

Sophie - Yes! I lost my contact list after going to a writer's conference, and could've kicked my own @ss for it.

jennysararyan said...

Do you know about It's a brand new site that links women writers together. It's super!

Mindy McGinnis said...

JennySaraRyan - Yes! I mentioned them in passing in the article, but I've inserted a link post-posting, because the site is pretty tremendous.

Check it out if you're in the market for a writing buddy!