Thursday, June 2, 2011

What to Expect When You're Expecting... A Crit: Pt 2

Mmmmmm. Compliment Sandwich...
Last week we talked about how to find crit partners you can trust. I meant to have another post up Wednesday, but guess what?

My husband and I just put in an offer on a house, and it was accepted! It's going to mean some initial belt-tightening, and some busy days between now and closing, but we're very excited! (Pictures to come, whether you want them or not ;D ) It will be so nice to finally have a place of our own, and even nicer to have an office of my own, with a door that shuts, and my desk and everything. Yes! I can't wait until we're all settled in.

Sorry I've been too busy to post in a timely manner, but I promised you another crit-related post, and a crit-related post you shall have!

So what should you expect from a critique partner? First, the two (or three or four, if you want a crit group) of you should lay down some ground rules. Like, how much of a manuscript do you need to have read? What time-frame works for both of you? One of you might need your entire ms read in a few weeks if, say, you're resubmitting revisions to an agent. Time frame is one of the first variables a good crit partner will consider.

Second, a crit partner is not a mind reader. If there are specific areas of concern you'd like them to address, write a little questionnaire for them to work from. In my humble opinion, however, it's usually best to wait until your critter has read your ms to give them said questionnaire, just so their first read of your work is untainted by your concerns. You may discover that one of your concerns doesn't even faze your critter. Or quite the opposite, they may see problems you never anticipated having to change.

Finally, you should expect your critter to be able to explain why a part of your ms is or isn't working for them in a way that's both critical and constructive. Hence, constructive criticism: you've heard of that, right? ;)

When partners are new to one another, some like to go with a technique commonly called the "compliment sandwich", in which the critter begins their critique by praising the parts they enjoyed first. Next they move on to their concerns—explaining why things do or don't work for them, of course. This will typically be the bulk of the crit, but not to worry, as the critter will finish the "sandwich" by ending the crit with more hopeful words.

So yes, courtesy and honest concern for you and your writing are two things you should rightly expect from a critter. Which is one of the reasons I don't promote the use of critique circles, where critters "earn" crits by critting the work of others. These sites don't foster camaraderie and friendship the way open forums do, and you won't always be able to read old critiques if you start to question the motives of one of your critters—who may very well be tossing off a bunch of half-assed crits just to earn themselves new ones. Shame on you. Shame on all of you. :(

I've run into plenty of critters like this in the past, but once I learned about sites like Absolute Write Water Cooler, and the QueryTracker Forum, I ran the other way and never looked back.

I hope I've been able to shed some light on what to expect from a critter. Once you have worked with the same crit partner for a while, you'll start to get tougher on each other, which is a wonderful (and highly necessary) thing. Once you have a crit partner you can trust, you don't question their feedback so much.

You listen, because you know your relationship is built on respect and trust.

To end, I want to give a shout-out to my crit group, Plamena, Jade, and Abby! You rule, ladies!


Sara McClung ♥ said...

Yes! I agree with all of this. Though, I've never even heard of crit circles. They sound awful. And you know, I've been critting for some of my CPs for years now, and I still do the compliment sandwich method, lol. But I think because I try to be really thorough in my critical aspects, and I think it's easy for a writer to lose site of the GOOD in their work when they're informed about all the things that need work. Thought, when I get crits back on my own work, the harsher the better...

Also, are you going to be at ALA? I'm coming to New Orleans and would love to grab a drink or lunch or something :)

Abby Annis said...

Mmmm, compliment sandwich. Nom, nom, nom. ;)

Great post, Tere! These are all things I try to do when I'm critiquing. Whether or not I'm successful every time (or ever ;)), I don't know. And good critique partners are invaluable. Glad I got the best. :)

Krispy said...

All great points, and I heartily believe in the compliment sandwich. :)

I used to be part of an online critique circle thing based on a point system, and I know what you mean. I was lucky though in that most of the people I interacted with were cool, honest, and helpful. I think it might've helped that the site had a way for people to rate the quality of your critiques. So it didn't dissolve into a total point free-for-all.

Elena Solodow said...

Congrats on the house! Good luck with the move, and all that icky paperwork. Great crit partner rundown, especially the bit about time frames and courtesy.

The Golden Eagle said...

Great points. I've never had a critique partner--but I'll have to keep these in mind should I ever be on the hunt for one.

Congrats on the house offer!

Jade said...

You guys are the best crit partners EV-AH!! I've learned so much from you all!

Julie Musil said...

Our critique group uses the compliment sandwich, and learning what you did right sure helps take the sting out of the negative comments.

Good luck with the house!

Plamena Schmidt said...

I'm so happy to be in our crit group : )

Also, congratulations on the house!