by Diana Stout, MFA, PhD
Have you ever asked for a beta read or critique and got back so many comments on the manuscript that you wanted to quit writing? Or maybe you cried, or became angry at the critiquer, then vented to anyone who would listen?
As hard as they are to receive, critiques are a necessary element to your growth as a writer.
Finding great critique partners is like looking for a marriage partner. Not everyone is going to be a good fit. Nor do they have the same level of expertise.
What is your intent in asking someone to read your work?
When you're ready to have someone read your work, which by the way should never be a first draft, ask yourself: What is my intent? What is my end goal?
- Do I just want someone to like it?
- Do I want to become published?
- Am I entering a contest, wanting to place or win?
Other questions to ask yourself:
- Am I ready to receive criticism?
- Do I internalize criticism as personal?
- Do I view criticism as constructive?
If your sole goal is to have someone like your book and your feelings are easily hurt, then let a relative or best friend read it. They'll love anything you write, provided their jobs weren't as an English teacher or editor.
If your intent is to become published or to enter a contest, then you want an honest, direct critique where your writing flaws are highlighted.
Who should be reading your work, then?
Ideally, you want someone with experience in your genre. They could be:
- a reader who reads a lot of books in your genre.
- a writer who is published in your genre
- an editor who edits in your genre
- an agent who has clients in your genre
- a publisher who publishes in your genre
- a teacher of writing in that field and who ideally is published
Are you seeing a pattern here? The secret to finding a good critiquer is choosing someone who works or reads heavily in your genre.
Be wise about who you ask. For example: having a poet critique a psychological thriller isn't a good fit, not on that merit of writing experience alone. Each genre has it owns must-have elements that you want your critiquer to be familiar with—having experience in that genre is even better.
Another consideration: Are your writing styles comparable rather than contrasting?
Where can you find critique partners/beta readers?
- Join social media groups of your genre. Become involved. Ask questions, comment on others' posts.
- Ask other writers if they'd read a chapter of your book. If they like the chapter, maybe they'll ask to read the entire book.
- Join a national or regional writing group.
- Do a Google search.
- Ask your local librarian if they know of any local writers or avid readers of your genre who might be interested in reading your manuscript.
- Check Meetup.com and do a search there.
- If you live in a college town, contact the professors of writing classes.
- In those college towns, visit coffee shops and bookstores and look for groups of writers who will meet there frequently. Approach them.
- Form your own critique group.
Another way to get feedback is by entering contests and pay the added fee for the judges' feedback.
How should critiques be received and viewed?
Criticism always accompanies a critique. Criticism isn't negative; it's helpful. And, if two or more are saying the same thing, pay attention!
A harsh critique is one where the critiquer is attacking the writer, providing mean, nasty, comments. A harsh critique will be destructive throughout, offering little-to-no positive feedback. Don't give them a second thought; trash them.
A constructive critique is one that offers direct language when pointing out flaws and areas that need work. A constructive critique will tell you why it doesn't work and offer an alternative. A constructive critique addresses only the writing, never the writer. They give you a critique sandwich: the bread is the positive, the filling is the negative—the listing of flaws. They start with the positive, discuss the negative, and end with the positive. These critiquers are treasurers; keep them!
A helpful critiquer will answer questions and wants to see you succeed, by not getting scammed, or going down a path that could be troublesome.
When you receive the critique...
- Read it.
- Step away from it for several days. No venting or talking about it. Just think about it.
- Return and read it again. Only this time, evaluate it as you were an editor with a mind to purchase. Would you buy it as is?
- Try to remember that the critiquer's intentions were good. They were trying to help you.
- Never defend what you have written. Critiquers can only judge what's on the page. They can't see what's not on the page.
Do know that you don't have to accept every suggestion made. Keeping in mind the critiquers' expertise, you get to determine what to accept and what to reject.
Can you have several critique partners?
Yes! I have several and rarely do they comment on the same things. Why? Because they have different backgrounds and specialties.
What is the proper post-critique etiquette?
- Always send the critiquer a thank you.
- If they are critiquing without a fee, send them a signed copy of the book.
- Never allow a third-party to talk to the critiquer on your behalf.
What reactions do editors, agents, and publishers want to see?
They want to see you accepting critiques with gratitude, not attitude. Having an attitude is viewed as unprofessional, and the writer with an attitude probably won't be working with that editor, agent, or publisher for long.
The first critique I received was the hardest. Yes, I cried, but when I went back to it, this wonderful mentor was correct in her advice. Later, we became critique partners.
Over time, receiving criticism got easier. Today, I welcome critiques, knowing these experienced people will only make my writing stronger, and I celebrate those times when the comments are few, revealing that I have gotten better.
Do you have a critique experience or a something you learned about yourself as a result of a critique that you'd like to share?
Dr. Diana Stout is an award-winning writer in multiple genres, a screenwriter, author, blogger, writing coach, presenter, and former English professor. She recently published her screenplay, Charlie's Christmas Carole, as a book and is publishing, Tangled Passions: A Laurel Ridge Novella (Book #5), a romance. Her short story, "Bread Pudding" is a semi-finalist, one of the top ten in the Adult category in the Write Michigan Short Story Contest, with winners to be announced early February.
You can find Dr. Stout at her website, Sharpened Pencils Productions.