Lately, the most common advice I seem to be giving current and potential clients is “maybe you should get a critique partner.” Critique partners are a vital part of the writing process. You can’t write in a vacuum and then hand over your manuscript to an editor—well, you can, but it’s not ideal. Having extra eyes on your work before you give it to an editor is so important to broaden your perspective on your own work, and trading manuscripts and commiserating with other writers to see their process is a valuable learning tool that can help you grow as a writer. (And yes, you need an editor. A CP is wonderful, but not a substitute for an editor.)
Before you start your search, figure out what you’re really looking for in a CP. To me, the following are essential:
Someone writing in the same genre; you don’t want to be explaining standard conventions and tropes to them, or trying to learn all about their genre when you read their manuscript too.
Someone who you click with in terms of personality, style, whatever you need to assure yourself that the relationship might work.
Someone whose work you can assess. I do sample edits for all of my clients so they can see what I can do and as a diagnostic tool for me to see what they’ll need from me—do the same with your CP. Make sure their work is interesting to you too!
Someone with whom you can have a frank discussion about expectations on feedback (what kind? how much? how harsh?), timeline, abilities, etc. Do you want someone to catch consistency errors or are comma errors what you’re most stressed out about? Do you want pages and pages of notes or just an overall summary? Should you expect it back in a week or in a month?
So, I keep telling people “find a CP!”—but how? As much as writers like to stay in their writing cave in their pjs, searching a CP means peeking your head out of the cave for a bit (don’t worry, you can probably still wear your pjs).
Here’s where you can look, especially if you’re a romance writer:
Among your friends and acquaintances: On the plus side, you already know them and probably have a sense if you’ll match up in terms of your personalities and styles. And man, it’s a lot easier to choose from your current friend group than to try to find new people and start a critique relationship from scratch. But be very careful with your buddies. One, you want to keep them your buddies, and if they (or you) are sensitive to criticism, both of you might endanger the friendship. Two, you might not get enough useful feedback if they aren’t willing to be totally honest with you for fear of hurting your feelings, or vice versa.
Matchmaking: Ideally, you have a friend who can introduce you to their friend who’s also looking for a CP. The middle-man friend can vet both of you and assess whether you’d make a good match.
Twitter: Twitter is THE social media platform for writers, and it’s great way to form a writer community by following and chatting with people whose words intrigue you. And hashtags make it easy to find people who are interested in the same thing as you AND are looking for a CP. The #CPMatch pitch is a Twitter pitch event where you write up an elevator pitch blurb about your story and tag it with #CPMatch to help you connect to other CP-searching writers. The next one is September 29, 2018!
Facebook Groups: This might take some scouring, but searching for your subgenre in Groups or Pages will probably uncover a number of small communities of like-minded people who could be potential CPs.
The trade association for your genre: For North Americans, it’s Romance Writers of America (RWA); for Europeans, Romantic Novelists’ Association. If you have a local chapter, start to go to meetings and connect with people there. If there isn’t a local chapter, join one for your subgenre and the associated Facebook or other group for it so you can meet others virtually and look for CPs there.
Romance Critters: A Yahoo group that’s been active for 20 years, this is dedicated to helping romance writers develop their skills through critique, so it might be a good place to go to discover new tricks and find CPs.
General critique groups: Broadening the parameters of your CP search means the results might be varied, but there are a number of groups that cater to a wide range of genres, not just romance. To name a couple, there’s Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Matchup on Google Groups and Ladies Who Critique.
In person: If you’re feeling very brave, you might look at your library for local writing groups that you could join. You might not find someone here writing in your genre—if you do, bonus!—but at least you’ll meet some other people trying to write and could maybe matchmake you down the line.
Once you find this magical unicorn of a person who wants to read your work, hopefully it’s a good fit for you both. You might have to go through a few CPs before you find one where the relationship is smooth and mutually beneficial, and you’re both learning from each other. A CP should challenge you and encourage you, and with their help, you’ll be able to confidently turn over a complete manuscript you’re happy with to an editor or get ready to jump into the query trenches.