by Tamela Hancock Murray
Recently I talked with a supervisor in a field unrelated to the publishing industry, who mentioned an employee. “I shudder to think of the advice he’s giving out. He has a general understanding of the subject matter, but not the skill set.” It struck me how applicable this statement can be regarding people who offer to critique manuscripts. In a previous post, I addressed the number of critique partners to consider. In this article, I’ll discuss quality, because not all critique partners will help you in the same manner.
A friend offering to critique your work is a gift because she is expressing interest intense enough to offer her time to read and comment upon it. But what if it is someone who is only an acquaintance? Some writers may think, “But what if the person actually wants to steal it and pass off my work as her own and sell it to a publisher?” Of course that is a risk, so be wise and make sure you know that the person is a legitimate writer and/or reader. Some organizations such as American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) offer critique groups to their members, so those writers are screened by virtue of membership. Consider sending an email to a mutual writer friend, go on Facebook and Twitter, or take any number of steps to make sure the person is a proven or at least an aspiring peer in the business.
Interview your potential critique partner. Let’s say you are writing a contemporary romantic suspense novel. A quick look on the web shows your potential partner has written a couple of Regencies. I’d ask, “Since I write romantic suspense, do you think we’re a good match?” You might find that she wants to expand her reach into romantic suspense (Don’t debate this wisdom or lack thereof — leave that to her agent.), or that she loves romantic suspense as a fan but doesn’t want to write one, or she ultimately wants you for a critique partner and is offering an exchange. Since you want to offer good criticism, you will then have to determine your interest in critiquing Regencies. Do you know or care about the difference between a Regency rake and a garden rake? You may still agree to work together, but the critiques you will exchange are likely to be basic. You would both need to look within your respective genres for deeper critiques of finer points.
You may find that some partners will be grammar mavens who understand how not to split infinitives, some will catch you on the fact that bustle wasn’t in style until six months later, while others can find plot holes as more quickly than CSI can run a DNA test. Still others may act as readers who will simply catch a typo or two and tell you whether or not they like your story and characters. These critiques are valuable, especially if you find a partner who’s an expert in helping you improve your weak spots. Know what skill set each partner brings, and weigh opinions accordingly.
The bottom line is to choose carefully. A critique partner or two can be invaluable to your writing success.
What has been your best experience with a critique partner?
If you dare, your worst? (Please don’t use names if you share with us here.)
Are you part of a critique group? Why or why not?