Your relationships with Critique Partners and Beta Readers are all-important. But let’s face it, you and your partner(s) start out strangers (or at least you should most of the time, see previous articles here and there). So partnering is going to be trial and error, at least at first. What, then, happens when the relationship isn’t working out for you?
This is a sticky situation. You have no desire to insult someone, and brushing them off can be just as hurtful. But if the feedback you’re getting is of little or no use, the relationship may have to end. How you manage that is up to you, but it’s important to realize that your reputation may eventually be at stake.
When I completed my first novel, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, I found two critique partners on-line. Both had written thrillers. I might have had more luck with other writers of Historical Fiction, but they were the only two people who replied to my post. I didn’t want to turn them down.
For one of them, English was their second language and their goal was to publish in America. I thought I could be of great help in converting “The King’s English” into “American”; that was one of the services I offered, and it seemed to be of great interest. However, after reviewing two sections of the revamped manuscript, I realized that none of my suggestions had been taken into account. I felt a bit let down.
And, although I had fully explained up front that the work was a literary work with an undercurrent of romance, the other critiquer wanted me to turn my book into a shoot-’em-up western. Not an option.
Aside from that, the only feedback I was getting was that I needed to follow “The Rules.” Now I know all the rules – learned them in grade school, when diagramming sentences was something I did for fun. (Yes, I’m that much of a grammar nerd!) I’m a firm believer in these word of the Dalai Lama: “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” I know them, and I break them when the situation commands it.
The rules I was told to follow included most of what we now view as archaic (like never starting a sentence with a conjunction). And others were rules I’ve never heard of before or after:
- Don’t use more than one comma per sentence.
- Never use an em-dash.
- Never use ellipses.
- Never use the plu-perfect tense: reword your sentence to stay in simple past.
- No flashbacks.
- No internal dialogue.
Etc., etc., and so forth … I couldn’t help wondering what kind of writing courses these Rules came from.
But that’s beside the point. The point was the relationships just weren’t working out. And what was I going to do about it?
I know people who have broken off with a critique partner after the first 50 pages. And I thought about that – I really did. But I also thought about what the possible repercussions of that decision might be.
These days, anyone and everyone can write a review on Amazon, GoodReads, etc. Most people are very honest in their opinions, pointing out both the strong and weak points of a work. But I’ve seen some posters who seem to take pleasure in denigrating others’ works – their reviews seem like personal vendettas. And I didn’t want to put myself in the position of inviting that sort of feedback.
I may have taken the easy way out: I completed my critiques of their works, and accepted their completed critiques of mine. I thanked them for their time and diligence, for their willingness to help. And I moved on to three new critique partners (two write historicals, one writes thrillers, and all of them are wonderful!)
Would you have done what I did? Were you ever in a critique or beta partnership that didn’t work out? What other solutions would you recommend?