A Kiss on the Hand May Be... A Writer's Best Friend
Diamonds are a girl's best friend. Indeed. But a writer's best friend? Is actually a friend. A good Critique Partner. And it's a feat finding someone that you can be honest, open, and friendly with for the duration of creating a novel, which sometimes takes years. So CPs must be compatible with so many aspects to a writer's life and personality.
But what is a CP? What do they do? It's a question I get asked frequently... And it's actually not an easy one to answer, because in so many cases, CPs act differently for different needs. It's why I have several different CPs. They all fit different needs for my manuscripts.
Basically, Critique Partners are people that you share your work with. You trade manuscripts and critique each other. However, the minute details of what a CP does are always up for a debate. Whereas a Beta Reader reads the book as a reader and gives you a critique without the expectation of reciprocity; they also read for more basic things like plot, enjoyability, relatable content and characters, your basic big picture kinds of things that readers will catch. A CP will read for all that as well as more detailed developmental content, crafting points, line-editing, and anything else that may be problematic or that you as the writer want them to look for. They are your first-in-line editors, where Beta Readers are your first-in-line readers (preferably AFTER you've gone through a round of CPs).
Finding a good CP is hard. But there are some great resources online. I encourage you to check out Megan Lally's #CPMatch (@Megan_Lally) events on Twitter and Wendy Heard's (@wendydheard) Crit Partner Match Up database. Also, there are good resources on Absolute Write's forum Beta Readers, Mentors, and Writing Buddies and Agent Query Connect's forum Want Ads to find CPs who are up your alley.
But the question remains... How do you actually find someone who meshes with you and your writing style?
Well, the answer. Date around.
Once you get a few bites on your #CPMatch post or a response to a Want Ad on AQC, then you get to have some fun! Trade a chapter, no more than fifteen pages, with your potential match, and read and critique for them. Make sure to do what you normally would do, they're dating you too!
Before you even start reading, ask them questions. If your book is graphic, has sex, violence, language, all of the above, will they be willing to read that? Does the book need trigger warnings? Can you read a book that has triggering subject matter? Do they want someone that can also double as a sensitivity reader? Is that something you are comfortable with if that's the case? Also, and this is really important, what kind of feedback are they looking for? Are they wanting a straight-shooter who knows how to soften the harder feedback? Are they wanting a downright honest, no-holds-barred feedback style without any pillow talk? In my experience, no one really wants BRUTALLY honest feedback without some kind of praise to help along the harder parts of a critique.
Then, as you are reading the pages you have swapped, ask yourself, is this writer's style compatible with my reading abilities? How about their skill level in the craft? If it's extreme amounts lower, do you want to spend a lot of time "teaching?" If it's extreme amounts higher, well, jackpot! But, be realistic, will they want to spend time helping you level up?
When you get your feedback from your "date," read it, sit on it (but not too long, you do have to "call" your date back). Remember, all feedback is valid feedback. The reader felt a certain way about a work for a reason. And just because you take a long look at that reason, doesn't mean you have to change your manuscript. It only means that you took a long look at a critique and made sure that you addressed the potential concerns of a potential future reader. I would also note this with: if someone is downright mean, that is not a critique or feedback, that is plain un-constructive and should be ignored with prejudice. With that in mind, you also need to question whether the technique the writer giving you feedback used is compatible with how you work. Were they too blunt, or even rude? Were there too many compliment sandwiches for your taste?
If everything lines up, if the stars shine down on you and you've made a match, then you get to develop a relationship with this person over the course of writing a book, or two or three. Be in regular contact, make friends, be interested in their lives beyond writing. Eventually life happens and your CPs may need your support, and that's what creating a community of writers around you is for.
If it doesn't line up, and the stars frown, just write a little note saying you're sorry that you don't feel like you are compatible as CPs, that you liked their work, reiterate what you liked about it, and wish them luck. Hopefully, you'll still have made a friend, or at least a passing acquaintance. I have a couple failed CP matches who I keep tabs on in the Twitter-verse, and we chat now and again. This community is a wonderful thing to have!
I went through about eight CP dates a year ago before I found my first CP, Glen. He's one of the most amazing people I've met, and he's made me a better writer.
My point being, whether you date ONE or a DOZEN, keep at it until you find your perfect CP match! They are out there, just waiting for you and your manuscript. And they'll be your, and your manuscript's, best friend.