Monday, January 23, 2012

Could A Sci-Fi Romance Critique Group Give Writers An Edge?



Back in June 2010, blogger Laurie A. Green started a discussion around the idea of a science fiction romance critique group. I was reminded of her effort when an SFR writer recently contacted me and expressed interest in joining just such a group. Upon revisiting the thread, I couldn't tell if any active ones had evolved from it.

My thought is that a critique group could certainly be an effective strategy in the effort to help more sci-fi romance authors hone their craft and thus improve chances of publication. It’s also a great way to network. But is there a need for one?

And if there is a need, how strong is the sentiment?

One advantage of forming a critique group within the SFR community as opposed to joining established groups such as Critique Circle is that authors of SFR are more familiar with the subgenre. (Plus, CC excludes certain things such as explicit sex and gore, which may limit options for quite a few of us).

Another thought occurred to me: If we are going to set one up, it seems as though we’d actually need multiple kinds. Different writers have different needs. Some would only want to exchange completed manuscripts. Others crave feedback on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Then there is the issue of content. Some people will read anything while others have certain preferences. There’s also the consideration that certain content may be triggers for some members (i.e., graphic violence) and that should be respected.

How might we break down the groups? Here’s one rough idea:

* Two for erotic SFR, divided into one group for completed manuscript exchanges and a second for Works In Progress/chapter-by-chapter/queries/synopses

* Two for non-erotic SFR, divided into one group for completed manuscript exchanges and a second for Works In Progress/chapter-by-chapter/queries/synopses

What about general guidelines? Should members be responsible for tagging mature content or other elements when submitting their work for a critique? Should there be deadlines for returning critiques, say, bi-weekly or monthly? Is it easier to establish groups for just “big picture” critiques (e.g., plot, characterization, pacing)?

Another idea: Instead of groups, would it be helpful to facilitate pairings? Maybe the idea of forming groups is too unwieldy. Perhaps there are enough writers around to sort ourselves into pairs.

How about this: What if, instead of an ongoing group or set of groups, interested writers pooled together (say, in a Yahoo group) and exchanged work at certain points and for a certain length of time throughout the year? It could be organized on a quarterly or six month basis, with a month allowed for submitting and completing critiques. 

So we may not get every project of ours critiqued, but chances are that we’d have at least one manuscript or chapter to submit during the exchange period. And we would make sure that every exchange is equitable in terms of length and that everyone gets a critique. Because let’s face it, with our busy schedules, it’s daunting to think about doing repeated critiques throughout the year. A window of exchanges might be more manageable, at least initially.

Those are just a few ideas. I’ve never been in a formal critique group, so those of you with experience may have more strategic proposals. In the interest of full disclosure, now that I’ve decided to expand my efforts into writing SFR for publication, I’d be interested in doing some exchanges.

So what do you think? Are you interested in joining an SFR critique group(s)? Is there a way to organize critique groups/pairings in a relatively streamlined manner?

11 comments:

  1. I'm afraid I don't know much about organizing a critique group. The only one I've ever been in was as part of my university course where students would post a snippet of their work, and everyone was encouraged to comment on at least two pieces. I'd certainly be interested in the pairing up idea. At the moment, I have two crit partners, but one is just about to have her first baby and wrote straight scifi, and the other is a fantasy/paranormal romance author, so it would be good for me to exchange work with another sfr author. I'm not keen on yahoo chat groups - I had to sign up to three with my publisher, and the amount of spam we get and the trouble I have signing in often puts me off looking. What about a forum like phpBB?

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  2. I've worked with several online critique groups with positive results. Only one group I tried did not work so well. I would be VERY interested in joining a Sci-Fi-oriented critique group but, sadly, my lack of organizational skills means I wouldn't be very good at leading one.

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  3. I'm not a huge fan of Yahoo myself, though I'm in at least a dozen loops. I was involved with one Yahoo crit loop but found the posting of files to the group too time consuming--either to submit or to critique.

    Another option might be a closed blog (meaning only blog authors can access the blog via password) where passages could be added and critiques offered in comments.

    Much depends on if members want one-on-one feedback or don't mind opening their work up to a group crit--as in comments on the closed blog.

    Maybe SFR Brigade can best serve as a catalyst to help match up compatible critique partners. If there's interest, I can start a new thread on the web site forum.

    Critique Circle is also a great venue for critiques, and several members are active on CC. Private queues can be set up for erotica content, etc. that's generally not accepted in the public queues, but you would have to upgrade from a free account in order to be involved in a many-to-many queue with multiple participants.

    My two cents. :)

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  4. I'm a huge advocate of genre specific critique groups. Pairings are good, but I also like to get several different perspectives on a critique when possible. When you have three other writers pointing out the same problem, odds are it's pretty important to address and not simply one person's preference.

    In the past, I've worked with sub-genre specific groups submitting several pages, then getting together once a month for a critique. Everyone who brought something was expected to critique as well. No free rides. With full-length MS's you may want to allow more time for critique.

    These groups were usually no more than five writers, which made for pretty manageable work load.

    I like the idea of having two groups, one with graphic sex and violence and one without, as well as two sub groups of full MS versus shorter work.

    In the past, I've worked with Google Docs which allows you to share files and allow notes and comments among those who have the link. It's free to access. Another possibility would be to send RTF files via e-mail.

    I'd give my port nacelle to find a good critique group, so if this gets up and going, count me in!

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  5. Critique groups don't work that well for me and my writing process, though I know many authors that swear by critique groups. Peer groups can be a force for good for any genre of authors.

    What works for me are beta readers. I have some trusted peers who read for me, usually after I have a solid draft and need feedback then. But that's a big commitment for a group. Those kind of relationships are built over time, usually anyway.

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  6. This is really good input, thank you, everyone!

    @Laurie That closed blog idea sound great for chapters/snippets. Then everyone could get a turn. It also sounds relatively painless to set up, LOL!

    re: "sign up sheet" on the forum: I like that idea, too, especially for those interested in beta reads of full manuscripts.

    Let's see if anyone else drops by this post and then we can evaluate if there's a strong need for it.

    JC said: "no free rides"

    Definitely. That's something everyone needs to be clear on from the beginning.

    Even if just a few writers hook up as a result of this post, it'll be worth it!

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  7. It might be better to have more of a critique match-maker service, rather than a "group." Critiquing is useful, but I find it is best when you can track down an author with similar tastes and sensibilities, and form a working relationship of sorts. Two authors reading each other's stuff. Otherwise, you end up with chapters being posted without context, and everybody being a little lost.

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  8. I like JC's idea of no free rides, and like Laurie I've never gotten the hang of Yahoo groups (terrible at doing anything with them).

    A closed blog for snippets, excerpts, ect could work, although I wouldn't want to crit anything very long on a blog post. Match-making for critique partners would be the easiest thing to set up for right now. Setting up an internet-based critique group is beyond my skill level (like Laurie I'm also on CC).

    Maybe we could start a Crit Partner Wanted ad forum on the Brigade page? Put up a quick blurb on what the project is, what stage it is, what heat level, and what kind of critique you're looking for? That way betas could browse and pick out projects that fit their schedule and interests?

    I'm not sure how you would make sure no one abuses the system if we did that, but hopefully friendships and partnerships would develop to the point where everyone was getting what they needed.

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  9. This blog has a pretty good discussion of the pros and cons of crit groups:

    http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/can-critique-groups-do-more-harm-than-good/

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  10. Seems we are headed in a critique partner matchmaking direction. Sounds good to me, and also very manageable.

    @Laurie Maybe we can put our heads together for this project sometime between now and this coming Monday?

    @Pauline Thanks for that link. The article made a great point about critiquing pages vs. completed manuscript. A good eye-opener, indeed.

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  11. Hello all, any further action on this? And Heather, am I the one who contacted you? lol, I meant to if not! I've got a local crit group and get so much out of it but I'm the only SFR writer. Would love to get a SFR group started!

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