A Conversation Between Critique Partners… And A Giveaway!

Sarah here! Today Sooz and I discuss how to find critique partners in our Conversation Between Critique Partners series!

Sooz and Sarah at Dragon*Con 2012

Two of the questions we get asked fairly often by Pub Crawl readers are: 1) How did we find our critique partners? And 2) What does critiquing actually entail?

Though it’s no secret that we (Sarah and Sooz) are critique partners, we don’t usually go behind the scenes that much. (Quick answer to question #1: We found each other because we were already friends via Let The Words Flow (now Pub Crawl!), and decided to swap manuscripts. We both LOVED each other’s work so much we just kept on sharing our stuff!)

So, in honor of the query critique that we’re giving away today (DETAILS BELOW!), we thought we’d talk a little bit about what the process is like when we critique each other’s work. We also thought it’d be a little more fun to do it in an interview/conversational format, minus our usual potty mouths and generally horrific ways of summarizing our stories/characters’ plights. (Think in-ms comments like: “SEXY MAN DOIN’ SEXY MAN THAAANGS!” …We wish we were kidding.)

One thing to note before we dive in is that every critique partnership is different—there’s no “right” way to build your relationship with your critique partner. And note that we have other critique partners, with whom we work differently as well (and who we love and appreciate equally)!

What do you do before sending a manuscript to your CP?

Sarah: I never, EVER send first drafts to my critique partners. I know how valuable Sooz’s time is, and feel like it’s a bit disrespectful to make her trudge through a manuscript riddled with things that I could easily fix. So before sending a manuscript, I’ll go through my own (fairly extensive) revision process.

Once I feel that the manuscript is in the best possible shape I can make it (or once I’m stuck on some particular issue), I’ll send it to Sooz. Depending on how many problems I have with the manuscript, I’ll either list the potential issues/questions I have about the book, or just wait until she’s finished and see if her comments match up with mine.

Also, the moment when I hit “send” is always harrowing: Will Sooz like it? Will she realize I’m an idiot and dump me as a CP?

Sooz : Ditto! (This is why we work so well as CPs!)

What do you do once that oh-so-brilliant manuscript arrives in your inbox?

Sarah: Usually, Sooz and I make sure that whoever is receiving the manuscript actually has TIME to read. Sometimes that means planning weeks in advance (“Will you have time on X-Date to read? I’ll need a turn-around of Y-days…Is that doable?”). Because Sooz and I are both full-time writers who try to have lives outside of writing (keyword: “try”), we have to plan this stuff in advance—and sometimes accept that we just WON’T have the time to critique (and that there are ZERO hard feelings when that happens).

Anyway, when I get that manuscript, I will usually read it twice. First, I put it onto my kindle and read through it as if I were an actual reader, getting a sense of the plot and pacing and general tone of the story. I’ll take some notes in my head (or on whatever scrap of paper is nearest). The second time I read the manuscript, I’ll read it in Word, and use track changes to make my comments/edits (note: I also always ask if Sooz wants in-ms edits or just general feedback).

Sooz: If I know Sarah wants a manuscript read quickly or only needs big-picture stuff, I only read it once on my kindle, compile notes as I read, and then type them up and send. If it’s a more thorough read, then I’ll do what Sarah does (i.e. multiple reads).

How do you go about writing your critique once you’ve finished reading?

Sarah: Once I’ve finished my in-manuscript comments/edits (if Sooz wants them), I’ll make a word document and type up my overarching thoughts. I always start by talking about what I absolutely ADORED and what resonated with me as a reader/writer/human being (usually, there’s LOTS of gushing involved).

Then I’ll lay out the big-picture issues, then get progressively smaller—often going back to the manuscript to point out specific scenes/page numbers/lines that help explain what I’m talking about. And then I always finish my critique by talking about MORE things I loved, and reminding Sooz that my critique is just MY opinion—she can take as much or as little as she wants.

Sooz: I do the same exact thing, only I sometimes I send the comments in the body of an email instead.

When you receive a critique, what do you do?

Sooz: I’ll read through it once, go through the in-ms comments, and always, always, ALWAYS thank Sarah for taking the time to give me feedback. Usually, I agree with almost everything she points out, so I’ll spend a good amount of time gushing about how clever and brilliant she is.

But if her comments are a bit of a surprise, OR if she suggests something that I didn’t see as an issue but might really work if it was changed I’ll mull it over. I NEVER dismiss her comments immediately, even if I don’t initially agree with them. I’ll mull them over (after thanking her, and then telling her I’m going to ponder the issues she raised), and after a day or two or maybe even a week, I’ll figure out if I should incorporate them or not (usually, I wind up using all of her advice because she is a GENIUS).

Sarah: Ditto! Though I also print out the general feedback and use it to form my game-plan for going about my next round of revisions (this process involves lots of highlighters, notes in the margins, and post-its). I always have to hand-write my notes on Sooz’s notes—somehow, writing it down by hand helps me internalize her feedback.

What’s one bit of advice you’d give to first-time critique partners?

Sarah: Don’t be afraid to be honest, but remember to note the GOOD things, too. It’s just as helpful to know what DOES work and resonate as it is to know what doesn’t work. And remember to have FUN!

Sooz: If a few days after receiving feedback from a new critique partner, you find that the feedback DOESN’T resonate with you, don’t give up right away. Exchange a few more chapters. If it still isn’t resonating, then you might not be with the right critique partner. You’ve got to “date” around (I worked with a number of people before I met my current CPs) until you find a good match. 🙂

SO, in honor of today’s post, we are both giving away a query critique (any genre)! That means TWO winners will be selected! Just fill out the form below to enter!

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65 Responses to A Conversation Between Critique Partners… And A Giveaway!

  1. Emily Jan 21 2013 at 4:36 am #

    Thanks so much for this post! The world of CPs has always been a mystery to me, but as I’m currently revising my first novel I’m preparing myself to get some feedback. This post has made the process seem a little less intimidating 🙂

  2. Karen Jan 21 2013 at 5:26 am #

    I have a few CPs and I feel like they’re all specialists in something. I learn a lot from the critiques I give, which is a bonus I didnt’ expect!

  3. Trinity Jan 21 2013 at 7:03 am #

    I have a wonderful critique partner who I met through goodreads. She’s actually commented up there ^^ *waves to emily* and I’m eagerly awaiting her work.

  4. Cheyenne Campbell Jan 21 2013 at 7:30 am #

    It seems like ages ago that I began seeking out CPs but it’s only really been about a year. I gathered the courage from reading what you ladies suggested in your posts and am grateful to have exchanged work with a few reliable, clever, and encouraging writers whose writing challenges me as well. You guys sound like you have the dream CP connection, and I needed the reminder that honesty and considering everything (even if you don’t agree immediately) is the best policy!

  5. Katie French Jan 21 2013 at 7:56 am #

    I met a few of my CPs on the website Review Fuse. They were already a group who established they were serious writers and they were gracious enough to let me join. I met a few other CPs through a conference I went to in New York. We started emailing after that and the relationship just grew. It’s important to find someone who is equally as dedicated as yourself. Otherwise its hard to keep that relationship growing.

  6. Sarah Frances Hardy Jan 21 2013 at 8:20 am #

    Ooooo! I need to win this one.

    I have some great readers–one in town and a few cyber friends. It’s amazing what different perspectives will do for a manuscript.

    sf

  7. Natalie Aguirre Jan 21 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Loved hearing about your critique process. I have a partner I met through SCBWI who is awesome and we’ve become friends. I used to have a group that met too and I liked that and am going to try to start up another group. I’d SO love to win a critique. Thanks for the giveaway.

  8. Rochelle Sharpe Jan 21 2013 at 8:35 am #

    I am lucky to have a sister who is a writer as well. We both like to write YA and we go over each others work. It’s good because we can talk about our work when we see each other which is all the time.

  9. Jasmine Stairs Jan 21 2013 at 8:37 am #

    I have several crit partners, actually! I met K and S when we were at school together. We did a “write a thousand days for a month” challenge together, and then shared our work, and then never got out of the habit. We’ve only recently transitioned to trying to give beta reader feedback, “I think you could make this stronger, I can’t figure out this character’s motivation, your use of metaphor is wonderful”, but we’ve always given alpha reader “oh I loved this, this character seemed lovely, did you mean to do that?” feedback. That sentence could use work.

    Also I went to a six-week writing workshop a couple years ago, with 12 people who are WAY better than I am at writing, and whenever I think a piece is as good as I can make it I sent it to them and they tear it apart.

  10. Loie Jan 21 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Awesome giveaway, thanks guys! I don’t have a CP yet…but once I have a solid manuscript that I feel ready to share, then I’ll go on the hunt for CP’s! I know they would be invaluable 😀
    <3 Loie

  11. 4amWriter Jan 21 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Great post! I have a CP, and it has worked out really well even though we have never officially ‘met’ and we write different genres. We email each other our pieces, whether it’s the entire novel or just bits of revisions. Any time either of us has a random question about writing in general, we know that we can trust each other for a quick and helpful response.

  12. Amy Pine Jan 21 2013 at 9:50 am #

    I never would have made it through my first manuscript without my critique partner, Jen! In fact, I’m still making it through some final edits. Before we were critique partners, we were friends, neither of us knowing the other was writing a YA novel until I saw Jen comment on a Pub Crawl post on Facebook. We started sharing immediately, during the initial drafting process, and it was the best motivation I’ve ever had to write! As for advice, don’t let geography be an issue. I live in Chicago and Jen in L.A. All of our communication has been via email, Facebook, and phone, and it has been one of the most rewarding relationships I’ve ever had. As Sooz and Sarah say, you will be able to tell if you and your CP are a good fit, and when it’s right, it’s pretty fabulous! Thanks for a great post!

  13. Rebecca Jan 21 2013 at 10:06 am #

    I recently got my first CP. We hooked up via http://www.ladieswhocritique.com/ . I highly recommend the website. There are forums there full of people at all stages of writing craft actively looking for critique partners.

  14. Steph Jan 21 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for this really interesting post!

    I got a few contacts from Erin’s CP finding post…but…I am in the middle of a bigger revision than I initially anticipated, so I haven’t send them any of my stuff to critique yet. Getting to that part though, has been a major motivation for me though. 🙂

  15. Jen @ Almost Grown-u Jan 21 2013 at 10:24 am #

    I love this! I have three main CPs- I met one through writing Sailor Moon fanfiction, another through book blogging, and the third in Mandy Hubbard’s YA writing course– we wound up discovering we were also sorority sisters. It was all very exciting. And they’re all wonderful– critical where I need it and encouraging where I need THAT ^_^

    • Jen @ Almost Grown-u Jan 21 2013 at 10:26 am #

      Whoops, of course I wrote my name wrong in the above comment ^_^; Jen @ Almost Grown-up*

  16. Nicki Pau Preto Jan 21 2013 at 10:38 am #

    Love this! Found my CP at a local writing group. We met during a YA critique session and then exchanged emails afterwards. It’s so good to have a fellow writer to commiserate and celebrate with!

  17. Christa Jan 21 2013 at 10:41 am #

    I have one critique partner. We met through book blogging and now we have writing weekend and spend way too much time bouncing ideas off one another on Facebook when we’re supposed to be working. We both read each others works and I find I can usually work out a difficult plot point by talk it out with her.

  18. Katie Jan 21 2013 at 10:42 am #

    I have been part of workshops and critique groups but never had a single critique partner. I always write best if I have a deadline and even a self imposed one like knowing that a critique partner is waiting for my ms would be amazing.

  19. Megan Duff Jan 21 2013 at 10:59 am #

    Can I just say, Sarah and Sooz, you guys are the cutest crit partners/besties ever!!!

    RANDOM STORY TIME: I like the show Underemployed on MTV (seriously try it!) but…there is this character named Sophie and she is a “writer”. One episode everyone wakes up and Sophie is all “I just finished my novel! It’s all ready to be published, are you guys ready for this???” Everyone counts down and *click* Sophie’s book is available on Amazon. Mere hours after finishing what it is, essentially, a first draft, she publishes it. No one has ever looked at. EVER.

    Her friends decide they need to celebrate so they set up this cool party at a bar the very same night. All these awesome people show up and commend Sophie on her story and how much they love it. Like, they all finished it already. Sophie reads an excerpt to much cheering.

    What makes this whole thing better (or worse, depending on your capacity for sarcasm) is this “story” is an examination of Sophie’s friends and herself. A really harsh examination. Where everyone has the same name. Even last names. And now everyone’s faults and mistakes are on the internet to read.

    Needless to say there are a lot of people who are Not Happy.

    Who else is as flabbergasted by this as me??? I watched the episode with a mixture of horror, fascination and bewilderment. This wasn’t real life. Except I suppose people really do this. And now uninformed people watching Underemployed might think “Yes. I will do this. This is how one becomes a Writer!”

    TAKE AWAY POINT: have critique partners read your stuff!
    Secondary takeaway point: don’t publish a first draft!
    Final takeaway point: avoid stories that directly mirror your real life. And if you must, change peoples names for cripes sake!

  20. Heather Marsten Jan 21 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Hi, wanted to thank you for this post – it is a keeper. I am not applying for your generous gift, still wanting to complete first edit of my book, so a query is presumptuous at this time. I garnered many useful tidbits from both the critique side and how to respond to a critique when you don’t necessarily agree with what the person said. For a time I participated in Critique Circle (am still a member, but not submitting right now). One of the people who critiqued me suggested a whole chapter – WHOLE CHAPTER that I struggled to write didn’t move my plot along. I thanked them for their input, tabled that issue, and in my editing came to realize that she was right. I put that chapter in the deleted scenes document that I keep for future reference, but without that chapter the plot of my memoir moves better. Sometimes it takes time to realize the truth of a critique. Have a blessed day.

  21. Kristin Baldwin Jan 21 2013 at 11:18 am #

    I don’t have a critique partner as I am a pretty new writer….but it sounds like if you find the right one, it is great for your writing!

  22. Gwen Cole Jan 21 2013 at 11:34 am #

    I do, but it’s only through email, since we live really far away. But we read everything the other person writes and we both make sure we’re honest when we give feedback.

  23. Melody Jan 21 2013 at 11:35 am #

    I absolutely love this blog post! It was so much fun reading about your CP process together!

    As if this post wasn’t awesome enough, I found a fantastic CP through Publishing Crawl, so now it’s especially exciting reading about CPs on here. 😉 Great post and thanks Publishing Crawl for all of your amazing content, you guys rock!

  24. stephanie garber
    stephanie garber Jan 21 2013 at 11:55 am #

    The two of you are so fun! Great post! I feel like the two of you are how CP’s are supposed to be.

    I love my CP’s, too! I met them at the Big Sur Workshop (which in case anyone is curious, is an awesome workshop). The three of us all have very different writing styles, but I think what works is that we all love each other’s writing–and we love each other! I think being honest is a really important thing in a CP relationship, but I think in order to be really honest, you have to really trust each other. I also think you have to care about each other. It’s really easy to tell someone you love their work, but it’s never fun to point out the things that don’t work –and at least for me, whenever I do I’m always a little afraid of being rejected by my CP’s. But I always try to be honest because I love them, and ultimately I know they’d rather hear it from me than an agent or an editor.

  25. Ellie Jan 21 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Me and my CP have been friend since high school. So it was only natural that when we both started seriously writtng we would be partners. She’s been writing seriously longer than me so I really trust her opinion and critiques

  26. Lauren M. Barrett Jan 21 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Great advice. I am guilty of sending my CPs subpar writing when I’m stuck, which is a really bad habit. They’ve been great sports about it, but I’m really trying to find the time to polish to the best of my ability before they see the mess I’ve made.

  27. Amy Jan 21 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Thanks for the post! I sometimes forget to write down everything I love about what I’m reading. A good reminder to do so!

  28. Leigh Smith Jan 21 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    I do not have a critique partner but I know I need one. I’m kind of terrified to get one, though. My goal is to actually finish my current draft and revise it first, then think about getting one.
    Great info, ladies.

  29. Nicole Settle Jan 21 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    I have a CP but I can’t remember where we met. Somewhere on the Internet at a writing site but that’s the best my poor memory can tell me. Ha! Great post and I love hearing how others critique.

  30. JQ Trotter Jan 21 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    I’m lucky, I’m in three critique groups, so I get a lot of POVs on my writing. One of the groups I met online through mutual online writing buddies then the other two are through SCBWI — since I write YA.

  31. Claire Jan 21 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    I’ve had a few people I’ve worked with in the past, but none have really worked out. I find they tend to shy away from being completely honest because they’re afraid to hurt my feelings, but it really doesn’t help. When I finish my current MS I’m going to start hunting again.

  32. Alexa Y. Jan 21 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    I love that you guys shared more about how having a critique partner works! I hope someday that I find the right CP for my work, and for me and that I have a relationship just as wonderful as you two do <3

  33. Emi J. Jan 21 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    I’m still looking for CPs…so hard to find!

  34. Stephanie Allen Jan 21 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    I have a couple of CPs, and I love them both! I met them both via Twitter because we couldn’t stop gushing over how awesome each others’ projects sounded, so in both cases we ended up swapping, and it’s worked out well so far. I think the best advice I can give is to make sure you communicate and are honest…because otherwise it’s just a waste of time for all parties.

  35. Jessica Capelle Jan 21 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    Primarily, I meet with a group of 4 other YA/MG writers every 2 weeks. We met through our local YA/MG Writers Group and read our pages out loud while the others review the hard copies and make notes, then we discuss the comments. We also review fulls/queries/etc. by email when someone needs that. I also have a close friend who’s a former co-worker who doesn’t write in my genre or age group who reads chapters for the overall flow and readability.

  36. Meredith Anderson Jan 21 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    I don’t know if I have a critique partner per say, but I do have my friend Kami who I call “my little editor.” I have an e-mail folder just for her responses to some of the work I send her. But the second she writes something and wants me to read it I know I will in a heartbeat! More or less I’ve got a great group of friends who get together and write every week and we’re all really supportive of each other’s writing.

    Thanks for sharing your tips, ladies!

    Mer
    <3

  37. Madeline Jan 22 2013 at 7:26 am #

    Personally, I don’t have a CP. I wish I did but my dreams of being an author are hidden from my family and friends. I guess I’m just embarrassed of what I write and whether or not people will like it or not, and if I do try to get it published then people will be critical of whether or not it succeeds. I know I have to get rid of these insecurities but it’s such a hard thing when you think your parents wouldn’t understand your dream.

  38. Hong Jan 22 2013 at 8:58 am #

    I don’t have CPs but I have a group of teen editors I work with who help me in polishing my manuscript. Their feedback is invaluable, especially since they have interned for agents or publishers.

  39. Sarah Marie Jan 22 2013 at 11:40 am #

    I’ve never had a long-standing critique partner but I’m still hopeful. Mostly, I’m afraid of not being taken seriously because of my age. I always get the “This is so good for your age!” feedback. I don’t want to know if its good for my age. I want to know if what I can do to make it better.

  40. Jenny Jan 22 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Oh, I love my CPs! I have two, and they’re both awesome. I met one via twitter and the other in 5th grade, and they’re both super-talented ladies. The only downside is that they both live in Ireland, while I’m in the US, which means we can’t hang out in person.

  41. Kate Jan 22 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    Sadly I don’t have a critique partner 🙁 But I am hoping to find one soon!

  42. sp @ oh! paper pages Jan 23 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    I don’t have a CP, but I have a great friend who is an amazing writer. I plan to have her check out my first draft in a couple of weeks.

  43. Steph Sessa Jan 23 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    I met one of my CPs through blogging, and a few betas through writing classes I took. They’ve been amazing!!

  44. EM Castellan Jan 26 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    I found my CP via Twitter and I don’t know what I would do without her!

  45. Stephanie Jan 26 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    I’ve had a few false starts with CPs, but haven’t really found one I’m compatible with yet and had to mutually part. Hoping I’ll find a CP sometime soon, though. Maybe I’ll tweet a notice that I’m looking.

  46. Fiendish Jan 27 2013 at 11:07 am #

    Right now I use a friend of mine as a critique partner… she’s absolutely awesome! But I wouldn’t mind finding an additional crit partner, just because the more feedback the better, you know? Unfortunately, I’m never quite sure where to begin, but I’m definitely bookmarking this post for when I do find them!

  47. Fabienne Jan 27 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    Thanks for this great opportunity. And as always, entertaining and informative blog posts! Keep it going, ladies!!

  48. Abby Jan 27 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    Thanks for the opportunity!!

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