In an ideal world, critiquing is an “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours” situation.
One of the biggest lessons through Pitch Wars 2015 was learning the difference between beta readers and critique partners. Here’s one of many good blog posts on the difference. I had found wonderful beta readers before entering Pitch Wars, but becoming a mentee under Laura Heffernan showed me what I had been missing – and needed.
Specifically, I needed deep criticism of my book, along with occasional soothing noises of how it would all be okay. MK England wrote a great blog post on handling criticism. But beyond the feelings (So Many Feelings), another aspect of finding a CP that works for you after Pitch Wars is not only critique styles, but expectations of time frame.
Laura remains an excellent CP for a bunch of reasons, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I LOVE how fast she reads. I feel like I’m a priority, and I try to return that when I read her work. Another of my CPs uses Google Docs, which I like because, as she works her way through it, I receive an email with recent comments she’s made. When I critique these days, I try to send emails when I’ve made it through a chapter or section with questions or overall impressions so the person knows I’m working on it.
That’s not to say your CPs need to always give you a quick turnaround. Everyone reads at a difference pace. Life happens. People are working on their own revisions or took on too much or have children screaming at them. One of my beta readers started my book and received a cancer diagnosis, and stopped reading anything. I did not take that personally.
But it’s been weird to meet people who say “Yes, of course! Send me your chapter/book/query” and then they fall off the face of the Earth.
It invites questions such as: Did they receive the document? Do they hate it? Are they bored? Am I a terrible writer? Am I a bad person? What if EVERYONE HATES ME AND EVERYTHING I HAVE EVER WRITTEN?
So if you are in this situation, let’s take a deep breath and break this down into more objective territory. I think there are a few likely scenarios: One, the person truly became too busy, grows guilty and flakes. Two, the person lost interest in the book and doesn’t know a way to say that while maintaining a friendship. Three, the person thought they could help, but then realizes they are out of their league. (For example, I enjoy reading sci-fi and romance, but can’t offer much in terms of criticism.)
The paths forward, I think, begin with honesty with both yourself and your CP. Some strategies:
- Set expectations around how much time you need and keep the commitment. If you say, “I’ll have this back to you in a month,” don’t vanish. If there are extenuating circumstances, speak up.
- Ask yourself if this is a friend or a CP. They can be both! But one thing I have learned is some people want more encouragement than honesty. That’s okay, but that may make for a better friendship than CP relationship.
- Discuss whether batches of 50 pages work. If you’re slammed, see if it would work for you to exchange first chapters.
- If you are critiquing and lose interest in the book, see if that can lead you to say what could help. Did the middle become soggy? Is it the characters? Is there something you’re seeing that made you realize the issue with your own book, and you had to run go and do that?
- Finally, on both sides, ask what you can and can’t accept. If a friend has had your book for months and never said anything, good or bad, ask whether you can let it go. Or, if you’re not a confrontational type (cough), is it easier to cast a wider CP net?
There’s no reason to believe you will mesh with every potential CP. Don’t lose hope if it hasn’t gone well. Much like querying for an agent, it’s about the right match.