Monday, September 12, 2011

Finding (and Keeping ) A Critique Partner by Jennifer Slattery



Hey everyone, Annette here. This Manuscript Monday, we welcome Jennifer Slattery with a new series about critique groups, crit partners and how to maintain your voice. She begins today with an article on finding your own critique partner. Enjoy!

Finding (and Keeping) a Critique Partner
by Jennifer Slattery

If moderation is the key to successful living, then I need an intervention! Last month during a podcast interview Cynthia Simmons, Vice President of the Christian Authors Guild, asked me if I had a critique partner. (listen here) I laughed, then tried to explain my addiction in terms that would seem less neurotic. I have four one-on-one critique partners, actively participate in ACFW’s 200+ member critique group, and lead a small book proposal and query critique group. To some this may seem like over-kill, but each group offers unique benefits and helps to strengthen my writing. I’ve been fortunate to find other authors I mesh with, but it’s taken a bit of weeding to find them. When considering a critique partner or group, it’s important to choose honest and trust-worthy authors equal in skill level with an understanding of your genre. They also need a strong work ethic and thick-skin.

“The most important thing in a crit partner is trust,” said Ane Mulligan, Novel Rocket Editor. “You have to trust them to not change your voice and to love you enough to be hard on you. My CPs push me to be my very best. They won't let me get away with less than that. And that's real love. Telling me something is good just so they don't hurt my feelings is bogus friendship, in my opinion. Of course, a thick skin is a must in a serious writer.”

Ane’s advice goes two ways. If you’re looking for someone to feed you sugar, send your manuscript to your mom. If you’re looking to hone your craft, find a qualified critique partner, then be prepared to give and take honest feedback.

Make sure your partner understands your genre. About a year back I received a phone call from a category historical romance writer who formed a critique partner with an author from a different genre. My friend grew increasingly frustrated because her partner constantly criticized portions of her story that were organic to her genre. In the end, their time together proved futile and their relationship suffered for it.

You also need to find authors with a similar skill level. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve swapped manuscripts with, spending hours zeroing in on telling phrases and passive sentences, only to receive a “great job!” in return.

Fellow ACFW author, Caprice Hokstad, had a similar experience. “When I was a new writer, it was very hard to find a group who understood the genre I write in (fantasy) and where the writers were at least as knowledgeable as I was. For a long while, I spent much more time and energy helping others than receiving help. I would read the other submitters' chapters and get red ink all over them, but mine would come back with a word or two they thought didn't fit, or ‘This looks fine to me.’”

I’ve learned starting with a “sample swap” can save hours of frustration later. Before committing to a long-term relationship, I invite the other author to exchange a chapter to see if we’re compatible. When evaluating compatibility, I look to see how many errors and weakness they caught along with how quickly they return my work. This is where the hard work-ethic comes in.

We all have different goals in regard to writing. Some of us write as a hobby. Some of us work full-time, manage a household and write when we have time. Others of us write on strict deadlines. If you like to move fast, pairing up with a turtle will drive you crazy. If you’re determined to succeed, partnering with a slacker who’s looking to take more than they give will hinder your progress. Once again, this is where the sample swapping comes in as many poor work habits can be seen in edits, but some things don’t become apparent until later. Because of this, it’s important that you express your needs and expectations up front. Then, if your partner fails to deliver, be prepared to walk away. That might sound harsh, but this is a tough industry and you don’t have time to baby-sit. If you want to succeed, you need to pair yourself with like-minded authors who take their writing and critiquing as seriously as you do.

If you’re really serious about taking your manuscript to the next level, it’s often helpful to hire a professional. This eliminates the “critique-partner-shopping” time and provides you with expert, thorough, and fast feedback from someone who knows the industry. 

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Jennifer Slattery is a novelist and freelance writer living in the midwest with her husband of sixteen years and their thirteen-year-old daughter. She works for Tiffany Colter, the Writing Career Coach, and is the marketing manager for the literary website, Clash of the Titles. In 2009 she won the HACWN writing contest and in 2010 she was a CWG Operation First Novel Finalist, placed second in the Dixie Kane and fourth in the Golden Pen. She has a short piece in Bethany House's Love is a Flame (under a pen name), forwarded by Gary Chapman, another piece in Cathy Messecar's A Still and Quiet Soul, and another piece scheduled to appear in Majesty House's Popcorn Miracles. Catch one of her faith-stirring devotionals at Jennifer Slattery Lives Out Loud and find out more about her critiquing and marketing services at Words That Keep.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the article. I've been blessed to be in two good but very different critique groups. One (which is still going strong) has eight people from multipublished to novice. The other group consists of three people, one multipublished and the other two close to it (I hope!) I recently submitted chapters to both groups and they each caught something different, so both groups are valuable to me.

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