Hi and welcome to the last installment of my three-part series on Critique Partners! Good feedback is the most crucial part of being a good critique partner. Lucky for you, I’ve had years of training on how to give feedback from my job as a Standardized Patient for UPMC. So let’s do this!
1) Be honest AND kind: It’s possible! The difference between being rude and being kind is often the difference between making a judgment about the piece (“This is a bad analogy”) and stating your reaction to the piece (“This analogy makes a strange picture in my head”). The first says that there is something WRONG. The second says that the analogy may not convey the message the author wants it to convey. It states specifically what’s wrong with the analogy, instead of just calling it “bad,” which isn’t fixable.
2) Don’t assume: Never assume that you know what the author wants to convey! This goes for sentence-level editing as well as character choices and big-picture themes. Stating your reaction to an action/word choice/etc leaves the ball in the author’s court: “Xavier seems like he’s over-reacting and I don’t like his character as much because of it,” is so much better than, “Xavier would never do that! He’s too nice!” Maybe the author wants to show a breakdown in Xavier’s character, or his weak spot. Saying that something “seems” a certain way leaves room for interpretation, rather than declaring that something “is” a certain way. You are not the God of this world- the author is.
3) Know your limits: So you offer to critique a book and find yourself reading about your own problems. This is a sign that you are too close to the material. Stop. Put the book down. Write your CP a nice email about how sorry you are, but you can’t read about anorexia/fatherlessness/racism/whatever is pushing your personal buttons right now. You are not in a place to be objective. Your content editing will not be helpful because your own (very raw) biases will get in the way.
4) Don’t try to be funny: “Does anyone smell like anything other than shampoo in this book?!” is a fine note to leave… for YOURSELF. “Xavier smells like shampoo. In the last chapter, Thelma smelled like shampoo. Just a heads-up,” is a fine substitute. It’s specific, doesn’t imply that anything is wrong with the book (maybe this is a world where everyone smells like shampoo!) and it leaves the ball in the author’s court. Being funny can often seem mean to the author. Imagine that someone makes a joke about your kid, or your dog, or your mom. Yeah- maybe your kid is small, but nobody’s allowed to call him shrimpy. That hurts. Books are our children. Respect that relationship and don’t insult them, even if you’re just trying to be funny.
5) Say positive things: I did a whole blog on The Power of Positive Feedback, and it’s one of my most popular blogs for a good reason: People need an honest, objective person to tell them what they’re good at. We all know that we can get a million good reviews and one bad one, but that bad one will stick in our minds. Those million good reviews are still necessary- imagine if they weren’t there and all we saw was the bad one! Mark the places that make you laugh or cry. Mark the places that make you cheer for the hero or boo the villain. Look at over-arching strengths: plotting, pacing, humor, memorable characters, swoony/edge-of-your-seat/bone-chilling descriptions. Everyone has something good about their writing. Find it.
Thanks for travelling along on my little CP blog tour! My sincere thanks and apologies go out to the CPs who taught me these lessons, whether directly or indirectly: You have made me a better editor and friend.
If you want to check out the product of countless CP hours, my debut YA Contemporary novel, SONG OF SUMMER is being published tomorrow! And if you want me to critique your first page, all you have to do it pre-order it and send the receipt or screenshot to lauralee.edits @ gmail.com.
If you missed the other installments of this blog hop, here they are!