Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Make the Most of a Critique


The most dreaded part of the writing process (at least for me) is when the time comes for me to hand my story over to beta-readers. I get serious stomachaches and panic attacks, mostly because I know I'm handing them seriously flawed, sometimes downright awful stuff, and it's embarrassing to show that to people I'd rather impress. However, it must be done. There simply comes a point in the writing process where you need to seek out criticism in order to take your work to the next level.

Here are five tips to getting the most out of your critiques:  

1.     At least two readers, no more than four. It’s really helpful to get more than one person to look at your work, for both the reason that you want to get both varied and repetitive feedback. The varied feedback will give you lots of ideas to work with, while the repetitive feedback will give you a sure sense of what needs to be changed or developed in your story. Don’t send it to too many readers at once, though. Too much feedback will overwhelm you.

2.     Read through each critique twice. This will help you internalize the patterns of feedback. Not every opinion requires consideration, but take care of those criticisms that are repeated by two or three readers.

3.     Make a revision list. Organization. Growl. It goes against my preferred haphazard process, but when there's that much stuff swirling around in your brain, it behooves us all to become organized. Start with the big things and move down to the small. Set aside line-edits as your very last revision before submission. There’s no point in focusing on the knit-picky until you’re certain the bigger things are in place.

4.     Learn to translate. Sometimes you will come upon some feedback that seems totally off to you. Again, you don’t have to incorporate all feedback, but before you decide to throw some comment by the wayside, look to see if the feedback might be a little red flag for some other problem. 

5.     Keep the story your own. This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind where critiques are concerned. I've heard several agents and editors say that they can tell when a piece of work has been through too many critique groups, because the story has gotten away from the author. They’ve just pieced together everyone’s suggestions, instead of keeping the integrity of their vision and voice. It’s so important to listen to criticism and see how you might improve, but be confident in your own vision and voice. Don’t let outside forces take over!

Finally, don't forget to say thank you to your readers! It can also be really helpful to follow up with questions or discussion about the reader's feedback. Just be careful not to get defensive. That's insulting to the reader's intelligence, not to mention all the hard work they put in to critiquing your story!


  1. I wanted to highlight one or two of your suggestions and chat about those but these are all perfect. I totally agree. ;D

  2. Good advice! I also prefer beta-readers who read my stuff (e.g. YA) as one of their preferred genres.

  3. Liesl, this is some wonderfully concise advice on a BIG topic. I especially appreciate your encouragement to note repetitive feedback. I try to convince students to do the same during peer reviews. If more than one person has noted something that just doesn't work, odds are it doesn't.


  4. Good list. I can't imagine having 4 or 5 people critiquing something at the same time. That would get hard to wade through.

  5. Number five is so important, yet so difficult!

  6. This is great advice. Especially #5. I heard that advice many times at recent conferences I've attended but I'm sure that it's hard t follow sometimes. Thank you for the reminder!

  7. GO LIESL!!!

    Agree. With everything.