A while back, someone asked me the following question: "Do you think I'm ready for ...

Critiquing 101: Building Critique Partnerships that Last Critiquing 101: Building Critique Partnerships that Last




A while back, someone asked me the following question:

"Do you think I'm ready for a critique partner?"

The answer is yes. The answer to that question is ALWAYS yes. And I've put together a PRESENTATION on Critiquing and Critique Partnerships to shed further light on what makes for an awesome critique partnership.

Whether you've just finished your first book during NaNoWriMo, or completed intense revisions on your eighteenth novel, there is never a time in your progression as a writer when an outside opinion doesn't have the potential to be life-changing.

That's not to say that every outside opinion WILL be. I once had someone do a line-by-line edit of my full manuscript in which they questioned every single simile. "You say she's like a duck here, but she's not REALLY a duck, so I found this confusing."

Yeah. That happened.

Trading material with potential critique partners is a lot like trying on shoes. Just because the info on the box looks good, doesn't mean the shoe inside is going to fit you perfectly. BUT, just because one pair doesn't fit, doesn't mean something super shiny and lovely isn't waiting in the next box.


 


You can't really KNOW if a critique partnership will work until you try it on. 

As to the question that prompted this post . . . PLEASE. Please don't believe that nasty little voice in your head telling you that you don't deserve shoes. That voice is a moron. EVERYONE deserves shoes. And finding the right ones can take you and your story amazing places.

If you're like me, one of your very favorite parts of working with a critique partner will be those moments when you realize YOU are another writer's favorite pair of shoes. It's true. That happens. YOU can be the one who's comfortable and supportive enough to help someone keep going, no matter how rough the road gets.

Give some thought to what you're looking for in a critique partner, and what kind of critique partner you'd like to be in return. And if you have the time, take a peek at my PRESENTATION. It might help you with your "shoe shopping."

If there's anything I'm an expert on in the literary world, it's how to luck in...

The Five B's: How to Maximize Your Critique Partner Experience The Five B's: How to Maximize Your Critique Partner Experience



If there's anything I'm an expert on in the literary world, it's how to luck into AMAZING critique partners. These authors who read my words and oh-so-miraculously allow me to read theirs, have talents of such a high caliber that Impostor Syndrome would be my constant companion if they let it be.

But they don't let it be.

They are encouraging, and supportive, and sometimes they kick my metaphorical ass when I need it. They believe in me when I forget how, and they love my words when my brain is too fogged over by doubt to see them properly anymore. I need them desperately, and I think they need me too.

For a former shy/invisible girl? That's a really big deal.

I've learned a lot about what elements make for a strong partnership, and I've had the opportunity to help other authors find the critique partners of their dreams through Write Type CP Match and Pitch Slam. Here are some thoughts I've gathered on "The Five B's." I can't give you the luck I somehow stumbled across, but maybe my thoughts will help you if you stumble across some of your own.


How to Maximize Your Critique Partner Experience: 

Be Thorough

Expectations regarding thoroughness are something you should have in place ahead of time. Personally? I thrive on thorough critique. I want to know ALL the things. Technical errors? Bring on the highlighter. Content issues? Lay them on me. Brilliant lines? Show me the love, baby.


  • Technical Editing. 
  • Content Editing. 
  • Validation. 

Some partners are going to specialize in one of these major areas. Some spread their skills across two or three. Make sure you know what kind of critiques you'll be offering each other. If you only give general content editing feedback with a sprinkle of validation, make that clear. If you're strictly a copy-editor with an eye out for technical issues, make that clear.

The best critiques take real effort, so yes, be thorough. There are few things rougher than pouring loads of time into a critique and getting just a few lines back in return. Your partnership will be stronger if you give as good as you get.


Be Kind


Take a little extra time to point out what's working in your critique partner's pages. Yes, it's faster to just highlight what needs work, and compliments don't directly help your partner improve, but they're still a vital component of any critique.


Storytime . . .

There was a line in my second book that I adored but a critique partner with eons more experience than me HATED it. I was on the verge of cutting it when I got notes back from two other readers. Both of them took the time to highlight that line and put in comments about how much they loved it. One of them laughed out loud! One of them said that was the point at which they really started liking my main character.

So I kept the line. End of story.

If you have favorite lines in your CP's work, tell them so! Someone else might be telling them otherwise. Plus? Warm-fuzzy feels from being told you don't totally suck can give you the strength to fix what DOES suck.

Don't go overboard though. Critiques that are ONLY compliments aren't really critiques at all, are they?


Be Genuine


Confrontation is hard. Telling your CP to kill their darlings? SO hard. Sometimes it's easier to pat them on the head, avoid eye contact, and say, "Yeah . . . that's good. Real good."


Remember the heading of the previous section? Be Kind? Avoiding the truth isn't being kind.

But when you do offer genuine criticism, make sure you give context. Simply saying "I don't like this" is NOT helpful. If you can't put your finger on why, tell your partner that. But whenever possible, try to give context:

 "Her reaction here doesn't ring true for me because X." 

"The flow of this sentence is super awkward. Maybe it would work better if you broke it into two?" 

"The backstory in this scene is slowing the pace and I don't feel like I'm really with your main character anymore."

Your genuine opinion is far more likely to be helpful if you actually give it.


Be Prompt


I'm not saying you need to work at breakneck speeds and pull off a twenty-four hour turnaround time. Perhaps I should change the heading of this section to "Be Realistically Prompt." If you say "I'll have notes back to you next week" and your partner doesn't hear from you for two months, that 
might be a problem.

If you only remember to critique after being reminded several times times? That might be a problem.

If your partner has critiqued seventeen chapters for you and you've only critiqued two for them? That might be a problem.

I say "might be" because this is something you and your partner need to figure out between you. Communicate. Establish up front what your expectations of each other are. 

Maybe your partner has four kids and works a graveyard shift at the local hospital, but their critiques are so amazing you don't mind if they only do one for every five you do. 

Maybe you have seventy kajillion things going on in your life and can only manage to critique a chapter a month for awhile. Or maybe there are times when you can only give general feedback and not line edits, or times when line edits ain't no thang, because you're swimming in spare time.

But if you don't communicate about where you're at and what you've got going on, your partner might feel like they're hanging onto a cliff's edge, dangling over the revision pit, with no clue if you're ever going to help pull them up.

It's okay not to have time sometimes. It's even okay to get swamped and forget. But if you do? Apologize. Establish more reasonable expectations for each other. 

Being human and being prompt are often mutually exclusive. Own up to your humanity, and accept your partner's humanity*.

If you receive a horrifically unhelpful critique (hey, it happens), you still have to do one in return. I know, I know, BUT YOU DO. This is why I advise NEVER trading full manuscripts with a new critique partner. For me, 1-3 chapters at a time is the sweet spot. Shorter term commitments allow you to reevaluate the value you're offering each other before making long term plans.

Quality critique partnerships aren't born; they're created.

*To a point, of course. If they're jerky to you and attempts to communicate are all one-sided, you're allowed to say goodbye.


Be Grateful

Whether you're starting a new partnership or enjoying the blissful comfort of an old one, SAY THANK YOU. Not just for the first critique, or the best critiques, but ALL critiques. Whether they're as helpful as you hoped or not. Whether they send you into a tailspin of despair or soaring to new heights where you can see the "possible" of your story better than ever before, express gratitude for the time that went into the critique.


No matter how effectively the time was spent, it was SPENT, and that deserves your thanks. If you constantly find it a struggle to feel enough gratitude to put into words, it might be time to reevaluate whether that particular partnership is worth continuing. 


Above all, keep in mind that the ideal critique partnership is worth searching for AND working for. It requires so many leaps of faith, I know I know I know. And there's terror in that. Of course there is. But the best partners, the ones worth keeping? 

They catch you.

And you catch them.

And your stories become more than words on a page. They become worlds you build and visit together. I hope you find that. And I hope you get to be to someone what my critique partners are to me.

It's the very best kind of magic.









Team Obi-Wan and the Wookies: Finalists Team Obi-Wan and the Wookies: Finalists



35 Word Pitch:   When a friend's evisceration reeks of necromancy and Clare was the intende...

Adult Horror: Scrapetown Adult Horror: Scrapetown

35 Word Pitch: When a friend's evisceration reeks of necromancy and Clare was the intended target, she and a reckless bayou warlock set out to trap and destroy the elusive killer who shares her power over ghosts.


Genre: Adult Horror


Title: Scrapetown


Word Count: 90,000


Special Question: Clare would be a bass player in a Mos Eisley Cantina band. She'd appreciate the ability to find work anywhere and travel more or less unnoticed, and would love to have a crucial and well-defined role in a tightly knit group of people without being the center of attention. The lack of pressure to save anyone but herself wouldn't hurt.


35 Word Pitch:  After the Church burns Quil’s home, he abandons the ashes in search of justice. ...

Adult Sci-fi: Saints' Scales Adult Sci-fi: Saints' Scales


35 Word Pitch: After the Church burns Quil’s home, he abandons the ashes in search of justice. Now, Librarian-Priests hunt him through paper-deserts for a stolen secret. Unless he survives, the chthonic Archives and its machine-gods will die.

Genre: Adult Sci-fi

Title: SAINTS' Scales

Word Count: 108,000

Special Question: If your main character could be any Star Wars character, who would they choose and why? Jocasta Nu. Quil's mentor was also a bad-ass Librarian. He could think of worse things than ending up like her.

35 Word Pitch:  When Oak befriends a kitten and the teal-haired girl, his shattered heart begins ...

MG Fantasy: The Broken Boy & His Patchwork Heart MG Fantasy: The Broken Boy & His Patchwork Heart

35 Word Pitch: When Oak befriends a kitten and the teal-haired girl, his shattered heart begins mending. But the alchemist who covets misery senses opportunity. If Oak can't trick him, the alchemist will claim his friends too. 

Genre: MG Fantasy

Title: THE BROKEN BOY & HIS PATCHWORK HEART

Word Count: 62,000

Special Question: Yoda. No doubt about it, seeing as Oak prefers to keep to tradition and would rather be the one to know the secrets, not the poor soul trying to figure them out. Also, at first glance, Yoda's terribly underestimated. Oak would like to think he's the same.


35 Word Pitch:  Third-generation Watched, seventeen-year-old Orley Aragón’s entire life is filme...

YA Sci-fi: Seen YA Sci-fi: Seen

35 Word Pitch: Third-generation Watched, seventeen-year-old Orley Aragón’s entire life is filmed for the Nation. After her ratings drop and her best friend disappears, she risks newfound love and the only world she knows to escape the Network.
Genre: YA Sci-fi
Title: SEEN
Word Count: 102,000
Special Question: If your main character could be any Star War character, who would they choose and why?
Orley would choose to be Princess Leia Oragna, because she identifies with her life. Like Princess Leia, whose adopted father tries to prepare her for her eventual duties as Queen, Orley’s father constantly reminds her of her responsibilities to the Network. Orley is also frustrated with her mother grooming her to be the next big star on the Watched, just as Princess Leia is annoyed with her aunts who lecture her on her etiquette, appearance, and company. Ultimately, both Orley and Princess Leia refuse to accept the superficial expectations of their roles, instead focusing on finding the truth in their worlds and fighting for what’s right.

35 Word Pitch:   If seventeen-year-old wizard Inani wants to save her only friend from child-sa...

YA Fantasy: Her Crooked Shadow YA Fantasy: Her Crooked Shadow

35 Word Pitch: If seventeen-year-old wizard Inani wants to save her only friend from child-sacrifice by her Order, she’ll have to join a pack of murder-happy conspiracy idiots and overthrow her former family. Legend of Korra meets Deadpool.

Genre: YA Fantasy

Title: Her Crooked Shadow

Word Count: 93,000

If your main character could be any Star Wars character, who would they choose and why?: It's a toss-up between Mara Jade and Han Solo (badasses with shady pasts, now doing whatever they want), but Han's best friend can/does rip peoples' arms off, so Han wins.

35 Word Pitch:   British teen is thrown into rocky waters when she ’ s sent to a small Florida to...

YA Contemporary: Water Down My Walls YA Contemporary: Water Down My Walls

35 Word Pitch: British teen is thrown into rocky waters when shes sent to a small Florida town to recharge. Without her mum or bestfriend, she must navigate through her anxiety and depression before she sinks for good.

Genre: YA Contemporary

Title: Water Down My Walls

Word Count: 76,000

Special Question (If your main character could be any Star Wars character, who would they choose and why?): My MC would choose to be Rey. Five words — she pilots the Millennium Falcon. Shes determined, self-sufficient, and more courageous than brave. That said, even though my MC would choose Rey, she would connect most with Finn. Whether its the First Order, depression or anxiety, Finn and my MC are pulled into an adventure without their consent. Their resulting mission might not be as explosive as blowing up a Death Star, but their mission is to survive and look out for those they care about.

35 Word Pitch:   Heaven is a dive bar where eighteen-year-old alcoholic, Mary, uses letters to sp...

YA Magical Realism: Dear Dead Drunk Girl YA Magical Realism: Dear Dead Drunk Girl

35 Word Pitch: Heaven is a dive bar where eighteen-year-old alcoholic, Mary, uses letters to speak to the living, atone for her sins, and hopefully save her sister from a stalker.

Genre: YA Magical Realism

Title: DEAR DEAD DRUNK GIRL

Word Count: 64,000

Special Question: If my MC Mary could be any Star Wars character she would be Lando Calrissian. Both Lando and Mary understand the devastating guilt one mistake carries.  And both characters struggle to redeem themselves as they strive to make things better for the ones they love.


35 word Pitch:   Siren-blood McKenna breaks the most sacred laws of her kind; binding her song t...

YA Contemporary Fantasy: In Lyres and Lies YA Contemporary Fantasy: In Lyres and Lies


35 word Pitch: Siren-blood McKenna breaks the most sacred laws of her kind; binding her song to one Siren, her soul to another, while discovering that being heard, being obeyed, is much more satisfying than being silenced.

Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy


Title: IN LYRES AND LIES (A Siren's Lament)

Word Count: 70,000

If you're main character could be any Star Wars character, who would they choose and why? Honestly? McKenna won't get likability points for this, but she'd choose someone like Mother Talzin. Sure, she's evil as hell itself, but Talzin knows exactly what she's capable of. She knows her power inside and out, and isn't above using it for her own personal gain. McKenna has always been too afraid of herself to explore her True potential. At least Talzin dies defending her son though, right?

Pitch:   Twelve-year-old papergirl and sleuth Kazuko Jones knows the Athen’s Kidnapper is on her ...

MG Thriller: My Paper Route and Other Deadly Things MG Thriller: My Paper Route and Other Deadly Things

Pitch: Twelve-year-old papergirl and sleuth Kazuko Jones knows the Athen’s Kidnapper is on her route. But in a botched rescue attempt, her BFF is swiped, and Kazuko must spring him free before he disappears forever.

Genre: Upper Middle Grade Thriller


Title: My Paper Route and Other Deadly Things


Word Count: 45,000


Special Question: Kazuko would choose to be Rey because she’s all about saving herself and others. Also, because running while holding hands is stupid.


35 Word Pitch:   When Helen of Troy enters the afterlife, she must face all the heroes who died i...

YA Fantasy: The Fall of Troy YA Fantasy: The Fall of Troy

35 Word Pitch: When Helen of Troy enters the afterlife, she must face all the heroes who died in the war she caused. She doesn't remember the past, but they do—and they aren't ready to forgive her.

Genre: YA Fantasy


Title: THE FALL OF TROY

Word Count: 76,000

Special Question: She'd want to be Rey, who is capable, independent, brave—and a very good fighter.


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