In episode 9, Melissa and Jeni talk to Denise Williams and Allison Ashley about critique partners.
Listen to the audio podcast here: EPISODE 9 - Critique Partners
Welcome to the Indie Chicks show! We are Melissa Koberlein, an author and professor of publishing and Jeni Chappelle, a freelance novel editor.
Indie Chicks celebrates and supports independent women in publishing. We’re a place for writers at all stages of the publishing process. So, whether you’re on the traditional route to publication or self-publishing, you’ve come to the right place for advice.
On this episode:
We’re talking about critique partners and their relationship
End with an author tip of the week
This week we’re joined by two guests!
After growing up a military brat around the world and across the country, Denise Williams earned a PhD in education. She now lives in Iowa with her husband, son, and two ornery shih-tzus who think they own the house. How to Fail at Flirting is her first novel.
Allison Ashley is an oncology pharmacist and mom of two kids. She hides in the dining room every night after everyone has gone to bed and writes contemporary romance novels when she’s not chatting with Denise on Twitter. She’s an avid coffee drinker and agonizes over the perfect playlist for every book she writes. Her debut novel Perfect Distraction was released in March.
Here's the Q&A:
How did you find each other? What is your CP relationship like?
Allison: We actually met on Twitter through a writing competition. #NaNoWriMo (which stands for National Novel Writing Month) is a yearly event where thousands of writers commit to writing fifty-thousand words in the month of November. The Revise and Resubmit is a Twitter group formed by editors, and they offered a team competition during the 2018 #NaNo event. Each editor had a group of writers, and the team with the highest word count at the end won a free editorial assessment. While we didn’t win, Denise and I were on the same team, and have remained close friends and critique partners ever since. In fact, the group chat thread from that event is still going, and most of us still keep in touch.
Denise: I think our relationship is a perfect blend of support, challenge, and conversations that take place mainly via gifs. I trust Allison implicitly with my messy, partially formed drafts and we regularly bounce ideas off each other about character and plot. I appreciate her as someone who will offer critique, but also someone who help me tell the story to myself.
Could you talk about the genres you write in? Is it important for CPs?
D: We both write contemporary romance. I do think genre matters--in previous CP groups, I’ve worked with people writing in other genres and we were able to share good feedback, but there are nuances to each genre that may not be known or understood by people don’t write/read within it. For example, a friend who writes thrillers told me I should pare back on flirtatious banter because it slowed down the story. In romance, that time for banter can have a different role than in other genres.
A: I completely agree. Each genre has its own unique elements and things readers expect. For example, in addition to the obvious (a central love story) tension and pacing are extremely important in romance. I value Denise’s input because she knows exactly what makes a romance novel stand out both because she writes AND reads romance novels. She’ll point out things that are very specific to a love story, things like “this doesn’t feel earned yet” or “I think he needs to work a little harder.” And if I can be really honest, a good critique relationship requires both of us to read each others’ work, and I don’t really read much outside the romance genre. I wouldn’t feel helpful critiquing a non-romance novel because that’s not what I know, nor is it where my strengths lie.
How do you deal with criticism from your critique partner? I created the ‘fiction flay’ on our episode with Katie Golding about positivity passes. How difficult is it to both deliver and receive criticism?
A: This is a safe place, yes? I’m not great at giving or receiving criticism. However, I do think I’ve gotten better at it. Especially with something like writing, which I’m not formally trained in with a degree or anything, it’s been a little easier for me to tell myself “of course you have room for improvement.” And even if it’s tough to hear sometimes, Denise’s feedback makes my books so much better. It’s also nice that there’s room for error in this aspect of my life. I can write a crappy first draft and know it will get better with each pass and with Denise’s input, and that’s allowed and even expected! Making mistakes isn’t an option in my day job.
D: Allison is the nicer of the two of us! She’s really great at pointing out things she loves as the reads/critiques whereas I usually jump to more critical things. In terms of delivering, I always ask what kind of feedback is wanted on a pass (big picture, character development, line level, etc.). Part of my professional training is receiving criticism, so in some ways, I have my brain tined into taking a deep breath, reading everything, reflecting on it and then acting...sometimes it’s hard to receive critique of your work, but that’s where trust comes in. It’s rarely hard to get criticism from Allison because I know whatever she says, she says with love for me and my work.
What advice do you have for other writers that want to find a CP? Any tips for working with one?
D: I can’t imagine writing without a CP, someone who knows me and knows my work and my style. It’s so incredibly helpful, both in building and polishing the story, but also in keeping your wits about you and your confidence strong in an industry where rejection is the norm. Finding one can be a challenge but the writing community on social media is incredibly welcoming. Joining things like RevPit, participating in NaNoWriMo or getting involved in local writing groups is a great way to meet people. Allison is my ride of die CP, but I have another of other people I critique with and each provides different things. My only other tip is to know what you want from a CP and to tell them.
A: I agree with several of Denise’s points. I couldn’t do this without critique partners. I sort of have ones for different things...one that’s very much an encourager and cheerleader and who helps me believe in myself, one who is particularly helpful at small details, and Denise, who does all of those things but also gives me big picture feedback on things like character arcs and conflict. She’s not afraid to tell me when things don’t work (once she gave me this comment: “This killed the banter in the water. DEAD SHARK.”), and she was right! I also agree with having critique partners who know you and know your style, and what kinds of things are important to you. There are things I’d never suggest Denise add to a scene because I know it’s not her style, and vice versa. We joke about our ‘brands’ and how different they are, but we know each others’ quite well. I’ve found all of mine through writing courses, writing conferences, and on Twitter.
Tip of the week: Working with a CP is a little like dating. It can take some trial and error to find the right person, and then it takes some time to figure out how you work together. Don’t give up, though, because having that relationship can make a huge difference not only in the technical side of writing but also because you’ll have someone to go through the process with you.
Thanks for joining us. You can find Denise on Instagram and Twitter @NicWillWrites and on Facebook @AuthorDeniseWilliams. Her website is www.DeniseWilliamsWrites.com. You can find Allison at @AllisonAuthor on Twitter, @authorallisonashley on both IG and Facebook. I also have a rarely updated website authorallisonashley.com
On our next podcast, we are talking with Kriti Khare about book blogging. We will also have another Tip of the Week. And don’t forget where to find us! Find our podcast at indiechicks.net or follow us on Spotify or subscribe to Indie Chicks on Apple Podcasts. We also have the Indie Chicks channel on YouTube where you can subscribe. You can follow us on Twitter @Indie_Chicks or Facebook.com/TheIndieChicks.
So, remember, we’re all part of a publishing community, be kind and review your fellow authors’ books! Thanks for joining us!
Indie Chicks out.