What Type of Critique is Right for You?

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

When it comes to getting a tune-up on your writing, you have lots of different options. In fact, sometimes the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming and it’s hard to recognize what kind of help or feedback you really need. In this post, you’ll get to know some of the choices so you can determine the right type of critique for your given situation.

Critique Partner:

This is a writer with whom you exchange your work as you progress through a project. The Critique Partner (CP) will probably read several different versions of a story or novel and give you feedback as you go along so that you can make adjustments. In many cases, the CP can get to know a piece almost as well as the writer knows it. On the other hand, since this CP is reading your work piecemeal, he or she will have a harder time giving you global feedback that extends from the beginning to the end of your novel.

Critique Group or Workshop:

Just like a critique partner but there are more people involved. In my experience, critique group or workshops work best when there are between five and seven members. I have been in a critique group for several years and I love it. We did go through some growing pains every now and again, but each time we’ve regrouped and now we’re stronger for it.

While a workshop can exist outside the classroom setting, you’ll often find more structured versions this model offered as an actual class. In fact, the writing workshop is the mainstay for a traditional MFA program and while other elements can vary from one program to the next, you will always find a writing workshop at the core.

A writing workshop as a class can be a great way to learn the basics, but it can be hit or miss in terms of the quality of feedback you receive. First off, you have little control over who else is in the workshop with you so the vibe of the group can range from fantastic to dysfunctional. At the same time, the teacher can make-or-break the workshop experience. I had one teacher whose workshop style traumatized me so badly I unable to write fiction for years. It was only when I took a chance on another workshop (this time with a much more supportive teacher) that I was able to start writing fiction again.

Note: If you’re looking to create an independent critique group or meet a critique partner, a workshop class is a great place to do that. You get to know other writers before committing long-term so you can avoid the crazies.

Beta Reader:

The Beta reader (AKA Beta) is often someone who reads the genre where your work fits and is familiar with the literature. The Beta will read your whole novel in a short span of time. This means this person will be able to give you feedback about big picture aspects of your work (character development, plot arc, etc.) The Beta reader rarely focuses on the nitty-gritty details so don’t rely on him or her for line-edits like grammar or punctuation. I find two Betas to be the ideal number for any given book: you get the benefit of a second opinion, without opening the critique floodgates and getting bombarded with too many suggestions

Line Editor:

This can be someone from one of the above categories, or just another friend you know who has a strong grasp on grammar and copy-editing. You can even do this type of fine-tuning yourself, if it happens to be one of your strong points.

Warning: Do not try this yourself unless you’re actually really good with grammar and line-editing. I mean, would you ask an amateur to detail your car? It’s kind of the same thing, only it involves your book.

Professional Editor or Book Doctor:

The professional editor is usually someone who’s had experience in publishing or teaching and offers one-on-one consulting with writers. They often read the whole book and give you detailed comments. These services can be pricey, but if you find a good editor it can be a valuable experience. You can also look for a Writing Coach, which is kind of like a professional editor or book doctor but instead of reading the whole thing after it’s done, a coach will help you get through the process of actually writing the darn thing.

Friends and Family:

I learned this lesson the hard way and now I share it with you. Don’t let civilians or “muggles” (i.e. non-writers) read your work while it’s still in progress–reserve that privilege for a trusted few writer colleagues. Unless your family or circle of friends happen to include an exceptional writer or two, keep a lid on your projects until they’re out in the world. Here’s why:

  1. There’s a good chance your friends and family won’t understand the concept of “still in progress.” Chances are, they’ll love the book no matter how rough it is (and what parents don’t love their kids’ work?) While the glowing praise can be fun in the moment, keep in mind that they’ll keep pestering you about why you haven’t published the book yet. They don’t understand the process of revision and navigating the publishing world so they won’t get it when you say “it’s just not ready yet.”
  2. If you’re lucky enough to have friends and family who do offer useful critiques, it will be much more difficult for you to hear the criticism This is because they’re so close to you; it becomes that much harder to take tough feedback from them.

When your work is published, that’s when you spread the news wide and far. Think of friends and family as your most loyal fans who will cheer you on.  But would you really want your fans to read your work when it’s still not ready? Didn’t think so.

Take-home Message:

In the end, it’s about finding the right type of critique that serves your work where you are right now. If you’re just starting out, a workshop or class can be a great way to test the waters. On the other hand, if you’re moving toward the query process but you think your book still needs work, a professional editor or even a beta reader or two could help tremendously. Choose wisely and look for a critique situation that will best serve your current project.

Do you share your work and get feedback regularly? What type of critique has worked best for you?

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