Last year, I received a DM from a fellow writer on Instagram asking if I was looking for a critique partner. The timing turned out to be perfect because I was in need of one, and since then, her friendship and keen insight have been invaluable to me. I couldn’t think of a better person to write a complete guide to critique partners than Kate Khavari — I’m incredibly fortunate to call her one of mine!
If you’ve been wanting to take your writing to the next level with a critique partner (or two or three), this post will tell you everything you need to know from what critique partners are, how to find one, and how to work with one. — Lindsay
Other posts you may like:
- 5 Ways to Avoid Losing Motivation When Writing a Novel
- How to Set Writing Goals You’ll Actually Stick To
- Writing Tools for Authors That Make the Process Easier
A Complete Guide to Critique Partners
Flip to the acknowledgement section of any novel, and you’ll find lists of people that made the publication of that book possible. Spouses, agents, friends and family- but who is often at the top of those lists? Critique partners.
And there is a good reason for that. A well-matched CP will not only make your writing better, they will uplift your whole writing experience to make it more enjoyable and probably more successful.
What is a critique partner?
A CP, or critique partner, is an invaluable piece of any writer’s life. A critique partner is someone you exchange your writing with in order to receive feedback. But they’re not just someone on the other side of an email address- if you’re doing it right, they are a support, a safe place, a touchstone of honesty and reality. They will also probably grow to be your friend, because how can you not become friends with someone you’re showing your work to? Our work is personal, whether you write heartfelt romance or something humorous and adventuring.
There has to be a huge amount of trust between CPs for the relationship to work to its full potential. Not only are you giving your work to someone else, risking copyright infringement (don’t tell me that concern has never crossed your mind!) and hurt feelings should they not like something you wrote or found fault with it- you are being trusted in equal measure by your CP. You are holding in your hands someone else’s book baby, a project they devoted just as much time and energy to. And yes, even with all these strong emotions, a critique partnership is a professional relationship.
What a CP is not is an editor, rival, or lackey. They’re not there to clean up your work line by line, solve your story’s problems, nor are they your competition. The best way to ensure you and your partner avoid those pitfalls is to follow the guidelines below.
Writing may seem like a solitary activity (I write as I sit at my desk, alone in my room), but it is, and has to be, about connecting with people. One of the invaluable benefits of having a critique partner is that they offer you insight into how successful your writing is at connecting with other people. My CPs are almost always the first people who read my writing, whether it be a completed draft or random scenes I’m too excited to wait to share. They can tell me if my scene or chapter hits the way I want it to, and if not, I can adjust my course before I devote hours to building the next part of the story on a shaky foundation.
Another benefit is that your CP knows you and your story well and can give you targeted advice and examples. This is different from how a beta reader interacts with your book because they are offering you their reaction as a reader, whereas a CP offers advice primarily as a fellow writer. They can offer you feedback and resources in addition to their own reaction. Not only that, but they know your strengths and weaknesses. They can encourage you where you need it, and are free with their praise when you nail something. For example, Lindsay has referred me to Story Genius many times as a resource to strengthen my understanding of my characters.
I mentioned that your CP is probably going to become your friend. Like many writers, my work is where I process big feelings about family, love, world events, and other deeply personal things that are expressed through different people and places. When my CP texts me that they saw or heard something and it reminded them of my story, they’re recognizing a piece of me out there in the real world.
Yes, I get this kind of interaction from beta readers, and eventually I’ll get it from readers when I publish, but the special thing about my CP is that I get to see those vulnerable parts of them, too. I learn about who they are, what they care about and fear and wish for through their writing. And I get to send them silly mock-ups of their book covers, fancast their books, and sometimes cry right along with them when their characters die (not naming any names, of course). So, the biggest benefit, in my opinion, about having a critique partner is that you find a friend, one who understands what it’s like to have entire worlds in your head, one who learns some really important things about you and helps you better express them.
How to Work with a Critique Partner
Now that I’ve gushed about the warm fuzzies that my CPs give me, let’s talk about how to make this kind of relationship work. The most important factor is communication.
Shakespeare said it best when he said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache,” though I amend it in the case of critique partners to add that unspoken expectation is going to be your biggest problem. Leave no expectation unsaid, leave no hope unspoken.
If you want your CP to walk on eggshells about a certain thing, tell them you need them to be gentle. If you want your CP to give honest gut-checks about a scene, tell them you want them to hold nothing back. Are you looking for a very formal, rigid schedule and you will become angry if they don’t abide by it? Do you shudder when people text you after 9pm? Do you even want your CP to text you?? (The answer is yes, because how else will you enjoy exchanges like this?)
I think every potential partnership needs to answer these few questions to establish a baseline from which to work. Revisit your answers depending on your projects and lives, but at least get it all out there once.
- Do you enjoy reading my writing?
If the answer is no for either of you, peace out right then and there. Why would you commit yourself to reading chapters on chapters of unpolished work if you don’t like it? You can like the person and not want to suffer through hours of a book you don’t like. Always exchange at least a chapter before committing to reading of any kind, whether it be as a CP or as a beta.
On a related note, DO NOT go into a partnership expecting to fix someone’s writing. Nobody gets anything positive out of that.
- What are your writing goals?
You don’t have to both want to traditionally publish, or self publish, or publish at all- but it’s helpful to at least know what your potential CP wants to do with their work.
For me, it was important to find people who hoped to make a career out of writing. I wanted people who were seriously pursuing publishing, because I wanted them to be as motivated and passionate as I was and have someone I could talk to about the process.
- What do you want out of a CP?
Examples might include feedback on plot or characters, or my personal favorite, hand-holding after yet another agent rejection.
- What schedule works for you?
If you can only work one hour a week on their work, or if you’re between projects and don’t have anything new to send them, or have a deadline you need them to be conscious of, let them know.
- What is your preferred feedback/communication method?
We live in a world of constant communication. Email, text, calls, video calls, DMs on social media- make sure you’re on the same page about how you’ll be sharing feedback, and how you want to communicate. I text my CPs (probably too much, but they need to see the latest version of the book cover I made, right??), occasionally video chat with them, and share feedback over Google Docs.
Whatever you agree to, stick with it. If something isn’t working, say something.
A quick note about the number of critique partners you need- I have no idea what the magic number is. I have three, and that number works for me. I have multiple projects that are in varying stages of development, and my CPs are all amazing and willing to look at my projects whether they’re in first draft or ready to be queried. I would suggest no more than three unless you are a full time writer and have hours a week to commit to other people’s writing. Any time you spend on your CP’s writing is time you’re not spending on your writing, so you need to make sure you’re not overcommitted.
Helpful feedback takes many forms and is highly dependent on what you and your CP define as your goals. For me, getting gut reactions as well as deeper thoughts about my characters, plot, and world are important. I want these kind of comments:
This first comment is great- she pinpointed what wasn’t working for her. Vague comments like “I don’t like this” without further information are things you might get from an inexperienced beta reader or a random reviewer. Make your feedback valuable by being specific and clear.
The second set of comments is also awesome because it makes me smile, first of all, but it also reveals how my CP was reacting to my story. She already knew a lot about my story because we’d been talking about it for weeks, but something still surprised her, and that’s helpful for me to know that the twist was shocking anyway.
Feedback also needs to be given kindly. Even if you’re in a bad mood because traffic sucked or you’re feeling sensitive because your CP gave you a critique you disagree with or are frustrated by- this is a professional relationship, even if you are friends. Respond to writing and feedback with kindness and honesty.
That being said, it’s ok to disagree, and it’s ok to not make changes based on feedback. Maybe your CP is a sucker for a certain ship between your characters but you have no intention of them getting together. That’s fine! Let them share their honest thoughts, roll them over in your mind, and let them go if they don’t work for your story. But it has to go both ways- don’t get mad if your CP discards one of your suggestions.
How to Find a Critique Partner
Thanks to technology, we have a ton of ways to find writing friends, beta readers, and CPs. Just typing “how to find a writing critique partner” into Google gives you a ton of places to search.
I found my CPs on social media. I literally saw their posts and profiles and thought to myself, ‘I’d like to work with this person.’ I messaged them, and it turned out that we were what the other needed at the time. This definitely is not an air-tight method, but there is no harm in reaching out and seeing if someone whose work you admire is open to exchanging a chapter or two.
Twitter, Facebook writing groups, the Instagram writing community, and Authortube are also places you can look to find writer friends who might be good CPs. In July 2020, there was a #CPmatch event on Twitter and a ton of people found success connecting that way. I found one of my CPs through #PitMad, because I saw her pitch and thought it sounded amazing.
This article has a ton of websites you can look at for CP matching, too. Some are free, but some cost money.
Local groups might exist in your area, and you could have the benefit of having a CP you could actually meet with face to face (or mask to mask), though it can be challenging to find someone if your genre is very niche.
There are a lot of ways to connect with other writers. Be willing to put in as much as you want to get out of the partnership, and some of those connections might blossom into finding a writing soulmate. I’m grateful for what my three CP’s do for my writing, but I’m most grateful for finding three people who have held my book babies in their hands and found things to love about them. I wish the same for you!