Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Critique Wednesdays: Tips for Critiquing

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.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

11 comments:

  1. Such great advice. I've found beta partners to be invaluable but I love chapter by chapter critiques for the first act which I can then apply to the rest of my work. :)

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  2. I'm learning how to do those larger story critiques, I tend to focus on line edits. It's definitely a learned process.

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  3. My crit partners and I have been together so long that we know each others voices and we know when each others characters don't sound like themselves. We are not afraid to point out places which exceed suspension of disbelief and we push each other to dig deeper. We still line edit on occasion, but we mostly focus on substantive material.

    I know some people have bad experiences with crit partners, but a good one(s) is well-worth finding.

    Love the advice in this post. I'm tweeting it next.

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  4. This is fantastic advice. I'm telling all my writer friends that they need to read it!

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  5. Great tips! Love it. We have to remind ourselves as beta readers and critique partners to be honest yet nice with our comments.

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  6. i need to keep these things in mind as I'm critiquing someone else's work and having mine done in return.

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  7. Terrific advice. I lucked into 2 amazing crit buddies - don't know what I'd do without them!

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  8. Thanks for the offer! ;D Super great!

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  9. I love your critique philosophy: that someone can't learn while they're in pain. So true--it can take a long time for the sting of a thoughtless critique to work its way through a person's system.

    Thanks for the tips on critiquing and on forging a successful critiquing partnership.

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  10. These are great tips! Finding someone in your genre is so important, I think. And yes, too many cooks make things WAY too complicated.

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  11. This is a perfect primer on critiquing. My crit partners and I have gone to full MS beta reads instead of X number of pages each week. It works better for us that way when we can see the shape of the whole story.

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers