by Maria Geraci
I will never forget the first critique I received as a writer. And I use the term writer loosely, because honestly, that first manuscript was pretty awful. But like thousands of people before me I "woke" up one day and decided to write a book. Knowing almost nothing about how to write a novel, I powered up the family computer and began hitting the keys. Six months later, I had a manuscript. Or rather, I had a first draft. A really dirty, rough draft that I loved almost as much as I loved my 3 children. Every word of that novel was born from my blood sweat and tears. Naturally, everyone else was going to love it too.
Okay, stop laughing.
Soon after I finished that manuscript I joined Romance Writers of America and was lucky enough to get into a fabulous online critique group. Our little group was composed of unpublished writers like myself, with big New York dreams and lots of enthusiasm. I put up the first chapter of my novel and waited while my new online pals were wowed by my brilliance. They were wowed, all right. Mostly by the number of exclamation points I could use in one page. I think I downed an entire bottle of wine while listening to Nora Jones that night. How could I have been so delusional? How can I not have known how much I sucked?
I was probably a little hard on myself, but the truth was, they were right. Not that I sucked. But my writing needed a lot of improvement. So I listened to my crit group (most of them, anyway) and began the long hard process of learning how to write. Which, in case you haven't figured it out by now, means writing and writing and writing. And reading. And learning. And rewriting. It's endless. And it gets harder with every book.
Fast forward a few years.
Eventually, I landed an agent and a book deal and I gained the ultimate crit partner. An Editor. My crit partners (by that time they had dwindled down to 2 really fab fellow authors) were as busy as I was and they had editors too. I still loved getting feedback from them but I had an editor to please and a much better sense of what did and didn't work for me.
I've been writing for over ten years now and I have 1 crit partner (another fellow author) and several beta readers. I love the brainstorming and the professional camaraderie between my crit partner and I. I think she's pretty fabulous and well, I'm pretty sure she thinks the same about me ;) but I have to admit I do love those beta readers. I've seen different definitions for beta readers, but mine are simply friends (who I trust to tell me mainly the truth) who enjoy reading the kinds of stories I write. I can depend on them to tell me whether a story is working, whether or not they like a character and their overall opinion on the book. In other words, they read my manuscript like a future potential reader as opposed to my crit partner who reads it like a potential editor or copy editor. Both crit partner and beta reader are essential to helping me produce the kind of work I want to get out there.
What about you? Beta reader? Crit partner? Both? or Lone wolf?