Posted On August 30, 2013 by Print This Post

The Dos and Don’ts of Critiquing with Anna Sugden

Whether you’re writing a critique or on the receiving end, critiques are an invaluable part of your growth as a writer. Today, author Anna Sugden shares the pointers and pitfalls on the art of critiquing. Also, Anna has generously offered to give away one copy of her debut book, A Perfect Distraction, to one lucky commenter. 

Great to have you back, Anna! 

Anyone who has been trying to get published knows the value of a great critique. Constructive criticism, done properly, can be inspiring, energising and invaluable to the writer. Unfortunately, as many of us have also learned the hard way, a poor critique can be damaging — demoralising, frustrating and even block writing altogether — worse than no critique!

Obviously a lot of that comes down to finding the right critique partner (s) or group. Here are some tips for finding the right CP and how you can create a positive and effective working relationship.

Be upfront and honest about what you expect from each other. This applies to everything from turn-around times, type of critique you need (overview, line edit, plot consistency etc), length of critique (chapter, partial, full etc), frequency of critiquing and whether or not you like suggestions/examples.

  1. Establish a working style and process eg comments on the manuscript, a summarising email or both. Do you meet/talk regularly or when you have something to be critiqued? Both can be valuable, depending on the level of support you have elsewhere in your writing life.
  2. Give it a trial run. This is important to figure out if you like each other’s work and voice and ensure your critiquing styles mesh.Anna Sugden Also, if your levels of experience work well together for what you both need. While it can be useful for both writers to be at similar stages in their career, it can also work when they’re not. Eg An experienced writer and a newbie can work well together if you both are clear about what you need from each other. For example, a newbie needs the benefit of experience, while the more seasoned writer needs the fresh eyes of an objective reader.
  3. Don’t be afraid to have different CPs for different purposes. Some of my CPs are awesome at reading for emotion and character growth, while some are fantastic at plot consistency. Some are great at line edits and others rock the fast overview read.
  4. Don’t be afraid to move on if a critiquing relationship isn’t working. Our time is valuable, especially our writing time, so we can’t afford to waste it on something that is a blocker.

Once you’ve got a CP or critique group, it’s really important to remember some basic dos and don’ts!

  1. Be constructive. Remember, you are just one reader with one opinion. Phrase your comments carefully.
  2. Start with a positive comment!
  3. Mention what you like/works for you as well as what you don’t/ doesn’t work. It’s easy to get bogged down in the negatives. Smiley faces dotted through a critiqued work really make a difference!
  4. Don’t forget to explain why something does or doesn’t work. ‘I don’t like your heroine’ isn’t as helpful as ‘your heroine’s dialogue can sound rude and snippy’.
  5. Don’t rewrite large chunks of text. Better to give an overall comment about why it needs work and let the writer change it in their voice/style.
  6. Do give examples or suggestions of how to change eg how something might be phrased better or how changing the order might help understanding or how to make a sentence more powerful.
  7. Don’t repeatedly correct the same mistake. Again, an overview comment about it is better than constant negative feedback. No-one enjoys a sea of red pen all over their work!
  8. Do read through work as a reader first, then go back and critique it. That way, you can get an overall feel for the piece before you start. You’ll see the structure and flow, as well as the character and plot development. It also helps you to avoid making a comment about something that is resolved later in the pages!
  9. Do share relevant expertise. This is important for ensuring the dialogue is appropriate and the terminology is accurate. But don’t assume you have expertise from watching TV or movies!
  10. Do receive criticism in the spirit in which it is given. Remember that the comments that cause the most angst can lead to really effective changes in your work!

***

Over to you. Do you have any useful hints or tips for finding a critique partner or group? Do you have any helpful advice about critiquing? Would you like to share any stories about good or bad critiques?

Be sure to leave a comment in order to win a copy of A Perfect Distraction! 

***

A Perfect Distraction

Here’s a blurb on Anna’s debut novel, A PERFECT DISTRACTION.

 A face-off—head vs. heart

For Jake Badoletti, this year is all about his career. He has a rare second chance to make the most of being a pro hockey player, so no parties, no scandals. Too bad he’s met a woman who could sideline those plans. Maggie Goodman is not his usual type—right down to being a single mom. Still, the sizzling connection with this gorgeous brunette can’t be ignored.

With a little juggling and a lot of focus, Jake manages to have the game and Maggie. Then his performance on the ice suffers and a scandal erupts. Now he can’t afford the distraction of Maggie…even if she is perfect for him.

***

Jenna Rutland joins us on Monday, September 2nd. 

***

Bio: Debut Harlequin SuperRomance author, Anna Sugden, was a global marketing executive for a major blue-chip, multinational company, then a primary school teacher. In 2002, she and her husband were posted to New Jersey from their native England and she got the chance to follow her dream of becoming a romance writer when her work permit hit a major snag. Her writing career was launched after a course at the Gotham Writers Workshop led to her discovering eHarlequin.com, Romance Writers of America and her local chapter, New Jersey Romance Writers.

Now back in England, Anna and her husband share their Cambridge home with two bossy black cats. A three-time Golden Heart finalist, Anna is a founder member of the Romance Bandits www.romancebandits.com. She’s also an avid sports fan (especially hockey and football), loves great food and wine, classic films, cross-stitch and collecting memorabilia, penguins and fab shoes!

To learn more about Anna, her heartwarming contemporary romances, and her shoes visit her website. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Discussion

34 Responses to “The Dos and Don’ts of Critiquing with Anna Sugden”

  1. Anna – Thanks so much for this! It’s always fun when you join us at RU!

    I have been blessed with incredibly gifted critiquers. My writing still needs work, but each rewrite is an improvement on the last, thanks to the guidance and generous assistance of my wonderful critique-friends.

    Congratulations on your upcoming release! I preordered your book ages ago – I’m on vacation in Portland, Oregon right now but I hope my copy will be waiting for me when I get back.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 30, 2013, 1:41 am
    • Hope you’re having a wonderful time in Portland, Becke!

      Thanks for having me at RU – I love visiting :)

      I’m so glad you have great critiquing friends who are helping your fabulous writing sing! It also helps that you have a positive attitude towards critiques – that is so important. I’ve worked with people who really didn’t want to know how their work could be improved – they just wanted to be told how brilliant they were!

      Thanks too for pre-ordering my book – I hope you enjoy it! :)

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 4:44 am
  2. Anna, I have to share some excitement. I just got notice from the Book Depository that they’re sending me your book a few days ahead of release date. Yay! Can’t wait to read it.

    Hi Becke! Always enjoy visiting this site.

    Anna, what wonderful advice for critiquers. I’ve had mixed results from working with CPs and Critique Groups. Some of it was really damaging and some of it led to me being published. I still work with a couple of people whose advice I trust. Something I learned to be very wary of is people who use the critiquing relationship as a power trip. That’s REALLY damaging! It’s a very delicate relationship and their needs to be trust and sensitivity on both sides – and respect!

    Posted by Anna Campbell | August 30, 2013, 2:28 am
    • YAY – so glad you have A Perfect Distraction winging its way to you! I have A Rake’s Midnight Kiss winging its way to me from the Book Depository too!

      Your’e so right about people who use critiquing as a power trip – that is poisonous! The sad thing is it can often be insidious and underhanded, so you don’t realise it until the damage is done. Respect is crucial on both sides!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 4:48 am
  3. Hi Anna

    Huge congrats on the release of this awesome story I so loved Jake and Maggie and lived it from page one

    Have Fun
    Helen

    Posted by Helen Sibbritt | August 30, 2013, 5:20 am
  4. Hi Anna,

    When critiquing, keep an open mind. Different views make for better stories.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | August 30, 2013, 8:29 am
    • Sage advice, Mary Jo. Some of the best advice I’ve had has come from people who didn’t read contemporary category romance. They were able to see things differently and provide unique insights into the story.

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 9:48 am
  5. Morning Anna!

    Great advice! I too have had the best of critique partners as well as some that destroyed my self confidence – be careful who you choose! I was always taught to make a critique “sandwich”….say something nice, then the critique, then something nice again. Makes it easier to swallow. =)

    Thanks for visiting us at RU!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 30, 2013, 8:31 am
    • Hey Carrie! Thanks for having me back :)

      I love the idea of a critique sandwich! I may have to borrow that one *g*.

      I do think people need to learn how to critique and not just leap in. I’m sure some poor critiquers don’t mean to be bad, they just don’t think about the impact of what they say and how they say it.

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 9:53 am
  6. Anna, these are great tips! I would add that it’s good to presume the author has done some research and not start from the assumption that she’s totally wrong if something strikes you as off.

    I so agree on not rewriting. That’s so aggravating, at least for me, and off-putting.

    I can’t wait for your fabulous book to come out!

    Posted by Nancy Northcott | August 30, 2013, 8:55 am
  7. Thanks for stopping by, Nancy! I’m smiling at your comment – oh yes! I have that t-shirt. Like the time someone told me that I shouldn’t write stories set in England if I was really from the Mid-West :o ! Turns out she’d never even been to England and was basing her knowledge on books and TV shows! I set her straight!

    Thank you for your anticipation of my book – and for your incredibly useful critiques that helped me improve it!

    Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 9:56 am
  8. Hi, Anna!

    This is great advice, especially the bit about establishing a process that works for you! I can’t tell you how many times I tried (and failed) to be part of crit group that met regularly & exchanged chapters as they were hatched. As it turns out, I don’t want anybody’s fingers in my process until I have a completed draft. Then & ONLY then am I open to feedback. Otherwise I get all caught up in second-guessing my story telling. Evidently I have to tell the whole story first, THEN go back to fix stuff. If I don’t, I can’t get the story told at all. So I need a crit group that’s open to getting 450 pages from me once a year instead of 30 pages once a month.

    Posted by Susan Sey | August 30, 2013, 9:57 am
    • Thanks, Susan – my lovely Bandita sister! What you say about keeping fingers out of your first draft is an interesting one. I think I’ve learned that about myself too. My lovely editor even said not to read her comments about my proposal until I’d finished the book, so that I didn’t get side-tracked!

      In the early days, when I needed to get a strong first chapter or partial, a traditional crit group worked really well for me. They were also really helpful for discussing plot issues or character arcs. I still miss those conversations!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 12:08 pm
  9. This will be my first ms I am publishing, so I’m using everything I can out there to make sure it is done well.
    I joined an online critique group and had one wonderful critique. The second person was rude, nasty and her comments only pertained to the first line of each paragraph, each one questioning what was going on. She obviously didn’t read the rest the paragraphs.
    I left that group and with great care I have my feelers out there finding new critique partners. I am fortunate I believe I have found that group. I do not want people who will only say positives, but I don’t need anyone with an agenda, either.
    Thank you for good suggestions.

    Posted by anngorman@outlook.com | August 30, 2013, 10:31 am
    • Hi Ann! Congrats on your first ms! And best of luck with your new crit group.

      I think one of the issues with an online critique group is that you don’t have the benefit of face to face conversation to go with the comments. People can forget that it’s hard to read the tone of voice in a comment and not think about their phrasing. That’s why I find it’s useful to give an overview, before digging into the detail!

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 12:12 pm
  10. Wonderful fun down on critique partners/groups. I think everyone goes through a few bad ones to get to the good ones.

    One thing I’d warn a new writer to be very wary of, is someone who wants to change their voice. If someone is messing with that, almost rewriting the book to sound like their style, you should walk away immediately. Now this isn’t saying you should turn your nose up at good, positive critique that helps you grow as a writer. Just guard your own voice at all times.

    Posted by Suzanne Ferrell | August 30, 2013, 11:17 am
    • Hey Suz! You’re so right – I don’t know anyone who hasn’t got a tale or two to tell :)

      Your point about not letting people mess with your voice is a crucial one. That is so damaging!

      On the flip side of that, I have found that some writers don’t understand what is voice and what is good writing or what is appropriate for a specific genre. They defend their ‘voice’ when what they really mean is that they don’t want to change anything! ;)

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 12:17 pm
  11. Hi Anna and Becke –

    Great post Anna. Love the comment about smily faces. That is so true – and so often forgotten.

    I’ve had a number of critique partners while I was learning to write. One thing I particularly appreciated about them is that they forced me to continually produce new material. I’d procrastinate and procrastinate and then realize I had a critique meeting/dinner or something and had to snap to and produce!

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a critique partner these days – not that I don’t need one – but I need seriously quick turnaround and don’t feel I have the right to ask that of anyone. But who knows – that may change.

    Posted by Donna MacMeans | August 30, 2013, 11:50 am
    • Hey Donna! Thanks for stopping by!

      LOL I’ve been in that situation too! Ironically, that’s probably when I produced some of my best work.

      I know what you mean about that quick turn-around – one of the things about deadlines is that you don’t have time to spare! I think if you’re both in the same boat, things even out. I’m very lucky to have cp’s who are brilliant at the great crit with a fast turn-around – hopefully, I’m equally good at giving them what they need fast too :)

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 12:21 pm
  12. Hello, Anna & Banditas!

    I’m lucky that I’ve got good crit partners and beta readers. Critiquing someone else’s work always helps me with my manuscript. There’s a learning curve in giving and receiving crits, and it’s also important to trust your own instincts. For me, the hardest part of critiquing is when a story reads like a technical manual and the author has no voice.

    Congratulations on your debut! I can’t wait until your book arrives.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | August 30, 2013, 2:00 pm
    • Hey Jen! That’s a great point – one of the things that has been so wonderful about my lovely CPs is how much I’ve learned critiquing their stuff. Somehow it’s easier to see what should be done in someone else’s ms and that helps me to look more critically at my own.

      No voice is so sad – you can fix pretty much anything else but voice!

      Thanks so much! I hope you enjoy it! :)

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 5:15 pm
  13. Thank you for today’s lesson. I am in the process of trying to find a critique partner, and this article highlights not only the advantages but also hits on some of the questions to ask when looking for a CP.

    Posted by Tanya | August 30, 2013, 2:11 pm
    • Hi Tanya! Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you found some useful tips :)

      Good luck in your search – I hope you find a wonderful CP. Just remember that it’s kind of like dating – you don’t necessarily marry the first guy you date ;)

      Posted by Anna Sugden | August 30, 2013, 5:18 pm
  14. Anna, this is brilliant advice :-) I’ve worked with a lot of critique partners over the years, both wonderful and debilitating. I feel pretty blessed with the ones that Im with now, though :-)

    I’m so excited for your release, btw. You deserve to celebrate every wonderful moment of this book’s success. Because it is an AWESOME book!!

    Posted by Tawny Weber | August 30, 2013, 5:27 pm
  15. Just came over to say hi and congratulate you on your debut release, Anna.

    Posted by Jane | August 30, 2013, 10:42 pm
  16. Congrats on your release.

    CPs are so valuable for producing a polished product! I have writers/editors as CPs and because I write for kids, I have a big group of kids to Beta read for me (they often offer more useful feedback than the CPs).

    Posted by Charmaine Clancy | August 31, 2013, 5:07 am
    • Thanks for stopping by, Charmaine!

      Readers and writers provide different kinds of feedback. My lovely hubby doesn’t read romance – other than mine :)- he reads fast-paced, gritty crime. So he’s great for telling me when my pace is dragging! :)

      Posted by Anna Sugden | September 1, 2013, 12:22 pm
  17. I am Swedish, it is interesting to read about writers in other countries. I have never had a CP, I work with two proof readers and my editor, that´s never about giving any positive feedback, they just tell me what doesn´t work and correct mistakes. Sometimes rewrite my story/article completely or do not publish it. I would never get upset or hurt, it´s not personal and what I write is not ME.
    It sounds great to have a CP or a Group and work the way you do in your country – being a writer can be lonely.

    Posted by Emma Gren | September 12, 2013, 7:48 pm

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