Saralyn Richard is the author of the Detective Parrott series, as well as two thrillers. You can find out more about her on her website at www.saralynrichard.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.
One of the most enriching parts of my life as a writer is getting feedback from fellow authors. No one better understands the frustrations and challenges, the victories and joys. Sometimes we need to vent. Sometimes we need advice. Sometimes we just need to share a tidbit that we’ve learned. Whatever the occasion, a fellow author can give us what we need in an instant—without gushing or making an exclamation point out of a simple period. We can count on fellow authors to have our backs whether the reviews are five stars or fewer, whether the royalties exceed the marketing budget or not, and whether our last book launch has soared or sunk.
That’s why I’m an enthusiastic advocate for writers’ critique groups. One of my two critique groups has been meeting (in one form or another) for decades. I joined it in 2013, and in those ten years, approximately thirty authors have rotated in and out of it, but two of us have remained constant. We used to meet in person at my house, but once Covid hit, we started meeting by Zoom, and that has allowed us to open up to out-of-town members. Our little group takes our writing seriously, and we take each other’s writing seriously, too. We give scads of comments on each other’s chapters, some praise, some suggestions for improvement. We laugh over wrong word choices or misunderstood phrases, as if they were hilarious jokes. We come from different career backgrounds, so we have different kinds of expertise to share.
My second critique group meets under the auspices of the International Thriller Writers. Our band of five hails from Australia and the United States. We’ve been meeting for over a year, and we’ve bonded in ways that transcend nationality or culture. We’re highly structured and spend our time professionally, but we care about each other, too.
I’ve been asked (particularly by my creative writing students) whether time spent in critique group activities might be better spent in writing one’s own stories, and I respond with a definite no. I learn so much about writing and revising from my critique group partners. I learn what works and what doesn’t—in their submissions, as well as in my own. If there are flaws that will take the reader out of the story, my critique group members will ferret them out and help me fix them. By the time I’ve put a first draft through my critique groups, I’ve considered their comments and suggestions, and I’ve revised accordingly, I’m fairly confident that I’ve got a solid manuscript, ready to be professionally edited.
When the book is ready to launch, no one else will be quite as excited for me as someone who helped in crafting it to perfection. If I am the birth-mother, they are the midwives.
Of course, critique groups aren’t the only way that authors help each other. Author groups like Blackbird Writers provide opportunities for activities with common purpose, like our Halloween Flash Sale, our weekly blogposts, our monthly newsletters, and our online bookstore. Blackbird Writers read and review each other’s finished works. We share information about best practices. We encourage each other to learn and grow in our writing, publishing, and marketing endeavors. We benefit from each other’s experiences. Whatever befalls a fellow blackbird, we all become stronger for it.
How does all this author collegiality benefit readers? Whenever we read a book, we take in the best—not only the best of the single author who produced the story, but the collective best influences of all the authors with whom that author has collaborated.
We used to have a saying in education: Together Everyone Achieves More. My author teammates are my fraternity, my friends, my family. My relationship with readers begins with them.