We all know those people. The ones who love having their work praised by friends and family and other “beta” readers and therefore need no critique group.
(Confession: As a teen, I was definitely one of those people.)
“Why would I need CP’s?” they ask. “My friends/family read a lot, and they love my manuscripts! I’ve already got my target audience.”
Don’t get me wrong, betas are great. I never would have gotten to where I am without them, but CP’s are in another category all their own.
If you have no idea who/what CP’s (critique partners) are or where to find them, here are some guidelines. CP’s should be:
A fellow writer
This is important because not only do these people love to read, they KNOW the craft. They can spot a cop-out deus ex machina or too many dialogue tags a mile away. In fact, they’ve probably made similar mistakes in the past.
At or near your writing level
Unlike the somewhat one-sided beta relationship, CP relationships are reciprocal. You trade chapters and lines and ideas constantly, and if you’re not at the same level, the relationship can be stilted and more beneficial for one person than the other.
Familiar with your category/genre
Not all CP’s have to write in the same category/genre as you do, but if they don’t, they should be very familiar with it. For example, my CP’s and I write YA, NA, and Adult, but we all tend to stick with contemporary or fantasy – sometimes both at the same time. And we’ve read extensively (and dabbled) in all three categories.
Weak where you’re strong and vice versa
One of my CP’s, Caitlyn McFarland, tweeted this the other day: “Convinced that CPs combined strengths = MOST AWESOME AUTHOR EVER. Too bad we’re all control freaks. ❤ #amwriting.” She’s completely right. For example, in our CP group, the three of us bring 1) technical polish and plot arcing, 2) lyrical language and flow, and 3) phenomenal worldbuilding and pacing to the table, respectively. When we send something to each other, we know that anything we’ve missed will be pointed out and sent back with a ton of great suggestions attached.
Unafraid of honesty
There’s a special trust that exists between CP’s. You tell each other everything and hold nothing back. CP’s know everything about you and your book, and they’re not afraid to delve into anything. Caitlyn has this to add: “CP’s are honest with love. First, that means we try to make sure we crit without tearing each other down. Second, (and this is IMPORTANT) it means that we know success can’t come if we put being nice over pointing out weaknesses. We want each other to succeed.”
Able to edit on multiple levels
Most of what CP’s should do is substantive editing. Caitlyn adds, “If your content is crap, there’s no point in line edits. Unless your prose is so bad your CP’s can’t even get to the story. If that’s the case, you should go back and take a basic English class.” If all your CP is doing is line edits, you may want to re-think your relationship.
Do you need CP’s? If you’re serious about being a writer, the answer is YES. Your English major sibling isn’t going to cut it unless they happen to be a serious writer, too. (And then you’ve got to worry about the honesty issue and the hurt feelings, etc.) Assemble a fantastic CP group, and get swapping!
Also, because she is amazing, you should check out Caitlyn’s blog for other writing tips!