Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Paying For Professional Critiques

Writer from clipart
The following was in response to someone asking about whether or not I felt it was worthwhile to pay for a professional critique of their work. My response…

On a personal note, I'd have a real problem paying someone to critique/edit my work.

Quite frankly, critiquing (just like judging) is a very subjective business. You'll get differing opinions on the same work from so many different people. There's the "newbie" who has just learned something – like POV shifts and why they're not good if done every paragraph – who will focus on that aspect and only that aspect of your work. That particular person will note EVERY SINGLE POV SHIFT whether it's appropriate to the work or not. Or you will get the one who simply must follow each and every rule. Any use of the word “was” will have you smacked for passive voice.

You'll get critiques from people who flat out state, "I don't read this genre." Then WHY would you volunteer to JUDGE IT? If it's not something you enjoy reading, why offer your opinion on whether or not it's good? For that very reason, I never volunteer to critique or judge Inspirational books. Not that I have anything against them, I just don't read them so I can't be objective about what makes a good one!

Of course, you're going to find editors who also "don't get" your work/your character/your GENIUS, but that's okay, because there will be someone else who DOES "get it."

I am a "first reader" for a publisher. The editor gets manuscripts, sends them to me and several other "first readers," asking for comments, concerns, questions, etc.,

I do three things with that manuscript:
Editor from Clip Art
• First, I read it. Not for critiquing purposes, not for editing purposes, I simply read it to see if I enjoy the overall story.

• Second, I look for GLARING errors. Misspelled words, obvious punctuation issues, standard grammatical errors - and I point those out.

• Third, I add comments to the manuscript - 'LOVE this!' 'Why did your hero do this?' 'Why is your heroine stalking the hero's sister?'

Ok, so those are complete fabrications, but you get the drift. Then and only then will I send it back to the editor with either a "Yes, I'd pay money to read this author's work and probably buy their books again," "Yes, I'd pay money to read this but might not be so quick to buy this author again," or "No, I wouldn't pay money to read this book."

Obviously, I'm not the final decision maker on whether or not that author gets offered a contract for publication - and I don't want to be. I'm just an avid reader who also happens to know something about the mechanics of putting together a manuscript and getting it sold. Have I argued with my editor over revisions? Not yet, but then again, her suggestions for revision have all been things that make my book STRONGER.

Learning to polish a manuscript is all part of the writing process, but at some point, you have to stop. You can polish all the joy right out of a story if you're not careful. Edit the (pardon the expression) snot out of it then put it aside for a few weeks (or even longer). When you come back to it, you'll be coming back with "fresh eyes," and may see things that can be improved. Rely on your critique partners & your first readers, but don't take their word as the gospel truth. It's YOUR story, you are the final decision maker.

Ask yourself this question. “Can I make the suggested changes and still love my story?” If you can, then by all means save the original copy and create one to try out the changes.

Recently I sent the first thirty pages of a WIP to a critique group. The one thing that came back? “Start the story where the story starts.” Though I didn’t really want to, I took the advice and the story is stronger for it. But I also trusted and valued the person that advice came from.

Long answer, but I guess what I'm really saying is rely on your own judgment when it comes to your story. You read, you write, you KNOW when something isn't working - you may not know WHY right off the bat, but with help from a critique partner or first reader, you CAN figure it out - without having to pay for it.


Marguerite Labbe said...

I'd never pay for a critique. As you've said, it's objective. There are plenty of critique groups out there who are willing to give their opinion and the only "payment" you need to give them is to return the favor. Or cultivate a group of friends who will look it over for you. If it works for Stephen King, it works for me.

It helps to get several opinions. If more than one person tells me they don't like a certain section then I pay more attention to it. If it's split and I really like it, then I keep it in.

Like you said, go with your gut, and my gut says that paying for critiques leaves you open to be scammed.

Lise said...

Great post, and valid points, all. I think that if I wanted to hire someone to critique my MS, it would have to be someone with professional credits as an editor, and someone who had worked in the genre I was writing. Otherwise it really is self-defeating. If they know the industry, have worked on books in the specific genre that you are looking to publish, that is the absolute minimum. And, as with any other critique process, she/he will make suggestions you cannot see yourself making, and you will have to decide whether to accept the opinions or not. From a CP it is one thing - but from someone you paid? It would definitely require hard thinking and desperate circumstances. Most certainly a last resort sort of move if you love your work, don't want to give up on it and have found it being rejected repeatedly and you aren't getting sufficient feedback in those rejections.

Cindy said...

I personally wouldn't pay for a professional critique. And I am assuming here that is is professional (ie. an editor or author in that genre). However, I would pay if it was for an auction for charity. I also write screenpalys and it shocked me to learn that paying for coverage (critiques) is the NORM in that world. I'll stick with my critique group - for books and movies. They're much cheaper.

Charlotte Dillon said...

There are so many great crtiqiue groups out there that are free, and so many other writers willing to help for just the return of a critique, I just can't see paying money for something you can get for free. I can't tell you how many new writers contact me from my website and say they have had an agent or editor reject a query they sent, but offer to critique the work for a fee. All I can say is, RUN. :-)

Magnolia said...

While I would never pay for someone to critique my work, paying for an edit is a completely different service.

The meanings of the word critique and edit have become interchanged over time but aren't the same.

To edit means to prepare a manuscript for publication or presentation.

To critique is simply an evaluation.


Nancy said...

Interesting subject! I wouldn't pay for a crtique. I've had good friends, great critiquers read my work, and they all had different opinions on even the way the story is told and/ or the way the characters were presented.

The all had valid points, and yet the work is ultimately the writer's.

La Vida Vampire