Sunday, August 16, 2009

Critique Groups

I've been enjoying a recent post exchange within my online historical critique group bemoaning the differences between 'real live' groups and 'virtual' ones. Sadly, in most experiences shared, the face-to-face groups don't get a check-mark in the welcoming, friendly, and helpful columns. On line, we all seem to be on even ground, respectful, glad to have new members, and even remember the rules of etiquette that apply.

Now don't scold me because you happen to belong to a live group that walks on water and has helped you beyond belief. I know they exist, but some of us haven't been fortunate enough to find one fitting that description. Sadly, there is a distinct division between big and small publishers that transfers over to the worth of the author... at least in the opinion of some. I experienced that uncomfortable feeling myself.

I was invited by a "BIG" author and her friend to join them in forming a local writer's group. I agreed, with enthusiasm, thinking what a wonderful way to make new friends with a common interest. In retrospect, I wish I had declined. Our first meeting for lunch went well because we were getting to know one another. But as time passed, it became evident from the friend that "the author" was in charge. Just as well, because I never could have managed to scale the pedestal that author sat on...placed there by her friend who looked at her with eyes filled with awe and wonder. But, I was still excited about the prospect.

The first meeting of the group had a good turnout for a first attempt. I believe there were six or seven us there. When we went around the room and introduced ourselves, I gave my name and explained I was published by several Internet houses. The "big" author had the nerve to say..."What's Internet publishing. I never heard of such a thing. Is that self-published?" Okay...where has she been? In outer space? Didn't she listen to a thing I said at lunch about my credentials? That was humiliating, but I explained the hoops I'd jumped through to the newbies and let it pass.

During the meeting, it was decided we needed a yahoo group where we could download the critiques the week prior to the meeting. Miss Big and her friend claimed no knowledge of how to set one up, so I volunteered to do it. It's not a big thing, but it does require time and effort.

When the loop was set up, I sent a collective email to the group, alerting them and giving them the address. In return, a public message came from you-know-who, informing me that my services as moderator would not be required because she would be assuming that position...based on her reputation, I'm guessing.

She asked me to remove myself from the moderating list and give ONLY her access to make changes, etc. I tried several ways to change the tone in that email, because I'm a "benefit of the doubt" kinda gal, but no matter how I read it...condescending came to mind.

I think there was a thank you for my effort somewhere in the message, but with all her weight heaving and demeaning attitude, it got lost. I asked myself, "Do you really need this humiliation?" So, I removed my moderating privileges, my name, and I made up some lame excuse why I could no longer participate.

I can only imagine what kind of reception my critiques would have received. I wish I'd had the guts to tell her why I was leaving. that would have been the proper thing to do. People can't fix something if they don't know it's many times have I said that? But I've always avoided confrontation in my life. It's one of the hardest things for me. I'm working on standing up for myself, but taking baby steps. COWARD...yep, and yellow isn't my favorite color.

Even with the missing emotion and tone from written posts, I've never been insulted by anyone from my on-line group... or made to feel less talented or devalued in any way. I've only received encouragement that made me want to keep plugging along, even when snotty people like Miss Big made me want to fold it all up and walk away.

I highly recommend critique groups. Despite being confusing at times because you receive conflicting have to be wise enough to glean the good from the bad and still maintain your own voice. Critiquing is all about learning, and you can't get that type of experience anywhere else... for free.

I've learned and grown with the help of my critique buddies, and I wouldn't trade their friendships for anything. There are never enough eyes to read a manuscript and find all the errors, but a critique group is a great starting place. And, if you are in a face-to-face one and love it, good for you.

Thanks to for posting the picture I used to yahoo clipart. Hope they don't mind that I've borrowed it to make a point.


Chris Redding said...

So sorry you had such an experience Ginger.
I have been blessed with two very great critique groups along the way. They were invaluable to me.
Oh and the "author" wouldn't have listened to what you said anyway ifyou told her why you were leaving.

Phyllis Campbell said...

Oh, that just sucks. I have never been in a live crit group. Didn't have the time. But I can see why a bigger author would do / say that. They really don't think we are published authors, and its frustating. Because we ARE! Sure, they get paid better...but that is still no reason to treat you like a nobody.

Sorry you went through this.


Anita Davison said...

Isn't it odd how how people give themselves airs and graces, yet go out of their way to diminish others. I can only conclude they are threatened by up and coming talent so attempt to stifle it at birth.
We all have to start somewhere, and although the craft can be learned, there has to be a certain talent, a love of words, and that 'voice' which is all important.

Ciara Gold said...

Jealousy is never a pretty creature and it sounds like this author had plenty of that animal in her blood. I have been blessed with "wonderful" crit partners from the get-go and have been fortunate not to have ever experienced this type of snobbery. Although, I did encounter one or two individuals in the group who were stubborn to a fault when accepting constructive criticism and I've encountered one or two whose perspective of my work was way off mark to the point they wanted to rewrite the whole thing. I got to the point where I thanked them profusely for their insight and never even applied any of the comments. You do need to be confident enough to know what is good advice for your writing and what isn't.

unwriter said...

Do you have the URL of that online group you created? Sounds like I could have some fun at her expense.

BTW, who is that singing summertime blues? I don't recognize the face.

Kat Duarte said...

Sounds like you definitely found a group that wasn't a good fit! Did it ever really get off the ground? Or did Ms. Big scare all the worthy writers away?

I've been in several groups to date with mixed results. The first one started out well, but got so large it there was just enough time for each person to read his or her latest installment of work out loud and very little written feedback on the copies handed around.

I was invited to another group fromed by some authors from the first, but declined when the mission was stated as "ripping each others work apart"/tough love. That wasn't for me at all, even though quite a few of the writers were those whose work I admired.

Recently I got into a great group with like minded writers who really concentrate on helping each other. The two leaders take into account each writer's level of experience and the intended market for the work. Now that's heaven in a critique group! (Unfortunately, I rarely have time these days to attend.)

I'd say it's just hit or miss finding the right group. And that the Ms. or Mr. Bigs out there aren't necessarily the best qualified to run a group. Just because you happen to be a good write doesn't mean you have the skill to be a good leader or mentor.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Ginger,
Sorry about your bad experiences with "Miss Big" sounds like she was just using your expertise to set up her yahoo group. Unfortuantely, there is a "them and us" mentality. You often see it at conferences,the invsible line, so to speak, between the e-pub authors and those with the big name publishers.I think the secret with critique partners is to have some one you feel comfortable with.
Well thgis is my humble opinion for what it is worth.

Lillie Ammann said...

I haven't been in a critique group in years, but I was blessed with a wonderful one before I was published. I belonged to RWA in those days, and I asked at a meeting of our local chapter if anyone wanted to form a critique group. Three lovely ladies volunteered, and we were just a perfect fit. We were all unpublished at the time. We wrote in different genres but liked what each other wrote, and we all had different strengths.

Then a published author asked to join the group, and the experience was similar to yours. She was very condescending to the rest of us. After all, she was published and we weren't.

It was our group, so we asked her to leave. A few years later, she invited me to join an yahoo group she was starting. She apologized for her actions—she really thought she was helping us, but after we asked her to leave, she realized how condescending she had been. We later became friends. But she and I would probably never be a good fit in a critique group. :-)

Lillie Ammann
A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

Molly Daniels said...

Sorry you had to go through this, honey. Sometimes the DIVAS think they know it all and aren't willing to listen to new ideas.

May I never forget the effort it took to get where I am! Sometimes multi-pubbed authors need to remember their struggles.

Clare London said...

Sadly, Ginger, that's the experience I've found in many "real life" situations. You might think that being face to face would make people *more* tolerant and polite towards other people's views and talents, but funnily enough I find the opposite. One or two people become dominant and the others back off, either from offense or just to keep their sanity, like you did! LOL

Good for you for at least trying them out - and I bet that Yahoo Group collapses in chaos *lol*. I know netlife has its problems - it *is* very difficult to express all the nuances of face-to-face conversation in a text message - but I reckon it's one of the advantages of the e-pubbing world, it's a great leveller and we can make some excellent friends and helpmates if we open ourselves to the opportunity.

Cheryl Wright said...

I'm obviously very lucky because I've been a member of a terrific 'live' group for about ten years.

We did have some issues at one point - with a few nasty people in the group - but they've now left (kicked out more like it!) and will never be allowed in again.

We enjoy a wonderfully warm and friendly group - all romance authors - who critique and help each other all the time.

Re the experience you suffered Ginger, I would have walked away sooner. And I would have put Ms Big back in her place.

These are the sorts of writers that create the 'them and us' scenario. Not unlike what the RWAm has been doing over the last few years. (exluding epublished authors because they're not 'real' publishers.) It's the sole reason I refuse to join that association.

I don't care if you're self-published, epublished or published via a big NY publisher. Published is published.

Stick that in your sock and eat it Ms Big!

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