Just recently, a new member came into our author’s group. She is a nice enough girl with a lot of great ideas and good critiques on other people’s work. After getting through the trial period she was allowed to beginning getting critiques on her own material. “You’re gonna love this story I wrote,” she beamed once submitting the book she has been working on. “Everyone else has,” added.
She was not so chipper after the critique of her first five chapters came back. No one was mean, but they were honest. The new girl’s face turned red with a cross between rage and embarrassment as reviews were given.
The critique centered around:
– lots of misused words that were not synonyms for what she wanted to say
– the fact that in the first five chapters (two scenes each) there were 10 different POV characters
– there appeared to be eight different plots happening with none standing out as the main one
– run-on sentences galore
After her initial shock, the new girl took the comments pretty well. We all sat down focused on how to find one main plot and make the rest subservient to it, and how to not confuse the reader with too many people being used for POV and getting down to telling an actually story rather than a bunch of unrelated tales crammed between a set of covers.
Believe it or not, the new girl did have others review her work before us. The problem was however that her review group consisted of her fiancé, her sister, her mother and her two best friends. Trust me when I say that you will never get quality feedback from a group like that. These sorts of people are going to be too concerned about hurting your feelings and not too concerned about being honest. The hype groups like this give you can only crush you later on when people with no emotional attachment to you give you more honest opinion.
For example, my wife did not even get to read a draft of Under the Darkened Moon until it had gone through two separate review groups of people at least two degrees separated from me personally and many edits. Only two personal friends, both published authors with a lot of good experience in writing, have been included among the 33 people who have critiqued the work to date. Everyone else has been friends of friends or professional acquaintances.
Why? Because I wanted honest opinions with no emotional attachment. Sure, I had to weed out some of the reviewers who turned out to be less than competent, but for the most part the feedback has been great and extremely helpful. It has gone beyond ego stroking and everyone telling me how “great” the story was when it wasn’t at times. Those in my review group actually pointed out problems and made suggestions. They actually told me things that did not work and how to fix them. They actually helped me write a better story.
And I am thankful for that. Because it means that when the time comes to submit the story to publishers and literary agents I know that rejection (and there will be rejections) will be based more on their own preferences, market conditions, etc. rather than a story that flat out is crap.