Critiquing Manuscripts the Conq Enterprises Way

Finding critique partners can be tricky. Finding good ones is trickier, and of course giving and receiving valuable critiques is the trickiest…er…trick of them all.

Probably the most daunting prospect of being a critique partner is just reading someone else’s book. You may not like the story or connect with the characters. You may not particularly care about the other person’s story at all. But you’ve signed up to offer a critique, and by golly, you’re gonna do it!

All the while thinking “Sigh. Are there really 300 more pages of this?”

But it’s not just that our interest may wax or wane depending on the story we’ve chosen to critique. If you look online, you’ll find there’s no one standard way of doing critiques. (There’s no one standard way of doing anything, really, but that’s a subject for another blog.) You’ll find dozens of videos, articles, and podcasts spouting opinions on how to give an effective critique, and while these are useful, they seem to lack a certain structure.

Don’t get me wrong. These resources are excellent means for telling you what constitutes a valuable critique. The question is how to package your critique within a reasonable time-frame. Too often as writers we can over-commit ourselves to reading half-a-dozen novels for friends and acquaintances without regard to a realistic schedule. Just when, exactly, are you going to finish reading your cousin’s brother’s best friend’s alien/robot erotica? You’ve had it on your desk for three weeks. When are you going to read the five ten-page excerpts from your fellow writers’ club members? How to prioritize? What to say when you make the critique? All of these seem to be lacking in the resources I’ve found.

This is why I’ve developed my own unique style of critiquing. First, I’m not going to read your entire book. I’m just not. I’m busy. You’re busy. You want your critique in a reasonable amount of time, and in order to get it to you, I have to sacrifice a great deal of my time. I’m ok with that. But I also have numerous other books I want/need to read, recreational activities I enjoy, and a full-time job, as well as a book I’m working on. I don’t say this to be mean, and if I genuinely enjoy your story, I’ll probably end up reading it cover-to-cover.

Otherwise, here’s what I will do:

  • Read the entire first chapter
  • Read the first and last paragraph of every chapter until the final
  • Read the entire final chapter

This is what professional book reviewers do (at least according to one of my old college professors), and this is how I’m going to handle your manuscript. This way, I can get you my critique of your work in a timely and efficient manner. Probably around two weeks from beginning to end, maybe more depending on length of manuscript.

“But what if I don’t use chapters?”

Then I’ll split your book into ten-page bites and treat those as chapters.

Of course, if you’d rather exchange bite-sized chunks rather than completed manuscripts, we can do it that way too.

When I’m done reading your manuscript or excerpt, I’ll provide you with at least three aspects of your story that worked really well and three areas you may want to work on. That will be three things I liked, and three things you can do right now to make your book even better.

I’ll look at your book’s use of the five elements of story to determine these areas of excellence and growth. These elements of story are plot, character, conflict, theme, and setting.

You can expect at least five paragraphs typed, turned in within a reasonable time-frame, along with specific examples of what went right and what needs improvement.

In exchange, I only ask that you give my work the same attention I gave yours. That means you don’t have to read the whole thing. Read as much or as little as you want. Please give me three things you liked and three ways I can improve the work.

And that’s it.

Now why should we do it this way? Well, I think it will be the most effective use of our time to get each other’s complete novels read, as well as providing a clear, specific guide for what a good critique should include. There’s no reason for us to read each other’s full and complete novels, covering each other’s pages in red ink, circling every misspelled word, scribbling notes in every margin, etc.

We’re not offering free edits to each other. If we offer editing services, we should be paid, and critique partners should be unpaid, informal sources of feedback. If you’d like to give me a full edit, feel free to let me know your price ranges, and I’ll do the same for you.

I think these standards and guidelines are fair for writers to adopt. What do you think? Am I being gross? Have I been fair? Let me know in the comments or feel free to rage-tweet me @MrWBrust.

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