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Mar 18, 2019

Finding Your Shiny New Critique Partner

By Bethany Tucker.

Congratulations! Working with other writers here at can be intensely rewarding and exciting. It’s a wonderful way to have accountability and to know that you’re not writing into the void. And at it’s best, this is a community where you can see your skills blossom and relationships grow.

So let’s jump in on how to set yourself up for success finding these partners who make the magic happen.

Step #1: Prepare Yourself.

Think of your profile as your front door. It’s your statement to the community of who you are and what you’re about. Fill it out. All of it. What are your six favorite authors? What genres are you looking to read and write in? Is your About Me written? State what your work is about. Don’t forget to talk about your experience and what you can offer to the community. Are you really good at catching spelling errors? Have you taken a writing class? Do you speak Dutch and are you willing to take questions? For example, I recently used my experience in martial arts to help a partner. Put as much in there as possible. Short and succinct.

Step #2: Know What Your Goals Are.

Before you approach a partner, take a moment to think about what you’re looking for in the collaboration. Are you looking to trade writing every day, every week, once a month? We all have different levels of capacity to interact. Be honest with yourself.

Consider where you are in your own process. What kind of feedback are you ready to receive? Are you just trying to learn if your plot is working for you? Are you feeling really solid on your plot and want line editing? Do you know where you are? Not knowing is a fine place to be! Just communicate that with your partners.

Also, take time to consider what you’re offering to a partner. Are you very well read in a genre and know what works or does not work in that area? Do you have a good handle on POV? Don’t worry about not being very experienced. Part of being on means that with a little effort, you will gain that experience.

Step #3: Make Contact.

There are two ways to look up new partners. One, you can look at the list of Postings, for work that people are asking to have read. The other is to open the Critique Partners list and either scroll through the pages, or sort by filters. The filters are useful for narrowing down the possibilities. This site has grown a lot since I joined!

Once you’ve found a name, check the person’s profile. See if there’s any indication that they would enjoy reading what you’re writing. Read their entire profile.

Then, write a personalized note asking to be partners. Make it at least fifty percent about the other person. This is important. I have received many requests for partnering. Usually, I have no way of knowing if it’s going to be something I’m interested in, because it’s a generic one-liner.  My most recent partner only snagged my attention with her note, demonstrating that she knew what she wanted, and had read my profile. I was honestly fully booked, but her proposition was too good to turn down, and I MADE the time to work with her. We both would have missed out if she hadn’t taken that personalized step.

Step #4: Follow Up.

This is so, so essential to success. Once you partner with someone, it’s time to get on the Messages feature, found in the left-hand toolbar, and write to them. Say hello, ask about those details like what they’re open for, offer to exchange some test work.

Try not to be shy! You don’t want that opportunity to slip through your fingers. Ask for a couple thousand words from them. From experience, I can say no more than 3,000 words for the first trade. That is enough to give you an idea about what kind of writing you will be critiquing and if it’s something you want to handle. If you need to bow out, this is the point to do so gracefully. A simple, “Not what I feel ready to handle,” should usually do it.

Be prompt on returning this critique. Makes sure to point out good things, but also offer useful feedback. At that point, the other writer will probably ask for writing from you, but if they don’t (maybe they’re shy), then go ahead and use the messaging feature to inquire about whether or not they’re ready to critique your work. If you’ve already read their work, reciprocity is a natural state!

What NOT to do: Partner with someone and then just send them your entire book, without comment. Yes, this has happened to me. I have enough commitments with my current partners that, if you do this to me, you’ll hopefully get a nice, short note from me asking about it. Most likely, it will sit in my inbox, untouched.

Step #5: Commitment and Thinking Long Term

Many writers on this site have full-length manuscripts that they are looking for feedback on. Other writers only have a few chapters. When looking for critique partners, be upfront about what you’re looking for. The richest partnerships are built over time. There’s nothing like having someone know your work to the point that they can point out when you muck-up your own voice. And for High Level and Plot critiques, a full read is absolutely necessary. That long-term journey is so important.

If you only have a few chapters but you partner with someone who has a full book, think carefully about whether or not you’re going to want to continue reading for someone, even if they’re not reading for you because you have nothing for them to read. You might not be a good fit for each other if your projects don’t align, at least somewhat, in length.

For writers with full-length novels, it can be distressing to prepare and send out the first five or six chapters to different people, over and over again, and have interaction die off. Be honest about your commitment level. And if your project is long, be upfront when telling people how long it is.

Step #6: The Partnership

I’m wishing all of us long term, productive critique partnerships. I know I’ve been very rewarded working with my partners here and I look forward to working with more writers in the future on even more projects. Finding and keeping a good partner requires the same skills as any other social exchange. Know what your goals are. Listen to what their goals are. State your needs and limitations and make sure you’re prepared for theirs. Then keep your commitments. After all, we’re all writers and each critique we exchange helps us get better at doing what we love.

And there you have it. How to Approach Your New Critique Partner 101. I feel like I should be making a joke about “If you give a mouse a cookie…..” except it would go somewhere along the lines of “If you give a writer coffee…..”

Forget it. There’s a reason I write fantasy and not comedy. Get back to your keyboards. Find some critique partners. Crack open your dictionaries and encyclopedias. Sew up those plot holes. Have some fun!


About the Author: Bethany Tucker
Bethany lives on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State, west of Seattle. She has been writing fiction for the last twenty years. It’s an urge she can’t escape, nor does she want to. Bethany writes epic fantasy with heavy dalliances in the paranormal under a pen name as an independent author. She is also a freelance editor and formerly an English instructor, though she would point out that teaching English is not actually what leads her to be qualified to edit fiction. She has lived abroad extensively and credits her ability to write diverse fantastical worlds to those experiences.  
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