by R.T. Lawton
In SleuthSayers Sandbox postings last April concerning a potential SS project under discussion, a question came up which led to the topic of critiques. And, that led to this article.
At one time or another, most authors could use a critique of their work before their manuscripts are submitted to an editor. Often, the authors are too close to their work for them to see any defects in their creation, much the same way a mother perceives her newly born baby. It's only later that mom starts shaping the way her child acts.
Hopefully, the items mentioned in a critique help the receiving author to correct any errors or problems in his or her written creation, thus increasing the chances of their manuscript being liked and then published by an editor. Unfortunately, not all critiques are equal in their presentation, and not all critiques are well received by the manuscript's author.
So, here are some thoughts on the critique procedure, most of which have been gleaned from handouts at various writers' conferences, plus some from personal experience.
~ The person giving the critique should keep their personal likes and dislikes out of the critique. After all, the critique is not about them, but rather about helping the manuscript's author produce a salable product. For instance, the critiquer may like or prefer something in the hard-boiled sub-genre or a literary style of writing as opposed to something in the cozy sub-genre or a commercial style of writing, but that's not the goal. The goal is to make helpful comments within the arena in which the author is writing. Just keep in mind that a genre difference or a writing style difference can make it more difficult in how you frame your suggestions, so carefully consider how you say them.
~ There is a difference between a critique (helpful) and criticism (belittling). Statements such as "I hate this" or "This is terrible" are counter-productive and of no help to the author's manuscript. It is better to skip those types of comments and instead point out specific places in need of changing, and then supply helpful suggestions as to how these sections could be written better.
~ Every critiquer has their own areas of expertise, be it grammar, plot, action, characters, dialogue or background. Use your knowledge in these areas to benefit the receiving author.
~ Mention both problems and what's good in the manuscript being reviewed.
~ Let comments in the critique cool for a few days.
~ Consider each comment objectively. If you think the comment is off base, try to figure out why the critiquer made the comment.
~ The work speaks for itself. Don't get defensive, instead ask clarifying questions such as how to improve the critiqued section.
~ If more than one critiquer makes the same comment, then pay attention.
~ Take the positive as well as the negative comments.
~ The important thing is not how high your critique was, but rather what you learned from the experience.
~ Ultimately, it's your created work, so you'll write it the way you want.
EXPECTATIONS VERSUS REALITY
Expectation: Reality: Yeah, but:
You'll receive a high rating Odds are probably against it You'll learn something anyway
Your work is flawless Everyone can use some work You may find flaws you didn't
Critiquers are impartial Critiquers are human and Critiquers will give it their
biased best shot
Feedback is clear and Feedback is sometimes All feedback is worthwhile
helpful confusing, inconsistent
Feedback will fix all Only you can fix your It will help, especially on
your problems problems glaring issues
Critiques by various Critiques may range widely; Receiving feedback is the
readers will be consistent some readers may critique most important part
different aspects of the story
Your work will be judged Some readers have plot Some editors have the same
on story alone prejudices; some are prejudices when you submit
influenced by grammar, your manuscript for
spelling and format problems publication
An excellent critique means A good critique is no guarantee Your odds are better than if
you'll sell of selling you had no critique
No doubt, most writers reading this article have received critiques on their works and have made their own critiques on the writings of other authors. Some of the points mentioned above may have touched hot buttons out of your past, and/or you may have thoughts of your own on this subject. Feel free to join in with your own experiences.
What other thoughts, suggestions, comments should be added or deleted here?