Surviving a Fiction Critique

Last month I attended my first Romance Writer’s of America National Conference in Orlando, Florida. I’ve attended several regional events in New England and New Jersey, but this was my first National Conference. It was a wonderful experience and I’m glad I went in spite of the sweltering temperatures and humidity. This Yankee doesn’t do heat.

RWA conferences are truly professional development conferences for romance writers. Nationals is so on an exponentially larger scale. Regional conferences might see representation from a few publishers. Nationals is a must-do for anyone who publishes romance. Several publishers host signings because above all, romance writers are romance readers. The bigger players are featured in spotlight information sessions and several even host open houses.

Dinner with some of my NHRWA Chaptermates!

In conjunction with the conference Carina Press hosted a contest to win a critique of the first two chapters of your WIP. If picked, you had an opportunity to have your work critiqued by a Carina editor and the other participants in your session.

I’ve had my work critiqued before, but mostly personal essays. People could pick apart my grammar and sometimes the angle I chose to present the story, but those works were based on my experiences. Some find that a vulnerable place to be, but for me, it’s my life, it’s what I experienced and my thoughts. You don’t have to like them, but it’s my truth.

My fiction is different. These are stories I’ve made up. Sure I’m influenced by my experiences, but there is so much more too it. I’m perpetually waiting for someone to pop up and say “You’re doing it wrong!”.

It was time to put up or shut up. I polished my words (with the help of an editor friend) and sent it off. It was a random drawing and according to the staff at Carina, they got a great response. I was stunned when my story was picked. I posted to my RWA chapter Facebook group that I was equal parts excited and nauseous. I was relieved to hear that’s normal.

Each session was an hour and was supposed to have 4 authors in it. Due to scheduling conflicts, our session only had three participants. As part of the process, I had to critique the work of the other authors in my session.

I was nervous reading the others work What if it’s better than mine? Like WAY better. In some ways their work was better than mine, but all in all, I felt like my words held their own. The day of the critique, the excitement and nausea was present full force.

Carina Press Assistant Editor Stephanie Doig looks on while Senior Editor Kerri Buckly announces The Dirty Bits, a new line from Carina

I lectured myself in advance to be quiet and take notes. So much so that at one point they wanted an explanation for something, and I was so intent on listening and taking notes about what they said, I had to be prompted to give the information!

The whole experience was very positive. The other authors offered great insight and it was good for me to hear where they were taken out of the story. Kerri Buckley from Carina was very encouraging and basically told me to finish the damn book! I walked out of there smiling so hard my cheeks hurt.

That’s not to say I agreed 100% with everything they said. Some things they needed more information to understand but I could also see how I could either trim or foreshadow more for clarity.

I am really excited to get back to work on it. In an odd way, I now feel like I have justification. Which is dumb. Because “I want to write” should be enough, but alas, that’s not how my brain works.

I can make time to exercise because that’s good for my health and things fall apart when I’m sick. My writing is harder for me to make time for. Now I feel like I have validation and justification. I’m writing something people want to read.

Have you ever had a piece critiqued? What was your experience?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

6 thoughts on “Surviving a Fiction Critique

  1. I’ve been critiqued often, and also done critiques and have always felt that if the end result leaves you excited to jump back in and go to work, then it was successful. The first time I was professionally edited, I thought I had to do everything she said. The result of that was me learning what ‘voice’ was. I could go back years later and see exactly where the editor was inserted into the story. I know now to look at their suggestion, but more importantly, the reason for their suggestion. If the reason is sound, then I have the choice to accept their change or come up with my own. I also know to walk away from critiques done by those who can only make negative statements like ‘this is awful’ with no reasons or suggestions, or those who insert personal opinions as in ‘this offends me’. Congratulations on having the courage to put your work out there, and your wisdom to pull from it what you need to continue writing and be true to your story.

  2. I’ve never had my work critiqued by a writer through a conference (though I did use Writer’s Digest once). It sounds wonderful! I’ve been meaning to check out Romance Writers of America. I’m thinking their Denver conference next year sounds like an adventure to start saving for. 🙂

  3. Pingback: How Much To Listen to Critics

  4. I do a lot of rounds of critique. On my most recent book I got a super memorable critique.
    She didn’t like the plot, the characters, the sex, or the violence (it’s an action setting).
    But she could really hear my voice.

  5. Thank you for interesting blog. I have known the value of being part of a writing group where we each submitted something and was responsible, in our own way, for a critique on the work of ‘others’. It is hard because each voice is so different. I have my own particular preference about what I read – there’s enough violence, hatred and ‘stuff’ in the world without me contributing more to the melee. When you critique its all about the writing.(or should be). I’m grateful I had to have the courage to trust my own voice. Hence EVERYTHING reflects my voice and my view of life through my eyes. I will not compromise to be ‘popular’ trendy, acceptable or successful. Amazon now have five of my books. I am thankful that I have not compromised as a writer in what is my own heart’s deepest reflection
    .http/ if interested would take you for a brief look at my life and journey.

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