In MHO critiques are a necessary tool for new romance writers looking to get published. To be honest though, all critiques are not created equal. Some are a total waste of money. And I don’t have money to waste. I’m sure most of you already know about Harlequin’s romance novel critique service being gone. I think that’s too bad and I’d like to tell you about my experience with using the service. I’d finished my first draft of Black Rock: A Time For Love and had gone through it doing some very basic editing, but not much rewriting. I knew there were things that just weren’t right, but wasn’t sure how to go about fixing them.
After having one professional critique and having the manuscript read through by many readers and a few writers, I was even more confused about how to go about rewriting the story to make it better. The first critique editor pointed out a few plot flaws. Unfortunately his comments were very vague and gave me no clue in which direction my rewrites should go. To say I was disappointed is an understatement and I considered this critique to be a waste of my time and money. As for the readers and writers who were kind enough to give the manuscript a read—the opinions were mixed. Some didn’t care for the story and others raved about how great it was. Okay, so now I was back where I’d started. I knew there were some good points to my book and some not so good. That still didn’t help me with the rewrites. I began to think about sending the manuscript to Harlequin’s critique service.
I wasn’t sure if the critique I’d get from them would help me or not. And of course there was the possibility that they’d tell me not to give up my day job and do the writing world a favor by exiting stage left. Then there was the money. Although it’s not as expensive as some critique editors, it’s still a chunk of change and being on a budget, I had to think seriously about spending that amount. I finally decided to pass on it. But as it happens, shortly after I made my decision, I had a book signing for Captive Fear and made more than enough to pay Harlequin for a critique. I decided to bite the bullet and throw that money back into learning my craft. I went to the Harlequin site, filled out the form and sent my manuscript off.
I anxiously awaited the critique and was surprised when it came. They’d sent back my manuscript, even though I hadn’t paid the extra amount for them to do that. Darned nice of them. The first thing the editors mentioned in the critique itself was that there were minor similarities to a famous book by an established author. They did admit that my story was very different, but felt readers would compare the two. Well, I’d never heard of this book nor its author, so felt nothing at the time of reading this. Later I got the book from the library and read it. To say I hated the book would be to grossly understate my feelings. I hated the story, the hero, the heroine and everything else about it. There was only one character in the whole book I really loved and found interesting. Unfortunately, she was quickly killed off. Bummer! After reading the Amazon reviews for this book, I realized I wasn’t in the minority. Many readers loathe it. I’m sure you’d all like to know what book this is…I won’t tell anymore than the author’s initials–DG.
I digress. Back to the critique. The actual critique was long and detailed. They pointed out every plot point that didn’t work and gave concise explanations as to why they didn’t work. One of the plot points they felt was simply a cop out. I love that because after reading it through, I realized they were dead right. It was lame. They were also right about all the other points they made. They said I’d rushed through the more suspenseful scenes. They felt I was uncomfortable writing these. Not true, as my first novel, Captive Fear proves.
The problem was this is time travel romance not a suspense thriller. I’m actually a little more uncomfortable writing love scenes not suspense, so I put a lot more effort into those and in consequence, let the suspenseful parts slide. Something I hadn’t even noticed until it was pointed out to me. You may gather from this that all they did was rag on my story. No, they didn’t just point out the bad stuff, they were also very complimentary about the things they did like. My writing, my voice, my love scenes, characterization…ect. This was exactly what I’d been looking for—a detailed critique to help me with the rewrites.
I totally rewrote Black Rock, concentrating on all those plot points they’d said needed work. I found this service to be invaluable, not only for the book they critiqued, but for everything I’ve written since. I’m sorry the service is no longer available. I know all about the reasons for discontinuing it, but since I don’t involve myself too much with the politics of the writing/publishing business—I don’t care why. I just think it’s a shame it’s gone. And to be honest I’ve had many critiques by different people charging different amounts of money, but none were anywhere near as good as the Harlequin one.