Monday, March 26, 2012

Why I think it helps to have both critique groups and critique partners

Most of us either have critique partners, or plan to find some when we're ready. But it doesn't seem like nearly as many of us have a critique group. And I swear they are every bit as valuable as CPs! Maybe even more so. And I think it's so important to have both.

Wait... What? Both? Seriously? Why?!

I'm glad you asked. :)

But first, let's make sure we're on the same page. By "Critique Groups," I mean the people you send your book to chapter by chapter. One section at a time. (Also called Alpha Readers.) By "Critique Partners," I mean the people you send the entire book to at once. (Also called Beta Readers.)

So why do you want both? Because they each give you different things.

A critique group can help you with:
  • Point out when you have redundancies.
  • Highlight awkward sentences.
  • Show when a character's voice is off-- even if it's only with a single word or phrase.
  • A more close-up scrutiny of everything. (A CP isn't likely to put in 30 comments a chapter when they are looking at the entire book at once. Someone looking at just one chapter likely will.)
A critique partner can help you with:
  • Pacing
  • Flow
  • Consistency
By the same token, getting help with those pacing, flow, and consistency things is vitally important, too! Those are things that someone reading your book chapter by chapter isn't going to be able to help with. Plus, all those changes you made after Alpha Readers suggested them need to be tested to see if they worked, right? Yep. You can't live without Beta Readers, either.

Do you have to have a group do the chapter-by-chapter part? Of course not! You can send your ms one chapter at a time to just one person if you want.

Is it better to have a group? I think so. There have been so many times when one person mentions something they think might be an issue, but you wonder just how much of an issue it is. It's nice to be able to ask the others if it was an issue for them (or if you're not meeting together, see if any of the others mentioned it in their notes).

Do you have alpha readers? If so, do you meet as a group? If not, is it because you'd rather not have them, or haven't found them yet?

45 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

I have a small critique group that's been with me for a while, but I also keep individual CPs because if I rewrite something, I don't trust my regular CPs to be objective enough. I want fresh eyes.

For books I self-publish, I also hire an editor.

Critiques and editing are two things where I never shortcuts.

Valerie Hartman said...

So far I have only workshopped small pieces, which functions as a cross between groups and partners. In the quest for conciseness and clarity, nothing provides faster results than someone else commenting on your work. They have a way of finding the flaws and allowing the piece to grow.

Good criticism is the healthiest way to achieve excellence and learn with each $@&&!%# revision.

Red Boot Pearl said...

Both are definitely necessary, thanks for pointing out the benefits!

Adam Heine said...

I do have one alpha reader: my wife. But I use her mainly for encouragement (which I need to finish the draft) and to help warn me when I need a severe plot course correction (which I'd prefer to know BEFORE I finish the draft).

But I like what you said. I might have to try out multiple alpha readers (also alphas who are, in fact, writers).

Faith E. Hough said...

I have both, off and on depending on all our needs--but at least two people per category. I used to have many more alpha readers, but it was hard to keep up!

Patti said...

I have a critique group, but we only meet once a month. I'd like to find some people who want to trade chapters once a week. It would help motivate me.

Talli Roland said...

I did belong to a critique group, but I found it quite hard as not everyone wrote in my genre and they often differed in their opinions. It was a great way for me to learn what advice to listen to!

Eve said...

I actually don't have much of either at the moment. I have 2 friends who I send my new bits to every now and again but one is super busy and never gets back to me (sweetheart but she says she can't wait to read then a month later asks when I'm going to send it *hint I sent it a month before*) and the other is great.

I don't know where to look for a group. I haven't finished my book yet but I would like feedback on what I've got. Be able to I don't know bounce things off them if I'm trying to make a decision. Any ideas on where to find a group?

Angela Cothran said...

I have quite a few critique partners who Alpha read for me, but we don't meet as a group. Maybe we should. I love that idea :)

Jenny S. Morris said...

I do have both and I find it very helpful to have the 2 different types of readers. I recently found a group of ladies (we live all over) and we group email. It is such a supportive environment and we have other people to run things past. I love it.

Cortney Pearson said...

Having a critique group would be awesome, I think!

Z said...

I both rely on my critique group for everything, and loathe them when they point out things that are going to be tricky to fix/change/that might require cutting the whole section. Blech.

My hubby's my current beta reader...but my brother makes a better one since he actually gives feedback, whereas the husband just tells me he's proud of me :)

Donna K. Weaver said...

Interesting differentiation. I have a critique group which serves both of those purposes you mention. I love the people in my group.

Melissa Sarno said...

I have both and both are certainly helpful. As for critique groups, sometimes I worry about getting my work critiqued as I go though because my first drafts are very exploratory (I never outline) I wonder if some comments actually stifle the creativity. But it can also be encouraging too. I couldn't live without critique partners!

Jessie Humphries said...

Wow, this really puts things into perspective for me! Alpha vs. Beta. I'd never really put the distinction together.
But yeah, I wish that I had an awesome critique group in Vegas, but there's no one here! Seriously, do you know of one other writer/blogger who lives in Vegas???

Carrie Butler said...

I had seven critters and three betas for Strength--all of the online variety. Great post, Pegasus! :)

David P. King said...

That's a very good distinction that I never thought of. And you're right. CGs and CPs. Good thing I have both. :)

Delia said...

I don't have alpha readers, can't work that way. I compensate by sending my draft out in chunks to certain betas. Same effect, but they don't have to suffer through my drafting, which is chaotic at best.

inluvwithwords said...

I totally agree, Peggy. I belong to an email critique group and also have an in-person critique partner. I don't know what I'd do without them!

Angela Brown said...

Alpha and Beta readers both bring things of value to the writing experience.

I currently do not have a critique group because I haven't been diligent in seeking/maintaining one. However, I have a few beta readers who've been kind enough to offer up their time to help me with my WiP once revisions are done. I'm both scared and excited by the prospect of sharing the whole work with them. EEK!

prerna pickett said...

I don't have a critique group, though I have tried to find a few fellow writers to help me out, but I've had betas and they are so helpful. I can definitely see the positives of having both.

Demitria said...

Can't agree with you more that you need both!

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Imogen said...

You know, I never actually realised that there was a difference in role between the critique group and critique partners. Time to go hunting methinks.

Richard said...

I'm fortunate to have had both. I agree with everything you say.

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Leigh Covington said...

This is awesome Peggy. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing it right. I think it's true though. Having both is really going to help us succeed. Thanks so much for sharing this today!

Kelley said...

I choose not to have alpha readers. Whether that's the right thing to do or not I'm not sure. But I like it that way.

I like knowing the whole first draft came from my head, whether good or bad. After a number of edits by myself, then I send it to my CPs who catch a whole bunch of things I need to change.

Would there be as much to change if I had alpha readers? Probably not. But that's okay with me.

I can totally see why people prefer it the other way too though. I am an alpha for a few people.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

I have an amazing group right now. Not where I need to be for the partners, but can't wait to work whoever they might be into my life (for some reason I just imagined Snow White singing some day my prince will come...is that strange?)

BECKY said...

Hi Peggy. I LOVE the critique group I am honored to be part of. I have become a much better writer the past couple of years, since attending the weekly get-togethers. I feel badly for writers who don't have, or havne't found yet, a great group to be part of.

LisaAnn said...

I've never thought about the differences between Alphas and Betas quite this way, but this is excellent advice!

jabblog said...

I have neither - I'm writing in the wilderness! Actually, I have called on family members to read my stuff - they're willing to read but they're all busy, so I continue to stumble along on my own;-)

Iain said...

Funnily enough, I was discussing exactly this last night with my writing group. I have some minor amendments to make and then I'm sending my first chapter to them for our next meeting.

Liz Fichera said...

I do not have a C-group but have Beta Readers, though I can totally see the benefits of both.

P.S. Finally saw The Hunger Games! And I agree completely on the lack of music in the movie. All in all, really enjoyed it!

Connie B. Dowell said...

Great points! My critique group decided to assign one another a critique partner to keep us accountable, but the reality is that we are quite dependent on that CP and there are no full group critiques. It is better than our previous system, but I think we may need to be more structured in future, perhaps a critique submission requirement (if someone has not brought anything for the group to critique he or she cannot attend). I'm not in favor of wordcount goals, especially since some of our members work in poetry, but I'd like to see everyone bring something every meeting. Has anyone else tried this type of system? Does it work well?

Shallee said...

I completely agree on the usefulness of both. I've got a great critique group of alpha readers, and they really help whip my story into shape. Right now my book is out with partners-- beta readers-- and I'm getting some incredibly helpful things from them. I couldn't do it without both sets of people!

Julie said...

Ha! I never even thought of the two being separate and distinct. You are so wise!

ladonna watkins said...

Great point. I have both and it has been very helpful.

Charlie Holmberg said...

Our group is getting so big it's ready to burst at the seams! We have 3 readers, who don't submit, jsut read and offer comments. Then we have people who submit weekly or once every 2 weeks for comments (we meet once a week), and then we have two people (myself included) who, instead of sending in a chapter once a week, just submit entire manuscripts to be alpha read, and then after a month-ish we meet as a group to discuss the MS as a whole.

Complicated, much? XD This is a recent change for us, but I like my part of it, because I never re-read my rough drafts, so it's not as useful for me to have people telling me everything wrong with a chapter I don't plan to revise for months (depending on when I finish the book).

/information you probably didn't care that much about

Jay Noel said...

I'm working to find a good critique group. At least find a couple people that I trust. I've had some bad experiences in the past with vain, evil writers.

S.P. Bowers said...

You are so right. Both of them are necessary because they fulfill different purposes. I have both though my group is online. I wouldn't have progressed or grown without them.

Jack said...

Awesome post, Peggy! I have a few CPs and the one thing they noticed with my writing is I'm too much of a Tell vs. Show writer. I'm attributing this attribute to my love of the classics, which back then was all Tell.

On the positive side, I've never have anyone tell me my pacing is off. If anything, I've always been complimented in that respect! Phew! Thank goodness for that! :)

Keep up the great posts! I'm loving your writing! :D

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Super post! I think it is important to have a variety of critiquers. You are right, different people bring different skill sets to your critique.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Excellent distinction, and I think i need some of the second kind! :)

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Hmmm I came here because I thought you had a Walking Dead post in my reader but it's not around here.

Anyway...I watch the Walking Dead.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I haven't really gotten organized yet so just have a handful of people I'll throw a ms at every so often and offer to read theirs. I would love to belong to a group I think.