The Value of Local Critique Groups
To Edit or Not to Edit: That is the Question!
You’re excited about your manuscript! You think you have a great idea and you’re finally getting it on paper. You’ve read it and revised it over and over, and you think you’re ready to send it to an editor at a publishing company or an agent.
STOP! Yes, I said, “Stop!”
If you’ve had no one read your manuscript except Aunt Lucy or Mom, who think it’s just the most wonderful piece of literature that has ever been recorded in history, then you probably are in for the biggest shock of your life: rejection slips from editors or agents, who won’t read past your first page if it’s littered with grammar and spelling errors and poor paragraph construction, let alone “faulty facts.”
If you’re saying, “Well, I plan to self publish,” then you have all the more reason to make sure your manuscript is something of which you’ll be proud.
I’ve seen too many self published books that are sprinkled with obvious errors, which give the author and all authors of self published books a bad reputation. Take the time to do it right!
With the decline in paper book sales and the scramble to find one’s “author”ity as an author online, every writer must take the utmost care to have a manuscript that is error free. The two best ways to do this is:
- Hire a professional editor – expensive (from $20 an hour to $100 an hour; I edit for $20 an hour. It takes me an hour to do an average of 10 to 15 pages, contingent on the quality, or lack thereof, of the manuscript)
- Join a local writers’ critique group – free advice
Depending on your level of writing experience, you can consider joining any of three types of critique groups:
- One that has a guest speaker every time the writers meet to discuss the ins and outs, the mechanics, and the techniques of good writing, which you then apply to your own writing
- One that challenges the writer with a writing assignment every time they meet. You would then work on that assignment at home and bring it to the next meeting to be critiqued.
- One that meets for the sole purpose of editing and critiquing your work in progress to help you get it ready for publication.
I have chosen to be a member of the Susquehanna Valley Writers Group in central PA, which meets exclusively once a month to review works in progress. We can either send up to five double-spaced pages to each member ahead of time via email to be critiqued, or we can bring enough copies to our monthly meeting for each member to edit and critique as we read the work out loud. (Sometimes kind members will offer to have the new entire manuscript sent to them via email to critique over a long period of time.)
My critique group has made me the writer I am today. When I reflect on how poorly I wrote even four or five years ago and how I’ve progressed to finally learn my PUGS (punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling), I can only thank my critique group, which usually averages four to six members. (All the members represent different genres of interest.)
Critique group members catch mistakes to which you’ve become blind. You can read the same mistake in your manuscript a dozen times, but you’ll never catch it because your brain has already programmed in the correct usage even though you’re reading the wrong word, incorrect comma, or whatever.
Also, critique group members can help with vocabulary, sentence structure, research, characterization, and plot development that you will never notice by yourself.
Case in Point:
Several months ago, I took a section of my latest novel, LOVE SONG FOR LOUELLEN. In the book, an Amish couple cannot have children because the man has the problem, not the woman. I had incorrectly used the term “impotence” to describe the problem.
However, at my critique meeting, a gal who is familiar with medical terms said, “If the man could have sexual relationships but had a sperm problem, the term is ‘sterility’ not ‘impotence.’”
Wow! None of the rest of us at the table knew the difference in the terms. Was I glad that I had taken that portion of my manuscript to the critique group. I was just finishing the manuscript and had an agent patiently waiting for it. With the advice from my critique group member, I corrected a boo boo that, perhaps, no reader might have noticed if the book had been printed that way; yet, the agent or editor might have zeroed in on it and given me a black mark concerning accuracy in my terms and background for the fiction work.
So, let me ask you? Are your ready to swallow your pride and join a local critique group to improve your writing?
If there is no critique group, then start one. Post notices in grocery stores, libraries, and post offices. In a short time, you’ll have a nice writing group that not only will make you a better writer, but you’ll have yourself a whole new group of kindred spirits who think and dream and write because they JUST HAVE TO, just as you do.
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