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.
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 . . .
Begin with a Trial Period
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 . . .
How Do I Send My Work?
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.)
How Often Do I Send My Work?
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.
How Much of My Work Do I Send?
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.
Getting Down to Business
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.
• • • • •
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?
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.
And here are today’s prizes: