Before a writer seeks publication, it’s absolutely necessary to have a fresh, unbiased set of eyes on his or her work. When I finished my first manuscript, I sent it to some people I trusted for honest feedback. Even though I’d read and re-read it, I probably wouldn’t recognize that version of it anymore. And it’s so much better because of it.
Even though I’m fairly new to the pursuit of publication, I feel like I’ve struck gold with my critique partners. So here’s what I’ve learned so far about finding (and keeping) people who will enrich your work–the right ways and the wrong ways 🙂
Finding a critique partner.
There’s a reason they’re called critique partners. That’s because they’re usually fellow writers who are at about the same place on the journey as you are and on the same level technically. Joining a local or national writing chapter is a goldmine for potential critique partners.
For instance, the ACFW has a critique loop where writers critique two excerpts for others and then submit their own work for feedback. Many great connections have been formed through this loop. And I found mine in the trenches of waiting for contest results, both directly and by word of mouth.
Choosing the right one
The “right” critique partner doesn’t necessarily have to be a writer in your chosen genre, but he or she does have to be very familiar with it. And, of course, he or she should like reading your style in the first place. That’s kind of a given. 🙂
That said, there’s a difference between a critique partner and a cheerleader. It’s an amazing feeling to scroll through the annotations in your manuscript and see a bunch of fluffy rainbows and butterflies. But critique partners also need to give honest feedback where necessary. They’re not doing anyone any favors by pulling their punches.
Ideal critique partners will also complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, one of mine, Anne Love, is a genius at brainstorming. I can agonize over a scene for days, and she unlocks the mystery with strategic questions. She can hack into characters’ minds and help make their motivations known and their problems relatable and sympathetic. So your strength may be brainstorming or plotting or, like me, line editing and finding problems with consistency/flow. But it’s best to identify your weaknesses–the weaknesses that copious re-reading make you blind to–and find someone who will both call you out on it and help you improve.
Even if you don’t connect with a particular writer on these levels, that writer might be able to set you up with someone who will work for you.
How to keep the right critique partner
- Most importantly: make sure it’s an equal, mutually beneficial partnership. Don’t send a full manuscript and skimp on returning the favor.
- Ask and declare expectations up front. Are there any questions you have that they can keep in mind while reading? Do you just need a line edit done? For example, if you’re under deadline and just want a simple read-through for general notes, it will stress you out hardcore to receive a Word document that’s been ripped to highlighted tatters. (But what are you doing waiting until deadline to get the detail stuff taken care of anyway!?)
- Give thoughtful and constructive feedback, making detailed suggestions throughout the manuscript. You have to find the balance between simply shooting back an email that says “It was great! I liked it!” (Liked what?) and becoming too assertive with comments and changes. Confession: as a longtime editor and recovering know-it-all, sometimes I have to dial it way, way down and remind myself that I’m not the author and it doesn’t really matter how *I* would write it.
- Don’t take feedback personally, but do take it into careful consideration. Sometimes your work just doesn’t resonate with a person and will resonate with someone else. But sometimes that person’s opinion really does have a lot of merit. That said, make sure you read notes when you’re in a good position to detach yourself a little and see your critique partner’s point of view. Don’t be afraid to try out any suggested changes and see if they work for you. If you fall in love with your story even more, then awesome! If you’re not feeling it, ask someone else to weigh in and remember that you’re the author and know this story best. But don’t be a know-it-all above a little gentle criticism. That is no bueno in this industry 🙂
- Ultimately, respect that this person is sacrificing writing time to help you improve your work and don’t take it for granted. Be gracious!
I’m still learning how to become a great critique partner and have definitely committed some of these errors before. But I hope you’re like me and find that your critique partners don’t really resemble critique partners at all. They resemble true (and honest) friends!