9 factors to consider when trialing critique partners (#IWSG Blog Hop)

9 factors to consider when trialing critique partners

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.
9 factors to consider when trialing critique partners5. 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.

53 thoughts on “9 factors to consider when trialing critique partners (#IWSG Blog Hop)

  1. Great suggestions. I get so tired of hearing comments from my critique group like “This isn’t my genre so…” and that prefaces their lack of interest in my story. Come on! We’re writers!

    OK, next, mutual interest. That is quite important. I read some stories I just don’t care about so how can I effectively help the writer. But this is an element that is often left out. Kudos, Raimey!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Tell prospective critics/beta readers/editors what you have written and what your expectations of them are. Up front. Content evaluation, style, clams and mistakes, dialogue, arc. They don;t have to have the same religous background or vote the way you do or write competitive material. They do have to have an ear. You wnt a little diversity for the same reason Dick Clark always asked three or more kids to rate a song. The girl would give it a 95 because the act was dreamy, the kid who couldn;t dance would give it a 65 because he couldn;t find the kick drum and the last one gaev it an 85 because he/she could dance and knew what they liked. Your critique partners should be the same way. know their strengths and ask for that skill set, specifically. OR – take your stuff to an honest to god Ph.D. in rhetoric or lit and let them read it, go “mmm” and ask you pointed questions. Because people who agree with you or are afraid to piss you off aren’t helping.

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      1. Mine was after the last update the system installed the keyboard again, so it was in there twice. What’s worse is it automatically picks up the keyboard for my old Surface so using them both produces some crazy results.

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  3. Great things to consider. Though I am in a critique group with writers who write PB to YA in a lot of genres. We are a good fit, but sometimes I admit to having challenges critiquing a PB since I don’t read them anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A comprehensive list! I have two long-time critique partners. We write in different genres but we’ve come up together, know each well now, it works. And they’re become good friends. I also belong to a genre-specific critique group that juries new members. This is a valuable option for seasoned writers who require only high altitude feedback. It’s the kind of group you’ll discover by meeting other writers, so networking is important.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great advice and much to think about. A good friend (who has published several mysteries) has commented that she finds it hard to critique sci-fi/fantasy, because she’s not into world building. Good to know our own limits/interests, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I find it hard to critique outside the genres I write long-form fiction in, but I’m really trying to learn about other genres and practicing with flash fiction. Thanks, Lee! I have so much love for you right now. Let me know if you need anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. At this point in time, all I have are two critique groups. I used to have a critique partner, but time constraints put an end to that relationship. Too bad, she had some really good suggestions. I’ve helped quite a few other writers by critting or beta reading their books, but I never felt my manuscripts were in good enough shape for them to return the favor. Now that I’ve finished the rough draft of my first story, I think I’m ready to find some new crit partners. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yep! I most definitely agree. I pegged a lot of these points in a critiquing workshop I had planned to do (but couldn’t due to raging fever and general inability to breathe).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree. I think there might be a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the CP process. Some people need to be eased into it, as much as the trying-not-to-hurt-feelings method of critique isn’t the best way to improve.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. These are great points. It’s not easy to find a CP that clicks. . .and it can switch from manuscript to manuscript. I have a few ‘long-term’ ones which are always at the ready, but I also float between new ones.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. One of the things I love most about being a member of RWA is the critique partner matchup. There are thousands to choose from and you can narrow it down by subgenre, location, and type of critique. It’s definitely worth the yearly fee! I hear that other associations like HWA have something similar, where they offer forums to match up members for critiques, but I’m not a member so I can’t confirm.

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  10. Thanks for all the information on critique partners. I’ve never had a CP, at least not formally. I’ve bookmarked this for future reference!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great post Raimie and I’m with you in terms of expectations out of a CP. I often have people asking to read things now which doesn’t necessarily make them critical, but I know they are genre matched if it’s come from people I’ve got to know via my blog. I often punt out first drafts to alpha readers just to take time out of it before the “real” work begins and ask solely for their opinion of the story. It helps me to enter editing with an outsiders view of the first effort. Full critique goes to an editor to disassemble. I actually find other writers more valuable though. Not to read, but to keep offering positive thoughts and support in the bleak moments!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wonderful list. I’ve always struggled to find CPs and betas. I’ve learned to take a better approach and stop jumping in head first when I have an interested person. It’s rarely worked out for me when I’ve done that. Having a checklist like this will help.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is a fantastic list! I have four CPs and a group of possible six betas, though I don’t use the betas for every project. All of my readers are interested in what I do and offer lots of great comments and advice. About half of them are in the same genre, but that’s okay. They give me a wider critique on the story points that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Excellent list! Thank you for sharing this. I’ve cycled through several critique groups/partners. Some drifted away because of scheduling–I write full-time; they don’t. Others didn’t work out because they were at a different skill level. My current group contains serious novelists whose feedback is very helpful, even though none is writing in my genre. I’ve joined the RWA in hopes of connecting with debut authors who’ll trade critiques. Organizations like the RWA and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association have yielded the most help for me, along with free/inexpensive online courses.
    Happy writing in June!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a great checklist, Raimey. Matching up the turn-around time, level of writing skill, and mutual interest in each others’ projects has been essential for me. I’ve been so fortunate to have three writers who are a perfect fit. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. As always great advice. I will say I have had several CPs out of genre and who don’t read in my genre. Although their solutions are typically not correct, I find their insight to something not working or something needing a better explanation is often on point. Non-genre CPs can be a decent measure of if your book has a wider appeal. Now I am not discrediting the importance of genre CPs (you definitely need them), but if you can get an amazing partner, you shouldn’t discount them just because they are off-genre.

    (Sorry for being late on my IWSG comment, got sick on Wednesday and finally out of zombie-mode.)

    Liked by 1 person

  17. These are fantastic tips, Raimey. It would be awesome, yet difficult to find a CP that ticks all the boxes, probably. As you suggested earlier, Victoria and I are critique partners now, and we have at least the genre in common (memoir). She has much more experience being a published author than me, so I’m looking forward to learning a lot from her. I just hope I can offer her something in return. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Great list. Here’s another one that you might want to add; Ego.
    Some people are convinced that they are the star. Regardless if they have ever published or not. They will bring you down on purpose if they see you as a threat and if you critique their work they will challenge you if you point out flaws. They try to intimidate and they will not listen.

    Do I sound like I’m speaking from experience? I’ll let you decide. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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