Why would you need an editor if you have a critique group? And why would you need a critique group if you have an editor?
Last week, I gave you nine reasons why critique groups are an excellent resource for any writer. However, some authors make the mistake of assuming a critique group fills the same role as an editor. It doesn’t.
There are some things editors will do much better than a critique group, and there are some benefits of a critique group that an editor cannot replicate. When you know those differences, you’ll be able to benefit from both editors and critique groups more effectively.
Editors charge for their services (that’s the point of a job, after all). Critique groups, on the other hand, are usually free. Critique groups require some time commitment for reading other authors’ submissions, but you’re still getting detailed feedback for free.
Advantage: Critique Group
Knowledge and Experience
A critique group may be full of multi-published authors, or it may be a group of novices. Even if your critique group is experienced, being a great writer doesn’t necessarily make someone a great editor. Sometimes, a talented writer isn’t very good at helping someone else develop their own voice. A bestselling author might not understand the market outside their genre, or how different kinds of readers might receive the book. Often, editors have viewed the publishing industry from the inside in a way the average author hasn’t.
That doesn’t mean authors can’t be great editors. They can. But editors specialize in these skills, and they use them far more frequently.
Critique group members read a few chapters per week at most, and they do it during their free time. Sometimes, after a long day at work and with the kids being squirrely, a critique group member doesn’t have the most time and focus for evaluating a chapter. On the other hand, editing is an editor’s job. They don’t build their careers on half-baked work.
While editors are trained to consider how different readers may receive a book, they’re still just one person. They have personal tastes and biases. A critique group draws from a variety of personal experiences to provide a variety of reactions to your writing. A critique group isn’t exactly the same thing as a pool of beta readers, but it’s much closer to filling that niche than an editor.
Advantage: Critique Group
That same variety of opinions that can be so beneficial can also confuse the message of your book. Being pulled back and forth by a variety of creative visions can hurt the “unity of effect” of your book. This is a pitfall that can be avoided (we’ll discuss that in a future post), but it is an intrinsic danger of critique groups. An editor, in contrast, is more focused. They’ll ask the tough questions to help you prioritize, they’ll make suggestions, and together, you’ll set your book on a specific path.
Pacing and Memory
Critique groups usually critique everyone’s work evenly, which means it can take months to work through a member’s whole novel. Reading a book with long breaks between chapters causes readers to forget details and lose a sense of pacing. I know a critique group that works through one member’s book at a time to reduce that problem, but that takes a lot of trust and commitment—a willingness to wait with your own manuscript. I prefer the method of critiquing evenly, which I’ll explore in a future post. Just recognize that long-term pacing won’t be well addressed well in a critique group.
Learning Alongside Others
Editors are friendly and helpful, aren’t we? (Please nod yes.) I must admit, though, there’s something special about the fellowship of authors in a critique group. It’s the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a veteran or cheer on a young author as they grow. It’s the encouragement that comes after a hard rejection letter and the celebration that comes after an acceptance.
A critique group is a community walking the same path to publication, experiencing all its joys and challenges alongside you. An editor can be a valuable asset, an ally, even a friend. But they can’t be a community.
Advantage: Critique Group
A critique group is no replacement for an editor, and an editor is no replacement for a critique group. Their work may overlap in places, but they fulfill different roles.
Editors and critique groups aren’t meant to compete with each other. They’re complementary. Oftentimes, a critique group can help an author through the biggest part of their self-editing process, allowing that author’s editor to focus on more advanced concepts rather than walking through the basics.
I’d love for each of my authors to join a critique group. However, joining a group can be easier said than done, and sometimes, you might be the one to lead it. How can you get your own critique group up and running?
Join me next week to find out . . .
Once upon a time, Tim Pietz thought editors were gray and joyless people who quenched their thirst with authors’ tears. Now, Tim Pietz is the managing editor of InkSword Editing and to his knowledge, he mostly drinks tap water. Tim graduated summa cum laude from Taylor University with a B.S. in Professional Writing and a B.A. in Strategic Communication, and since then, he’s had the privilege of editing for various authors and publishers, including Tyndale House. A teacher and encourager at heart, Tim enjoys collaborating with authors at every stage in their publishing journey.