Beta readers/test readers are often those who are just readers of our genre. They’re great for spotting flaws in the story. But we also need skilled writers to go over the manuscript and examine the plot, the character arc, the grammar, the structure, etc. Enter–critique partners.
What should we look for in a good critique partner?
Similar writing ability and experience
A professional tennis player doesn’t want to play with someone who hits the courts once a month for fun. He needs a match with someone at his level. We need to find partners who are also at our level or above. A published book isn’t always the best criteria as there are many writers of talent not yet published. But they do need to be in a similar place on the journey in terms of ability.
Familiar with your genre
A partner who writes in our genre is great because he understands the setting, structure, and flow of that kind of book. But most writers read outside of their genre as well. They can judge a manuscript based on its characters and storyline. Often they are more subjective and spot things we miss.
Honest but tactful
We need to know the truth. Yeah, it can hurt. But if something is wrong or doesn’t work, we need to know while there is still time to fix it. This needs to be done with tact–and with suggestions if possible. The critique partner’s point should come across as ‘I don’t think this works’ rather than ‘this is all wrong, stupid.’ We also need to hear what does work well.
Familiar with your style and voice
This might not always be possible, but a good partner has read our writing before (even in blog posts.) He knows how we tend to write–what elements we usually include, the flow of our stories, the voice of our characters, and so forth. He’ll also be less likely to impose his own voice on our work.
Reliable and trustworthy
Most writers are trying to work on a schedule. We need someone who adheres to deadlines and is consistent with critiques. We also want someone who will not only deliver as promised, but will be discrete with our work. (Sharing it with the world or running off with it is just not cool.)
Good sense of humor
Everyone involved needs a good sense of humor. (Writing is intense enough–need to lighten up now and then!) We don’t always get to sit down with critique partners and words on a page can come off cold and harsh. A good partner knows when to add a little humor.
This is a package deal and why it’s important to use people who know you well. It helps if they understand your standards, your morals and beliefs, and what you’re trying to accomplish. And just like making friends, it’s great when critique partners share many of those same attributes and goals.
If we find one or more critique partners with all of those qualities, then we’re set!
What do you look for in your critique partners?