Sarah J. Maas & Susan Dennard
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!
Sarah J. Maas is the author of THRONE OF GLASS, a YA epic fantasy that was published by Bloomsbury in August2012. In addition, she’s published a series of four prequel e-novellas, all set before the events of THRONE OF GLASS (beginning with THE ASSASSIN AND THE PIRATE LORD). She is represented by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency, and resides with her husband in Southern California. You can visit her website here, and follow her on twitter.
Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, is now available from HarperTeen. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.