5 Tips For Finding a Competent & Compatible Critique Partner

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I had a lot of great discussion in the comments of my recent post "WHEN Should Writers Get Critiques." I came to the conclusion that writers have a variety of experiences regarding critiques.

Some have gotten critiques on their very first manuscripts and found the feedback helpful in pushing them to grow in specific areas of their writing.

Others who got critiques very early in their careers found them devastating and suffered discouragement as a result.

The truth is, no matter WHEN we seek out critiques (whether beginner or multi-published), we open ourselves up to the possibility of harsh criticism.

I think part of the issue of whether we end up having a good critique experience depends upon the WHO of the partnership. In fact, in my recent post several commentors asked me the same question: How do you recruit a good critique partner? How is it best to start such a partnership so that we don't waste time with incompatible people? 

Here's a post I did about WHERE to look for crit partners. That will vary from writer to writer. So I won't go into that. Instead let's talk about the kind of person to recruit.

Let's face it the WHO of the critique partnership can make all the difference in the world. Even for me at my stage in my career. An overly critical or discouraging person can deflate even the best writers (no matter how thick the skin). But a back-patting, praise-singing partner won't help us either.

In light of that, here are five tips I would offer to those searching for competent and compatible critique partners:

1. Find someone who can BALANCE the positives and negatives. Every writer giving feedback needs to learn the art sharing both the "wrongs" and "rights" (and keeping the scale fairly even). That may mean having to search harder for compliments or it may mean having to hold back on some of the nitpicking. After all, we're not expecting perfection from the writer. Rather we're simply challenging them with some things they can begin to look for on their own.

2. Find someone who is willing to provide the TYPE of critique you need. Recently another Bethany House historical fiction author approached me about doing an exchange of manuscripts. She wanted a big-picture read (or a macro edit). But I on the other hand, needed something more in the middle (line-edit). Before we agreed to the arrangement, we were honest about what we were looking for as well as our time frames.

3. Find someone at the same LEVEL of writing as you (or just slightly behind/ahead). The problem with a critique partnership where one is much further along than the other, is that the relationship can become one-sided. And while that's fine and good in a mentoring situation, a critique really should be about a mutually beneficial partnership.

4. Find someone who writes in the same GENRE (or nearly the same). I find this especially beneficial as a historical author, but is likely beneficial in any genre. Those who write in our genre have gained an eye for important details as well as genre expectations. If a partner knows the ins and outs of what we're writing, he or she may be able to pick up on things others would miss.

5. Find someone with HUMILITY and CONFIDENCE. Obviously you also have to exhibit those qualities in yourself if you hope to find them in someone else. I've found that humility means I'm willing to listen to my partner and the feedback, but also that I have enough confidence in my own writing style that I can make educated disagreements.

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

Yes, we need to choose our partners carefully. But I've also learned I'm not stuck in a lifetime commitment. I've had a variety of partners over the past years. If one isn't working out, then we can begin the search for another. I never rush into choosing. I usually weigh the options very carefully before deciding upon anything.

Even if we get the best partner in the whole wide world, I still stand by my statement in cautioning young writers to be careful about getting critiques too soon. Here are just a few more things to consider:

A beginner usually has more glaring issues because they're still learning. There's just more to mark. And thus the feedback can start to err on the side of mostly negative.

Younger writers haven't developed a thicker skin that comes after receiving rejections and learning about the reality of the industry, so the feedback has more of a potential to crush budding enthusiasm.

And young writers are still developing their writerly voices. They often have the tendency to over-utilize feedback (rather than be more discerning, which comes as we gain confidence in our voice and writing abilities).

Summary: If you approach someone about a partnership, my suggestion is to agree to a trial critique. Test the person to see if they exhibit the above 5 traits. Most importantly, make sure you're exhibiting them too!

What do you look for in finding a compatible critique partner? If you've had critique partners, what qualities have made your relationship succeed or fail?

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