Monday, February 25, 2008

The Bald Truth about Critique Groups

Note from the Bald One: This is a guest column today -- James is a fulltime writer and recently served on a critique panel at the Dallas Area Writers Group (DAWG). Ladies and gentleman, boy and girls, please welcome James Gaskin to our blog....

The Bald Truth about Critique Groups

I would like to thank Alan for giving me this opportunity to say a few words. This is a good forum to make a couple of points I didn't have the chance to mention during the critique meeting on February 12th.

First of all, I thank all the DAWG members at the February meeting for inviting me to help critique your work. I hope you had as much fun as I did.

Alan's format for reading worked great, as people stood and read for 10 minutes without interruption. Use this as the quickest technique to improve your own writing without having to face an audience.

Print your work, stand up with a pencil in hand, and read your work out loud. But instead of an audience, use your own critical listening skills. Whenever you are tempted to say something different than what's on the page, mark that line of text. Don't stop reading, just make a quick mark. Whenever you notice a phrase was hard to say, or made you stumble, or confused you as it went from the page through your mouth, mark that line of text.

When you finish reading all the printed pages, sit down with your pencil. Find each marked line and fix it. Often the fix is simple, like a verb tense or misplaced comma or confusing preposition. Reprint and repeat until you make no marks.

Think about the entire flow of the work. Could you feel the structure of the story as you read? Did you hear the famous beginning, middle, and end? Even non-fiction better tell a story, or readers become page turners and look for an article with a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Secondly, there were a couple of pieces I didn't like, but my friends Win Shields and Ginnie Bivona did. If I was the agent receiving the work, I would pass. You would be, and feel, rejected. But if Win or Ginnie received the same work, you might feel elation and success. If I was a really good agent, and I hope I would be if I was an agent, I'd send your work to Win or Ginnie in the next office. But don't trust the reader of your work to be so helpful.

Whenever possible, target your work to the agent or acquisition editor at the publisher who likes your type of work. Read acknowledgments in books in your genre for the names of agents or contacts at the publisher. Send your work to those people. Put your work in the hands of industry insiders who like your type of work.

The best mystery novel in the world will be rejected by an agent who specializes in romance. The best science fiction novel written in 2008 will be rejected by every publisher specializing in political commentary and election analysis.

Every agent and acquisitions editor handles multiple topic areas, but they usually list their strongest topic areas first. Some new writers are tempted to send their work, let's say a mystery, to an agent handling romance, young adult, chick lit, and mystery. Since the agent doesn't see as many mysteries, the writer feels they won't have to compete against too many other mystery submissions.

If you don't believe your mystery is good enough to be accepted by the best agents for published mystery writers, you now know what to do. Print your work, stand up with a pencil in hand, and read your work out loud. Repeat until everything is smooth, natural, clear, and tells a good story.

...and now back to the bald one: Thanks, James.

P.S. See James' Blog (Technology is Broken -- How to fix IT in your Business.)
P.S.S. You might enjoy reading some of James' humor in the book Poser's Guide to the Internet and World Wide Web.

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