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Sunday, July 2, 2023

I was a secret agent

cj Sez:  I spent the last few weeks pretending to be a secret literary agent, tasked with critiquing an author’s submission into a slush pile. The goal of a critique is to be truthful and objective yet encouraging. It’s a painfully difficult job. The angst my comments have most likely caused that writerly soul makes me feel bad. It also put me in mind of how I react when my work is critiqued.

  Critiques are a must for serious writers. Despite our best intentions, we can’t judge/proofread/edit our own words, at least not thoroughly or objectively. We’re way too close to our manuscripts. We read past things because we “thought” them, because obviously the reader will know what we mean, even if the words actually aren’t on the page or are wrong. Objective critique partners find missing words, poorly constructed sentences, punctuation errors, missing story threads, plot holes, and all those other etceteras that the subjective writer misses.

  A big plus of critique groups is that members  generally have different strengths and areas of expertise. One might be a whiz at line editing. Another might offer insights into story structure. Still another may be great at recognizing plot holes. Or character flaws. Or the dreaded middle-of-the-book sag.

  There is yet another type of critiquer who can be incredibly helpful. That’s the one who isn’t so technical but points out the things that elicit their visceral reactions. What they laughed at, what they got scared of for the character, where they cried, got lost, what they did or didn’t “get” or where they were tempted to skim over paragraphs or pages. That kind of emotional information is invaluable. These are the comments that point the writer to where s/he’s succeeding or where s/he’s failing to communicate the desired story. These comments can represent the similar reaction of the writer’s intended audiencethe reader who will pick up the book off the library shelf or (and I can only hope) the reader who will buy the book.

  This is a piece of advice I use often. Caveat: I believe writers should consider all the comments as if they were values on a bell curve. The comments that are similar (and bunch up like a hump in the middle) need another look. The outliers on either end of the curve (the one or two strange or subjective comments) can probably be disregarded, after due consideration, of course.

  The bell curve works for me, even the negative commentsthough they sometimes get my goat before I discard them. I've learned that writers have to keep an open mind and be thick-skinned in order to keep writing.

  What kind of critiquer am I? I want to be fair and honest and make sure I intersperse negatives with positives. I’d love to hear how you deal with the personalities and critiques you’ve encountered.


God Bless the U.S.A. on its 247th birthday.

  Wishing you and yours a happy and safe July 4 Independence Day celebration. 


  That’s it for this week’s post. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. Raising prayers for a happy and safe summer…with lots of time for reading!


  My books are available on Amazon or through your favorite eTailer and bookstore. Got a library card? You can read the ebooks free from Hoopla.

Little note: The Haunted Book Shop has a few signed copies of my books in stock. TO ORDER, contact:  If she happens to be out, I also have a small stash. Angela Trigg, the awesome owner and a RITA Award-winning author in her own right (writing as Angela Quarles) will be happy to ship you any book(s) by any author of your choice.

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