Standing on My Soap Box

I’m getting on my soap box here. This topic has gnawed at me for a long time.
Back when I was a member of a group of romance writers that group had a critique group. It was a small group—both the main group and those who were members of the monthly critique group. Because of this, when I joined that romance writers group, they had already critiqued one another’s works and needed fresh blood—err, sorry, reading material.

I was asked if I would be interested in joining the critique group and if I was interested, could I bring a completed manuscript for the five members to the next meeting. I said I was interested and of course I could bring five copies of the manuscript. (Yeah, this was a few years ago.)
When the group got together for the critique of my manuscript, three members didn’t show up, but sent the MS back with friends and without a critique. One member said what I wrote wasn’t even a romance, and the other member said she couldn’t get through the whole MS. Needless to say, it was a short meeting.
I collected up the five copies of the MS, took the MS from the next person in the sights of the firing squad, and drove the two hours home. A week later, I opened up the printed MS and started to read. Head hopping, passive voice, no historical accuracy, a total lack of knowledge of horses and how to tack them up…all that being said, the story premise had quite a bit of potential and promise. I wrote a lot of smiley faces in the margins with the things that were good, made suggestions to change the problems, and three weeks later, went back to the next critique session.
All five other members were there and the four not being critiqued were just raving about what a wonderful story this author had written. I kept my mouth shut, but I was wondering if we had read the same MS. As I said, the story had potential but it had a lot of problems. At the end of that critique session, I gave my marked up copy of the MS back to the author and left.
A week later, at the regular meeting of the romance writers group, the program was changed to talk about how NOT to do a critique. If a suggestion is made to correct a problem, be sure to praise something else the author has done. Don’t be a negative Nellie. And, then, it was said that at the last critique meeting, one author had totally obliterated the author being critiqued, had returned an MS chock full of red ink, and crushed that author and that just wasn’t how things were done and if a new member was uncertain of how to do a critique, perhaps that new member should sit in a few sessions before critiquing. I felt as if a spotlight were shining on me because I was the ONLY new member in that romance writers group and critique group in over a year.

Seriously? I made it a point to note the things that were working, the things that I liked, the manner the author had in turning a phrase.
Needless to say, I didn’t go back to that group. I realized after that meeting that what this group was wasn’t a group of people trying to help each other become better writers, but a group for patting one another on the back and offering useless praise.
Imagine my surprise when six months later, I received a post card from the author I had critiqued announcing the publication of her first romance novel. And, then I did a web search for her publisher. It was self-published. Her publisher was a vanity press. Self-published in a time when that phrase meant vanity press and received zero respect.
And, all this brings me to our current state of publication and the world of self-publishing. For every single success story in the world of self-publishing, there are thousands of writers who continue to give the term self-published a bad name. Writers like that writer in that romance writers group who are so eager (desperate) to see their name printed on the cover of a book, so enamored with their own words that they cannot see their foibles.
To these people, I want to say a few things. First of all—LEARN THE BASICS! Learn how to avoid head-hopping. Do your damnedest to avoid passive voice. Avoid clichés. A story written almost entirely in dialogue is fine, if you’re writing a movie script (sorry, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves!).
Secondly—HIRE A FREAKIN’ EDITOR! For the love of all that’s holy, hire an editor. At the least, ask a friend with more than rudimentary English skills to read your MS and find the grammatical and mechanical errors so you can fix them before you upload that novel. Even Microsoft Word has built in spell check and grammar check. Not that I would ever rely totally on Word to make any MS better, but running spell check and grammar check is a start, for heaven’s sake.
Lastly—if you’ve posted this masterpiece of yours on Amazon and you’re getting creamed by reviewers and they all have the same complain—you might want to think about what they’re saying and try to fix the problem. Don’t blast them on your Facebook page or your blog. Those people took the time to buy your novel (unless it’s one of those forever free deals and then I’m of the opinion that the reader got what he/she paid for), took the time to read it and post a review. Three or more reviews hammering you for grammatical errors might be a hint you need that editor I said you needed to hire.
Let the flames begin.
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