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).
My problem is that I’m a retired artist attempting to write a novel, but I know no one who is literary savvy,( Including myself. Maybe start a place where novice’s like myself can match up with someone or others can share. Maybe there is such a place, but as I said I’m a novice.
For writers who really want to put the excellent points of this article in action and get the feedback they need to write more, write better and be happier, read Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive. A fun, fast book that garnered glowing reviews and shows you how to make the most of this valuable resource. http://www.toxicfeedback.com
Joni, Thanks for your comment! Feedback (critique) can be harmful or helpful for writers. The problem is that we writers don’t know which it will be until we’ve already received it—at which point it’s too late to decide whether or not we want to hear it. We hope our post about choosing a critique partner will help writers find helpful partners, not harmful ones!
Thanks for this great article Joni! You are so right about finding someone who will give you good constructive feedback. Friends and family rarely work. It took me a while to find a good critique partner/group. For anyone else interested, you might want to check out http://www.writersvillage.com. I joined two years ago and it was exactly what I needed!
Excellent advice. This is right on point. Especially the part about not changing everything the beta reader says.
I’ve benefited from beta readers seeing things in my work that I’m simply too close and too blind to see. At the same time, I’ve had to chew on things they have pointed out that I put in for specific reasons. You have to know which parts of the advice to use and which parts to ignore.
They’re not always right, but if you choose the right reader, they usually are.
Great article! I’m looking for a critique partner.
Great article. We need a critical partner to recognize our weakness and fix it. I am also trying to find a partner to improve my writing skills.
I looking for a critique partner by check your local writers groups, libraries, bookstore,… I am very satisfieds with my results. Thank you so much for your clear and helpful information.