I have said it before, and it bears repeating, that finding a critique partner is like the most awkward blind date ever. It's kind of like having a tinder profile with a picture of your dog as the profile pic. It sounds good, and looks appealing, but really, you never know what you're going to get when you swipe right.
So in order to help you find the best match possible, here are a few questions to ask before you hook up with a critique partner.
1. What is your production schedule like?
If you are a 1-2 book a year writer, don't hook up with a 3-4 book a year writer. They are going to ask a lot more from you than you are of them, and having that inequality will start to rub. Even if you don't think it will. Try to find someone who works at the same speed as you do. If you can eventually sync your publishing times, you'll be able to swap around the same point, and encourage each other through the various stages of production. Obviously this is in the perfect world that doesn't exist, and everyone has shit thrown at them, but if you're on the same basic schedule, having someone moving forward when you stall, will give you all the more reason to catch up and hop back on the keyboard.
2. How honest do you want me to be?
Here's the kicker. At first, everyone says "Be completely honest." But some people don't understand what they're asking for. Jokes and smartass comments make me giggle through the pain of edits, but let's be real, it's hard to tell if someone is joking when you're 59 pages deep and super raw from all the red marks.
When you're talking to a potential critique partner, talk about what you're looking for. Do you need the positive notes through a manuscript, or do you enjoy when they make it bleed so you can fix everything the first round?
I think this will have to do with how new the writer is as well, and if they've been through professional edits or not. Which leads me to my next question...
3. What are your publishing goals/plans?
Self-publishing and Traditional publishing are two different branches off the same tree, but take you in completely different directions. If you are looking to work with a traditional publisher, having someone else chasing that path means they will be more willing to help with pitches, queries, and synopsis writing. If your critique partner is fully self-pub and wants nothing to do with the query process, they're not going to be much help, and you'll be asking for assistance on something you'll never be able to reciprocate for. Most authors I know are either hybrid (traditional and self pub), or totally self-published. If you're a new writer and not sure where your career is headed yet, realize you're probably going to part ways at least once or twice with people. Most authors don't get offended when a relationship doesn't work out. We move on.
4. Where are you at in your career?
Here's the thing, folks. If you are not published, have never been published, or have never been published in the genre you are looking to write in, you are not going to hook up with a New York Times bestselling author. You're just not. Not only do those higher tier writers have their teams solidly in place, but they are busy. So don't ask them to read your book. You're only putting them in a supremely awkward position. If you're friends with a best seller, and they offer with absolutely no prompting from you, take them up on it, of course. But don't put people in the position to be the bad guy.
Find someone who is close to you on the climb up, and help each other grow together. Never been published? Hook up with another pre-published author. Self-published, but looking to query editors and agents? Find someone to share submission requests with and help each other out.
5. What is your turnaround time?
This is one I didn't think to ask before I started, and I probably pissed some people off. If you're a single mom, and a CP wants you to read their book during back to school season, be honest and let them know it's going to take you a month to get that novella back to them. If you're a single pringle and have hours to devote to the read throughs each day, and you can turn a book around in a week, find someone else who has the same availability.
Or at least, be upfront about expectations, and realistic time frames. Having a critique partner should make your writing life easier, not stress you out. If you work slowly, find someone else who has the same pace. If you expect fast read throughs and fast results, be upfront about it.
When I have a specific timeline I'm looking for, I send out feelers. "If I sent you a 50 page excerpt and synopsis, could you review it with line-edit detail and have it back to me in 3 weeks?" I'm specific about the length, the type of detail I'm looking for, and a timeline I'm hoping to get the feedback within. And the people I work with are just as specific. "Can you look over this blurb and have it back to me by morning?"
Make sure that if anything in your life changes, and you're going to have to change your schedule or availability, you let your CP know. Be honest, be upfront, and be ready to follow through.
6. What type of content is off limits for you?
This is important for me. I work in the romance genre, and there are lots of hard and fast opinions about every aspect of Romancelandia. Some authors write softer romance, where everything fades to black, or sex isn't even mentioned. Some write hard erotic fantasy with detailed sex scenes that might push the limits of some people's comfort zones.
Heck. I know some writers who just have a fear of dogs, or certain bodily functions, or even specific words. Knowing what your partner's hard limits are, will tell you right away if they will fit with your style.
I tell people, "I write dialogue-heavy, fast-paced stories with explicit sex. My characters are smartasses with language that would make a sailor blush. While there is violence, it's not as detailed and usually mild when on page." So they know that while my books are hot with foul language, I tend not to have a lot of blood and gore. Unless vampires are involved, and then it's usually sexy blood.
If you find someone who you get along with well, but they write Amish romance and you write hard core BDSM, it's most likely not going to work out. And finding someone who writes in the same corner of the romance world as you, means you'll have some wonderful options to cross promote later on.
7. What time zone do you live in, and what time of day do you usually work?
If you're working with someone halfway across the world, but you're a night owl, and they're an early bird, you may be online at the same time.Your time or schedule difference might also mean you'll never be able to sync up and chat beyond email. I have found that I need someone who is online regularly. That way they can poke at me, and I can poke at them.
Know when and where your CP is. And if you're talking deadlines when you need a certain project back by, you need to specify if it's in your timezone or theirs.
I usually go for a top 5 in posts like this, but I think these are all things to be upfront about when signing on with a new critique partner. So you get all of my ramblings today.
Do you have a critique partner? Is there anything you'd add to the list above? Tell me in the comments below.