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?


  1. Great post, Jody. I particularly like your point of finding someone with confidence and humility.

  2. Great post, and straight to the point! Being upfront and stating our expectations clearly from the start---as well as doing a trial critique before committing to an entire manuscript---are really important. Thanks, Jody. :)

  3. Great post, Jody! I feel I'm too early in my writing to pursue a critique partner (I definitely don't want to rush it) but this is great information to tuck away for the future! I like the idea of doing a trial first to make sure the partnership is beneficial for both of you.

  4. I have a very small crit team and I love them to bits. Just two friends from college who are also writers. I've fallen prey to letting too many friends act as beta readers without being clear on the kind of feedback I need, so I've lost a lot of time discussing why a character made certain choices and whether that's realistic instead of looking at pacing and word use.

  5. My crit group is wonderfully balanced. Each has strengths I value but the overall best they all share is supportive honesty. We keep it small (5) so we can all read at one session (2-2 1/2 hours). I don't want fluff, I want advice to make my story better.

  6. Great post, Jody. I've been privileged to work with several talented writers through the years and have learned so much as a result of their insightful feedback.

  7. So are you saying with this:

    "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."

    That you'd encourage newbie writers to submit without ever having someone look at it?

    I don't think that would have gotten me thick skin, just frustration. And would have done nothing to make me grow. And take away that book's chance of finding a home with that editor/house since they saw it when it was so awful, I'd given them a bad impression. I didn't want to ever submit something until I was sure I was "up to snuff."

    I'd say, whenever you feel like a crit, get one. If you're afraid you'll be sensitive, then don't. Trust yourself even if it goes against advice. Mine included. :)

    Now I'm going to admit, my writerly voice suffered a bit with that first manuscript.....but I don't think that was necessarily a bad thing. I took almost all the advice into book #1 and learned. I learned what made it improve and what just didn't feel right to me. I realized that not having the MS finished prior to having critters made me more susceptible to changing the vision of my story since I didn't know how the story exactly went yet.

    But after that first book, working through people's comments and what I failed to make them happy with consistently, I wrote another book all my own, front to back before I let it be seen. And you should have heard my crit partners, they received that first chapter written in my voice very, very well.

    Then I went back several years later and rewrote that first book with some major rewrites back into my voice with the twists I'd realized I'd rather have had. And sold it.

    But again, it's a personality thing, and maybe I'm the lone wolf, which is highly, highly possible since I'm the type of personality that likes to overanalyze everything. So maybe I'm just a different animal. :)

    1. LOL, good point, Melissa! :-) And you're right, I'm not necessarily advocating sending manuscripts to agents without critiques, although I don't think it's essential either (which is the topic for another post altogether!). I guess what I'm saying is that young/new writers don't have the thicker skin that comes with time, learning the industry, seeing how things work, entering contests, etc. Even published writers are still having to develop more calluses. Reader reviews can often be brutal for even the toughest writer.

      So I guess what I'm saying is that new writers ought to focus on self-improvement, reading writing craft books, soaking in the advice on the internet, and simply writing and growing. There is so much that writers can learn on their own in those early days. Then once writers have gained skills and practiced them, then I believe they'll have gained some confidence and be stronger and more ready to take "a beating." :-)

  8. People (writers and non-writers alike) keep telling me I have to find a critique group. Some of them just really want to read my book, lol. I'm not ready to show it to anyone yet. I'm still too new. I agree about needing to learn craft and find my voice.

    I look at some of the pages I wrote just a few month ago and say "Ewww!" I'm embarrassed to show it to anyone yet. I know critique partners/groups are very helpful, and I will find a group eventually. But I'm just not ready yet. I hate the pressure that I need to get my work "out there", even if it's just to a few people. Still learning and just not ready to share at this time.

  9. I keep searching for critique groups but it seems like the only people I find either want to tear each other apart and not say anything positive about what others write or sit around and daydream about being the next J.K. Rowling and not give any negative feedback at all. I'd love to have the support of someone who can give balanced feedback but have no idea where to find such a person/group.

    1. Hi Steven, I gave some ideas for that over in the other post I wrote. Check out the link above. But I hear what you're saying, it's pretty tough to narrow down the search. But I've found that after being apart of several communities of likeminded writers, I'm having less trouble simply because I've gotten to know more people.

  10. Great post! I've learned a lot! Not easy to meet someone right.

  11. I've been in a couple real life writing groups where critiquing is a major part of the session, but the groups are so varied in the genres and the experience levels of the members that it was hard to connect with a like-minded partner. It's also difficult to get any continuity in the critique of novels when the members are restricted to sharing 500 or 1000 words each per session. In those cases I think looking to the online community may work out better.

  12. Great post! I'm still looking for a critique partner. I've had them in the past but usually end up helping them with their whole novel and getting maybe a chapter from them back. It can definitely be a daunting process! Good luck to others looking for their CP's!

    1. Hi Alisha,

      Yes, that kind of exchange can get discouraging where you're doing more for others then you get in exchange. Most of us just don't have the time to do that kind of critiquing. It needs to be an even partnership.

      Wishing you all the best!


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