Sep 30, 2011

Contests and Critique Groups

by Tanya Parker Mills

As great as your critique group may be, sometimes you need to get an outside opinion, or even several, to be sure if your group's take on your work isn't skewed by what they know of you.

Recently, I'd begun writing a Middle Grade/YA fantasy (I know, I know...which is it? Middle Grade or YA? The jury's still out on that) and while I thought I had a strong beginning, my group kept finding things wrong with it. I was beginning to grow rather discouraged after two tries with my opening chapter and still coming up empty.

So, what did I do? I entered my beginning (actually the first 250 words) in a blogfest contest for YA and Middle Grade fiction, hosted by a total stranger--Brenda Drake. A few of you also took part, but for the rest of you, this was how it worked. The blog host had lined up two published teenagers to act as judges for who could actually hook a teenager best with their beginning. We were encouraged to post our beginning on our own blog and then try to read and comment on everyone else's postings for a few days. (That was the best part for me because I got feedback from absolute strangers, for the most part, as to what worked and what didn't.) Then on the final day, we were asked to return to her blog and post our beginning (revised or not) in her Comments section to be judged.

Well, I didn't win but I did get mentioned as having hooked one of the judges. The important result was that these strangers backed up what my critique group members had been saying. They loved my voice but wanted to know who my MC was right up front.

Taken together, all this feedback caused me to finally write my first chapter the way it was meant to be. And if you have Chapter 1 right, it's so much easier to proceed from there.

Lesson: Never be afraid to show your beginning...even to total strangers.


  1. Thanks for the advice and Idea. I really like it! :)

  2. I do like the revised better you see magic and an interesting kid quickly. Sounds like a good book. I appreciate this advice. Especially with books for children and youth.

  3. Creating some kind of connection with the MC is one of the elements I'm working on too. If you're curious, I've posted a few articles on "hooks" on my blog. Here's the link:

  4. Thanks for this idea - I will definitely use it!


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