Apparently in early 2006 I was thinking an awful lot about critiques and feedback. Here's a handy little post, hopefully still useful, on how to choose critique partners.
How to Choose Critique Partners (aka critters)
To me, critters and readers are a vital part of the process of writing. I wouldn't feel comfortable sending a book off to agents without knowing that somebody besides me had read the thing.
I expect my critters, in general, to:
--tell me if the story "hangs" together
--point out plot holes or inconsistencies (why did Davy's eyes change from green to blue?)
--check pacing (did they want to keep turning the pages? was there anywhere it sagged?)
--note any oddities in language that pulled them out of the story
--tell me about character (did they like Katherine? did they hate the villain? why? Were their feelings mitigated or changed at the end?)
--say, as a reader, if the ending and the story arc was satisfying. Were they happy when they closed the book?
These are from regular critters. "Expert" critters I expect to really just look at their portion of expertise. I had someone read TMT to check that my descriptions of the countryside and flora and fauna of northern England were correct. She also had some excellent comments about the little bits of dialect I have, since she's a native-born of that area. I had a monk look at the scenes in an abbey of his order. I had an archaeologist look at the scenes in the abbey that he's excavating. These readers may or may not have other comments, but you really need them for their expertise.
So what things do you look for in a critter, to give you all this feedback?
1. Honesty. This one is absolutely imperative. It's up to you whether it needs to be honesty couched with tact, or plain-speaking brutal truth, but you need to know what they really thought. Not what you want to hear.
2. A critical eye. I don't think critters need to be writers; a reader's perspective can be just as valuable (that's who you're selling to in the end, after all!). But it won't help you if they read it and say only "it was great!". They need to be able to evaluate it and be able to express what they liked, and what they didn't. How it could be improved.
3. Patience. I doubt this one is just me. I tend to pepper my critters with questions after they finish a read, at least for a day or so. They need to be able to deal with questions.
4. Expertise. If they're one of your expertise readers, but of course.
What do they get out of doing this monumental task for you? Well, if they're writers, you might offer to read their work critically in exchange. This is almost always a good deal. If they're experts, they get the thrill of having been asked, and being able to talk about their expertise. (you laugh, but this seems to be enough) If they're readers and like your genre, they get to read a book, hopefully a good one, when no one else has had a chance to see it yet.
And of course, they get a mention in your acknowledgments when you do get published. Never forget your critters in the acknowledgments; they helped you get this book out to everyone else.
Medieval Word of the Day: selcouth: Unfamiliar, unusual, rare; strange, marvellous, wonderful.