A few weeks ago I blogged that it takes a village to write a book. In the post, I only mentioned how helpful it’s been working with editors, who have no problem telling us authors where our problems are and helping us fix them.
Today I want to shine the limelight on another essential piece of the puzzle: critique partners.
Often referred to as a “CP” on Twitter (and, of course, the verb “to CP” has developed from there, as grammatically illogical as that is), a critique partner is an essential part of the writer’s toolkit.
What is a critique partner?
In my experience, critique partners are best gleaned from a group of peers–fellow writers in your genre or category. (Note the distinction from beta reader, who doesn’t need any writing experience, just the ability to read and write his or her reactions.)
Critique partners can help at most levels:
– Developmental feedback on the overall arc of the story, characters, and pacing;
– Play-by-play feedback on scenes or sections that aren’t working;
– Copyediting, but I usually recommend waiting on that part until your work is at a third draft and you’re struggling with landing an agent or publisher.
A great critique partner can even help during the drafting process, reading what you already have before helping you brainstorm where the story could go, or how to reach your ideal end point.
How do you choose a critique partner?
I’ve found the most important element in choosing a CP is similar interest of genre or category (or both). If you write young adult or middle-grade, remember that these are categories, not genres. A genre would be romance, fantasy, thriller, mystery, etc. (e.g., you could have a sci-fi YA manuscript or a fantasy MG manuscript; category + genre.)
If you have a couple of potential CPs to choose from, select ones with varying genre interests and experience. Sometimes it’s immensely helpful to have a CP who specializes in contemporary YA look over your fantasy manuscript, because he or she will bring a different pair of eyes to the table. (As long as said CP can still appreciate fantasy–never choose someone who you know doesn’t enjoy reading your genre.) Of course, a CP with the same interests as you can be incredibly helpful too, especially in fact-checking and consistency editing.
I try not to send out to too many CPs at one time, or the amount of feedback can be overwhelming; I usually send to two at a time so I receive a reasonable variety of opinions.
What makes a great CP?
I’ve found great critique partners in all kinds of places. One of my top go-to people is a good friend as well as a writer. I know that he respects my work, and any critique I receive from him is based purely on his desire to see my manuscript become the best that it can be. From reading his own work, I can tell he has a keen eye and access to an advanced writer skill set.
But great critique can often come from outside our personal circles, and it’s helpful to mix it up with CPs from external arenas, too. It’s harder to know whether or not you’re getting honest feedback, which is always an issue; I always note to my CPs when I send out my work that I want nothing but the honest truth. (This requires you to have an outlook upon receiving feedback that any criticism is not personal. You need to be able to learn without having your feelings hurt. But that’s another post entirely.)
I find that without that personal connection, you can usually be sure your CP isn’t biased towards you based on friendship. Again, having a variety is helpful, and you’ll quickly figure out which CPs give you the best feedback.
Skill, honesty, and reciprocation.
With the availability of online writer communities (not to mention Twitter), it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of potential CPs. Try out new CPs with a few chapters, and whittle down your list to the best based on quality and honesty of feedback.
Always reciprocate. I try to read and CP twice as often as I receive feedback. Two reasons:
1. You get more out of CPing for someone else than you do receiving feedback. With the distance inherent in reading someone else’s work, it’s easier to see the common mistakes writers make, and address these flaws in your own writing. (Another reason it’s good to choose some CPs at near or the same skill level as yourself: you can help each other grow.)
When we receive feedback, we’re only getting it on that one piece of work; when we give feedback, we learn lessons that can be applied everywhere and anywhere.
2. You’ll feel like a good person, and your CPs will love you, which makes it easier to call on them in a pinch.
The best advice I can give for finding a great critique partner is to get out there, whether online or in your home town, and meet other writers.