Establishing a Critique Partnership

You decided you would benefit from having a critique partner. You explored different places where you might find possible partners. You gathered your courage and approached someone you determined might be a good fit for you. And, lo and behold, she said “yes.”

So, what’s next?

First—and this is an important step—you happy dance.

You took a risk, and you’re reaping the rewards. You deserve to celebrate. Whether you prefer to wend your way across the dance floor in a stately waltz, engage in a jubilant jig, or shake your booty seventies’ style, acknowledging your success is important. Those high points on what can be a long and sometimes discouraging journey to publication deserve recognition.

Now that we’ve gotten that important step out of the way, it’s time to move to the next one: establishing your critique partnership.

The two of you have some questions to ask and answer. One that may be running through your mind is how to go about setting things up.

Before you work out the nitty-gritty details, I suggest addressing an important issue—one that can reduce the risk on both sides and go a long way toward building the trust that is vital to a healthy critique partnership. What are the terms of your agreement?

I offer a suggestion based on experience . . .

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Begin with a Trial Period

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When Anne Barton approached me about a potential partnership, and when I approached Jody Hedlund, I asked that we begin with a trial period, which we did.

Here are some agreements that have worked well for me and for others:

  • Agree that your friendship is more important than the critique partnership itself and that you will do your best not to damage the former if the latter isn’t working.
  • Agree that either party can end the relationship during the trial period with no questions asked. A simple, “I don’t think this will work for me” is all that’s needed to terminate the trial.
  • Agree to keep the relationship private during the trial period so neither partner feels pressured to remain should things not work out.
  • Agree on how you will determine when the trial period is over and the partnership has been successfully formed.
  • Agree on whether your potential partnership is to be open-ended or limited to a particular project or period of time.
  • Agree that if one of you no longer has a need for the partnership at some point or wants out of it for other reasons you will do your best to part amicably.

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• • • • •

Once you’ve established the terms of your agreement, it’s time to deal with the logistical questions. Here are some you may want to ask . . .

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How Do I Send My Work?

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Critique partnerships are different than critique groups. Some writing groups meet monthly, bi-monthly, or at other intervals. They often exchange work in hard copy so the members can have the others’ work in front of them during the meeting. They may critique it ahead of time or on the spot.

With the ease of cyber communication, our critique partners can be anywhere in the world. It’s not uncommon for a romance writer in Australia to have a CP in the U.S., the U.K., or Canada. My CP Anne is on the East Coast of the United States, and Jody is in the Midwest. I’m in California.

So, how do most of us exchange our work? Via email and email attachments. Easy peasy!

Even though you might be ready to zap your work to your CP and get things going, there are a few items you might want to discuss first.

What type of files can you open?

My version of Word has been know to hiccup when I attempt to open a .docx or .rtfx document. My computer shoots me not-so-nice messages if I try to open a zipped file. So, I’ve asked Jody and Anne to send their work in standard .doc files, which is what I send to them.

What format works best for you?

Anne and I exchange our work as double-spaced documents with 25 lines per page and one inch margins. Since we work from computer copies, we’re free to use color as one aspect of our critique process. Jody, on the other hand, prints my edits and works from a hard copy. She prefers a file be single-spaced so she uses less paper. Because her printer uses only black ink, I altered the comments I leave in the text so they don’t require the use of color.

How do you plan to make your actual comments?

After working with Anne for two years, I’ve come up with a system that works well for us, one that utilizes the comments function of Word, internal comments in the text itself, and a special symbol my CPs love to see. (If you return on Friday, I’ll let you know what it is. I’ll also walk you through my Feedback Format, which you can implement if you’d like or use as brainstorming fuel to develop your own.)

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How Often Do I Send My Work?

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The answer to this question will be unique to each partnership. The two of you will need to come to an agreement that works for you. Here are some possible scenarios:

  • Send your work at agreed upon intervals.
  • Send your work as it’s completed.
  • Send your work when you have a request from a publishing professional.
  • Send your work when you need to get it polished and ready for your agent or editor.

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How Much of My Work Do I Send?

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Each of you will need to figure out how you prefer to receive feedback. That will determine how much material you send at one time. Here are a several options:

  • Send an agreed upon number of pages.
  • Send one chapter or scene at a time.
  • Send one section of your story at a time.
  • Send the portion of your story you’ll be submitting as a contest entry.
  • Send the portion of your story that was requested by an agent or editor.
  • Send the entire story when it’s finished.

If you like to receive feedback as you write your story, the first three options might work well for you. If you have a contest deadline to meet or are in a hurry to fulfill a request from a publishing professional, you’ll want the option of having your CP ready and willing to read the material you’ll be submitting. If you are swayed by others’ input or tempted to stop an make edits based on your CPs feedback, you may want to wait until you’ve completed your story before sending it to her.

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Getting Down to Business

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You’ve agreed to the terms of your trial period. You addressed the questions above. Now you’re ready to begin exchanging work and see if your partnership is a go.

As you begin to work with a new CP, questions are bound to arise. Tomorrow, we’ll address some of those along with some concerns that have been shared in the comments on this week’s posts.

On Friday, as I mentioned above, I’ll share my Feedback Format. And we’ll wrap up Critique Week on Saturday with my Style Sheet System.

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• • • • •

I wanna know . . .

If you’ve yet to establish a critique partnership, does the idea of having a trial period ease some of your concerns?

Have you implemented a trial period when you established a critique partnership? If so, did that help or hinder your relationship?

Do you think the idea of agreeing to the terms of a critique partnership at the outset could serve to minimize challenges in the future?

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Double the Fun Drawing!

In honor of my blog’s second birthday, 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.)

Congratulations to Carol J. Garvin, winner of the ceramic tile plaque!

Congratulations to Meg, winner of the set of memo 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: "Life is all about how you handle Plan B."

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Set of three memo pads

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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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26 Responses to Establishing a Critique Partnership

  1. Meg says:

    I have yet to establish a critique partnership, and the idea of having a trial period definitely eases some of my concerns.

    I’m one of the super shy people, so having it out there that either side can back out without any ill feelings is good for me.

    Love this series!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Meg,

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. It’s great to “meet” you.

      Because I’m a shy person and one who tends to doubt herself, having a trial period was essential for me. I wanted to give the other person a graceful way to bow out if a potential pairing didn’t seem like it was working for her.

      I got the idea of a “no questions asked” policy from someone else, although I can’t remember who it was. Avoiding the need to list reasons can spare both people unnecessary discomfort and potential awkwardness.

  2. This week I think I have found a good CP. Although our work is in different genres, I feel a positive connection.

    I am going to send her your post today as this is where we are … we have the who … next we need the what, how and when.

    Thanks again for this series!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Ramblings,

      I’m happy to hear that you may have found a CP who will be a good match for you. Sounds like you’re off to a good start. I wish you both well and hope your relationship is as rewarding to you as mine are to me.

  3. Susan Mason says:

    Good morning, Keli. In the past, I’ve never had a formal trial period, but I definitely see advantages to having one up front.

    My first critique group consisted of three people, myself, another woman and a man. Interesting to have a male perspective, I thought. We met every two weeks, and after several months, I found the male getting odder and odder. It didn’t help that I had to force myself to read his work. Then when we offered gentle suggestions, his male ego got all offended. He had some warped ideas about romance, let me tell you!

    The other woman and myself were at a loss how to handle the situation and, I’m afraid we took the coward’s way out. We just disbanded the group, citing personal time constraints. Then eventually the two of us began to meet on our own.

    So yes, I think having clear-cut guidelines in advance is a great idea. It can save a lot of awkwardness and problems.

    Thanks for all this wonderful advice. I’m drinking it all in.

    Sue

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Sue,

      I’m sorry you had a disappointing experience with your critique group. Unfortunately, that can happen. That’s why I think it’s important to come to some agreements when a critique partnership is formed.

      Accepting feedback can be difficult. We writers can feel very connected to our work, almost as though it’s an extension of ourselves. Since we put so much of our time, energy, and emotion into our stories, our work is very dear to us. Learning to separate ourselves from our stories can be tough. Realizing it’s our work that is being critiqued and not us personally is something we can forget at times.

      As trust is established and the relationship progresses, some of the anxiety lessens. However, I think it would be hard to find a writer who didn’t feel a least a little angst when sending her work into the world. I know my finger trembles when I hit “send” and my story wings its way to my CPs.

  4. This is a fantastic series, Keli. Thank you for sharing your amazing knowledge.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Heather, I’m glad you’re finding the posts helpful. I’ve been so blessed my my critique partnerships that I wanted to share some of the reasons I think mine work so well.

  5. Hi Keli,

    I’ve been reading your posts for a while and had to come out of ‘Lurk-ville’ to say how much I’m appreciating this series. I’ve been in two online crit groups, both of which eventually disbanded. My real time writers’ group doesn’t include many novelists and none who write in my genre, plus the group is too large to give meeting time to novel critiques anyway. So finding suitable critique partners has been challenging.

    I finally approached one of my blogging friends, much as you’ve suggested, but only to see if she would be willing to read my current ms. She agreed and has offered some wonderful insights. At this point I don’t know that she is even looking for a CP so I may not be needed for reciprocal critiquing, but you’ve given me great ideas for how to make any CP relationship work and be mutually beneficial. Thanks so much!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Welcome, Carol! Thanks so much for leaving a comment so I have the pleasure of “meeting” you. I look forward to getting to know you better.

      I wish you well in your search for a CP. Perhaps things will work out with the person you sent your work to recently. Sounds like you’re happy with her feedback. Perhaps she’d love for you to read her story as well but is simply too shy to ask. There are a number of us writers who are introverts and have a hard time asking others to consider a critique partnership. Maybe a well placed email to thank her for her help and ask if she has anything you could read for her would open up dialogue about the CP issue.

      What do you write? Romance? If so, what sub-genre?

      • The gal who is currently reading is a published author… one self-pubbed mystery and a second due out from Theytus Books in 2011 and I think she has her own CPs in place. But I’ll see what she says.

        My novels are mainstream and written from a Christian worldview; the current one is a romantic suspense and more suited to the Christian market.

        • Keli Gwyn says:

          Carol,

          How neat that a published author agreed to read your work. Sounds like you have yourself a mentor, which is awesome. They can be harder to find than CPs.

          Oooh! Romantic suspense. Cool. I hadn’t read in this sub-genre, but last year a writer friend who was the 2008 Golden Heart winner in the inspirational category, Kit Wilkinson, had her GH manuscript published in Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Suspense line. I read and enjoyed Protector’s Honor and have Kit’s second book, Sabotage, in my TBR pile, er, mountain. I’m thankful to Kit for introducing me to RS.

        • I’ll have to look up Kit’s book. Linda Hall is one of my favourite RS writers, also pubbed in Steeple Hill’s Love Inspired Suspense line.

  6. Hi Keli,

    Another great post to print out and add to that book I told you about. Your talk about friendship and critiquing is very important to me because I, too, would rather keep the friendship and lines of communication open. I look forward to Friday when I can see your Feedback Formula (which is why I got that book). I also like the options you give for How and How Much Work to send. Wonderful as a point of reference for discussion with a potential CP.

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Julie,

      I’m honored that you plan to print out the post. Nothing like having one’s name in print. Does that mean I’ve arrived? lol :_)

      I know many critique partnerships are formed as business arrangements, but I prefer those that develop from friendships. After all, if I’m going to entrust my work to someone, I want to know something about her first. It’s hard enough for me to send a contest entry out to be read by people I may never have met, but to send someone my entire story without an established relationship would be scaaary.

  7. In answer to your 3 questions: Yes, No, and Yes

  8. Sue,

    Though I’ve never been in a critique group, I know what you mean about the male ego. Actually, this could be any ego.

    As a volunteer rape crisis phone counselor for 18 years, I had a man in a writing group ask me about his heroine, who was a sexual assault survivor. He had it in his mind that she was going to act a certain way in a scene that inspired him to write the book. I told him was not necessarily typical of a survivor, but more of a victim. In which case, her other actions would generally follow a certain mentality pattern.

    Well, unfortunately, he had already written the book, though it wasn’t published. To deflect the awkwardness, I suggested he call the local center and get some handouts for more info.

    • Susan Mason says:

      That sounds remarkably uncomfortable. Why did he ask if he wasn’t willing to change anything?

      The fellow in our group had women doing things that most normal women would never do and when we said, as kindly as possible, “No woman I know would ever do that”, he’d just puff out his chest and say “Well, you don’t know models. I know models.” I’m sure he didn’t change anything!

      Oh well, you learn from every experience!

      And congratulations for volunteering in such a traumatic position. I’m sure you helped a lot of people.

      Sue

      • Thanks. I really don’t know why, except that when he found out what I did, he came over to tell me about this story he’d completed (with no research). I was merely trying to point out that a protagonist with a victim mentality is different than one with a survivor attitude. And if you have one scene that’s different , it won’t jive in its entirety, unless she’s growing (or declining). Depending on the story you’re writing.

        Yours sounds pretty funny, though I know it must not have been at the time.

  9. Hi Keli!

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I do have a critique partner whom I found under unusual circumstances. He’s a much more experienced writer than I am, so when I started writing fiction, he was my writing mentor. We fell into the habit of reading each other’s work and eventually became “alpha readers.” And at some point I started commenting on his work as much as he comments on mine. Thus, we became critique partners in a sort of unpremediated way. And it works brilliantly.

    The fact that, somewhere along the way, we fell madly in love with each other is just icing on the cake. 🙂 But I fully appreciate that having one’s significant other as a critique partner poses unique challenges, and may not work for others 🙂

    Laura

    • Susan Mason says:

      What a cute story, Laura!

    • Keli Gwyn says:

      Laura,

      CPs can be a real blessing. Your benefit, however, is one I wouldn’t have thought to mention. How cool that your writing partnership led to so much more. 🙂

      Many writers have the support of their spouses or significant others, but in some cases those partners actually take hands-on roles in a writer’s process. One of my agency mates, Dr. Richard Mabry, has often mentioned that his wife serves as his primary CP, reading his medical suspense romances. My husband serves as my primary plotting partner. Gwynly comes up with some excellent ideas for my historical romances. His male perspective is a great help, too.

  10. Keli Gwyn says:

    I’m enjoying the comments and learning so much from each of you. Thanks for sharing your ideas, suggestions, and experiences.

    I held today’s drawings. The winner of the ceramic tile plaque is Carol J. Garvin. The winner of the set of memo pads is Meg.

    Congrats, Carol and Meg! I’ll be in touch.

  11. Tonya says:

    A trial period sounds wonderful, as does agreeing to the terms before hand.
    Great information, again. I promise I’m not cyber-stalking…I’m sitting under a warm quilt on the couch, with a heater going, and enjoying a day of reading…it just happens to be your blog at the moment. 🙂

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