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Advice for unpublished writers: Critique groups

Part 1 of a series first written in 2003 and updated for 2011. Although I make my living by copyediting (and designing books and websites), often a writer will approach me for services they just don’t need yet. The manuscript has to be ready for copyediting before I can take it on.

Why spend money having your manuscript checked for misplaced apostrophes if whole passages lack oomph? My two cents: get the big problems with plot, pacing, and characterization out of the way before hiring a copyeditor.

Working with other writers in a critique group will hone your writing skills. As you study someone else’s manuscript, you’ll more than likely recognize faults that crop up in your own writing. You’ll learn if readers sympathize with your characters, or if some plot element is simply unbelievable. And — for the cost only of your time — you’ll receive pointers for fixing your manuscript.

When selecting a critique group, look for one that concentrates on the work, not the writer. Criticism should be professional and aimed at helping you improve your manuscript. If none of the critters in that group can point out where your manuscript needs improvement, find a tougher crit group.

Many crit groups meet online. Search Google for critique groups in your genre, or try Forward Motion for Writers or Absolute Write Water Cooler. Writers’ conferences often include a workshop; you can find a list of upcoming conferences at the Shaw Guides and Writer’s Digest websites.

Brush up on style rules online by reading The Standard Deviations of Writing by Roger MacBride Allen or The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. (1918 version).

Advice for unpublished writers

About Sandra K. Williams

Sandra K. Williams loves books, both printed and digital. Since 1996 she has worked with authors and independent publishers, editing and designing books for print. Since 1999 she has built easy-to-use, accessible websites, and she uses her HTML and CSS skills to design reader-friendly e-books.

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