Monday, October 14, 2013

The Secrets of an Awesome CP Relationship

Hey everyone! Just a quick reminder before I get into the meat of this post-- we're still accepting applications for our Buddy Project! So if you've been on the fence or hesitated (fortune favors the brave, yo!), you still have time to get in on the action. We're sending out the match-ups on Friday, Oct. 18, so get your application in before then to give us enough time to match you up. :)

Tell us as much about you and your writing styles/habits as you can-- what you write, what you're looking for in a CP, what stage of the process you're at with your current project, etc. We've got people from all over the place-- agented, querying, revising, and drafting authors (not to mention a huge range of genres wow), so the odds are good that there's someone in our pretty sweet author pool who would work well with you.


This weekend, I met one of my CPs for the first time ever in person (and dude it was so awesome you would not believe). We've been chatting about our manuscripts, what it's like working in publishing, author dreams, and random life stuff since April, and it was so cool to finally meet this fantastic person who somehow can look at my crazypants first drafts and see the feedback I need to make them gradually more badass. 

Critique partners are arguably some of the coolest, more invested people in your career as a writer (also basically guaranteed to lose their crap along with you when you sign with an agent, get a book deal, or have a wicked cool idea). And sure, you already know this. It's not hard to convince anyone that CPs are awesome. The difficulty is first in finding people you'd want to work with, and second in maintaining a good relationship with them. 

We're trying to help out with the first step of the process (and this is me totally subtly reminding you about the Buddy Project), and in the meantime here are some handy tips for how to meet and then be awesome to the CP of your dreams. 

Find someone at your level with similar goals.
You get the most out of it (and honestly, both of you will most want to continue the relationship) if you find someone about at the same skill level as you. If one person has a lot more experience than the other, then the partnership turns into more of a mentorship-- which isn't bad by any means, but one person tends to get a lot more out of the exchange than the other. When you have a limited amount of time to stretch between personal, professional, and writer obligations, sometimes it can be hard to keep things going that don't benefit you in some way, even though it's nice to help someone out. On the flip side, it's frustrating not being able to help someone grow as a writer or offer insightful critique.

Talk to each other about what you want out of writing-- is it a hobby or a career for you, do you want to publish traditionally, or are you open to hybrid publishing and more of the indie side of things, etc? You'll also find that you'll be able to say some pretty helpful things about your partner's work, and will be surprised by all the cool stuff your writer friend can find to help you out with in yours when you're evenly matched. 

Go into it knowing that you're probably going to have to try a lot before it'll work. 
You're playing a long game. Not every person you contact in your first CP search is going to turn out to be brilliant and a great match-- maybe only one or two will. Maybe none. Finding someone who meshes well with you is tricky, so don't get discouraged if it's rough starting out. Do put yourself out there. I found my first CP at How About We CP after around four or five people had contacted me, I met my second through blogging and emails, and others through people I talked to on twitter whose work intrigued me. Other people find CPs on Absolute Write, or their friends locally in writing programs or NaNoWriMo groups, or a myriad of other sites.  

Cast a wide net, and, if you have time, give several people a chance. If someone tweets about a story idea that you think sounds awesome that they're working on, ask if they're interested in a beta reader. Don't give up on working with other writers because one or two CP hopefuls didn't pass muster. You never know what could come up. Be persistent, like you are in querying, revising, drafting, and basically every other aspect of your writing.

Test the waters. 
Once you find someone interested in working with you (and vice versa), do a test critique with no strings attached. Usually, swapping first chapters is a solid strategy. If you like the things that your potential partner is picking up on, then awesome! If not, then no worries. You and potential CPs are in this to try to find someone who works well with your writing style-- if it's not working, then there's no reason to draw it out. No one's saying that you have to work with absolutely every person you approach, and sometimes it's more beneficial to walk away on a note of mutual respect rather than burning each other out. 

Respect their critique tolerance. 
Some people want you to be as harsh as you possibly can, and just tell them straight up to their face that the second scene was really weak, or that a certain character frustrated you. Other people want you to be just as brutally honest but might need you to approach it more gently. Either know or ask what your CP expects and can deal with before starting your crit. Especially if you're doing a beta read or a critique for someone who you don't normally read for, make sure that you're clear on what kind of feedback they're expecting-- are they interested in doing another revision based around what you have to say or do they want you to focus on smaller fixes? Ask if you're not sure.

Use the sandwich trick.
Even CPs who say that they need brutal feedback also want (and need, for our egos, haha!) to know what you liked. Criticism is almost always better handled if it comes between two compliments. Like so:

Wow, I loved the language you used here! I get a really great sense of the maliciousness going on in this character. I was a little confused about what he meant by getting revenge, though.  It felt weird to have him stutter and reveal crucial information under no pressure. You've given him some kickass dialogue earlier, so I feel like there's a way for you to make him reveal this info more naturally--can you raise the stakes?-- and fit in more with the character you've built up. I think he's cool, and as a reader I don't want him to crack easily under pressure! :)

Say something you like about a scene, give your feedback, and end on a positive note. It's a sandwich and it's super effective.

Find an easy way to communicate that works for you both.
Are you both on gchat? Do you live for texts and phone calls? Are video chats your thing, or do you prefer waxing poetic via email or DMing each other over twitter? Find what works for you and your CP and make it happen. Having an easy way to communicate will make you more likely to talk about writing stuff, and by extension, keep you both more motivated to keep working on your projects.

Maybe you don't need to maintain constant contact with every single person you work with, but being able to come back from work and strike up a conversation about writing and fun stuff after a long day is awesome, and definitely has made me more excited about tackling really arduous revisions projects. 

You know, it's really not a bad idea to get familiar with Track Changes. 
I was a total grandma with this one. It was so bad. I legit gave my first comments in underlined, red font (yeah, that I underlined and made the text bold and red manually) in the body of the text, aka pretty inconveniently. A lot of people in traditional publishing  use Word's Track Changes feature to add comments and mark-up the text in an easily-visible manner. If you're considering self-pub, a lot of freelance editors will give you edits using Track Changes, too. 

Do yourself a favor and practice with it early. In the newest version of Word, you just go to Review and then Track Changes, and add in comments to your heart's content. 

Return crits in a reasonable amount of time. 
Obvious, sure. Let your CPs know when they can expect you to have feedback for them ready, and what kind of feedback it will be-- line by line in Track Changes, big picture stuff in an email, etc.

That being said, sometimes crazy life stuff comes up. Sometimes I remember that I promised my students I would hold a review session and that oh yeah I actually need to prepare for that, which will push my crits back. Know thyself. Give accurate estimates, and keep your CPs informed and updated if you have to delay their crits. Ask if they have deadlines and do your best to get your feedback in so that they can meet them. 

Point out what's not working, but let them write the book.
It's important to remember, though you might (and probably will) get attached to a story of your CP's, that it's their story and they don't have to listen to any of your suggestions. And that's okay. Some things you suggest are going to be useful and some you'll later realize are a little more out of left field than you originally thought they'd be. No worries, your CP can sort through these on their own.

As the great Neil Gaiman says on receiving feedback:
Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. 

Tell them where you stop believing the action, or where you get thrown out of the story. Tell them where you think it slows down too much. You can pitch ideas for how you'd fix it, especially if your CP encourages you to help with brainstorming, but ultimately this is their fiesta. Let them run it. 

And sometimes you just need to be a confidant and someone who will listen when things suck. 
It's no secret that writing is a hard business. Everybody puts their souls into this stuff and there's a ton of extra work, frustration, and rejection that gets meted out regardless. It's rough getting rejected or waiting weeks and weeks to hear back from agents you query or editors that your manuscript is out on sub with. It's especially rough because this stops being the kind of thing that you can share on twitter or chat in forums about without looking unprofessional. 

Having a CP is a lifeline in a lot of ways: all that pent-up stress and nervousness and having to keep things under your hat, you can let out to these people that you trust. Sometimes it's not even related to the business side of writing-- it's some troll on the internet being a dick, or someone at work asking if you write YA then why aren't you besties with Suzanne Collins, or a family member or close friend wondering when you're going to quit this silly writing hobby and actually, you know, focus on your real job. The world can be an awfully cruel place, and situations like these can be when CPs transcend extra set of eyes status and become friends. 

As with all things, just be awesome. 
If you find a CP whose feedback you really like and whose work you adore, then chances are you're going to become pretty close friends with them. So, be an awesome friend. Send them pictures of their favorite hot celebrity crush online, or surprise them with cool new songs, funny videos, or book recommendations. You can send them care packages when they're on deadline, draw them fan art of their characters or commission an artist. Some CPs send each other flowers on release dates. A critique partner is way more your writing partner in crime than an email address you send drafts to that sends you feedback later. Treat them well and some amazing stuff can happen. 

What are your favorite tips for being a good CP? Share them in the comments! :) 

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

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1 secret replies:

  1. This list makes a lot of sense. It helps explain why some potential writing buddies in the past haven't worked out.

    Getting back to people in a timely manner is a big one for me. I once waited 8 months a critique!