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Wednesday
Sep012010

Crit Groups v. Beta Readers: What Works For You?

 

If you stopped by on Monday, you saw that I am making an effort to streamline a few things in my life to free up more time for both my writing and my family. This involved the tough decision for me to cut down to MWF blogging instead of five days a week.  It also put another issue in my cross hairs.

 

So for about a year, I've been a member of the super fabulous Rumored Romantics critique group. The small membership has shifted and changed, but every person I've gotten to know through it has been an amazing writer and a great friend. I credit the big shift of "luck" I've had with my writing over the past year--contest wins, requests, and now an agent--in large part to the things I've learned being a member of this group.

However, the way the group is structured, we do chapter by chapter critiques. You get one chapter of yours critted per week and you're responsible in turn to critique one chapter of someone else's. This is great for those who are writing as you get critted--meaning you write a chapter, put it up for crit, start writing the next chapter and so on.

I, unfortunately, don't work that way. I have to write a rough draft in isolation first. I can't be getting critiques on something I'm currently drafting--it screws with my process. I think Stephen King said in On Writing to write the first draft with the door shut--meaning only for yourself. Then once you're done, open the door and share it with others. I don't think that has to be everyone's process, but it's definitely mine.

So I write the whole draft, then I start subbing to the group. But the problem with that is--then it's going to take 4-6 months for the group to make it through the novel. I don't have the patience for that. When I'm done with a project, I want to sub like now.

So with this most recent project, I sought out beta readers and found people who could read my complete book and give me overall feedback within a few weeks. Then I revised and submitted. When Sara offered me representation, my crit group was only on my chapter 3.

Therefore, I made the decision yesterday to step out of my group. It makes me sad, but the structure of the group just doesn't work for my style. I think my ideal situation would be to have two beta readers I trust to work with on full manuscripts. However, I'll be forever indebted to those ladies for whipping me in to shape and teaching me so many things I had no clue about when I first joined.

So, the good news for you guys is that, if you think the structure would work for you (and it does work for many) and you want a group that will give you the level of detailed feedback writers yearn for, there is going to be a contest to fill my spot!

Lynnette Labelle will be announcing details in the next few weeks, but if you write romance or something with romantic elements (no YA), then start polishing the pages you'd want to submit for consideration. The ladies are fabulous--two contest winning divas and an author with a three book deal with Tor, so whoever fills the spot will be a lucky gal (or guy!).

Also, in unrelated news, I found out Exposure Therapy is a finalist in the San Francisco RWA's Heart to Heart contest!

Alright, so how do you prefer to get your work critiqued? Do you like having a crit group that can offer detailed line edits or do you prefer beta readers and global feedback? Do you get critted as you write or do you have to finish a project first?

**Today's Theme Song**
"My Way" - Limp Bizkit
(player in sidebar, take a listen)


 

Reader Comments (42)

I'm like you. I'm part of an online crit group, but when you can only sub once a week, it takes forever. I usually get to around chapter 10 with the crit group by the time the novel is completed. Then off to beta readers. The first 10 chapters help me to see if I'm on the write track ect.

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteena Holmes

Great news about Exposure Therapy. Good luck with that!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterj.leigh.bailey

Congrats on the contest! As for critique, well I would prefer overall feedback. But I'm still searching for writerly betas and a crit group.

My brother has my manuscript now. He's reading it largely for a man's perspective. The MC is a guy and I'm worried he sounds too much like a girl wrote him. This early in the process, that's the type of feedback I'm looking for. Some day...

Sorry you had to make such a tough choice. But it sounds like you thought it through and only made it after knowing all the options.

Best of luck with everything!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie McGee

Hi, Roni! :waves:

I was JUST thinking of Stephen King's ON WRITING when I started reading your post. My crit group used to do about 30 pages a week on a rotating schedule, which ended up being only a chapter per person, per month. In some ways it was great because it headed off problems early on, and a finished first draft felt more like a semi-polised second draft.

But ultimately, I came to agree with you; I need to get the whole thing down first. Best of luck with your contest!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Skilton

I'm not a big fan of critique groups. It's a little too slow for my tastes. I'm fairly impatient, and when I write a book in a month (40 days technically), I don't want to wait 4 months to get the whole thing critted.

I'm lucky. I have a fabulous CP/friend who read pieces as I went along, but then turned around and looked at the whole thing when I was finished and who's on board to do it again once I finish the revisions (23k to go, yay!).

So definitely in favor of the one-on-one vs. a group in a slow, measured fashion.

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTory M

I just joined my first online crit group. All of the members are published authors with several books under their belts but like you said, it's SLOOOOOOOW. I'm trying to submit like NOW but I can only sub 5k words at a time.

The ladies in my group are fantastic, and I've learned so much just by being in the group, however, I like beta-readers better. It's faster. BUT I'm not leaving my crit group. You become a better writer by critting, so for practice, I'm sticking around. :D

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVegetarian Cannibal

That's great about Exposure Therapy! Congrats!

I like to get my chapters critiqued one by one-- but I like to be well into my novel by the time I submit them. I'm a mega pantser, so when I get an early chapter critiqued when I'm more than halfway through writing it, I often get a lot more clarity about tying the whole novel together.

I do like to have the novel critiqued as a whole, though. There are definite benefits to having someone read it straight through, as it should be read, instead of chapter by chapter. I usually get a whole different kind of feedback. It's great!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShallee

I'm in a critique group as well with a bunch of truly wonderful ladies. We do chapter by chapter, hence our name, as well as beta reads. There is no structure as to timelines, word counts, etc. We put up our work and crit each other's on whatever pace our own schedules allow. Sometimes the girls turn around a crit in a day or two. Not everyone is active at the same time, but enough are that you always get some solid feedback. Plus, I feel I've learned and grown a great deal with their input, advice, inspiration, etc. S'all good here. :-)

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElla Dane

Like you I have to write that first draft alone and with the door shut and locked. I shudder at the thoughts of letting someone, anyone, read it. I don't belong to a critique group but instead ask for critiques from my writing group or writer friends when needed. I also have a beta reader who reads my wip during the last revision phase. I'm kind of all over the place but it works for me.

Congrats on being a finalist in the Heart to Heart contest!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaryn Good

I've done it both ways and part of me likes the chapter by chapter because then I can change things that I'm doing wrong.

But it does take a long time.

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatti

I'm the same way. I have to write the entire rough draft first, so I use beta readers. Especially with two kids under the age of two, I can't guarantee right now that I'll write a chapter a week. Although I would love to, I don't get enough sleep yet to function at that high of a level, my youngest son isn't even a month old yet.

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole Zoltack

I really like the idea of the crit group, because I think that'll work for my style. I want feedback as I go along, for grammar and all that - but also, I want to know if what I'm writing is interesting/gripping to more than just myself. I will SO be entering that contest when it comes along to for the spot in the Rumored Romantics critique group!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKiera Bryant

I belong to a crit foursome, which is especially helpful if someone (mostly me, lately) needs the whole or a half manuscript critted before submission or after agent-requested revisions.

I've found a smaller group works better for me, and is more flexible, so I tend to use the term crit group and betas interchangeably, but I often solicit betas that I "know" from online forums.

Great post!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTere Kirkland

I love crit groups to meet other others, but yes, it is way too slow for me. I love beta readers, but it is often very hard to find great ones or many that can get through an MS. I also love reading other works, because it makes me stronger as a writer. My crit group doesn't me nearly enough but none are as serious about publication as I am.

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBekah

I prefer beta readers. Hey, I haven't been around for a while and I just saw in your side bar that you have an agent! Congratulations!!!!!!! I'm so happy for you.

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan R. Mills

It's always good to evaluate how you work and do what works for you. Sometimes it's hard. So kudos to you for stepping back when you needed to!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElana Johnson

I can't have the structure of a crit group. I have a few faithful, SUPER HELPFUL readers and I rely on them completely.

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJolene

I've had to cut back to three days per week of posting too. Just not enough time to do it all, unfortunately.

As to what works for me with the writing? I think I have the perfect trifecta -- crit group, beta readers and a few trusted editor friends.

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngie Ledbetter

I'm in a crit group, and it has worked for me so far. I work better alone on the first round, then submit chapter by chapter. I'm in the same boat, needing some solid betas who can take in the WHOLE picture. Good luck to you, I'm sure your crit group will miss you!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeth Mann

I joined a crit group with a completed project. One of the other members was in the process of writing a novel, and submitting one chapter - well 10 pages actually - at a time. After watching everyone crit at that pace - and hearing all the varied opinions about HOW the novel should be written - I decided only to submit chapters I had problems with during revision.

This method didn't work for the group; they had too many questions on overall story and character motivations than on the specifics of the chapter.

When I started writing a new novel, they were excited to get the chapter by chapter. But like you Roni, I found I didn't want assistance writing the whole novel.

But participating in a writers group is what got my writing skills to the level they are now. So while I believe a ftf crit group helps a newbie learn the ropes and hone their skills, I'm starting to believe an author can outgrow them.

Definitely at the stage of writing I'm at, beta readers are my choice, and crit groups don't want to committ to such a large, time consuming project. I've discovered that making friends online, participating in blogfests and contests, and requesting beta's for overall feedback is best NOW.

But it wasn't always the best choice, and I'll be forever grateful to my crit group for all the support they gave me.

Poor Roni; I know how hard a decision it is to leave a social group. But growth is a good thing, both personal, and professional.

........dhole

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDonna Hole

We'll definitely miss you, but we totally understand. I like crit goups because I enjoy having someone hold my hand as I write, so I know I'm on the right path. That's why a chapter at a time works for me. However, once I have an agent who can read my synopsis and tell me BEFORE I write the book what plot elements won't work, then I don't know. Maybe I'll switch over to a Beta, too. For now, this is my path.

Oh, and your readers should understand that we don't just line edit, we look at the big picture stuff, too. We just do it a chapter at a time. I hope to see some of them enter our contest. Details coming soon. Watch my blog. :)

Lynnette Labelle
http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLynnette Labelle

omg that is the exact same issue i have with my crit group. Not that i'm ever going to give them up, but i'm like you nad will need to find beta readers to read THE WHOLE THING IN ONE SITTING as opposed to 10 pages at a time (which is what we do)

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFalen (Sarah)

Crit groups, beta readers, any feedback I can get my hands on I'll take haha. You have to have pretty thick skin to put your work out there to people you don't know, but I think as long as you have confidence in your work, and you ability to change it if necessary, its all valuable. Wonderfully insightful post as always :)

And congrats on all your good news!!

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWritersBlockNZ

I used to write in my cave, but this year I stepped out and started displaying my work.

It's a lot easier in the cave, where nobody's asking questions or pointing out my inequities.

I've never done a crit group. The pace is too far off from my pace. I'm with you 100% on finish-first, then crit/beta. Doing it as you go will strangle the muse.

- Eric

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric W. Trant

Beta readers all the way. Reading piecemeal doesn't give anybody the whole picture, in my opinion. You are reading the trees instead of the forest. (Super dumb metaphor, but whatever) :)

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiranda

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