Kelly Mortimer

Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency represents clients in both the ABA and the CBA.
She’s the founder and current president of the Christian Media Association (CMA), dedicated to helping all Christian and Jewish writers. She made the Top 5 of the 2008 Publisher’s Marketplace Top 100 Dealmakers - Romance Category, and she won the American Christian Fiction Writers “Agent of the Year” award in 2008. In addition to this column, Kelly writes the “Ask an Agent” column for the Romance Writers United newsletter.

Gotta Get a Critique, Oui?

Hmm. Personally, I hate that word. (No, it has nothing to do with it being the French word for criticism. I’m not boycotting the French anymore. I even buy L’Oreal Lip Liner, although that’s made in Germany. Gettin’ off the subject. Sorry.)

Critique: A criticism or critical comment on some subject, etc. The art or practice of criticism (

I think the definition just made my case, no? Ugh. The only thing worse than the word critique is getting a “constructive” one. Can anyone tell me how making critical comments about another writer’s work is constructive? And bringing it to the level of an art? (I’d rather spend a day in one of those slick, modern museums with the pictures of coat hangers and cans of Campbell’s soup. But that’s just me.)

Don’t get me wrong, when I was a full-time writer, I was a member of a critique group and had two critique partners. I love comments that help me become a better writer. I just don’t like the word. The process can be helpful. I said “can be.” Depends on the group.

I remember the first time I watched Siskel and Ebert. For every movie they reviewed, one gave a thumbs-up, and the other gave a thumbs-down. I thought, What’s the point? How did the show help me decide if I should see any of those movies? It didn’t.

A critique group can be just as confusing. Anyone ever join one that had ya scratchin’ your head? (You can’t see me, but I raised my hand—you’ll haveta take my word for it.) One person gives ya what sounds like awesome advice, then the next person adds to it. Sic. All these fantabulous (My hubby made up that word. He’s such a sweet man.) ideas, and they’re free! You rush home, dyin’ to tap-tap-tap the keyboard and use the new info so sweetly shared with you. Now you feel like a writer. Sigh.

You pop to the next get-together with a jaunty step, proud of your new masterpiece. You read your stuff, and a writer who wasn’t at the previous session frowns. (Whassup with that?) She suggests something altogether different, which just so happens to be what you started with before implementing the expert suggestions you received from the last meeting. (Stop pulling out your hair! This has happened to all of us. For those who say it hasn’t, you’re lyin’.)

This predicament can be especially troubling for newbie writers. What to do? Everyone else in the group knows more than you

do. (And they make sure you know they know more than you do.) A writer can end up tryin’ to please everyone (which of course, is impossible), and by the time the dust balls settle, you’re frustrated, overwrought, and ya don’t recognize your work. (This phenomenon can also occur if you’re bipolar, but I won’t go into the gory details or I’ll haveta dive for my Xanax, and my knees can’t take it—old war injury.)

Okay, so not all critique groups are a nightmare. (My editor made me write that.) Seriously, if you can find a group where everyone is nice (Nice is not a subjective term!), whose members really wanna help you (really), and you don’t take advice as an attack (Although it often is. Sorry.), a critique group may be a boon to your career.

I found what worked best for me was to have two partners. (Critique partners. Take your mind outta the gutter; this is a Christian magazine. Sheesh!) I trusted them implicitly. I got the truth, the whole truth, and nothin’ but the truth. Didn’t hurt me none. (Of course, soon after, I ditched writing to become a literary agent . . .)

Still, I stick to what I said at the beginning of this rant—uh—column. I don’t like the word critique. I prefer, “edit, editing group, and editing partners.” If I want a critique, I’ll go to France.

Christian Media Association