Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Critique Group that Beat the odds

James O. Born
I have a lot of friends in critique groups. I recognize their value even if I have never participated. I like writing for the very reason many people hate it; I enjoy the solitude and personal control of my schedule.

I occasionally hear about a member of a critique group getting published but I have kept no formal records or taken a particular interest in publishing rates until I visited Denver for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference. I cannot say enough about the conference or the people who run it. It was fun, informative and featured Fantasy writer Eldon Thompson, Thriller writer Joe Finder and me as the three main speakers. That alone shows class, or at least a short contacts list. Either way I enjoyed the trip and conference. While there I learned about a specific critique group with a phenomenal success rate.

The group meets at the Pearl Street Grill in Denver on Tuesday nights boasts not one, or two but four published authors. Those of you in publishing know how remarkable that statistic is.

I met the first member of this group years ago and have stayed close with him ever since. Jeff Shelby and his series from Dutton featuring a private eye who surfs named Noah Braddock was the subject of my first short film, Literature and Lead.

Mario Acevedo, the current President of the MWA Rocky Mountain Chapter has perhaps the best titles I’ve ever heard. Published by Harper Collins Eos his imaginative series are hysterical romps into the supernatural.

To the left is Mario in his official Writer or the Year (WOTY) Fez.

Not only are Mario's titles great, he provided another member of the group, Warren Hammond, with the single best blurb I’ve ever seen. "Raw. Visceral. Compelling. As unforgettable as a stabbing." Genius.

Warren’s excellent science fiction novels follow a police officer on a third world planet. Kop and Ex-Kop are both published by Tor.

Jeanne Stein’s series at Ace is a fantasy-adventure featuring bounty hunter Anna Strong who happens to be a vampire. Fast, fun and written by a member of this remarkable group.

People interested in writing know the odds against publication and the problems inherent in creating a commercially viable novel. The fact that four different members of one critique group have beaten the odds speaks volumes about their ability to take constructive criticism, find the insight to push its members further than most and then continue by publishing more than one book. Unbelievable.

Another remarkable coincidence: All the books are really good.

Anyone out there in a critique group? Isn’t this success rate remarkable?


  1. Ummm... did you perhaps ask them if they had been published *before* joining the critique group?

    As you know, the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America facilitates critique groups. My own group includes 5 members, 4 of us published authors and one almost there.

    It's a great group-- but can't take credit for our publication as we were all published before we got together.

    And when is Jeff Shelby going to write another Noah Braddock? The world needs more crappy surfer PI books. :)

  2. Jim,
    Thank you for speaking at the conference. Everyone was buzzing about your presentations and closing talk.

    You were one of the best presenters we've ever hosted.

  3. Could I get the phone number of the woman on the cover of Retribution. She's smokin' hawt.

    Don't do groups, although from time to time I have a writer friend look at part of something I read. For me, if I ask for a critique like that, it usually means I have no confidence in what I'm writing and hope she'll tell me otherwise. (Doesn't usually happen that way. If I think it sucks, it probably does. If I think it's great, well, it still might suck, but I'm confident enough to send it to my agent).

  4. It sounds like Neil doesn't like other people to get praise unless he gets it too.

    All Jim is saying is that this group has good writers. It doesn't mean he thinks other groups are not. I doubt there's enough space to mention every critique group.

  5. Dear Mr. Born:

    Re: "Liteature & Lead"

    Please be advised that I represent Ms. Miranda Lambert in her suit against you for copyright infringement of her song, "Gunpowder & Lead."

    Please send your check for $5 million to my trust account forthwith, if not sooner.

    Paul J. Levine, Esq.

  6. I was a member of the same writing group for nine years. When it disbanded, I joined another one because I like the feedback and have learned how to ignore what doesn't work for me.

    It takes more than talent or critique groups to become a published author. It takes putting a stamp on an envelope and sending in a query letter and sometimes seeing a mailbox full of them marked return to sender. I've seen people quit because they couldn't deal with the rejection.

  7. Hi Jim-- thanks for the nice article about our group. To answer Neil's question, no. None of us were pub'd before joining the group. That's why we're the first to credit our group with our success. Not that we hadn't all been writing--but we learned how to do it professionally together.

    I also agree with Patty-- I would say between us we have accumulated hundreds of rejections. But even if and when we felt like quitting, it was the group's support that kept us going.

    And I'd like to know the answer to Neil's other question, too-- when is Jeff going to write another Noah book? We still miss him here in Denver--but don't tell him I said that.


  8. PS Tell Mark that Anna doesn't date mortals-- that is assuming Mark is one. She's had lousy luck with men--human, that is.


  9. Jeanne,
    My wife wouldn't let me date her anyway.

  10. James O. Born9/24/2009 1:00 PM

    Hey guys. sorry I'm late but I've been out for a few days.

    Jeanne, thanks for answering Neil's question. That's what I thought but wasn't sure. And i recognize there are a number of great critique groups but happened to have met everyone in this group in Denver.

    Mark, wives can screw up a lo of fun plans.