This week’s QOTW comes from Samantha W, who asks, “I’ve been seeing you guys mention critique partners a lot… But this is the first time I’ve actually heard of them. How do you find critique partners? How many should you have? Etc?”
A critique partner (or CP) is simply someone that you share your work with and they give you a critique (not a review). CP’s are usually dedicated to their tasks, and are your friends who are writers or readers. It’s important to find a CP whose opinion and tastes you trust, and who you can speak openly to. An ideal CP will be honest with you about your bad work, and be able to offer suggestions as to what you could improve. My former critique partners have included my friends who like my work, and were able to act as test audiences, but I’ve found that the best CPs are writers themselves. I think you’re allowed to have as many as you like; I know of people who have 2 or more, but I would be careful in recruiting a whole bunch of people to critique your work, because they are doing you a favor and you want to be sure that you have time to appreciate them for what they’re doing for you 🙂
Critique partners are absolutely, totally vital– at any stage. I have an agent and three editors I work with, but NONE of them will see my writing until at least one critique partner has gone through it and I’ve addressed any of their issues. And keep in mind, I’m multi-published so somebody thinks I know what I’m doing. 😉
I found my critique partners in the blogosphere– I’ve been on LJ for a long time and have connected with a lot of writers. You can also find them on message boards like “absolute write” or verlakay.com (if you write YA/MG) or through a professional organization like SCBWI, RWA, SFWA, etc.
Just don’t go too crazy– I know people who will have 5-8 people read their work and that’s just going to paralyze you– you can’t make everyone happy or address every comment. And as a last tip, it should really be a writer– not your BFF or your Mom. Someone honest and unbiased.
Critique partners should be comfortable with each other enough that they can really tell you what is wrong with your story or novel. Although there are some critique partners that are asked to critique lightly versus others who are used to really pinpoint what is missing from or wrong with your novel.
You can find critique partners, like Mandy said, online at Verla Kay’s, Absolute Write or even your blogging website. You can also find them in a writing group you may be in. What if you liked what X said about that paragraph in your story? Why not ask them to critique the full thing? See what happens. You never know!
Finding a good critique partner is like finding a good boyfriend. Sometimes harder. But anyways, you need someone that you can trust, first and foremost. Once you’ve found a potential CP using the great resources my LTWF peeps suggested, exchange a bunch of emails, chat online, talk about your projects, etc.–before you send them your material. A lot of writers are afraid of getting a CP out of the fear that someone will steal their work. Stop being afraid. Just use common sense. These days, it’s pretty easy to check out people online–do they have a website/blog? Are they on twitter? Do they have other writer-friends? Is this someone that seems legit? There’s no harm in checking out your would-be CP before you commit.
Be honest with each other from the start. Clearly state your expectations, and come to an agreement about how you would like your feedback to be received. Are you someone who likes your criticism sugar-coated, or do you just want to have your work ripped apart?
You have to embrace the criticism as much as the praise, and if you find your CP’s comments to be upsetting, it’s not THEIR fault. You need to let go of your emotional investment in your work when you receive criticism from your CP. You’re both in this to improve, and that won’t happen if you ONLY want to hear good things about your stuff. It’s not personal. Don’t be afraid of someone finding a gaping plothole in your story, or that your characters are 2D, or some other major thing. Think of it as a lifesaver: how would you feel if you ignored those things, and then queried agents only to have them point out the same stuff?
That’s not to say that you should accept every comment your CP says. Sometimes your CP can be wrong–this is a subjective business in a lot of ways, after all. Let your CP’s criticism sink in over the course of a day or so. Think through the changes they suggest. But remember that your CP can see your work more clearly than you can (without the emotional attachment). But if your gut advises you not to listen to them, then just keep the suggestions in the back of your mind.
A great way to do before committing is to do a test run. Agree to swap the first 3 chapters of your stuff. When you exchange feedback, you’ll just KNOW if the person jives with you (much like you KNOW when your significant other is The One). Just remember to be clear on what kind of feedback you want to exchange!
And a final word of advice. Even when you and your CP become friends, don’t let it cloud your criticisms. I know from experience that sometimes you get to a point in your CP relationship when you feel bad telling them that their book needs serious work. But it doesn’t help anyone to hold back your true opinion, and doing so can really deteriorate your CP partnership. While you should be sure to remember that someone’s dreams and hopes are wrapped up in the work, don’t forget that you should be honest.
I’ll be honest here. My first draft was crap–lovable crap. My second, third, fourth, fifth…..tenth, eleventh draft was not in it’s best shape. I thought my story couldn’t get anymore polished. I thought it was perfect. But then came the critique partners. They were mainly writers my age who helped out with grammatical/spelling/phraseology errors. Then a year ago I met a lady in her early thirties through Authonomy.com. She read the seven chapters I had posted up on that site, loved it, and offered to critique it. Since then she has made a whole-world-of-a-difference to me. I could cry at the thought of the crazy number of hours she devoted to my manuscript, The Runaway Courtesan.
The reason why she is SUCH a wonderful CP is because she is honest. She took on the most exhausting task of focusing on the plot/character development. This is how the critiquing went: She sees an inconsistency in my hero’s feelings for the heroine, starting from Chapters 1-9, so she sends me a revision letter with pointers on what stood out to her as being out-of-character. I revised and sent the 9 chapters back to her. She reread it and then read on, editing along the way. Then she reached Chapter 20 and sent an email bluntly saying that she had to suspend her disbelief while reading the climaxing scene that ALL the following ten chapters revolved around. I realized that she was right, that I had been avoiding this truth, because I just DID NOT want to revise anymore. But with her encouragement, after brainstorming with her, I decided to do a big time rewrite. Months later I sent her my rewritten draft. She actually went back to Chapter 1 again to get a better flow of my story. My troubles didn’t end there. My book had tons of other issues to fix. But she continued to work with me, on and on until the day I finally sent my full manuscript to the agent.
So my answer would be: Before searching for a CP whose specialty is in grammar and spelling, you need to find a CP willing to pour hours into focusing on the structure and character development of your story. It is asking for a lot, I know. Which is why I found myself in the position of offering to critique my CP’s work as well. I don’t think I was half so helpful. I found myself pointing out minor issues in an otherwise Charles-Dickens-esque novel.
Ah, and next to honesty, it is soooo important that your CP is utterly IN LOVE with your book. Or they’ll tire of critiquing midway. They have their own lives to live, after all; they probably have their own books to work on too. So yes. Love and Honesty makes an unforgettable critique-partner.
There are a number of ways to find a CP. And in many ways, they’re like your editor (and can really help you as a writer become more comfortable with critiques, cuts, changes, etc). I have friends who are writers, and it’s a wonderful thing because I am able to feel comfortable with showing my work to them. But at the same time, they know that they need to be looking at my work not as friends, but as critique partners. And I always ask them to be brutally honest. Sure, I might mope around for a bit, but I’ll know that they have my best interests at heart.
A great way is to join a writers group. You’ll be able to find CP’s very easily this way. Writing sites/forums are another great option. Just remember to not freak out when you get a lot of criticisms; take them in stride. And you can always disagree if you REALLY feel strongly about something, and keep it the way it is.
You also don’t need to have a lot of critique partners; often, one is enough (although 2 or 3 isn’t that bad either). But don’t have too many, because it will be far too confusing then (and probably too overwhelming).
Thanks for your question, Samantha!
Remember, if you want to ask us a Question of the Week, click on QOTW at the top on our links. We mostly answer questions in order, unless there’s something really pressing at hand.