The editor/author relationship is a complicated mix of tutor/learner, mentor/mentored, confidants, lab partners, and group therapy … with the added fillip that one of us gets paid. That last bit means your manuscript should be as ready as you can make it before you hire a professional editor or seek representation.
One way to do this is to take a creative writing class, although that will also involve payment. But here are some low-cost options for getting real help with your writing:
• Participate in a writers’ group.
• Connect with a critique group and/or partner.
• Look for a mentor.
• Cultivate beta readers.
They’re all useful, all a little different.
Get your feet wet with a writers’ group. This is a collection of like-minded individuals with an interest in the craft of writing who meet regularly, maybe once a month. Let’s face it—you’re in front of your computer writing most of the time. You need to get out, meet other authors, commiserate … and network. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner says,
Don’t underestimate the potential value of knowing other writers … most of my new clients come with referrals or recommendations. Often, they have a terrific blog to which others have directed my attention. Or maybe they’re in a writers’ group with someone who knows me. (Emphasis mine.)
(A writers’ group is a great place to connect with a writing mentor, too, by the way. You can hire a “mentor”—although I would call this service coaching—but I’m talking about someone more experienced than you who is willing to chat on occasion. Like someone you might meet in a writers’ group.)
The group should pursue and share knowledge—about writing and the business of writing—in a variety of ways: reading and discussing pertinent articles, say, or inviting speakers. It should also be a forum to encourage one another through brainstorming plot points, offering advice, and so on (agent Chip MacGregor has some suggestions). Sometimes work is critiqued, but since a group can have many members and attendance can be fluid, critiquing isn’t the first focus—although smaller critique groups might be formed from members of the writers’ group.
A critique group (or partner) is a smaller, more intimate thing, obviously, with the focus being to critique each other’s works-in-progress, a reciprocal arrangement by which all parties read all the work. You are paying “in kind” because you’ll be reading their material as they read yours. As literary agent Mary Keeley says, “Your manuscript needs to be seen by fresh eyes.” Other working writers are the types of eyes you’re looking for. This is serious business, so trust, thoughtfulness, and humility are the watchwords here.
With a critique group, everyone has to pull his or her weight. Give it plenty of time to fairly judge its effectiveness, but if you feel the group isn’t working for you, find another. It’s like anything else that involves being in relationship: you have to find the right fit. When it does fit, it’s magic.
Next we’ll discuss beta readers. Stay tuned!
UPDATE: There’s more information on this here.
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