Guest Post: “Critique Partners: What They Are, Where to Find Them, and How to Make the Best” by Elysia Strife

About Elysia Strife.

img_6493.jpgElysia Lumen Strife has self-published three adult fiction novels and one children’s book. Strife keeps herself busy writing, critique-swapping, doing book reviews, and designing covers as she and her husband travel the country for work. She is a veteran, a fitness buff, and holds two Bachelor’s Degrees: Interior Design and Exercise Sport Science. With five books on the table for 2019, she’s hard at work. Strife writes in the following genres: Science Fiction Fantasy, Fantasy, Holiday Romance, Women’s Fiction, Romantic Suspense, and Children’s.

Website: elstrife.com
Amazon: Elysia Lumen Strife
Twitter: @ElysiaLStrife
Pinterest: Elysia Lumen
Instagram: Elysia Strife
Goodreads: Elysia Lumen Strife

 

A secret tip: Strife always publishes Advanced Review Copies of her books on Prolific Works prior to publication. Her next book, A Promise in Ash, will arrive in July. You can watch her page here: Prolific Works. If you like free reads, this site has a ton. Enjoy!

 

The Guest Post:

Critique Partners:

What They Are, Where to Find Them, and How to Make the Best

CPs can help you stay on target if you have trouble motivating yourself.

It’s like self-imposed homework. The concept might bring back bad memories, but it helps you achieve a goal you set out to reach.

We need to challenge our fellow creative-types in a supportive way.

This is one way we can do just that.

Stay tuned for a CP Question Cheat Sheet below!

 

What They Are:

A Critique Partner is someone with whom you swap written work in an effort to gain a crucial, fresh perspective on your story. Yes, this is necessary. I say this firmly from experience. You want other writers (people that study the craft and like to read) to let you know what they see. We all do our best to convey the message/themes/characters/scenes we see in our minds. But are we doing this effectively? How do we know? This is where Critique Partners lift the veil of uncertainty and help us pinpoint areas for improvement.

I’ve encountered some confusion between Critique Partners (CPs) and Beta Readers (Betas). Technically, a CP is someone with which you share a chapter or a few at a time as they are written—an ongoing process. You’re not co-writing; you’re sharing impressions to tune the work. These are writers that work with one another through the process of writing the book, offering tips and feedback as the story unfolds. Betas are people that read the book when it is one complete unit, providing overall feedback to check for consistency, plot holes, character arcs, etc.

 

Where to Find Them:

  1. Local Writing Groups – This one is a fantastic option if you can get into a group in your area. You’ll be able to meet face-to-face with others and talk about your ideas and concerns as you write. Some groups will have requirements for participation (like waiting for your turn/week to swap and bringing enough paper copies of your work for the entire group). That’s just one example. Sometimes, they’ll want you to hang out with the group for a few weeks or months before submitting work for the group to review (so they don’t get flighty drifters). I’ve seen a few that require you to earn points by critiquing other works before you can submit your work.

I use the MeetUp app to find local groups and take a look at their rules. Often, the public library will have postings if any groups have a schedule to meet there. Some of the bookstores may have writers events or rent out rooms for meetings as well.

  1. Online Writing Groups – Most of these are free, and you can find ones specific to genres.

Absolutewrite.com is a fairly large writing forum where you can connect with other writers and authors. There is a section where you can post a request for feedback partners, but you have to register to post. And in order to start your own thread, they require you’ve made 50 posts first.

Agentqueryconnect.com is similar to the above. It is a thread site but aimed at those more interested in traditional publishing and being in contact with agents.

Inkedvoices.com has a network of engaged people where you become part of a like-minded team and swap critiques. It is a paid membership, $85 annually, but offers a more constructive and timely environment. They also have online versions of NaNoWriMo camps.

Scribophile.com is a free website (with paid upgrades). You do have to earn points to post if you want critiques. They have free writing contests, a writing blog, and a forum for educational information. You can only post 3,000 words at a time for critique, and it requires 5 points to post that. It’s a great process with a high expectation of positive/constructive feedback. But it is definitely a time consuming process.

Examples of genre specific options:

Mystery Writers: mwf.ravensbeak.com

Science Fiction Fantasy: sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com

Literary: http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters

Christian: Kingdom Writers – angelfire.com/ks/kingwrit/

Sorry Romance and Children’s peeps. I searched but couldn’t find any genre-specific online groups for you. Try social media and the non-genre specifics listed above.

  1. Social Media – I have found the best crew on Twitter via Megan Lally’s #CPMatch hashtag. I love it because it’s FREE, and I’ve made a ton of connections with other authors this way. She runs events every month to month-and-a-half where people storm the hashtag with their short synopses and occasionally a mood board or book cover. Posting the genre of the writing helps find compatible works to swap with.

You can also use #critiquepartner, #cpmatchmaking, #betabustle and #betareader on Twitter, but I haven’t found a more loyal and excited group than the one listed above.

Facebook has a lot of writer’s groups as well. I’m not even going to delve into this one. But I will say this: many are tired of spammers – I mean the self-pubbed gurus that just want to drop their links and leave. (This isn’t effective, and it isn’t nice) Become an active member. You will make friends. Friends make a network. A network is how you will succeed.

Wattpad is a fantastic place to meet a lot of work-in-progress folks. It’s a place where you can post your upcoming works one chapter at a time and get feedback from your followers for free. That said, it counts as publication. So… if you want to maintain copyright, make sure you include a notice at the beginning of your book on Wattpad. And when you do officially publish for sale, you need to be aware of this when filing on copyright.gov. They will ask you if it has been published previously. But if you’re looking for a fast turnaround with feedback, this is a great way to do it. Wattpad is heavier on the YA and Fan Fiction side, so the crowd there tends to be younger. They give great advice on how something reads, plot, characterization, etc. But not always the nitty-gritty voice, line, and copyediting advice.

Goodreads is a good place to connect with readers. You can also find groups where you can post your work for review or beta reads. This is only as successful as you make it. If you want to be noticed here, you have to interact with lots of other people. There are numerous posts made every day to many of the groups.

Here are a few examples:

The Circle: for readers/beta readers/critiques/reviews/free reads size: 1,681

Goodreads Reviewers’ Group size: 5,846

Support for Indie Authors size: 14,401

Making Connections size: 11,932

Goodreads Authors/Readers size: 29,859

  1. Writing Associations and Organizations

Local organizations, like the Writers’ League of Texas can offer you a host of options for a decent membership price. Texas, of course, isn’t the only location. I’m just using this one as an example because I was a member when I lived there. The great thing about WLT was online classes. Yes, you can take courses online and not have to live in the state. Members get a discount on courses. If you plan to take several a year, it’s worth it. They also have a website where you can get counseling and one-on-one attention with your work. I met other authors at classes they had at St. Edwards University. This is one way to grow your living, breathing, human network.

There are quite a few online organizations, several of which you might be familiar with. This list is not all-inclusive. There are many more.

American Christian Fiction Writers

Erotica Readers and Writers

Historical Novel Society

Military Writers Society of America

Mystery Writers of America

Nonfiction Authors Association

Poetry Society of America

Romance Writers of America

Sisters in Crime

Small Publishers, Artists, And Writers Network

Society of Children’s Book Writers And Illustrators

Western Writers of America

Writers Guild of America

  1. There is always the Fiverr option if you’re looking for timely feedback and haven’t made many other connections yet. If you haven’t heard of it, Fiverr is a massive website where people can post their work-for-hire ads. Be very careful. Always read reviews. This site does not filter quality of work. However, there is a lot of talent to be found here from editing to cover design. Let me just stress this again: be picky.
  2. Some freelance editors will also work with you, but this depends on the editor. A lot of editors will provide an initial, free, ten page or first chapter critique as a display of their skills (and a way to find out if you’d be a good match for future editing). This critique is a little different. They’re expecting your work to be as refined as you can make it before they get it. The term implies different things depending on who you ask. So an editor is less likely to walk with you through the construction of the book. Maybe later, after you’ve sold tons of books and you and your editor are best friend. Then they probably would.

Keep at it. You’ll get there. I believe in you!

 

How to Make the Best:

There are benefits and downsides to both online and in-person critiques. Online is great (through certain methods) for quick turnaround and removing any personal bias a family member or friend might have. You can send digital feedback, collect all of the responses in one file or folder and look at it simultaneously. Google Drive and Docs is awesome for collecting group feedback. Just upload your book and share the link to whoever you want via their email address. Seriously, it’s awesome.

It’s difficult to gauge the level of importance an avatar/icon puts on the feedback they give you. It can lack the depth you may be searching for. The comments may also come across heartless and hard to read. Some might respond with something too vague like, “Great read, just move the ending to here.” Or they might never get to it and you find yourself waiting indefinitely. They could also redline your work to shreds and leave you feeling like giving up. With a personal contact, you can meet them face-to-face, get a feel for them as a person, and decide if you’re comfortable swapping. The human element is hard for a lot of introverts, but it can be a powerful tool in the long run.

A tip for people with unpredictable writing habits… isn’t that a vast majority of us? Finish your book first. Or at least be close to ready before you search for CPs. The reason I say this is because we often have life events that get in the way of completing our weekly or monthly goals. Instead of making your betas wait (This still happens to me because of lack of internet) you will be prepared to send the next chapter. You can still swap one chapter at a time and critique it, but you don’t have the pressure of having to finish writing each unit while you’re critiquing their recent work and holding down a job, dealing with family, fixing the car, etc.

The key to online critiques: SWAP A SAMPLE. Yes, I guess, I’m yelling. Never send your book in its entirety right off the bat. (This is a security measure.) Send one chapter or five pages, whatever you agree upon. Critique it the way you would normally. Then exchange your feedback. This way, you can see if they give you what you’re looking for in responses and also, if their writing is of content and a reading level you’re comfortable with critiquing. That said, people are ready at different stages, so I tend to prepare myself to work with wherever they’re at.

Giving feedback can seem like an easy thing to do. Anyone can say, “I like this,” or “This sucks.” But that doesn’t tell the other writer what’s wrong or missing. I’ve included a list below of possible questions to ask when critiquing work. I hope it helps tune your mind as you read so you can offer the best experience you can to your CP. If they enjoy working with you, they may stick around to swap with you in the future.

Try to keep it a mixture of what you like and what you think could use improvement. Every writer needs to know what works just as much as what doesn’t. We need to know our strengths to be able to build on them like we need to know our weaknesses so we can fix them. The ABA approach (good, bad, good) doesn’t always align with things as they happen in the story. Just aim for balance. And be kind with your words.

Example:

Don’t say – You picked a terrible character name. Change it.

Say – This character’s name reminds me of (…). This way the other writer can see what you see. If it’s not the imagery they were hoping for with the name, then they can see* why they should change it.

Offer suggestions and observations. Keep personal opinions out of feedback. Maintain professionalism.

Never criticize the other writer as a person because of something they wrote. If its fiction, they’re constructing a story, not living it. And if it’s nonfiction, then it actually happened so it’s a fact that needs to be accepted. Be mindful of your emotions and comments. We’re here to build one another up and help each other reach our goals.

On the flip side, it isn’t easy receiving feedback either. We all send it off knowing it isn’t perfect, but hoping the other person will find some things they enjoy. This is the biggest reason for swapping a sample. You want to make sure they are going to give you what you need and want and not too much of what you don’t. Keep in mind, not everyone is going to present ideas to you in an objective and impartial manner. Some people can be downright mean. (Which is why we have to be the mature ones and lead by example.)

Their critiques are only theirs. They do not represent the mass majority. They are one person. Don’t judge your work’s value based on one person’s opinion. You’re not being fair to yourself. This is why you need to get feedback from at least three different people. You will have critique partners back out from time to time. It seems to happen in waves. We all have a lot on our plates. Few of us are full-time writers.

Always ask more people if they’d like to swap than the number you think you need. Maybe you’ll get lucky and snag them all! Just be prepared to work through that number of stories if they do. Play fair, and it will work out in your favor.

Be encouraged by the feedback. It’s better to chop your manuscript up and rework it now, than let your readers do it for you on public websites. I know it can seem overwhelming sometimes. That’s okay. Cry it out. Get some extra strong coffee. Hug whatever or whoever is close to you.

Deep breath.

Take the news in stages if you have to. Look at the notes one at a time. If there is a consensus among your returned critiques, then you know what needs work. It can be a bit more ambiguous when it comes to the individual comments that don’t line up with the others. Filter them for anything confusing and ask for clarification on the comment if needed.

Sort the opinions from the facts. Opinions are subjective statements that contain assumptions, judgments, and beliefs. Facts are objective statements and are backed by evidence and reason. Some writers are very good at hiding their opinions in a factual statement. Fact checking is crucial in non-fiction but can be a component of many fiction genres. But, in truth, CPs are only able to give you their best observations of your work as it coincides with what they’ve been taught or researched is “correct.”

There is a level of differentiation to consider as you read their comments. If they explain why a concept/scene/character action doesn’t fit, you’ll want to consider delving into this. If someone is providing you an opinion on something menial, let it go. So they don’t like it, big whoop. It’s not worth getting upset over.

Critiques are recommendations. Be open-minded about what they’re suggesting, but don’t change everything just because others think you should. Instead, take their notes as help in deciphering what messages or concepts may not be coming across clearly.

Sometimes, we want them confused and misled. Maybe because of a Red Herring we carefully wove in, or we’re trying to make our readers think. Confusion would be a good thing in those cases. Otherwise, it may mean there is a deficit in showing of a component in your writing.

On the flip side, if critiquers feel bored, it may be a sign you’ve shown too much, and they’re not actively engaged. A little mystery is the key to a good hook.

Swapping critiques can lead to insecurity among writers. I hope you’re one of the lucky few that hasn’t had this issue. It’s been my experience that new CPs need a gentler approach. Find out the stage they’re at and see how it compares with yours. Swap the samples. Find out if they want a full critique or a traditional one, in chapter segments as they write. Make sure you’re on the same page.

I love ending with terrible puns.

Remember, when we write, we’re in our comfort zone. When we send off our work for its first critiques, we enter the zone of fear, doubt, and insecurity. Getting our feedback is when we are offered the chance to learn about our skills and how we can make our writing better. It is when we accept it and work on improving our craft and our stories that they shine, and so do we.

 

Framework for critiquing:

 

General things to discuss upon swapping samples of writing

Is this a finished book or a work in progress?

Is this the genre you like to read?

Is this the genre you write in?

Have you done critiques before?

How long have you been writing?

Who is the target audience?

What are you looking for in feedback? General (plot/scene setting/characterization) or more detailed (voice/structure, line edits/copyedits)?

 

Notes

If you’re doing a group critique, don’t read others notes while critiquing. You run the risk of bias.

Remember to provide professional and polite feedback

Point out what you liked as well as what you found problematic

Read through these questions before you begin the critique to help you hunt down critical issues and answer them as thoughts come to mind

Leaving in-text notes can help you with a final (overall) assessment and also point out specific problem areas to the writer

 

The Questions!!

First Chapter/Opening

Do the first few lines hook the reader with the main character and their problem/conflict?

Can you visualize the environment, the main character, and the problem?

Is the manuscript starting where you think it should?

Is there enough tension and emotion to draw the reader in?

Does it start with a cliché, or is it a unique and intriguing beginning?

 

Conflict/Tension

Was there a major resolution to the main conflict? Or did you feel something was missing at the end?

Were the stakes enough?

Did the tension ebb and flow in a way that made you want to keep reading?

Were there tense hooks at the end of each chapter?

Did the beginning of each chapter give you the premise with a subtle hook as well?

If this is a series, is there a bit of conflict left unresolved for the next book?

Could you understand the internal/emotional battles the characters were fighting? Did they contribute to the progress of the plot and the character’s overall change (arc)?

Did any details or events seem convenient/contrived?

 

Characters

Were the chosen names, dress, and ages appropriate for the genre and setting?

Could you follow along with the emotional journey of the character? Or did it feel glossed over or forced?

Did the characters encounter enough struggles, including between characters, to complete a transformation at the end?

Do you understand why the villain/antagonist is a protagonist in their own mind?

Does each characters’ behavior seem believable?

Are the characters three-dimensional in personality?

Do they experience all emotions?

Do they improve the story?

Do they have flaws/limitations?

Are their goals, morals, and desires understandable?

Are they relatable to a level that fits the genre?

Are their back-stories compelling and well-rounded?

Did you find the characters’ changes satisfying at the end?

Were the social relationships among the characters genuine and supportive to the story?

If any, was the hierarchy presented believable and beneficial?

If this was a character-driven piece, do you feel the work was appropriately saturated with detail?

Did you find the characters motivating, compelling, or inspirational in any way?

In general, were the emotions, actions, and dialogue shown effectively?

 

Plot

If this was a plot-driven piece, do you feel the work effectively tackled this as a priority?

Do you know what the main plot is/was? Was it consistent from beginning to end?

Is the sequence of events consistent and believable?

Were there too many dreams or flashbacks that detracted from the clarity of the plot?

Were any aspects predictable?

Were any events dwelled in for too long or not long enough?

If there was more than one plotline or any subplots, were they constructive to the storyline or the character arcs?

Is the influence of any “daily life” in the work helpful?

Are the twists realistic? Surprising?

 

Setting/Worldbuilding

Can you clearly visualize where and when the story takes place?

Do you understand the cultural norms?

Is each change of scene distinguishable?

Were there any environmental descriptions that were overwhelming?

Does the setting/world frame the plotline effectively?

Is the history/back-story of the landscape fitting and believable? (Why are we here?)

Was every scene necessary to the plot?

 

Dialogue/Language

Are the colloquialisms effective or overwhelming?

Did the language seem to fit each character?

Was the dialogue constructive in moving the story forward?

Were there too many formalities? Hi/Bye, Thank you/You didn’t have to

Any dialogue dumps?

Any moments that needed more?

Did it evoke emotions or thoughts in you as a reader?

Did the dialogue reflect the displayed emotions of the characters?

 

Point of View – Format of narration for the book

Is the point of view effective for the story?

First person – “I am telling you.”

Second person (rare in novels) – Narrator tells story *to* another (the reader). The “you” perspective.

Third person (limited) – Narrator is outside of character minds. “He read it to her.”

Third person (omniscient) – Narrator is in characters’ heads. “Josh hated the concept. This sucks, he thought. But he read the book to his little sister anyway.”

Was the point of view consistent? (Especially between third person limited and omniscient?)

 

Perspective – Comes from all characters telling the story as we meet them throughout it. This is their view on situations because of their pasts, prejudices, attitudes, and personalities.

For works with multiple perspectives, do the changes from character to character seem fitting or does the story head-hop too quickly?

Are there too many perspectives?

Is there a character whose perspective you’d like to see?

 

Craft

 

Pacing

Did the writing carry you along smoothly?

Were there any problematic slow/fast areas?

Did any sections of backstory/info/descriptions slow the story?

Are the transitions helpful in moving from one scene to the next?

Does the pace fit the genre? (ie: Action Adventure vs. Historical Romance)

 

Show vs. Tell

Any clichés used? Once upon a time…

Does the work show things where it is needed?

Are the moments of telling appropriate?

 

Format

Are the chapters broken up appropriately by scene/perspective/time changes?

If there are breaks within chapters, do they seem fitting? Or could pieces be joined?

Were any sentences or paragraphs too long or short?

 

Voice/Tone

Did the voice flow along with the story or did it seem choppy in calm moments and too calm during action?

Is the tone fitting for the genre? (ex: Humorous, dark, melodramatic, literary, mechanical)

 

Grammar

Was punctuation used correctly? (comma splices, run-on sentences, not too many ; or !)

Any misplaced modifiers?

Are there too many adverbs?

Are the sentences sticky with too many conjunctions?

If there are curses, were there too many?

Are there vague filler words?

Is the writing concise?

 

At the End

Did the beginning fit now that you know the ending?

Did you notice any inconsistencies in plot/character/scene?

Does the author have any redundancies, catchphrases, or go-to words?

What was your personal take on the story? (Keep this separate)

 

1 thought on “Guest Post: “Critique Partners: What They Are, Where to Find Them, and How to Make the Best” by Elysia Strife

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: