New writers often ask about the secret to being a successful author, the steps needed to get their book out in the wild. They want the shortcut, the one piece of infallible advice that if they follow religiously will guarantee an agent and a book deal. Well, dear reader, there isn’t such secret, but the nearest thing I can offer is this—GET THEE SOME CRITIQUE PARTNERS.
“But Amy,” you ask. “Where do I find one? Is there a CP ‘R US?”
To that I say, yes, yes there is. There are a few sites and this blog post has a nice list to get you started. Once you meet a few potential CPs, you’re going to try them out – and yes, I mean like an audition (though you aren’t going to say that to the potential CPs, because that’s kind of a jerky thing to say). See, the best CPs can read your writing, even at the early stages and see the potential because they know what you can do, but also see where you’re going to have problems. And then, this is the key – then they tell you about it. Honestly. Maybe even a little brutally if they know you can handle it.
Not everyone is going to make a good CP, and that’s why it’s important to audition different people — to get an idea of the kind of feedback they can offer. And the best CPs don’t necessarily write in the same genre as you, so don’t limit yourself. You’re looking for people who can tell you what works, what doesn’t, and what will bring your writing to the next level. Sure, it’s nice to have a few people that will always tell you how wonderful your writing is, but you need the honesty.
For me, my best first reader is my husband. Granted, this backfires sometimes, like when we’re sitting down for dinner and he starts listing all the things that aren’t working in the latest chapter he read. It can feel a bit like getting hit by an elephant while walking on a country road in Nebraska. Even with these little snafus, I can count on him to always be honest and I know his feedback comes from a place of kindness and respect. He’s my number one fan and knows how well I can write, so he pushes me.
After my husband are my good writing friends: Mel, Mark, Carla, and Sarah to name a few. These are the folks who I can hammer out story ideas, talk writing mechanics, and count on to read my chapters. I met every single one via the internet and I can’t imagine writing a book without them.
So, dear reader, go forth and find your CPs. They are your best chance in this crazy publishing world.