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If you’ve ever suffered through a bad critique, you know how damaging feedback can be to the creative process. Here are a few simple tips to help you determine how to find and choose a critique partner to help with your writing.
Why do I need a critique?
If you’re looking for an honest and objective viewpoint, a critique partner (or beta reader) may be the answer. Your best friend might shower you with well-intended praise, but a good critique partner will spot problems in your writing that you may be unable to see.
Where can I find a critique partner?
Check your local writers groups, libraries, bookstores, and the English department at local colleges and universities. If you live in an outlying or remote area, many online writers’ sites offer the opportunity for writers to connect with beta readers. If you write in a specific genre, check writers’ sites and critique groups dedicated to that particular genre (i.e., horror, mystery, romance, and science fiction).
What should I look for in a critique partner?
First, avoid family, friends, neighbors, or anyone who may be afraid to hurt your feelings. Feedback that showers you with praise and feeds your ego will not improve your writing skills.
Second, choose a fellow writer, someone with experience and credentials—someone who knows the ups and downs of the publishing industry and is familiar with the market, the genre, and the nitty-gritty business of writing. If your partner can’t qualify his or her opinion based on education and/or experience, you may be receiving bad advice. Get a sense of your potential beta reader’s writing in advance—if you don’t respect his or her writing, you won’t respect his or her comments.
Third, look for a critique partner who will be respectful and helpful. General comments such as “Pretty good story” or “I hated the plot” aren’t constructive—neither are rude and belittling comments like “Where’d you learn to write, anyway?” Your partner should be able to point out specific areas of concern without leaving you feeling small and stupid.
Above all, be patient. Like affairs of the heart, it might take several partners before you find that perfect fit.
Be clear about your expectations from the start.
Are you looking for an overall opinion on plot and pacing? Worried about your point of view? Concerned about your characters? Or are you simply looking for a line edit to catch grammatical errors and typos? Let your critique partner know exactly what you want and avoid conflict down the road.
Go over your expectations of turnaround times. If you want to submit your novel or short fiction in a specific time frame, will your beta reader be able to deliver?
Will you be expected to critique your partner’s work as well? What kind of volume and frequency will be involved?
Online versus face-to-face critique partners.
Interacting with your beta reader online offers greater flexibility, such as submitting your novel at 2:00 a.m. while in your pj’s, and allows for e-mail accessibility at all hours (why wait for next month’s meeting?).
Face-to-face critiques can sometimes get heated; online feedback can be more tactful. Your online reviewer has time to carefully frame his or her comments, and you have time to absorb the feedback in private, giving your ego a chance to recover before you respond.
People can be influenced by a physical presence—sloppily dressed, mumbling and muttering people may be perceived as strange and sloppy writers, and witty, charismatic people may offer substandard writing despite their dazzling personalities—while online critiques are based solely on the writing itself.
Interacting in person with a critique partner offers a social respite and often inspires idea-generating brainstorming sessions. Writing can be a solitary business, and many fiction writers benefit from interacting with other writers on a regular basis. Online interaction is less personal, less social.
You don’t have to implement every change your critique partner suggests. Think about his or her suggestions carefully before you implement them.
Be prepared for criticism. This is a business rife with criticism and rejection, and thick skin and determination to improve your craft are essential to succeed. If you break down in tears every time someone finds a problem in your fiction, you may not be ready to take your writing to the next level.
If you are critiquing for your partner, give them the same respect and consideration you would expect in return. Provide concrete, specific comments and advice in a respectful manner. And don’t hesitate to point out what you like: well-developed characters, certain passages that really caught your attention, anything that stood out in a positive way. Writers should be aware not only of their weaknesses but also of their strengths. And let’s face it: a little good news is always welcome in this business. (Learn more about Writer’s Relief submission services).