UNPUBLISHED WRITERS: CRITIQUE PARTNERS VS. PAYING AN EDITOR PART II

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So Barbara Longley and I decided to go a second round on our discussion whether authors should work with editors or critique groups. As you might remember I support going with an editor. My long winded and talented colleague, Barbara Longley is a huge support of critique groups.

Honestly I think Barb wanted to go a second round because she couldn’t handle that I was so correct in that first post!

So here we go….round two….. I’ve got one gloves raised high to protect my face and the other lower……. Barb can’t be trusted to spar cleanly!

KEVIN: I have a lot to say, Barb? Really….Really? You just tripled my word count!

I’m not going to match you though. I don’t feel like I must. Why?…… Because I believe in myself. I don’t need affirmation that I can write. Especially from people who are of equal or lesser positions than me in this publishing world. O wait…..

Before I forget though I should share the rules of this little spat Barb and I are having.(In my world rules are good.) I’ve laid out my initial position (critique groups are a waste of resources) Then Barb responds. Clearly we don’t agree on this point so further bickering is futile. That piece of the discussion is over and we will throw it at you, the readers, to give us your thoughts.

Then Barb will lay out a second reason of why she supports the use of critique groups.

Of course Barb has broken the rules and laid out two initial positions……..

Editors are writer’s lap dogs. Editors do whatever the writer wants to please him/ her.

Critique groups provide valuable feedback and insight to one’s book.

Wow! Lap dogs huh, Barb. Editors will tell me whatever I want to hear because I am paying them? It is clear to me that you have never met my editor. The dude didn’t say a kind word to me for over five months.

He initially read my novel and then provided me four pages of editorial notes. He gave me four larger tenants and three smaller to fix. He told me and I quote, “There are a lot of things really working for this novel. But you aren’t paying me to tell you what works. So let’s talk about what doesn’t.”

Every phone call, every email and every time he put his nose in my book it became a Hanrahan beat down session. At times I loathed talking with him because I knew what was about to happen.

At one point I said to my wife, “I’m not even sure if this guy sees anything good about the book because all he does is point out flaws.”

I almost had a breakdown when he told me my heroine’s story line needed to be completely reworked. That I wasn’t getting to the core of what she brought to the book. My heroine in Paws on the Ground, Megan Jayburn, is the healer of the novel. She is a veterinarian technician who cares for the military working dogs. She is a nurturing dog whisperer who reveals her inner “badass” when backed into a corner.

Anyway, my editor told me to rework and add content to the first 150 pages of her storyline.  Guess what? It was like a light bulb went off when he told me this. How the heck didn’t I recognize that? Until then her character was not equal in stature to the hero of the novel. Now Megan’s storyline easily rivals the heroes storyline. But I digress……

I finally asked him, “John, do you think this book has legs? I just want to make sure I am not wasting my time. That you think the book has potential.”

He replied, “You already know the answer or you wouldn’t have come to me.”

Then he went right back beating me down. My editor doesn’t give a damn about pleasing me. His only goal is to improve my book.  Why?

His professional reputation is at stake here. He is successful because his authors are successful. We are forever linked. You can’t say that about a critique group. Do they really care about your success or do they care more about their own?

My editor has been in this business for twenty five years. Fifteen of those years were as a book doctor for Penguin. He had edited thousands of novels to include multiple New York Time Best Sellers. You can’t tell me that your critique group’s advice is more valuable than my editor’s. I simply don’t believe it. That is like saying I should listen to a group of business school student rather than Warren Buffett when I am looking for investment advice.

Or so you can better understand let’s talk hair dressers. Do you let your neighbor do your hair or do you go to a professional hairdresser? Why don’t you let your neighbor do your highlights, Barb? I’m sure she will do a great job!

If your book has an issue then my editor has seen it before. If you are stuck somewhere or unsure where to go talk then all I needed was a five minute phone call with my editor. Why? Because my editor knows what he doing.

Working with my editor felt as if I was going through five months of an intensive writing course. My editor is the master and I was the student.

You get what you pay for in the world, Barb. I sought out professional guidance much like you do when it is time for a haircut. Critique groups? Hah! No way……I’ll put my novel in the hands of a professional!

Wowzer! I just rocked that out over a couple cups of coffee. All right…. I am nearing Barb’s word count so I’ll be brief with this next point.

Critique groups lack perspective. My editor read my entire book first. He needed to understand the big picture before he focused on the plot, subplots, structure and prose of the novel. If a critique group reads and provides feedback of one chapter then how can they provide feedback on a novel’s turning points, structure of the scene in regard to its placement in the novel? Your critique group has no clue about the pacing of your novel.

Hay! I just threw down the gauntlet Barb! Please take note….. I was short and concise with my points. Let’s save your long winded conversations for those critique group sessions when you hem and haw about each other’s work….. o… wait…that is a future point I have!

BARBARA: Whatever. (Insert snarky tone there.) Once our novels are done, we CPs read the entire thing through for all those things you mentioned, plus I have a group of Beta readers who read my books for me as a market test. You don’t think I’m “professional guidance” to my CPs?? Snort. You don’t think they’re “professional guidance” to me? You think they “lack perspective?” Snorting again because you do not know what you’re talking about. By the year 2014, I will have seven books out. I get advances, and I have contracts. That makes me “professional.” If I didn’t get how to write and edit, if I had no perspective, I wouldn’t be published at all. You wanted to take a shortcut. Fine. You wanted to spend mega bucks to get to the same place I’ve gotten on my own with my treasured CPs. Fine. Just don’t malign the “professionals” I work with. Most of my CPs from over the years are successfully published authors with multiple titles to their credit. My neighbors aren’t critiquing my work; professional writers are. Also, you learn a lot about writing through critiquing the work of others. A point I forgot to make previously.

I too have a great deal of confidence in my abilities as a story teller and in my CP’s abilities as well. The difference is: I didn’t pay anyone to help me improve my novels or my craft as a writer. I became a professional through dedication, drive and hard work—along with other writers who are equally dedicated. What you described I also go through with my editor/s, only I have a contract and they pay me to go through the process.

I’m not saying paying an editor is entirely a bad thing. I can see the merit, and a lot of self-published writers would surely benefit. But that’s the difference. If you’re planning to self-publish, then yes. You should hire an editor. A writer can save themselves a lot of embarrassment by doing so, because we all need a fresh set of eyes looking at our work before sending it out into the world. But if you’re on the road to getting published, embrace the process, learn with others along the same road. It’s well worth it.

You know what I think the difference is? Some writers just can’t take criticism from other writers. They just can’t. I’ve tried to work with a few writers like that over the years, and they didn’t last. (Nor are they published to date.) They thought they knew better than the rest of us, and were blind, deaf and dumb to what we had to say because of their defensiveness and/or arrogance. Maybe writers like that need to pay someone in order to be open to the criticism. Some authors just can’t work with critique partners, and that’s OK. Whatever works for you. Go pay someone to tell you the same kinds of things I would if you were my CP. I guess the money makes it more legit for you.

Yeah, we’re not going to come to terms over this issue, Kevin. That’s all right. We’re writers on a journey. We have stories to tell, and it’s an intrinsic imperative that we tell them. However we get to the finish line is good, one way or the other. I’ll do it my way; you’ll do it your way.

In Summary:

Well, I’m going to wrap this up because I know Barb would continue to put me through the wringer if I don’t. Don’t you just love her passion and loyalty to her critique groups? It is clear they have helped her immensely. I’m sure they a very special group of talented authors.  Most of my friends look at me like I am insane when I tell them I’ve written a novel and am 1/3 complete with my second.  So yes, I guess I’m a little jealous.

I have no doubt that the passion and eloquent writing of my colleague, Barbara Longley, radiates though her work. If you are interested in reading more about Barbara’s novel, Heart Of The Druid Laird– Carina Press please head to her website. She also has a new trilogy coming through Montlake Publishing beginning with Far From Perfect releasing October 23rd.

Critique groups or an editor?

Has Barbara swayed me?

Nope.

In my editor I trust.

While I certainly see the value of working with other authors there is no doubt that is has to be the “right” group that you vest your time with. Likewise, if you are planning to spend money on a professional editor then you should be selective and land the “right” editor.

When it comes down to it, I think you need to determine what works best for you.

Right you are, Kevin. What do the rest of you think? No matter where you are on your journey, we’d like to hear from you. CP’S ROCK!

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