What to Look for in a Critique Partner/Group

1280px-Stipula_fountain_penI often mention the importance of finding a good critique partner to help evaluate your work and improve your writing. There are many ways to find critique partners—so many that I couldn’t possibly list them all. But finding a helpful critique partner or group is much trickier. Although I’m now fortunate enough to have three great critique partners, finding them took time, and there were a few failed partnerships along the way.

So, if you’re evaluating a critique partner or group, what should you be looking for? How do you know if this is a relationship that will benefit everyone equally? Here are my tips for what to consider:

  1. Pacing

Different writers work at vastly different speeds, which is one of the most challenging aspects of finding a suitable partner or group. How often does your potential CP want to swap chapters? How many manuscripts do they write per year, on average? If this is their first manuscript, how long did the first draft take them? And if you’re looking at a group, how often do they meet, and how much material do they exchange each meeting? It’s important to look at your own output and make sure that you can match theirs and feasibly critique that much material within a reasonable length of time. And if you’re a fast writer, you’ll need to make sure that your potential CP or group is able to keep pace with you.

  1. Category and genre

It’s important to make sure that your potential CP or group is familiar with the genre and category of your work in order to properly critique it. Someone who isn’t familiar with the conventions of your genre just won’t be able to evaluate it in the same way. That doesn’t necessarily mean you both have to be writing in exactly the same genre, but your CP does need a certain level of understanding and familiarity. Also, it’s important to think long-term here—what if you decide to write a middle grade fantasy in the future, but your CP only reads adult fiction? You’d have to find another CP all over again. If you know already that you like to write across genres and/or categories, try to find a CP who’s familiar with all of them.

  1. Level of honesty

How honest do you want your CPs to be? How blunt do you want them to be? These are important questions to consider when searching for a CP or group. You’ll want to find writers who will be honest with you, since that’s the only way you can grow and learn as a writer. But, at the same time, not everyone is comfortable with the same level of bluntness. Sometimes the only way to find out if you’re a good match is to look at their style of feedback and see if it works for you, so I’d suggest doing a trial swap of a few pages before committing to working with each other.

  1. Communication

How do you want to communicate with your CPs or group members? Do you want to chat outside of group meetings? Do you want to talk with your CP on Skype? Do you want to swap chapters via email only? And how frequently do you like to communicate? Do you want to simply check in every few weeks when you have more material, or are you looking for a more communicative relationship? All of this is simply a matter of personal preference, and it’s important to find someone who shares the same preferences.

  1. Comfort level

Not everyone is comfortable with receiving feedback in a large group or in person, but other writers would much rather talk face-to-face than over email. Knowing what you’re most comfortable with will help determine what kind of CP or group is the right fit for you.

  1. Shared goals

It’s usually best if you and your CP or group members have some goals in common and know what each other is trying to achieve with their work. Some groups might be focused on productivity alone—helping each other complete drafts and increasing output. Other groups might be focused on seeking traditional publication and want to critique query letters and submission materials after the manuscript is finished. Some CPs might be looking to self-publish, and others might be agented and seeking traditional publication. This certainly doesn’t mean that you should only look for agented writers if you’re hoping to traditionally publish; but it may be helpful if you and CP or group share similar goals so that you can work together to achieve them.

  1. Experience

Finally, it’s important to find CPs or group members who are at a similar—if not slightly higher—writing/craft level as you. A writer who’s just starting out might be discouraged by how their work compares to a group of more experienced writers. On the other hand, a writer with a lot of experience won’t be able to learn as much from a writer who hasn’t learned basic craft yet. Compare your experience to your potential partner or group’s and make sure that you’re a good fit for each other.

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Do have critique partners, or are you seeking one? How did you find your critique partner or group? What do you look for in a critique partner/group? Let me know in the comments!

Interested in professional editorial services for your query letter, manuscript, or other submission materials? Check out my Services page for more information about what I offer.

Related Links:

The Traditional Publishing Process Part 1: Writing and Revision

Questions to Ask Beta Readers

The Importance of a Good Copyeditor

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