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Having written my first book, Highlander’s Hope, without any critique partners, I know from experience just how invaluable they are. I’m convinced I would have had much less rewriting and editing if I’d had a few comrades in writing dissecting my manuscript. I can hear my editor saying, “Amen!”
I’m blessed with several amazing critique (crit) partners now, though, there have also been a few that have come and gone. I know other authors who have horror stories regarding crit partners (usually former ones), authors who are frustrated with their current partners, and then there are the authors like me who adore their partners and don’t know how they can possible write without their input. *Hugs*
The absolute best critique partners don’t try to “fix” your style. They embrace it and wholeheartedly want to help your writing improve.
That got me to thinking about what makes a good critique partner, and when might it be time to move on. These ‘rules’ are purely my own thoughts and, trust me, I am not an authority on the subject by any stretch of the imagination.
So, with that disclaimer, here goes:
The Basic Rules to Critique Partner Heaven
The Sure Path to Hell
1. Write or reads the same genre-
This is by no means a hard and fast rule, but it can be difficult for someone who doesn’t write or read the same genre to understand context, content, verbiage, and so on, if they don’t regularly read or write the same genre.
However, if your partner is a whiz at grammar, syntax, spelling, punctuation (you fill in the blank) and you value that expertise more than genre/subject knowledge, then by all means, glue that treasure to your side.
2. Writing & publishing experience-
I’ve heard it advised that authors should stick to crit partners with relatively the same level of writing experience. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say … not so much, at least not always.
Think about it. When you started writing, didn’t you appreciate someone with more knowledge taking the time and effort to help you grow? The flip side of that is newer authors, perhaps someone, as yet unpublished, who are an expert on a subject or simply fabulous with sentence structure or comma usage.
The key here is you agree to expectations beforehand.
I have an eclectic group of crit partners. Some are agented and multi-published with big houses, others just starting out with an Indie book or two on the market, and a few who are still waiting for their call. Each of them is invaluable to me because of their insight and expertise.
3. Trust, trust, trust-
It’s freaking hard enough to put a completed, polished book out there for readers and reviewers to rip to shreds, but doing so with a work in progress (WIP) makes you sooooo vulnerable.
Certainly, when you first start interacting with a new partner, there’s a bit of hesitancy. Will she like my work? Hate it? Can I trust her to be honest without filleting me?
Not only do you need to protect and keep confident your crit partners’ work (think copyright laws) you want to help them create their very best book; just like you want them to help you do the same.
And, if you betray that trust, it can ruin your reputation as an author. We authors talk!
4. Helpful or hateful?
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You must be honest with your crits.
Notice, I said honest, not brutal. Don’t just point out what’s not working; comment on what is. Ask yourself is this a personal preference, or is it a glaring error. And, get thick-skinned. I know that sometimes my comments come off way more brusque than I intend them, simply because I’m in a hurry to jot my thoughts down. When I introduce myself to a new partner, I mention that.
Remember, you don’t have to take all the advice your partner recommends, and shouldn’t expect them to take all of yours. Well, unless it’s something like using peek for peak or basing your entire story on a plot point that’s unfeasible.
Or trying to put hummingbirds in England and skunks in Scotland like I did, but one of my amazing partners knew neither creature was indigenous to the area. Had I done more research, I’d have discovered this, so shame on me, but cheers for her!
Do assume your partner had done their research, but feel free to question anything, as long as you do it respectfully.
5. Turnaround time-
This is something that should be clearly established in the beginning of your partnership. Remember, you might be a full-time writer, but your partner has a full-time job, is a mother, volunteers at the local food bank… You get the idea.
Let her know upfront how much time you can commit to critiquing and find out the same from her. It’s very frustrating to have a partner that takes weeks, or months even, to return a two-three chapter crit to you. Yes, I realize things come up, but be courteous and let your partner know you won’t be able to get to it right away.
I try very hard to get mine done in 2-4 days, unless I know I’m swamped with something else, and then I’ll let them know it might be longer.
6. Depth of critique
Also discuss the level of critiquing you will provide and see what they are willing to do.
Are you going to do a line edit pointing out everything you find, or are you going to focus on plot points, inaccuracies in the plot, areas that are confusing, etc.?
I’m a teacher, so it’s nearly impossible for me not to do a grammar and spelling edit along with the others.
Oh, I just thought of this.
Do not expect your partner to find everything that might need editing. One partner may catch one thing and another zoom in on something else, or truthfully, they may all miss the omitted word in a sentence. It happens.
7. How long should the submitted material be?
This is something you and your partner(s) want to clarify in the beginning. If you’re only submitting a single 10-page chapter of about 2000 words each time, and she regularly sends along three chapters or 5000 words, you might need to discuss expectations.
I usually send two-three chapters at time, and my crit partners do the same.
If you belong to a critique group, you are not expected to critique every single thing that is posted in the group, though you’d better do a few if others are generous enough to take a peek at yours.
8. How many partners are enough or too many?
I have a core group of 3 partners that look at everything I submit, and few more that critique as they are able.
Make sure you don’t over-commit yourself so that you spend all your time critiquing and don’t get any writing done.
Time for the hells…
1. Used and abused-
Do not ask for critique partners and use them to edit your work, then when you no longer need them, discard them like dirty dish water. I actually had this happen once. I couldn’t figure out why I suddenly had been cut off when we’d been corresponding regularly for a few months. She didn’t need me anymore. The contest deadline had come and gone.
Also, if you ask for your work to be critiqued and never reciprocate, you’re being incredibly selfish. Don’t be surprised if those partners stop critiquing your stuff.
Authors are crazy busy. It’s a sacrifice to take the time to review someone’s WIP and give them thoughtful input. Show you’re appreciation by doing the same for them.
Sometimes a crit partner can’t look at your current WIP, but they’ll offer to beta read for you. As long as that works for the two of you, great, but if it becomes habitual, then you need to reexamine your relationship.
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2. Over-zealous can mean jealous-
None of us likes to think it will happen to us, but the truth is, sometimes you run into a crit partner who deliberately destroys, criticizes, demeans, etc. your work, and jealousy is the reason. Chances are as slim as a snowflake on a campfire they’ll ever admit it, but you do need to be aware it happens.
Again, I know someone this happened to, and ironically when she’d just about given up on herself, she was offered a contract on the very work her partners said was rubbish.
3. The partner that steals your ideas-
Gasp! Say it isn’t so.
Sadly, it is, so, that’s why you really need to get to know your partner before you turn your “baby” over to them. If possible, check with other authors/writers that have partnered with them. And I always say, go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right about starting a writing relationship with a new partner, then don’t do it.
Again, I know someone this happened to, and she refused to write anymore. It destroyed her faith in the profession.
4. Is once enough?
Another quick point here: Beware of the partner who asks you to look at the same material over and over and over after they’ve rewritten or tweaked it. That can get very time-consuming.
I don’t resubmit to my partners after I rewrite. It’s just my personal preference.
Well, that’s all I have. I’ll think of a bunch more after I post this, of course.
What I’d really like though, is a genuine discussion from you on what has worked in your crit partner relationships and what hasn’t. We can all learn from one another’s experiences.
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