First off, since several of my critique partners read this, I have to be nice. Snicker.
Right now I have two sets of critique partners who are each invaluable in their own way. I have an on-line group, including Anny and former Grip staffer Regina Carlysle, who are erotic romance authors, with not only my primary publisher, but my same editor. They read the kind of stuff I write, so they know the genre and the business. So if I do something that doesn’t work from a romance point of view, they are there to catch it. And if I need help with a hero, a situation, or yes, a sex scene, they’re there to provide ideas. Gotta love a group that can have a conversation about finding a unique position for sex in a faculty office, or whether a given angle is physically possible. Finally they can be turned to when I’m feeling crappy about my writing, to tell me to quit whining, yes, I can write, and to get my fingers back on the keyboard.
I have another group, a local gathering of authors, that is not primarily a romance group. This is the one I turn to for technical advice and face-to-face social interaction. Both are extremely useful. I read a lot of SF&F so I enjoy reading their stuff, and as a few of them are making inroads into the paranormal romance arena, I think I have something to offer them as well. What I can’t get from them is a heads-up when I’ve broken one of the unwritten rules of the romance genre, or when I simply have a hero or heroine who doesn’t measure up. They also don’t quite get that in, especially in short romantica (TM), plot is a very secondary thing. I love working with this group, which is split between men and women, because they refuse to let me get lazy and they force me to be a better writer. We also laugh ourselves stupid, and sometimes you need that.
Are critique groups always good? Nope. One thing I urge is that, even if you don’t write exactly the same genre, you have to be willing to read the others’ stuff. One of my very first critique partners was a lovely woman and an excellent writer, but she wrote emotionally intense women’s fiction of the very grim variety. Frankly it was painful for me to wade through every month. And my sex scenes had her picking up the manuscript by one corner and going, “ick.” This was not a critique relationship destined to be helpful to either one of us. After about a year, two of the women moved away and the group quietly and rather relievedly, fell apart.
Finally, if I have doubts about a manuscript, I have a couple of other friends I can call on to say, as Dakota put it, either “Great, send it in,” or “Really? You sure this is going to work?” It’s not the same as critiquing, but it has its place as well.
One caveat. It IS very easy to over-critique a manuscript and lose your own voice. Be wary of that. You can’t please everyone, so you have to please yourself. Catching typos or plot holes isn’t the same as turning your story into a generic piece of dreck. My first book for Wild Rose Press, The Cowboy’s Christmas Bride, suffered heavily from this. Many of the changes my editor made were thankfully to put it back the way it was in the first place. A good critique partner has to be very careful not to impose her own voice on her partners’ manuscripts.
Writers come to their critique partners for many reasons, and it’s important to connect with a group, or groups, that meets those individual needs. Mostly? I think sometimes we need to be around other people who understand what it’s like to have voices chattering away in your head.