Critique Partners: Working a Two-Way Street

From our Advice from the Archives:

We editors often hear about writers getting feedback from their critique partners. Generally, we love that this relationship exists because writing needs critiquing. The “just finished” manuscript isn’t at the stage where we step in (unless it’s pure genius—and then, even we would be jealous). Sure, some people write books, then submit to a publisher or self-publish and instantly achieve bestseller status. For many, though, there is a learning and revising curve before submission. Your story should be in great shape when it hits our desks, which means asking for help.

Luckily, the romance genre provides all kinds of helpful support with RWA, other organizations, agents and editors. Working with a critique partner can be a positive learning experience, not to mention a confidence-booster for when you show your work to a larger group.

Here are some steps to consider as you find the perfect critique partner:

  1. Take a vow of truth. You and your partner will be honest with each other about the work. You can be friendly and truthful at the same time.
  2. Respect each other’s talents. Your partner may excel at plotting. You like to dive into characterization. No one writes the way you do, and would you want that anyway? Give critique based on your partner’s individual style and expertise.
  3. Watch that you don’t sandwich criticism in too many compliments: I love how you make the hero go over the waterfall in a barrel, but you might want to fix the entire story. The bad stuff often takes center stage, but wrapping it in praise can make it worse. It’s difficult to be critical, especially with so much at stake (a story over which you’ve poured blood, sweat and tears). Give real praise, of course, and show your enthusiasm—just make sure your partner doesn’t have to anticipate the “but” in your verdict. You’ve taken a vow of truth, after all. The more you work with a partner, the more you can learn the other’s language and evolve toward being direct. The goal is to make the story better. Praise and criticism are a vital part of this process.
  4. Be specific: You and your partner should list specific ways to fix your stories, not just “make it better.” The more specific you are, the more helpful you can be to your partner.
  5. Be timely. If your partner turns your story around fast, so should you. Unless life intervenes, which happens.
  6. Take the criticism, sit with it, then do better. No matter how committed you are to revising your work, take the time to digest the suggestions and then dive in. You know your work will improve.
  7. Be supportive. If your partner needs a boost, be there. You are your partner’s cheerleader, critic, and advocate.
  8. Return the favor. Do you see a writer-friend in need? Ask if they need a critique partner.

The critique partner is a unique relationship in that it is reciprocal, professional and can have a basis in friendship. You may curse your partner one day, then thank the heavens you had this person to raise your novel to a higher level. As you embark on the journey of recrafting prose, stay positive about the process, keep writing and then show us what you’ve done.

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Comments

  1. Karen Collier

    Is there a norm for when to seek critique? I could see arguments for waiting until the manuscript is finished before seeking critique or for getting each chapter critiqued as you finish it. Wondering if one or the other is more commonly done or recommended? I’m not necessarily thinking specific to SYTYCW, but more on seeking critique in general.

    I’ve been planning to wait until my manuscript is finished and I’ve had a chance to read the whole thing through and polish it a bit myself before finding a critique partner, on the grounds that it would give me a chance to spot some of my own mistakes and present my best work for critique and improvement. Also to avoid getting bogged down in edits rather than finishing my first draft.

    But now I’m wondering if I’d be better off seeking input earlier in the process in the hopes of identifying any significant problems earlier and perhaps heading off major rewrites.

    Any thoughts from editors and/or authors on pros/cons to these approaches or insight into what’s most commonly done?

    Thanks,
    Karen

  2. LeTeisha Newton

    I have problems finding critique partners just because of the area I’m in. I have to find people who are willing to read it and get back to me, on their own time, which, a lot of the time, doesn’t go along with the time constraints I have. But, this post gives a lot of good information and I’ll have to use it.

  3. Lilly Christine

    I’d LOVE a critique partner. I’ve even posted craigslist ads in nearby metropolitan areas seeking one. In the interim, I’ve used professional editors, which is pricy, but it’s forced me to own my weaknesses!

    I think the advantage about a critique partner is that you don’t have to be in the same geographic area. In fact, maybe it’s better if you are not, so that the inevitable feelings of competition remain out of the picture. I’ve worked long distance workshopping, and
    email and phone consults take care of the communication. I’ve also had great luck with some of the RWA online workshops, though more than one has been a bomb. The other go to available for those of us lacking a critique partner, is the online romance workshop offered by
    Gotham.

    I need to get out of my head when I write, and also be reminded of what I’m doing right when the inevitable frustrations set in.

    I think it’s important that your critique partner understand and be interested in the kind of story YOU want to perfect, and how it differs from hers. Also, ideally, they read, write and analyze at a similar level of accomplishment. Golly, finding the perfect critique partner is starting to sound like finding *that* match made in heaven!

  4. Patience Bloom

    Hi, Karen, Yvette, LeTeisha and Lilly!

    Thanks for your comments! I’d suggest finding a RWA chapter that’s nearby and go from there. The more people/writers you meet, the closer you’ll be to finding someone to work with you. It might take some time so I’d suggest patience (no pun intended), as well as continuing to write.

  5. Tricia Saxby

    There is a critique partner thread on the Harlequin.com forum. Of course chapter swaps would be done via email. Leave your name, what line your targeting and what type of critiquing you need and can offer.

  6. Heidi Ali

    I really lucked out with finding a wonderful critique partner that knew me well and knew the most effective way to give me criticism but we found that working on a chapter to chapter basis worked best for us. It gives us both a start, middle, and end to focus on without being an overwhelming total of 50-100k words. This helps to check the work for purpose and structure in a very natural way. I know this would not work for everyone but I thought I would mention it for others.

  7. Can’t say as I’ve had good luck with critique partners. THE question IS, “Will readers take money out of the weekly grocery money to buy the book?” Every other question is Every Other Question. The ONLY other Question is, “Does the writing show?” If so, fix it. Critique partners, far and away, want to read something they would write themselves. Excellent critique partners I’ve known of were always spouses, or socially committed partners.