Critique Groups, Conferences, Contests

EvaluationIn many respects, writing a book is only a beginning. The next big question is, will anyone read it? The only way to be sure is to get feedback–not from those who dearly love you like your husband or your mother.

In fact, you need readers who not only can tell you if they liked the story or connected with the character or had to resist the temptation to skim a few pages, you need to receive feedback from someone who understands writing well enough to tell you why. Why did your story succeeded or fail, why are readers connecting or are not with your character, or why are there boring stretches in the middle.

There are a number of ways to receive good feedback. One of the best is to join a critique group. Some writing organizations facilitate online groups, putting together those who work in the same genre.

In many cities there are established in-person writing groups that provide the opportunity for critiques. Organizations such as the Romance Writers of America (RWA) or the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have chapters throughout the country. Some areas have independent writing clubs, and of course there’s always the option of starting your own group. If you’d like helpful advice about how to start a group, I suggest The Complete Guide To Writers Groups That Work by B. J. Taylor.

The advantage of a critique group is that you have unbiased people who have some knowledge of writing who read your work and give you their reaction. Of course some critiquers may be more helpful than others, based on experience both as a writer and as an evaluator.

Least helpful is the person who wants to rewrite your work as they would have written it. A close second is the person who only says how much they love your work. Neither of those help you to sharpen your skills.

Critique groups may lead you to a critique partner, who may become your most valuable asset. This is the person who “gets” what you’re trying to do, who has a level of proficiency that will help you to improve, and who communicates clearly.

Writing conferences provide another way for you to improve your craft. First there are workshops that provide instruction. Some have critique classes. Many provide a critique service, either paid by an additional fee or covered by the conference tuition. These critiques give you feedback from a professional in the writing industry and are invaluable. True, this is only one person’s opinion, but it is unbiased and the view of someone who sees many other manuscripts, good and bad, so they a knowledgeable point of reference with which to compare your work.

There are hundreds of writing conferences. Wikipedia has compiled a partial list, but a Google search will uncover a many more. The key is to refine the search based on genre and location. Some of the more well known conferences include the Writer’s Digest (East and West), SCBWI (LA and New York, as well as smaller local gatherings), and RWA. Christian writers’ conferences include Mount Hermon, Colorado Christian Writers, Writing for the Soul, Oregon Christian Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and Blue Ridge.

Many writing organizations and some online sites conduct writing contests, and that’s another great way to get feedback on your writing, whether over the first 250 words, the first 15 pages, or the entire manuscript. Some contests come with monetary prizes, others with the promise that your work will receive feedback from a writing professional.

Online contests may be public, allowing other writers to give their feedback as well. One such contest is held by Miss Snark’s First Victim.

Some fiction contests, such as the various Writer’s Digest contests, are for shorter works while others are for novel beginnings. Some have non-fiction categories. Entry fees for these vary.

I suggest you do an online search for contests in your genre, then compare entry fees, list of judges, and awards to help determine with is most suited to your needs. Having an agent or editor read your work is a great reward in itself, but contests also allow you to measure your progress against other writers. And of course if you receive judges sheets from professionals, you have specific areas you know you can work on.

Feedback. It’s invaluable to a writer. When unbiased readers, especially those who understand the ins and outs of writing, give us their reaction to our work in progress, we can only get better as we listen and learn.

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