Writers Who Need Writers

Thankful this morning for Michigan Sisters in Crime critique group. We met on Saturday at noon and by the time we left my battered confidence was in much more hopeful shape. It’s no secret the WIP, started about year ago, has been giving me fits. Finally, in the company of other writers, everything bugging me about my plot resolved itself. I see the full picture now. My confidence is high.

Writers need confidence to even start a story. It’s a pretty big deal to believe you can write a novel. I don’t mean those people who say “I’d like to write a novel, I have it all in my head, it’s a great story, I just don’t have time to do it.” That’s a false confidence that every writer who is actually producing finished manuscripts sees through immediately. Because writers find the time to write. Jobs, kids, cooking, cleaning…they do all that and write, too. Because they can’t NOT write. They must write.

At first, they scribble in secret. Thrilled but worried too. Is it any good? We are too close to our own words to really know the answer. In my 20s I started sending out my poems and short stories to little magazines. There were editors who liked and published them, other who didn’t bother replying, just stuffed my stamped self-addressed envelope (this was in the 1970s, so, no internet) and sent it back. I remember dreading the mail. Or, less often, smiling wide enough to break my face.

Soon enough, I found my first critique group. They were poets. Nobody had anything much good to say about my poems, but we had fun drinking at the bar afterward. And since they didn’t ignore my work or ruthlessly rip it to shreds, I kept going back. I liked the company of other writers, other people who did the thing I did. I’ve been in many groups since then, and published a bunch of novels (and a tiny chapbook of poems).

I have a publisher now and an excellent editor. But I still need my critique groups. Yes, groups. I have three: one in Florida and two in Michigan. The newest group is great because we all write mystery. Right away, we know the basic structure. There’s a murder early in, someone tries to solve the crime, the bad guy gets caught at the end.

Michigan Sisters in Crime is the best resource I’ve found since moving from poems and stories to romance novels and women’s fiction and now finally, landing in the world of mystery writers. Not only do MI-SinC have a critique group, they continually have events geared to mystery writers. Check out the workshop “Under the Trenchcoat: A Peek Into Private Investigation” on July 27. You don’t have to be a member to attend this event. But unless you’re a member, you might not hear about it.

As for the critique group, who I thank for my remarkable breakthrough over the weekend, it’s fabulous and free to all Mi-SinC members. We meet once a month and you don’t need to attend every session. If you’re a mystery writer living in Michigan, or want to become one, consider joining MiSinC. Our free critique group takes all levels of talent, from beginner to published. You’ll feel energized and motivated, case closed!

Join A Critique Group

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Calling all Michigan Mystery Writers! Michigan Sisters in Crime has started a new critique group. It’s for mystery writers, and you need to be a member to participate. We meet once a month for two hours at a restaurant in Troy close to I-75. There were four of us at the first meeting. We came from Ann Arbor, Lake Orion, Clarkston and Washington Twp. It was a great success.

Critique groups are great motivators. I’m on fire to write the best pages of my life for this group. Any member of Michigan Sisters in Crime is welcome to attend. You don’t have to be there for every meeting. Summer is busy time. Still, if you’re writing a mystery novel, even a short story, even if it’s your first one, the critique group is a free perk of membership.

The critique group was just one of the many ideas for our chapter cooked up by Super President and founder, Jan Rydzon. I used to teach creative writing, so I offered to help Jan with this group. My role will be to lead the newer writers or writers who are new to crime writing. We’ll talk about craft as well as critiquing pages. If there are enough newbies, we’ll form our own group so everyone gets a turn to share their work.

I am a member of the group too. I brought my first page in for critique just like everyone else. If I can pull it off, the feedback I received will take my opening from not terrible to great. I find first pages the most difficult. All that info to convey about the character plus hook the reader and set up the mystery in about 250 words. Not easy. But a critique group can help you find that extra bit of special to take your writing to the next level.

Contact me at cindy@cynthiaharrison.com if you are interested. Title your subject line MiSinC Critique Group. You want to write or make your writing better? Join us in July. If you’re not a member, it’s easy to join. We are open to all, not just women. Men too. We call them “Misters” 🙂 Not just experienced writers. Even if you have not yet written a word, you can join the chapter and the critique group. Just go to our website for details.

Until then, happy writing!


Final day of conference, and I won’t be taking part in any of the “fun” today. It’s been great, really, I’ve chaired a conference, much smaller than this shindig, and the work these folks put into this thing is amazing. Truly. They had unforeseen misadventures, but carried on with aplomb. The worst had to be when their Big Name Author was a no-show for his keynote. Never mind, they grabbed James Hall to pinch hit and he did a great job. Never heard of the guy before but he made everyone in that room forget there was another whats-his-name they were disappointed not to see.

This brought home a lesson I’ve taken from other conferences: if you’re doing a big talk, like a keynote for the entire group, make it funny. I knew this from teaching, although this audience, on the whole, has a bigger attention span than your average college freshman. So Hall was funny and intelligent and I bet he sold a lot of books. Not to mention his generously leaping into the gap created by James Patterson, whose name had been plastered in large letters on everything from the conference.

At the time, we weren’t offered an explanation of why Patternson didn’t make it, and since I skipped the cocktail party later, (another problem for conference organizers–cocktail smooze with agents and editors was supposed to be poolside, but it rained and so had to be moved inside) I didn’t get the scoop. Bet my buddy Jan knows. She’s going into the “Pitch Tank” today where we have the opportunity to pitch to all agents and editors–also whoever else is pitching. Then we sit down, nobody says anything, and we wait for the end, when, if an agent or editor is interested in you, they will come over. No thanks! I can still query every one of these folks, I’ve talked to them at lunch, sat in on their panels, and had an editor appointment that yielded a half dozen names of very good agents. I know most of them by reputation.

I asked for an agent appointment, but got a very nice editor from Henry Holt, Michael Signorelli. That took the pressure off immediately as I knew Henry Holt is not the right publisher for my book, and they don’t acquire directly from authors but through literary agents. So I just reeled off my three sentence pitch and had a conversation. Michael said St. Martin would be ideal for me–and he gave me a name of an editor there. And that’s the gist of everything I gleaned here: go for New York. No longer are small press or indie authors scorned, in fact they are being courted. If you have good sales figures, all the better.

One of the questions I asked Michael was if I have a publisher, should I still seek an agent, and he said absolutely. I know I need an agent. It’s one of the reasons I came here. I’m not great at the business end of writing, and an agent can be an advocate for me there. Another speaker said if you’re not great at promoting your work, hire a publicist. He said they are expensive but worth it. I got names. Because like anybody there are good publicists and bad ones. I’m seriously considering hiring a publicist, something that wasn’t on my radar before I came down here.

I suppose Jan is in the pitch tank now; it’s about that time. Me? I’m packing up and heading over to the other side of the state. But this conference, out of the dozens I’ve been to through the years, was really worth it. I decided that yes, I’m going to switch to mystery: psychological thrillers to be exact. And I’ve got a stack of research books to help me craft my next book while I search for an agent and wait for the verdict on that first mystery, sitting on my editor’s desk.