I’d bought her first book. It was unread under the bed and I was silly enough to tell her that. The first thing I did when I went home was root out Strictly Business. It was fantastic. Her writing’s just got more fantastic since!
This is a picture of Annie (far left) and me (right), with the fabulous Amy Andrews aka Downundergirl as the rose between us!
We started casual emails which morphed into daily emails which morphed into catching up in person. Somewhere, we summoned courage to swap work, but friendship definitely preceded critiquing. We trusted each other as people before exposing ourselves as writers.
Since then, Annie has made a real splash with her Harlequin Presents/Sexy/Modern books. She writes a sheikh like nobody else, and her Greeks are breathtaking, not to mention the wonderful Ronan, hero of her 2006 debut, A Mistress For The Taking.
Anna, I'm blushing. Such unadulterated praise! Don't get me wrong - when Anna likes my work she says so (one reason I love her!) but neither does she hold back pointing out where things need improving.
To give my perspective of that first meeting. I was surrounded by romance writers, all of whom, I had no doubt were cleverer, more professional, etc, than me. I got into conversation with this enthusiastic, knowledgable, fun woman who announced she'd had my book 'under the bed' for a year. I got that horrible shrinking feeling in my stomach - this was my FIRST book. My first impulse was to tell her not to read it, then scurry away. But I was trying to convince myself I was professional so I smiled (or maybe grimaced) and told her she ought to read it. For some reason that impressed her.
I remember the first time Anna let me read her work. I fervently hoped I'd connect with it, as I had with her descriptions of characters and plots. It was wonderful to discover Anna wrote just the sort of historicals I wanted to read. Oh, that Christian - long dark hair, flashing eyes, warrior build, unbreakable sense of honor and such passion! The heat just smoked off him. Maybe one day he'll be let loose on the buying public.
I loved reading Anna's lush descriptions, intense emotional tangles and satisfying happily ever afters. Her Regency comedies are wonderful even though she's made her publication mark with intense, passionate, 'darker' stories. Anna delved deep with Claiming The Courtesan and again with Untouched, both of which were incredibly difficult for me - I wanted to read, not critique. The good news was two-fold. Firstly, we were on the same wavelength and I noticed things that helped her polish. Secondly, reading her work, how she'd put it together and where she was improving, my own writing became more focused. On top of that, Anna has a keen eye for pacing and emotional intensity that helped me lift my game enormously.Do we have one?
We read each other's partials before they go to the editor. Then a complete read before the final is due, leaving time to make copious changes. I edit Annie’s complete manuscript in hard copy. It gets me away from the screen and I pick up things I don't see on computer.
Annie, do you have anything to add? Also, something you said long ago stayed with me. You said we were lucky we found each other at the stages in our career that we did. We were both on a similar level and that helped immeasurably.
I'm laughing about your comments on 'process'! Only last night I was desperately trying to read a shortish piece of Anna’s. Unfortunately the comments had to go back the same night. A night of severe storms, power blackouts that played havoc with the computer, plus the usual domestic stuff - teenage angst, late appointments, feeding the family and helping with school projects. I finally had my comments ready and called Ms. Campbell, only to have her snork down the line as I said I was occasionally confused! I ask you! Snorking at a woman who critiques while stirring pasta sauce! A big plus in our relationship is humor.
No matter how pressured things get, we can rely on each other. This publishing world can be so daunting and having a mate, who in Anna's case, also happens to have an eye for a darned good story, is like gold. It's wonderful that Anna reads my draft or hears my half-thought through idea for a new book and doesn't try to mould it into an Anna Campbell story. There's too often a danger that a reader wants to remodel your work into their own style.
Anna, thanks for raising that point about us being at a similar stage. We both had different strengths which we built on, and which the other learned from too. There was a sense of being equals, and of our writing being on a par that strengthened our joint resolve. Though I'd had a book published, it was with a small publisher that went under due to distribution woes. So we were both aiming high, expecting rejections, entering contests and looking at ways to polish our manuscripts till they dazzled an editor. I'm sure the bond forged then helped get us both 'over the line'. As did my comment to Anna that I saw us one day having a published author lunch by
I agree about the whole being greater than the sum of our parts. Occasionally it drives me mad that you go unerringly to my most fundamental weaknesses. Although after all these years, I hear your voice in my head when writing and I know what needs fixing more times than not.
You’re right about us bringing different strengths to the table. I credit you with taking my writing up that next level to publication standard. For all the laughter and fun (not just when we're drinking!), we make each other push the work as far as it can go.
Another interesting comment is I don't try and turn your stories into Anna Campbell’s. That's a real danger, isn't it? That urge to remake someone else's work in our own image. You avoid that when you look at my stuff too. What other dangers can people find, Annie? Can you name obvious warning signs? Any hints on handling problems?
How come I get the difficult questions? Because I've been burned in the past? Or are you just slacking off, Anna? Let that be a lesson to everyone – CPs make you work!
Before I list negatives, I'd like to reiterate something Anna said. We've developed the trust to listen when the other person says the work could be better. How often I've heard that! Though, being diplomatic (sometimes) Anna says 'it's just not quite up to your usual fantastic standard'. Flattery sucks me in every time.
Negatives. Let me make a little list. We can expand it later if we need to. In my experience, beware of:
Critique groups who only discuss being writers (in the general sense), instead of considering people's work and/or sharing information on market trends/contests, etc. They could be stuck in the cycle of dreaming to achieve and never putting in the work to get there.
Anyone who rewrites your text in their own style. Not just suggestions for change but rewriting the nitty gritty in detail and at length. This can be especially unhelpful if your critique partner doesn't read and enjoy the type of romance you're writing.
Anyone whose comments are consistently destructive rather than constructive. If you feel depressed whenever you get feedback and your CP never finds something to like in your work, your relationship isn’t going to sustain you.
Anyone who gets annoyed because you didn't change your manuscript as they suggested. It's your book! You have the right to determine what goes in.
Someone who continually needs help but doesn't give in return.
A bad critique partner can be worse than no critique partner. CPs aren't for everyone. We're lucky. Maybe because our relationship is based on friendship and a desire for the other to succeed.You get the tough questions, my friend, because you're the smart one in this partnership. Note - this is how you handle a CP!
What a great list. I agree 100% that a bad CP is MUCH worse than no CP. I know people who stopped writing altogether after a negative experience with a CP. Remember every time you crit that you're holding someone’s dreams. Point out what needs fixing but setting out to crush someone just isn't on. I'd definitely take the "I'm depressed every time she reads my work" feeling as warning to get out!
One reason we work well together is we genuinely want the best for the other person. So the person being critiqued isn't defensive. A good critique is an amazing learning opportunity - there's no rule that you have to take everything as gospel. Listen and be gracious even if you don't agree. Starting World War III over minor points won’t help and it will make the critiquer either back away from saying what you need to hear or not critique you at all. Someone saying your work is fantastic is a lovely ego stroke but it doesn't help you improve. Someone pointing out a problem that makes the difference between selling or not is gold! Cultivate distance. Think about what you hear - if it works, use it, if it doesn't, thank the critiquer and move on.
Does anyone have comments or questions on critiquing? What's worked for you? What hasn't? Is there anything you wish had happened with a CP that didn't? Any stories about critiquing relationships, good or bad? Anyone think CPs are a bad idea?
We’ll pick out favorite comments and the winners will share in a signed copy of Untouched, a signed copy of The Greek Tycoon's Unexpected Wife (not available in the US until May!), a signed copy of For The Sheikh's Pleasure (I dare you not to swoon over Arik) and assorted coverflats and stationery, including the gorgeous Anna Campbell 2008 desk calendar.