Are all critiques useful?
Like most authors, I’ve belonged to my share of writers’ critique groups in my day. Authonomy was one but there have been others. There are certain difficulties with being a member of these sites and those difficulties will inevitably affect the value of the critiques you receive for your work. I recently posted a book to a writers’site. I did this because I had diverted into a genre I hadn’t written before and even then, I felt my novel was a little bit different to the usual types of plots I’d seen.
Leaving aside the wide range of technical competence and the gamesmanship inherent in such groups, I think the biggest issue is that comments can come from people who don’t, in the normal course of events, read the genre. Some people will immediately say ‘yes but writing is universal’. But is it?
Romance novels may be the biggest sellers on the planet but many, many people heap scorn on the very notion. Some are afraid of science fiction, others shudder at horror. Personally, I don’t understand and would not read vampire or zombie stories. So if I encounter a vampire story on a writers’ site, what do I do? (Assuming I have an obligation to read and comment) I don’t like the subject, I haven’t read other such books, I don’t know what an avid reader expects or would find acceptable. So all I can usefully say is whether or not the story engaged me and why.
Normally judgement is passed on a section of the book which may be as small as the back of the book blurb and three chapters. After all, that’s what a query to an agent or publisher would offer. So would I read on after 3 chapters? Come on, let’s be honest here. This is a vampire story. I wouldn’t even have picked it up off the shelf. Sure, if I read the whole thing I might be able to suggest changes to structure or weaknesses in characterisation and such. But I think I’m going to be in much better hands, talking with people who actually read the sub-genre I’m writing.
What do other people think? Please share – I’m genuinely interested.