How to Get the Most out of a Critique

by Gary Zenker
published in Community

Having previously outlined my Thirteen Rules of Successful Critique for those critiquing a piece, it’s only fair to now turn the spotlight on the writer. It takes incredible bravery for an author to bring his or her baby to a group of people for the specific purpose of having it sliced and diced while sitting there watching and listening.

But for usable results, you need more than bravery: you need a process to follow. That doesn’t come by accident or from total faith in your critique group. As the author, you share responsibility to help keep your critique on track through what you do.

So  here are my Thirteen Rules of Successful Critique for Authors. Once again, these are outlined based on groups where the author reads his or her piece aloud to a group reading along to a printed copy, but can often be applied to other critique structures as well.

Preparing for the critique

1) Create a one or two paragraph summary for the piece you are presenting (if necessary)

Spend the time to get this right. When you do, it will result in fewer reader questions and better quality feedback.

2) Practice reading your piece aloud

Yes, you wrote it. But that doesn’t mean you should expect that you can read it off the cuff. Practice it several times speaking out loud. Reading it aloudoffers the opportunity to add emphasis that isn’t in the plain type on paper. That’s a precious gift to have. Pay attention to pacing: many authors read aloud too fast, ruining the work’s natural flow.

3) Pay attention to places you stumble when reading aloud

Reading aloud often highlights problems with wording and areas that need editing. If the words you read are different than the ones on the page, make your edits accordingly.

During the critique

4) Begin with a statement of what you are seeking to accomplish

Tell your critiquers how you want them to help you. You are much more likely to get what you want when you state it directly.

5) Ask participants to write their name and email address at the top of their copies

This offers you the ability to follow up to get more information. Remembering which comments came from which person is relevant if you also understand their backgrounds.

6) Resist the urge to offer additional backstory

Your one or two paragraph summary (Point 1) needs to be enough for the reader. If it isn’t, go back and rewrite it.

7) Once you finish reading your piece aloud, just listen

Don’t explain and don’t defend what you have written, even if you feel the urge to do so. Absorb the feedback you get. If you don’t understand it, feel free to ask for clarification at the point the comment is given.

8) Redirect questions

Redirect questions by asking others in the group “What do you think of that?” or “Do you agree with that?” Your goal shouldn’t be to explain your piece but to hear what people are thinking after reading it. You also want to understand whether points raised are singular or there is group-wide consensus on them.

9) Ask specific questions only after all of the comments have been offered

Don’t throw off their observations by diving right into your questions. First get their impressions as they see them.

10) Thank the critiquers for their comments

People took the time to give you feedback. They deserve appreciation, even if you don’t agree with all of their notes.

11) Let it all marinate

Don’t feel the need to make massive changes right away based on the feedback. Think about it. Think about the commonality between comments and what that might reveal, even if it wasn’t stated directly.

12) Contrast the group’s opinions with those of another group

There’s a dynamic where people can sometimes change their original opinions when they hear others speaking. One person’s opinion may suddenly swayed by what someone else says. Would the opinion have stayed the same if the other person said nothing? There’s no way to know for sure, but getting feedback from different groups can result in different dynamics of discussion.

13) Remember that this is YOUR story

Don’t change things just because someone else thought you should. Be true to the story you want to tell and the integrity of your characters. You are the ultimate decision-maker for your story.

That said, be open to all that you are offered. Using someone’s suggestions doesn’t make it any less your story. These are still your characters and it is your story, even if you change the entire plot. Remembering this can make it easier to accept the changes others may suggest.

I created a humorous video for my writers group to emphasize a few of these points. You are welcome to view it right here. If you like it, please let everyone else know with a comment, a click to the like button and share it.


GARY ZENKER is a marketing professional whose flash fiction and columns have been published a variety of places. He is the co-founder and facilitator of the Main Line Writers Group (now in its eighth year) and the Wilmington Writers Group (now in its fifth year) which help authors of all genre and experience to better their craft and reach their publishing goals in a safe, nurturing environment. www.garyzenkerstoryteller.com

His new writers tool/party game, WritersBloxx, destroys writers block and turns storytelling into a fun, interactive party game for all ages. Kickstarter for the game runs through July 31, 2017. Offer your support and get a copy for yourself right here. Or get more information at  www.WritersBloxx.com.

  • Terri Frank

    I’m getting ready to share something with a writer’s group soon. The suggestions in this article will surely help me get the most bang for the buck. This is great! Thank you, Gary.

    • Gary Zenker

      You are very welcome Terri. Also check the video link above…a humorous way to get people to understand their roles in critique!

  • Gary Zenker

    Thank you Gabriela for letting me share what I learned with everyone.

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