Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Finding the Right Critique Partners

By S. Jae-Jones, @sjaejones

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: The right critique partners can be worth their weight in gold, but the wrong ones can be frustrating for everyone involved. S. Jae-Jones is here today to share some tips and insights on finding the right critique partner and making the most of that relationship.

S. Jae-Jones (called JJ) is a writer, artist, and adrenaline junkie. Before moving down to grits country, she was an editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York City, where she read and acquired YA. When not obsessing over books, she can be found rock climbing, skydiving, or taking her dog on ridiculously long hikes. A southern California native, she now lives in North Carolina with her doctor Bear, a stuffed baby harp seal named White-Harp, and a husky-dog called Bentley.

Take it away JJ...

In our collective consciousness, we hold the image of the Writer tapping away at the keyboard, alone in an office, surrounded by piles of paper. While it’s true that writing is inherently a lonely profession, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

One of the best tools a writer can have is a critique partner (or several, if that floats your boat). The act of writing can feel like working in a vacuum; more often than not, it’s just you and the words on the page. This is where a critique partner or a writing group can be crucial. Not only do they provide human interaction via email, text, Gchat, phone, etc., but they also provide much needed context for your work.

Dating similes frequently come up in all aspects of writing and publishing, but in the case of finding the right critique partner(s), the comparisons couldn’t be more apt. The chemistry between you and your writing friends needs to be just right; you both need to have the same values when it comes to What Makes a Good Book. Otherwise, it’s best to part ways and wish each other well.

Other important factors in finding the best critique partner for your needs: your writing and communication styles. We’ve all been there: you’re on a date with a great person, you have a fantastic conversation, you really hit it off and…that person never calls you back. Or doesn’t call for two weeks. For some people, this style of communication works. For others, they need to be in constant contact. It all depends on your needs.

Questions to ask potential critique partners:

1. What are your favorite books? What do you like about them?*

2. What stage of the writing process are you at? Drafting? Polishing? Querying? Submitting to publishers?**

3. What is your preferred method of communication? Email? Phone? Instant messenger?

4. How do you like to work? Do you like to send a completed draft, or are you looking more for a soundboard as you write?

5. What sort of critiques are you looking for? General picture, structural edits, line edits? (For advice on what questions to ask when critiquing, please see my post at PublishingCrawl here.)

6. What timeframe are you looking at to get critiques returned? Do you need them sooner or later?***

While most relationships between writers and agents and publishers are primarily about business, critique partnerships are slightly different. I’d say they ought to be 75% personal and 25% business. After all, there’s nothing better than having friends in your corner who both stroke your ego and give you a good kick in the seat of the pants when necessary. Writing is an emotional process, and having critique partners is wonderful support system.

Happy writing and good luck!

* You could also ask what the other person writes (YA, SFF, mysteries, literary, etc.), but I think getting a rounded picture of different sorts of writers is actually beneficial. What matters more is that your tastes in reading align. If you can both agree what makes a good book/story, then you’re likely a better match than whether or not you both write space opera. (Although that would be a plus!)

** Being at similar stages in the writing process is also important. A newbie writer and one with several published books would be at different stages of their respective careers. While it’s useful to have a broad base of experienced critique partners with whom you can share knowledge (and gripes), I tend to think of critique partners as “coming up together”. For a more experienced viewpoint, I would recommend classes, workshops, or conferences.

*** If someone is looking to query by March, or submit a draft to an editor by September, then the timeframes would be important.


  1. Very good advice. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I live in North Los Angeles and am scouring for a critique group....

    1. Have you signed up for the Critique Connection group? We just hit 60 members this morning, and there's a wide variety of writers with various skill levels and genres looking for groups and partners. If you're interested, send me an email and I'll add you.

  3. Thank you for this article, JJ. And for the heads up about the Critique Connection group. My extremely helpful writing group folded last year so am looking for a replacement...

  4. I live in Mexico, write in English on various subjects but usually end up with romance/adventure novels.
    I've formulated a geographically-sorted list of first names if you need an authentic name for your hero/ine/villain etc.
    If you'd like a MS Word copy request at luigik123@yahoo.com