Critique partners come in all shapes and sizes, and the types of critique partners we need can vary depending on the author’s strengths and weaknesses, and even the specific manuscript in question. I’ve seen many people seeking CPs but not necessarily being able to articulate what they need. It can take an entire team of multi-faceted CPs to get your manuscript where you need it. Here are some key types of CP strengths that might exist in one person, two, or a team of many.
The Critical Reader
This person will usually read your manuscript start to finish, relatively quickly, and then give you top line notes. What works, what doesn’t work, and depending on how critical they are–an outline of options for revisions. Ideally this person can turnaround your manuscript in a week or two (or less), and can offer brutal–but fair–honesty. A critical reader is great for helping you identify problems with your novel, especially with character motivation and pacing. I recommend bringing them in in one of two spots: at the beginning (early in your revision process) or after you’ve been querying/on submission (to agents or editors) and Something Isn’t Working. The critical reader is like a book doctor. If you are open to their ideas, they can help you make it better.
Full disclosure: this is my preferred style of critiquing, and my personal strength. I read manuscripts much like an agent would–straight through, on my Kindle, usually in 24-48 hours. Then I write up extensive notes, like an edit letter, outlining everything that worked/didn’t work, and usually multiple suggestions for revision. I like to have at least one person like this on my team, as well, to offer the same perspective I like to offer to others. This type of CP is not for the faint of heart, but highly recommended for making your manuscript the best it can be.
The Casual (Beta) Reader, aka The Cheerleader
Like a critical reader, the casual reader–or really, a beta reader–will read through your whole manuscript and offer you general feedback when they are done. But the casual reader is usually not a critic. This isn’t *bad*–it’s definitely a style thing–and having a beta reader for your book is a good way to gauge average reader response. Usually with some needling you can get one or two “criticisms” out of a beta reader, or they’ll let slip an issue they had, couched in glowing praise. Sometimes you’ll connect with a CP who claims to bring the critical eye to your book–but they turn out to be a casual beta reader instead. Because unless your book is the best thing since sliced bread, the odds that nothing is wrong with it are slim. But, everyone needs a cheerleader to read at some point in a manuscript’s life–so nothing wrong with one or two casual readers.
The Style & Content Editor
The style editor takes their time with your manuscript, and reads it “on screen” — in Microsoft Word usually, and will use track/change and comments to help you strengthen phrases, sentences, dialogue, etc. The style editor shows you where you are telling instead of showing, maybe even gives you concrete suggestions for how to fix it. They see two vague or overwritten phrases, and show you how to weave them into one tight, zingy sentence. They may also help tweak spelling/grammar along the way, but the focus of the style editor (and why you’d recruit one) is to help you make the actual guts of your writing better. They are also often the person that points out concrete instances of pacing issues, characterization blips and other content-based issues (much like a critical reader, but they do it in-line instead of top line). Line editing can be time consuming, but incredibly necessary. You may have someone go through your entire manuscript, or ask them to focus on problem spots–first chapters, scenes that aren’t working, etc.
The Spelling & Grammar Guru
They are a whiz with spelling, grammar, usage and rooting out typos. They won’t nitpick your sentence structure, but they will catch the things your eyes gloss over and Microsoft Word’s spell check/grammar check gets wrong.
The Expert/Fact Checker
Recruiting an expert CP–someone with unique and detailed knowledge of specialty subjects–is wise if your novel takes place in a specific time period, place, features historical figures or events or stars characters with a quirk or background unfamiliar to you. This could be a scientist or historian or someone with a particular cultural/religious background, or just someone with a high level of interest that can complement your knowledge on a subject. This person may also just love fact checking and call you on inaccuracies.
These CP types don’t always stand alone. Your “style” CP may also be a spelling and grammar guru, and an expert of some kind. Your critical reader might be a fact checker/expert. Your casual reader/cheerleader might also be a grammar guru. In my opinion, you need all of the above to craft your manuscript into the best it can be–so recruit as many CPs and readers as you need to.
Also important to understand, is that your novel shouldn’t be like spaghetti–you throw it at a wall of CPs and see what sticks. Be strategic in how you use your critique partners. At different life cycles of your book, you will need different kinds of secondary readers–someone giving you a content critique will be useful in early stages of revisions, as well as late stages (fresh eyes on a late stage revision to get a sense from a new CP if the book works), other times you need the expert, or the grammar guru. Reader fatigue is a real thing: you shouldn’t rely on the same CP(s) to read your book over and over again. Hence it is wise to take a look at your CP slate and “schedule” them to read your book at various stages. You may even need to recruit completely new CPs at some point, if your other CPs have hit the fatigue wall.
Where to find critique partners
Friends. Friends make great casual readers, or if you have friends who are also writers, they can make a great CP of any kind. The advantage of a friend who is also a writer being a CP is they know you well, and they should know the best way to deliver criticism. It’s your close friend that can tell you your book has no conflict, or they hate your main character (I <3 you, Casey!). You know it doesn’t mean they hate you, because they are your friend!
Writing Blogs. Periodically, major writing blogs do critique partner matching events. Miss Snark’s First Victim did two in 2013, and this is how I found four stellar CPs. Be on the look out for other blogs that run a CP connection.
Contests. This one is less traditional, but if you see a contest entry and general public comments/crits are welcome… you can always throw onto your comments an offer to CP. You never know.
Twitter. It’s a great place to find community with aspiring writers, agents and authors… if you become Twitter friends with someone and they have a ms that sounds up your alley, ask if they need a CP.
How About We CP: A tumblr for this very purpose!
YA Writers Reddit: This a great community area, and while they don’t have a pinned critique partner post, I wouldn’t be surprised if something like this happens at some point. In general, it’s a great, growing community of YA writers.
Once you’ve connected with a potential critique partner, I recommend a “getting to know you” period–exchange a few emails, chat on Gchat… you don’t have to be best friends with your CP, but being friendly and knowing you have things in common can help your relationship. Exchange a few chapters of each other’s work, to get a sense for each other’s writing and critique style. Do you actually want to read their book? Is the feedback they give you on yours insightful? Or do they seem to be missing the point? Are they up for more than just manuscript critiquing? Are they up for chatting about publishing stuff, or brainstorming ideas?
It is OK to politely bow down. Not every CP relationship is going to work out, and you may have to “audition” several people before you find The One (or Ones!). But it is definitely worth it–a good group of CPs will make your novel infinitely better.