When on the lookout for critique partners, a genre match is important and you should have at least one, but it isn’t always the most important factor. Take a look at the nine criteria below, and the next time you’re scouting for a new CP, you may want to consider placing additional emphasis on the eight that come after genre.
1. Genre: most genres have best practices to fit reader expectations, and they can range from how permissible flowery language is, to when in a story a suspect has to disappear as is the case with mysteries, to the extent of the romance plot or subplot, to what type of ending is preferred. This is why a genre match is up there in importance when choosing critique partners. But do all your CPs need to be genre matches or near genre matches? Not necessarily. Perhaps you already have a great CP, and you’re a genre match for middle grade dystopian, but darned if it didn’t take you a year to find her, and how long will it take to find another like her? Maybe it’s time to bring someone into the fold who fits other criteria.
2. Target Demographic: let’s take the middle grade example again. There are lots of MG writers out there, and probably a good number writing in your exact genre, but they’re not all online looking for CPs, so it could be time to start looking for a near genre match: someone who is writing for the same demographic. If you’re writing MG dystopian, would someone who is writing MG magical realism or contemporary be a decent fit? Does the person who writes MG contemporary like to read dystopian? Maybe the MG CP you’re contemplating doesn’t write dystopian novels, but she writes dystopian short stories.
3. Ideology: it’s taken you a year, but you’ve finally found someone who writes Tartan Noir (Scottish crime fiction.) Woohoo! But then you get a critique back from her, and there’s something wrong; her comments are telling you to change things, because they don’t fit her world view. Should you move on? Not necessarily, but you may want to find an ideological match, even if they’re not a genre match, just so you have something to weigh her opinions against. The converse of this can be true as well. Maybe you are ballot buddies with all your CPs, but you would really like to know how your story would play with someone who worships or votes differently than you.
4. Experience: for some authors, at the beginning of their author journey, they find one or three CPs who are a great match, and everyone grows in experience together at the same time. That’s my story for one of my CPs. I still work with her even though I switched age groups and genres. But she isn’t a genre match anymore, so I trialed a few more CPs, specifically looking for were people I could learn from. I loved reading the work of people who were less experienced than me, but I wasn’t gaining a lot of value from their critiques of my own work.
5. Parallel place in projects and parallel new project output: I have a lot of reciprocation guilt when someone offers to critique my book, but they don’t have anything at the critique stage for me to dig in to. At least at first, I find the CP relationship works best if we both need the same thing at approximately the same time, if we’re both near ready to exchange heavily revised drafts, for instance, or plot outlines. It’s harder to maintain parallelism in new project output after that, but by this point, we have a relationship built on trust, and they know that they can critique something for me now with the understanding that I’m there for them when they need me.
6. Expectations: everyone has responsibilities outside their relationship with their CPs, and things do come up that can delay the critique process, but in general, are you the type of person who likes shorter deadlines, or would you prefer open-ended turnaround times so the pressure isn’t quite so heavy? When trialing a new CP, and they say they’ll get something back to you in two weeks, does that fit your timeline, or would you prefer a CP who turns around chapters at relatively the same pace as you?
7. Preferred critique style: do you want high-level, plot and character-arc feedback, or are you looking for someone who will get down into the nitty-gritty of line editing? Do you want your CPs to tell it to you straight, regardless of whether they have time to sandwich the negative with positive, or would you prefer an approach less taxing on your self-esteem, or can you meet somewhere in the middle? Do you use Microsoft Word’s (or Google Docs’) track changes or comment functions, or does the potential CP prefer to provide a summary of their thoughts in a follow-up email?
8. Style: are you both writing genre commercial fiction, or is one of you trying for something more upmarket or entirely literary? Do you see any other style similarities between your works (pace, tone, voice, syntax choices?)
9. Mutual interest in one another’s projects: if a potential CP isn’t invested in your project’s concept, how valuable will their feedback be for you?
I wrote this post for the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To continue hopping or to join the hop, click here. (There are more than 200 of us, and it’s fun!)
How many critique partners do you have? Are they all genre matches? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.