Sharing your manuscript with a critique partner or writing group is exhilarating and nerve-wracking. At last, someone else is going to read what you’ve written; to meet the characters who, until now, have only lived in your head and on the page; to read the story without knowing what happens next!
Authors often meet their critique partners or find writing groups at writing conferences; at events hosted by a local library, school, or bookstore; on writer-focused message boards and Facebook groups; and via other forms of social media. However, not all feedback is created equal. Before you share your work with others, take some time to consider your ideal reader—whose feedback would be the most helpful for this specific manuscript?
First, look for readers who are familiar with your book’s target readership. This means readers who are familiar with your manuscript’s intended age range (e.g. picture book, beginning reader, middle grade, young adult), as well as its specific genre (fantasy, science fiction, mystery, realistic fiction, thriller, romance, horror, etc.). For example, someone who only reads realistic fiction may not be familiar with tropes and story arcs that a fantasy reader would immediately recognize. Soliciting feedback from readers who aren’t familiar with or fans of the type of book you’re writing increases the likelihood of receiving misleading, confusing, or generally unhelpful feedback.
Second, look for a critique partner or writing group members who share goals similar to yours. For instance, if you are prioritizing finding an agent or publisher, then a writing group that approaches writing as an occasional hobby probably won’t be the best match. If you are working on books for multiple genres and age ranges, consider either seeking out separate groups for each project or looking for people who have similarly varied interests.
Lastly, the most important quality in a critique partner or writing group can also take the most time to build: trust. You only want to receive feedback from people whose opinions you trust and who you trust to be honest with you about your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses. When you first receive feedback from someone new, try to take a step back and evaluate it before you begin implementing it. Does the feedback seem specific to your work, within the realm of possibility for your story, and in keeping with your story goals? Or do the suggestions feel as if they are stemming from someone else’s separate story ideas, goals, and preferences?
While finding a great writing group or critique partner can take time, having like-minded people you trust to read and provide thoughtful feedback on your work is invaluable. Many authors work with one or two critique partners over the course of their careers; you’ll often see critique partners and writing groups listed in a book’s acknowledgments. Some of the strongest submissions I’ve seen came from authors who worked with a trusted critique partner and used their feedback to revise.
In next week’s letter, I’ll discuss how to get the most out of feedback from a writing group or critique partner.
Your Editor Friend,
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