Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Critique Partners

I participated in SC Author's #Becomeanagent contest this week. Excellent contest, excellent host. Once more, big thanks to SC.

And - Wow. Just, wow. The query I told you about a few weeks ago? The one I was cautiously optimistic about? TANKED!

Really just nosedived - NO ONE liked it.  OUCH.

So, it's back to the drawing board, but once again, because of smart thinking from people who can see everything in my query that I'm too close to see, I have renewed hopes that it can be good one day. Not just I-think-it's-good, but actually, truly good.

And all this has led to today's musings on the importance of a good CP.

We all know what a key piece the puzzle a good critique partner is -- but you know, I'll just say it: It's scary to open your work to someone you've never - and may never - meet in person. Or at least, it is for me.

If you're like me, you send your work to a CP and then you don't really sleep until the critique comes back. You WANT to know what doesn't work, you WANT to know where you're falling short. But it's still nerve wracking. It just is. After all, this is your baby, right? One of them, at least.

Brenda Drake, who many of us know because of her blog and the great contests she generously runs (#Pitmad, anyone?) agreed to share her thoughts on finding and working with critique partners. 

Heather: What are some good questions to ask when considering working with a new CP?

It can be so scary, but it is well worth it. Critiques make our work better and help find holes and things that just aren't working in our manuscripts. 
I think the best questions to ask when deciding if a writer might be your critique partner match would be: What do you write? What do you like to read? How much time do you have for critiquing? How do you like to critique? Do you do line edits or just general notes? How much time do you normally need to do a critique?

Heather: What would be good reasons not to work with someone - meaning, even if someone is accomplished and a good writer, should you pay attention to the differences between you (like personality)? 
I like diversity, so if someone writes something different from me, or their personality isn't like mine, I think that's wonderful. The only time I would not want to work with someone is if he or she is negative. You can tell a lot about a person through a Twitter feed. If the feed is always negative, I'd caution starting a CP relationship. 

Heather: How do you find a CP? 
I haven't looked for a CP in such a long time. I have a small group of friends who are my critique partners. I found them doing NaNoWriMo and participating in contests. I think if you put yourself out there and participate on the hashtags for writer events, you get to know fellow writers. Then all you have to do is ask them. If they tweet about their current work in process and you like the premise, tweet them and tell them you'd love to critique it. It's reaching out that gets you a critique partner. Also, we have where you can post what you're looking for in a critique partner. Others will read it, and if they feel you're a match, they can contact you.

Heather: How many CPs should you work with? And how many people should you agree to be a CP for? 
Each person works differently and needs a different amount of CPs. Some just need one, others need a dozen. It depends on your time and what you can give back to your CPs. I have just a few, and each one offers a special eye to certain elements in a story.

Heather: Sadly, sometimes these professional relationships just don't work out for one reason or another. How do you "break up" without burning bridges? 
I'm a pretty easy going person. I've never had to "break up" with a CP. I think honesty is always best. Just tell them you don't feel like you're connecting enough to their work to give them the critique they deserve. Reading, as we all know, is subjective. Just be kind and direct the problem to yourself than them. Some people can get hurt easily; it's always best to go with the "it's not you, it's me" approach.

Heather: How much work/time should you reasonably expect to ask of a CP? How much work/time should you be expected to make available to CP other people? 
It depends on how much time you have after your day job and family time. I suggest starting out with one to three critique partners and see how it goes. Always be upfront with your critique partners on how much time you have. We all have deadlines, vacations, or just things that happen beyond our control. Keep them informed. I say that you should give your critique partner a few weeks to give you the best critique possible. And you should tell them what to expect from you. If you think you can have it back in two weeks, tell them. Or if something is happening in your life and you need more time, then let them know it might take you longer this time. It's all about communication.

Brenda Drake, the youngest of three children, grew up an Air Force brat and the continual new kid at school. Brenda’s fondest memories growing up is of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling. So it was only fitting that she would choose to write young adult and middle grade novels with a bend toward the fantastical. When Brenda’s not writing or doing the social media thing, she’s haunting libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops or reading someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment). Brenda is represented by Peter Knapp with Park Literary. Look for her young adult novel, LIBRARY JUMPERS, coming soon.

She runs contests and twitter pitches, and you can find out more on her website:

And while we're on the subject of critique, here are a few more opportunities for critique workshops:

1) This Friday (2-7), SC Author will post revisions to queries/first 250 for those of you who participated in #Becomeanagent. Anyone can looksee, and all the help is good.

2) Also on Friday, Michelle Hauck will be doing a Critique Workshop on her blog. She's posting the submissions from her two alternates for #TeamSnow. If you entered #sunvvssnow and if you take time to leave feedback on the alternate's submissions, she'll do her best to post your entry for workshopping.

Be Brilliant, everyone!!


  1. I just saw this! Thank you so much for your awesome words!! Critiques can be so, so scary. But ultimately, they're for the best.