The Faery Swap by Susan Kaye Quinn, Draft One, Critiqued
Following Roni Loren's advice, I'll be endeavoring to use more of my own pictures and appropriate Common Use pictures, rather than trolling the internet for images.
A good critique partner is honest, will tell you when you repeat your repeats, repetitively, and won't be afraid to tell you that a plot-arc doesn't work for them, even if it would require massive rewriting (in fact, especially then). They will also find positive things in your writing, see the beyond the forest of adverbs you are hiding behind, and compliment you on that one good description you managed on page three. The very best of them will love you, love your work, love your story, even when it's raw; they will trust you to be able to fix the flaws they find; and they will have amazing insights into your story that you didn't even know were there.
My best advice: seek out authors in your genre, swap first chapters, determine compatibility, offer to swap full MS's after that
Finding Critique Partners
Finding a good critique partner is a lot like finding a friend. You have to get out there, be sociable, and meet people that you are compatible with. I recommend perusing author blogs, looking up your writer's organization for local crit meetings, and following writers on twitter or facebook. Go where authors are gathering, make friends, and then take the leap to offer to swap critiques.
Substantive vs. Line Edits (or Story vs. Craft Crits)
Early on, when I was mostly honing my craft, weekly or monthly critique groups were a great way to get feedback on small samples of writing - these were really line edits or craft critiques. Now, I mostly use those kinds of groups for feedback on a short story or the first chapter of a novel, where a wide range of opinion on detailed craft matters really helps make sure the story is off to a good start.
But as I grew in my craft, I needed more story critiques (also called substantive edits). For that, it's more helpful to swap full manuscript critiques. Those take time (I'm doing one for a crit partner right now), so you want to make sure you're compatible before you ask (or offer) to spend many hours on a manuscript. Compatibility means similar in genre, temperament, and style. You have to be open to many differing opinions of your work, because readers come in all shapes and sizes. But you're also writing for an audience, and if you're writing YA romances, don't get a hard-boiled mystery writer to critique your work. Or if you write literary, don't get critiques from a middle grade writer (unless they are a literary MG writer, then you're good!).
Tips For Critiquing
Don't be afraid to move on
Not every crit partner is a good match, and not every critique is useful. As you evolve in your writing, you will need stronger critique partners, ones that will be able to see the flaws in your story so you can make it more powerful. Sometimes your critique partners will grow with you, sometimes not. I am always seeking new partners with fresh eyes.
Be reasonable about time commitments
Everyone's lives are busy, so don't hold people to commitments that are unrealistic. Even for people that I know want to critique my story, I still ask, Is this a good time? I give a time frame that I need the critique back (usually 2-4wks), and ask if that's reasonable for them at the moment. If not, I keep them on my Critiquers of Awesome List for another time.
Don't critique the same thing twice
There are very few times when a person can critique the same story twice and still be effective. Don't make minor changes and ask people to read again. Respect their time, and realize they gave you their honest opinion the first time. It's up to you to find a way to implement it in the story. If you want to know if it worked, try it on someone else.
Realize this is a professional service
When you swap critiques, you are essentially doing an in-kind swap of a professional service (called a substantive edit by people who charge for them). If I was a professional editor and you paid for one of my substantive critiques, it could run you a couple thousand dollars. No author could afford to pay for all the substantive critiques they need to improve their craft, which is why in-kind swaps are so important - but treat them like the professional courtesy that they are. Do your best, meet your deadlines, and always be courteous, both giving and receiving.
Don't argue and always say thank-you
If someone spends hours reading and critiquing my story, I bend over backwards to let them know I appreciate their time. Even if I don't agree with their critique (actually, especially if I don't agree with their critique). I will sometimes ask for clarification, and for my close crit-partner-friends, I will occasionally ask for help or bounce plot ideas/changes off them. But I never argue with someone over a critique, not even in the "I'm not arguing, I'm just explaining mode." Their job is to tell me what they think of the story; my job is to take that information and make the story better, not convince them that their ideas were right or wrong.
Remember you are the author
Too many cooks can spoil the broth? Yes. Especially if you try to please every critiquer and implement every suggestion. You (should) have an idea of what your story vision is. Critiquers will help you test that vision, hone it, make sure that you know what your story is about. But in the end, your name is on that manuscript - make it something you're proud of!
As promised, I'm giving away another 5 page critique!
Legalese: I'll randomly chose a winner of a 5 page critique via Rafflecopter. The critiques will be offline, not posted on the blog. My critique philosophy is "honesty with kindness." I believe someone can't learn while they're in pain, so it's important to temper the truth with gentleness. I also believe my job as a critiquer is to help you tell your story better, not change it to be the story I would write.