Six Steps for Approaching Potential Critique Partners

“I found someone I think would make a great critique partner. Now what?”

I asked myself that question as I prepared to contact my potential CP.

Three months passed between the time my agent asked me about my writing partnerships and when I decided it was time to find a new CP. I explored a number of the options I mentioned in my post on How to Find Critique Partners. I discussed my findings with my husband. (Yes, Gwynly has the patience of Job and willingly listens to me talk about every aspect of my writing. I’m blessed!) I also said a prayer—several in fact.

One name kept coming up: Jody Hedlund. Some of you know her and are aware that she’s a soon-to-be published author with a three-book contract from Bethany House. She has an awesome blog, which is one of my must-reads. Those factors were enough to intimidate me and led me to question myself. What right did lil ol’ unpublished me have of approaching her?

Jody’s publishing success wasn’t the only fact that made me think I was nuts to contact her. There were others. She’s said on her blog that she works with a freelance publisher. She’s the busy mother of five children, whom she homeschools. And she’s said she didn’t have a critique partnership because she didn’t feel she had the time for one.

Try as I might, I couldn’t silence the voices telling me to contact her.

So, what did I do?

Here’s what . . .

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1) I established a friendship first.

Lest anyone think I cyber-stalked Jody with the goal of getting her to agree to be my CP, let me assure you that was not the case. I’d met her many months before that phone call with our agent, Rachelle Gardner, when I realized that having a writing partner who wrote similar stories would round out my Dream Team. (My CP Anne Barton and Rachelle are the other members. And I’ll gladly make room for publishing house staff when that opportunity presents itself. :-))

I know many successful critique partnerships have been formed between writers who just met or were linked through CP matching services, but, personally, I lack the confidence or courage to take such a step. I prefer to know something about the person first. After all, I’m going to share my stories with her—and a part of my heart. She has to be someone I can trust. And trust is something that builds over time.

Some of the options I listed in my post on finding potential CPs may look like they’re based on quick pairings, but those matching services I’ve seen have interested writers complete questionnaires so they have the best chance of finding someone who would be a good fit. Plus, if a person has been a member of a writing group for some time, she has likely gotten to know some of the other members and has some feel for what they are like.

Jody and I had emailed on a number of occasions over the past year or so. She and I had also talked on the phone. When Rachelle emailed me to say she wanted to discuss the possibility of representation, I did my homework. Knowing Jody is one of Rachelle’s clients, I asked Jody if she’d be willing to answer some questions. I learned a lot of wonderful things about Rachelle, but I also learned a great deal about Jody. And I liked what I saw.

So, I didn’t approach Jody out of the blue, and I don’t advocate anyone else doing that. Relationships take time to build. Anne and I formed a friendship in the months between meeting on the 2008 Golden Heart loop and seeing each other in person at Nationals that year when we agreed to a trial critique partnership. Anne likes to say our partnership was “organic,” and I have to agree. I believe that’s a great way to begin.

When a writer reaches the point where she is ready to explore the idea of creating a new critique partnership, I suggest she look at those friendships and relationships already in place and start there. The CP who is just right for you may well be among your circle of writing pals, blogging buddies, or chapter mates.

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2) I assessed my needs.

Before I approached Jody, I made sure I could clearly state what I wanted from the partnership. Anne does a superb job editing for me at all levels. What I lacked was the perspective of a writer who is familiar with my sub-genre. Specifically, I wanted a second CP who writes inspirational historical romance set in the United States.

My next step was to assess what level of critique I required. Since Anne provides a top-notch read, all I really needed was what I refer to as a macro read. I wanted someone with an eye for the big picture who could help me identify possible plot holes and characterization issues and who could tell me if my story was a fit with the guidelines of the publishing houses Rachelle and I have considered as possibilities. Since Jody sees herself as a big picture person and since she writes for a house I’d feel privileged to work with, she met my criteria.

I don’t mean to come across as cold and calculating, but I felt it was important to make it clear from the start exactly what I was looking for in a potential partnership. I suggest anyone who plans to approach another writer with the idea of forming a critique partnership do the same. This will prevent possible problems later on.

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3) I ascertained my potential CP’s needs.

Since Jody works with a talented freelance editor who helps her with the big picture issues, I knew her need for a macro reader was met. However, since she didn’t have a CP, I knew she didn’t have anyone outside her publishing house performing a micro read, or line/copy edit.

Because I’ve worked with several writers, have served as a judge in a number of contests, and have read writing-related blogs for the past two years, I know most writers can use some help with “the small stuff.” I determined that there was a possibility Jody would welcome assistance in that area.

Before approaching a potential CP, I suggest doing some research. Read her recent blog posts, especially those relating to her writing journey. Visit her website. Do your best to determine what her needs are before broaching the subject of being critique partners.

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4) I enumerated my strengths.

As writers, we discover early in our journeys that we have to sell our stories—and ourselves. We spend time learning to craft catchy taglines, create compelling query letters, complete concise synopses. We set up websites; we start blogs; we spend time social networking.

Using this mindset, I listed my credentials as a critique partner. My goal was to show Jody what I had to offer. I included my education and related work experience. I told her about my published pieces. I mentioned my contest successes. I told her how long I’ve been writing and how many stories I’ve completed.

In addition to the items above, I also told her about the strengths I would bring in regards to editing. I worked as an assistant editor for a small textbook publishing company at one point. That is the type of read I offer, and I wanted her to know at the outset.

When drafting the email to a possible partner, we will more likely meet with success if we promote ourselves. While it may seem prideful—or even silly—to prepare a list of our strengths, I liken seeking a CP to looking for employment. When I want a job, I do my best to showcase myself in the best light possible. It’s important that I let my potential employer know what I have to offer. The same holds true when seeking a CP. Present yourself as the professional you are, and your chances of meeting with success improve.

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5) I considered our situations.

Jody has five children. Her days are filled to the brim. She fits her writing around her mothering, homeschooling, and other activities. In short, her days are long and her time for writing-related activities limited.

I have one child who is away at college. I don’t work outside the home. I’m able to devote large chunks of time to writing-related activities. Plus, I enjoy editing for myself and others almost as much as I do writing my first drafts.

Thus, I have the time for a micro read, which is what I feel most comfortable offering. I understand Jody will have to work reading she does for me around her other activities. Therefore, I offered what I have to give and only asked for what she might be able to provide.

Taking our situations and a potential CP’s situation into account will help ensure that we offer only what we’re able to give and ask only for what we believe another may be able to give in return. By doing so, we help ensure the success of the partnership by showing what we envision it to look like.

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6) I made contact.

Once I’d taked the steps above, I drafted an email with my proposal.

In it, I covered the following:

  • The reasons I chose to approach her
  • The reasons I was seeking a critique partner
  • What I was looking for from a critique partnership with her
  • What I could offer a critique partner
  • The strengths I possess
  • What I envisioned a partnership between us would look like
  • How I would respect her situation and the demands on her time
  • A request for her to take the time she needed to consider my offer

After proofreading the message and sending up another prayer, I gulped and hit “send.”

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• • • • •

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Jody accepted my offer of a trial period, and I happy danced.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss how we went about establishing our partnership.

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Double the Fun Drawing!

In honor of my blog’s second birthday and my two years of having Anne as my CP, I’m giving away two prizes a day during my Critique Week, one each to two winners. To enter the drawing, leave a comment on this post by midnight Pacific Time and leave your email address when prompted. (This way you don’t have to add it to your comment.)

I’ll hold the drawing the following day, post the winners’ names here, and contact them via email to get a mailing address (which I won’t share with anyone or add to any mailing lists.)

Congrats to Sherrinda, winner of the ceramic plaque!

Congrats to Christi, winner of the note pads.

Note: Offer void where prohibited. Odds of winning vary depending on number of entries.

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And here are today’s prizes:

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Ceramic Plaque that reads: "If you keep reaching outside your comfort zone, you'll make it!"

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Writerly Notepads, Set of Two

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I wanna know . . .

How many CPs would be on your Dream Team?

What do you want from a critique partnership?

What type of read are you most comfortable providing?

What does your process for approaching a potential CP look like?

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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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21 Responses to Six Steps for Approaching Potential Critique Partners

  1. Fabulous tips, Keli. Sounds like a fantastic partnership in the making. I’ll be coming back to these tips at some point. I’m sure of it.

  2. christicorbett says:

    I hadn’t seriously thought I could “get” a writing critique partner until reading this post.

    The way you laid out everything in a clear, easy to understand format makes me rethink having a partner.

    Thanks for such great information,
    Christi Corbett
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Christi, if this post has helped you believe you can find a CP, then I feel it has been a success.

      I wish you well in your search and pray God has just the right partner in mind for you.

  3. I love the process. It appeals to my organized heart. All of this is so valuable to me now as I am in the process of looking for a CP and two other writers want to stat a critique group.

    I think my dream team might be three. I wouldn’t mind meeting once a week, but if we did 50 pages for each other it might make sense to do twice a week.

    What I want is honest, constructive critism. I don’t like a neutral “it’s nice” type of response. that worries me more than a thumbs down.

    Because I think spelling and grammar is not my strong suit, my preference is to critique for content … does the story flow, are the characters and the dialogue real ??

    I have approached people both by mail and on the phone.

    I should know more by the end of this week. I’ll keep you informed.

    thanks again for the post 🙂

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Ramblings, I like hearing that you have an organized heart. I do, too. That’s why I approached my search the way I did. I realize my method won’t work for everyone. It’s just one example. But if anything I said can serve as encouragement, I’m happy.

      I wish you well in your CP search and look forward to good news in the near future.

  4. Ooops … “start” to replace typo.

    Twice a month or every other week is that I meant … not twice a week.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Ramblings, I’m glad you clarified that. I was beginning to feel like a slacker because there’s no way I could fit twice a week meetings into my schedule. 🙂

  5. Susan Mason says:

    Wow, Keli. You are amazing! I can’t believe how methodical and organized you are in everything you do!

    Me, I just plunge in headfirst! LOL. Looking forward to your next installment!

    Sue

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sue, there are days I would like to be anything but methodical and freely dive into life. Alas, I’m not wired that way.

      However, I have learned to live with a level of chaos around me I’d never have believed in my pre-writing days. I face my computer and don’t look left or right because the mounds of stuff abound and threaten to sidetrack me otherwise. 🙂

  6. Keli, I am such a list person, so I really appreciate the steps and the proposal bullet points. You make it seem so easy this way. Or maybe that it’s that listing it like you did makes it clearer in my own mind. This is like a mini-class!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Julie, thanks for the compliments. As you may have guessed, I’m a tad bit OC. Lists are wonderful. I make ’em all the time. I’ve even been known to have lists listing my lists. 🙂

  7. Sherrinda says:

    Love this post, Keli. I like how you plan and think ahead. I would have to say 2 or 3 would be an ideal number for my dream team. I like the idea of having a macro and a micro critter. It would give a well rounded circle of help. Like Julie, this is definitely like a mini-class!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sherrinda, I hope the fact that this feels like a mini-class is OK. After all, your school year is over. Wouldn’t want you to miss out on any of your well-deserved R&R, my dear friend. 🙂

  8. Jody Hedlund says:

    Great job with this post, Keli! I tried leaving a comment earlier in the day, but my internet connection was tempramental (or maybe I was just too impatient!). But you’re offering some wonderful advice this week on your blog! You have a very professional way of approaching your writing career and we’d all do well to model that!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Thanks, Jody! Your compliments mean a great deal to me. You’ve been my role model the past year. The way you go about your blogging, manage your time, and give back to the writing community serve as wonderful examples to me and many others.

  9. Keli,
    Jody has the right word for your approach—professional.
    Definitely a model.

  10. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks for the great comments. I love hearing your thoughts about critique partnerships.

    I held the drawing for the prizes offered on this post. The winner of the Comfort Zone ceramic plaque is Sherrinda, and the winner of the set of writerly note pads is Christi.

    Congrats, Sherrinda and Christi! I’ve got your goodies packaged and ready to send your way.

  11. Sherrinda says:

    Yay!!!! Thank you so much, Keli! It’s a saying I need to hear daily!

  12. Tonya says:

    How many CP’s? I would go with 3-5, possibly…I would like a well rounded dream team. Every person brings something new and unique to the table and I would want mine to become a well rounded table, an unbroken circle 🙂
    I want honesty above all. I want someone who prays. I want gentleness. I want someone who I feel held accountable to, who will help me hone in and focus, not jump all over the place. Someone who can tell me if my story is too predicable and possibly what twist could be thrown in.
    My husband is a great CP/editor, but he is one tough cookie to crack. Sometimes his criticism stings…so I think he needs to be demoted back to husband.
    Providing? Yikes! That I need to figure out. I believe I’m pretty good at seeing others typo’s but not my own. If I have to read a sentence more than twice, I would call it confusing. I would offer pure honesty and prayers over their work.
    My process for approaching? Oh, that needs work! You have given me a lot to think about, a lot of insight, and that #4 up there is intimidating! 🙂

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