The Value of Critique Partners

Keli's first five manuscriptsYou wrote a book. Now what?

If you’re like me, you wrote another and another and . . .

I wrote five books in two years, all without the aid of writing buddies or critique partners. I read some books on craft and received helpful feedback from contest judges, but my writing pretty much stayed at the same level until March 2008.

That month I found out I’d finaled in the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart®, and a whole new world opened up to me. I got to know my fellow finalists as well as other talented writers and authors.

I met three awesome women who are now my critique partners or CPs.

I’ve asked some of my blog guests what advice they would give to new writers. One answer that comes up regularly is to get into a critique group. I’ve seen agents and editors give the same advice on their sites. And I wholeheartedly agree.

Contest judges have really helped me. I thank each of the generous women who’ve given of their time and experience, sharing their suggestions and steering me to resources. But I needed more.

Enter my CPs.

Too shy to make the offer, I hadn’t explored this option. Anne, CJ and Melanie approached me, and I’m grateful. I wish I’d known them earlier, because they’ve given me more in a few months time than I’d learned in two years on my own.

Benefits of Having a Critique Partner

•Two-way communication

Contest feedback can be helpful, but if I don’t understand something a judge says, I have no way of finding out what was meant. Being able to ask my CPs for clarification is great.

•Honest feedback

Having served as a contest judge recently, I learned we’re supposed to keep our feedback encouraging, our goal being to support and gently educate the entrants. In a CP relationship, however, we build trust and learn to share at a deeper level than a contest judge can. Plus, we can ask for help in specific areas.

•Unlimited feedback

Contest judges focus on major areas and choose which need the most attention. We can’t address everything we see. However, my CPs and I don’t have such limitations. Thus, I get much more feedback from a CP’s edit than I can expect from a contest judge.

•Learning from your critique partners’ strengths

I’m blessed with three amazing CPs. Each has a unique voice and different areas of expertise. Together they make an awesome team.

Anne BartonAnne Barton writes witty, entertaining Regency historicals with endearing characters. Her voice is closest to my own. She’s also the most detail-oriented of my three CPs and helps me with punctuation and grammar. Plus, she’s a math-teacher and has a great way of quantifying feedback, which I find very helpful.

CJ Redwine LogoCJ Redwine writes action-packed urban fantasy with a healthy side of humor. She’s several years my junior and helps keep my contemporary voice fresh, catching me when I slip into my seen-the-seventies-firsthand dated dialogue. Since her stories move right along, she’s good at pointing out places mine drag.

Melanie Dickerson

Melanie Dickerson writes historical inspirationals with strong characters who jump off the page. She’s my believability expert. If something doesn’t sound plausible, she’ll catch it. Plus, she’s good at showing me places where my main characters don’t seem as likable as they might. She writes inspirationals, so we have that in common.

I not only learn from my CPs feedback; I learn from reading their awesome works.

•Discovering your strengths

As I work with my CPs, I learn what could be improved, but I also learn what I do well. Contest judges and my CPs have admired my technical skills. I have a degree in Mass Communication with a print journalism focus, and I worked as an assistant editor for a small textbook publishing company at one point. I’m able to serve as an unofficial copy editor for my CPs.

I seem to have a knack for descriptions. I’m able to point out places my CPs have done a great job setting the scene as well as places they may want to add a bit more detail.

Finding out what you do well builds confidence. It also enables you to let potential CPs know in which areas you’ll be best able to help them.

How to Find a Critique Partner

There are a number of places to look for potential CPs. Consider:

•Members of your local RWA® chapter
•Members of your other writing groups
•Members of your on-line groups
•Fellow contest finalists
•Referrals from writer friends
•Writers you meet at conferences

Don’t be afraid to ask. If you think someone might make a good CP, see if it’s something s/he would consider. Then suggest a trial run. By doing this, you give both writers the ability to bow out gracefully if the relationship isn’t a good fit.

Some Things to Look for in a Critique Partner

•Someone who writes in your genre
•Someone who has strengths you don’t
•Someone who will be honest and yet kind
•Someone you can trust
•Someone who will be fair in returning critiques
•Someone who has the time to perform the critiques

And now it’s your turn.

Do you have critique partners? If so, how did you go about finding them? What have you learned from them? And how long did you go it alone before you located your writing partners? Leave a comment with your questions or answers. I’d love to hear from you.

You could win a First Sale Scrapbook!

If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by your blog hostess, Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and February 28. Make sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.

On March 1, I will choose one person who will have her choice of five covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.

(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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9 Responses to The Value of Critique Partners

  1. Sherrinda says:

    This was incredibly helpful! I am just starting my writing journey and have almost finished with my WIP. I’ve been wondering how to go about finding a critique group and the steps you laid out were great. Thanks for making it clear!

  2. Anne Barton says:

    Aw shucks, Keli, thanks for the nice intro! I’m LOL at the idea that I help *you* with punctuation and grammar. If I had a dollar for every misplaced comma in my ms. 🙂

    What a great article. I esp. like your suggestion to start with a trial run. Lots of other great tips too.

    (BTW, with the holiday I *totally* forgot it was Monday. I’m going to off all week.)

    Thanks again!

  3. Anne Barton says:

    Oh and if I had a dollar for every sloppy blog comment I’d really be rollin’ in the dough. I meant to say “I’m going to *be* off all week.” 🙂

  4. Keli Gwyn says:

    Sherrinda, I’m glad you found the post helpful. I was in your place not that long ago. I didn’t have CPs and didn’t understand their role, so I asked six very brave people from church to read my tome. They slogged through nearly 600 pages of terrible writing and told me they loved my story, bless them. I’ll be grateful to them to my dying day. I hope you locate some CPs who are as great as mine.

    Anne, thanks so much for taking time out of your vacation to drop by. You’re the best! And don’t you dare go knocking yourself. You help me tremendously. On top of that, you put up with me and my comma compulsion. 🙂 You, CJ and Melanie deserve a trophy or blue ribbon for that.

  5. Great post, Keli. You’re so funny with that seventies dialogue! LOL
    It took me the longest time to find a CP. Exchanged work with a couple of different people. Unlike you, I did NOT finish five books in two years. Wow. That blows me away. 🙂
    Anyways, I’d applied to be in an ACFW crit group but they went through a new manager so it was only a few months ago that I actually was able to be a part of an active group. And I love it! It’s always great to have extra eyes and a different perspective. CPs are wonderful as long as the writer knows how to trust their own judgment as well, so that their work doesn’t become too homogenized. 🙂
    So glad you have a group of wonderful ladies to work with.
    I also have a writer friend who reads my stuff for big picture problems. She’s invaluable.
    Have a great day!

  6. Sue Mason says:

    Hi Keli,

    Boy are you lucky to have such great CP’s! I am lucky enough to have one very good one. I met her through our RWA chapter and because we live near each other, opted to meet once every couple of weeks. It works quite well.

    Although we did have a third member who didn’t work out. That was touchy, but since both of us agreed that we couldn’t work with that person, we opted out (without hurting the other person, we hope) and now just meet on our own.

    Having a CP really has helped tremendously, because as you said, the people you know (like friends) who read your work and don’t know the in’s & outs of the publication world, just smile and say it’s great! The objective honesty of a CP is worth gold!

    Take care & happy critiquing!

    Sue

  7. Great post, Keli. And you’re right — finding a great group of crit partners can really make a difference in our writing. They help us learn to be better writers, but they also become our built-in fan club when we have something to celebrate or need shoulders to cry on — or just need to know we’re not the only one holding living, breathing conversations with imaginary people (not that I’ve ever done that, of course! LOL).

    I’m not a member of RWA yet but found my first crit group through ACFW. They taught me so much and even though the group fizzled out most of us still keep in touch. They’ll always be some of my best writing buddies!

  8. Keli Gwyn says:

    Jessica, I’m glad you’ve found a great group of CPs. The support mine gives me is invaluable. • I was able to write five books in two years because I’m a stay-at-home mom with one child who’s in high school. If I had three little ones like you, I’d have struggled to write my weekly grocery lists. • And what can I say about the 70s? They were dy-no-mite! 🙂

    Sue, how wonderful to have a CP you get to meet with on a regular basis. I’d love it if I could get together with Anne, CJ and Melanie, but we’re strewn across the country. Thanks goodness for email. 🙂

    Leigh, it’s great to see you here. I belong to RWA and ACFW and have awesome writer pals from both. Sorry to hear your crit group disbanded. I hope you find another. • And yes, I love having CPS with whom to celebrate successes and commiserate when disappointing news is received. I look forward to the day I’m squeeing for the first sales of each my CPs, which I expect will be soon. They’re all talented writers.

  9. C.J. Redwine says:

    Of course, after our phone conversation tonight, I had to come looking for the post I’d missed. And how did I miss this one??

    Probably the same way I miss the em dashes and commas I need in my ms. =D

    You are an invaluable CP and I’m blessed to work with you! You’ve strengthened my writing in many ways and made my agent’s job soooo much easier. 🙂

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