You have a critique group and the members love, love, love your work. They’ve been nagging at you for months to send it out. You finally got up enough courage to submit and even received requests for partials and fulls, but in the end, nobody liked the manuscript enough to take it on. What gives?
Let’s take a look at six reasons agents and editors may not love your work as much as your critique group does.
1) The Relationship: This can mean different things depending on the group. For some, they’ve developed a friendship with the members of their group and can confuse “she’s a great person” with “she’s a great writer.” Some members may realize you’re not such a hot writer but don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they tell you what you want to hear instead. Others aren’t in the same league as you. Beginners will love stories written by intermediate writers and might even believe the book should be published, when in reality, it still needs a lot of work.
Lesson: Use a combination of your judgment, that of your critique group members, and feedback you get from agents and editors. If the rejections you’re getting are all canned, you really need to take another look at the book or start something fresh. If you’re getting personalized letters with specific notes on what’s wrong with the work or how to improve it, then you’re on the right track. Just remember, it’s your story. Only make changes if they feel right.
2) Super Premise: Your critique group loves your premise and thinks this is the next bestseller. They may be right. However, they don’t have the inside information agents and editors have. In this case, the industry experts may love your premise but if it’s too similar to something they’ve recently bought or something that’s currently on the market, they won’t want to touch it no matter how good it is.
Lesson: It’s not always about the writing or the idea. Sometimes it’s about who gets their idea out first.
3) Wrong Market: Your critique group loves your fresh ideas and maybe agents and editors do, too. However, you have to research which agents and editors to target. They may love your work but if they don’t feel they can sell it to their market, they’ll pass.
Lesson: Do your research before you submit to editors and agents.
4) Tres Rough: Your critique group expects a rough draft or some form of it, so they might overlook certain glaring errors. However, editors and agents won’t. They want polished manuscript on their desk or computer screens.
Lesson: Take the time to polish your work as best you can. If you aren’t good with grammar, hire a freelance editor (like me—shameless plug alert).
5) The Whole Is Filled with Holes: Your critique group might read chapters at a time, which allows them to really get into the scenes. However, it also prevents them from seeing the whole picture in one swoop like an editor or agent would when reading a full manuscript.
Lesson: Have Beta readers go over your full manuscript after you’ve polished it. They should read the book within a reasonable amount of time (usually a month) and should be able to recognize if a character’s eye color changed, if the protagonist did something out of character, or if a scene or chapter really doesn’t fit with the rest of the story.
6) Too Much Info: This is when the critique group is too familiar with your story either because they’ve seen so many versions of it or you’ve shared too many aspects with them to the point where they can no longer be objective. They start to suffer from the same blindness you suffer from, where they no longer see what’s missing because they believe the elements are there. The story and characters are so fresh in their mind that they don’t notice the plot holes, lack of character development, flat dialogue, etc.
Lesson: Have Beta readers read your story once it’s polished. These should be new readers so they’ll have fresh eyes on your work and should be able to spot things the critique group missed.
All in all, critique groups are wonderful tools. However, to rely solely on their input may be costly.
What are other ways a critique group may give you a false sense of security? How can you protect yourself while still benefitting from a critique group?