Historical Romance

Historical Romance with an Inspirational Touch

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Critique Group – Cruel to be Kind?

I am part of a wonderful online critique group for historical romance authors and we just celebrated being together for one year. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this group of ladies and have grown as writer beyond my expectations. Our very first motto was Crit honest, but Crit nice. This was because the two of us who started the group had received some pretty negative comments. I am not saying that all the critique groups I have been a part of before were necessarily “cruel”, but sometimes when I get an edited chapter back, the lyrics from Nick Lowe’s song play in my head. “You have to be cruel to be kind, in the right measure.”

I feel very strongly about being a part of a critique group. However, as with all things, there should be a few guidelines. First, a critique group or partner should never be cruel. If you think they are, take a step back and first ask yourself if you are being overly sensitive. After all, someone just criticized your baby. Something you worked hard to make as perfect as perfect can be. You were positive when you handed the chapter to them it would be returned, a huge smile on their face and their sing-song voice asking, “when do I get to read more?” Instead you are wondering what act of desperation the reader attempted to get out of reading. You run your fingers over all the red ink just to make sure it isn’t blood.

Now is the time to regroup and actually read what has been written by your critter. It is best to have a bowl of chocolate next to you during these moments, or a glass of wine if that is your preference. Next, read through each individual comment and think about what is being said. Here are samples that I have received…

“This sentence reads awkward to me. Maybe reword.” Okay, that wasn’t so bad.
“I am not sure this is needed here. It stopped me cold.” I read back through and realized I info dumped where it wasn’t necessary and deleted those sentences.
“I don’t have a sense of where they are, the room. What does it look like, smell, etc.” I read what I had written. UGH. The entire scene was perfect in my head. I just forgot to include any description with all my lines of dialogue.
Those comments and others that are similar will help make a stronger, better writer. They are not destructive by any means.

Unfortunately, I have read some “cruel” comments. Not all of them directed at me, but these are some samples my writer friends and I received prior to the formation of our current group.
“I found this entire chapter boring.” Gee, thanks for the support!
“There are too many errors and far too many problems and I don’t have the time to fix them for you.” The chapter was returned without one thing marked. Thanks!
Those are critique partners you can do without. If they continue in the same vein after another chapter or two, I suggest ending the relationship and moving on to one that is more positive and constructive, even if it looks like they bled all over your manuscript.

A great critique group will breed success. Here is an example of what we have accomplished in a year:
Finals in several contests
Won three contests
Had four or five requests for full manuscripts, and
Six books were contracted
The group consists of 15 currently active members so I don’t think that is too bad for averages.

So, if you are an unpublished writer but not part of a critique group or have a partner, I strongly recommended you join a group that writes in the same genre as you. I love these ladies and don’t know where I would be on this path to publication without them. Thank you, Amy Love, Carol, Gail, Heather, Jerrica, Jodie, Jude, Julie, Kelli, Melodi, Michelle, Tammy, Terry, Vesna and Xelda.


  1. Some great suggestions here. We are all sensitive and it's nice to work with someone else who is just as sensitive to the work.

  2. I was in a crit group of only four and overwhelmed by the potential time it would take to read everyone's MS's without rushing through them. So I pulled out of the group and hired an editor to give me feedback. At this point in my life, with my limited time, I'm really enjoying the editor. And also, God provided a crit partner that puts up with how slow I can read her work! Your group sounds wonderful, though. Maybe someday I'll have more time to devote to a group like that!

  3. Dear Amy:
    This sounds so wonderful and alive, something i really need right now.

    The one group i attended was over two hours away, so i just cannot continue going, but i'm looking for one nearby, or to start one in my area.

    Do you happen to know of any online groups for non-fiction writers?

    Thanks, Jen

  4. Terri,

    The first crits are toughest if not deflating when a writer finds out how much they don't know. But it only gets better when there are trusted friends in the same boat and all with the same goal.

  5. Jody, it sounds like you found the perfect fix for you. I've known others who use an editor too. I've wondered how it compares to the critique group. I am sure there are pros and cons to both and would be interested to find out. I used to belong to a group the met every other week. That just got too difficult with a fulltime job and three kids. That is why the online works for me. I can crit whenever I have the time and e-mail it back. I am sure it is the same amount of time, but it is so much more convenient.

  6. Jeanette, as I said to Jody, those meetings can be difficult to make with a busy scheduled. I don't know of a specific non-fiction group, but Yahoo Groups has probably hundreds of writing groups. That is where I first started looking. I went through three separate ones before my partner and I started our own. I would look at what they have and see if there is a group for you. I am sure other sites probably have groups as well, but I have not researched. I guess I wasn't much help.


  7. Great post Amy! I love how you posted examples. They were right on. There's def. a kind way to crit. I can't believe those people wrote a crit like that! It kind of shocked me.
    It sounds like your crit group is very successful. :-)

  8. Jessica,
    We were a bit shocked to get some of those crits. Yes, my crit group is doing very well.

  9. Perfect timing! I belong to a critique group, but a few friends and I are starting another. I couldn't agree with you more. The first crit IS the hardest. After? I couldn't live without them.