Critiques can be a tricky and sensitive area for many authors, including those who claim to have a thick skin. While we want feedback to know where our stories are not working, we also have put hours of labor in already and want to protect our book baby. Constructive feedback can be very helpful, but there can be times critiques are no helpful.
Below are some golden rules I find helpful both in giving critique and in evaluating whether someone’s feedback of my own work is helpful or not.
Never, ever, attack the author or the story through your feedback. If the story isn’t for you, be honest and tell them you won’t be able to read it.
If the story isn’t for you, be honest and tell them you won’t be able to read it. Be polite and respectful. I’ve had to do this several times due to content I didn’t want to read or an inability for various reasons to get into the story. Let the author know why you couldn’t read it, since this may help them in the future, but don’t keep telling them you don’t like them or the story every other comment. It’s okay to pass on things. Through an honest and respectful approach, I’ve been able to keep a good working relationship with everyone I’ve had to say no to. And, sometimes I say yes and love another project they’ve sent me. Keep an open mind.
This next one follows right on the heels on the first rule.
Never change their story.
Everyone has different styles of writing so it may be tempting to change the story to what you want it to be. Remember, this is their book, not yours. You can offer opinions on what areas aren’t working for you and why (you wanted more emotional oomph, you got confused, got bored, etc.). Comments like “I would write it differently” or “you should do this” are not helpful and will cause the author to distrust your feedback even if you have valid points. It is great we can enjoy such a diversity of books and styles, embrace the author’s unique voice and learn from each other.
It is great we can enjoy such a diversity of books and styles. Embrace the author’s unique voice and the opportunity to learn from each other.
Keep it positive. This doesn’t mean you have to walk on eggshells and only point out what you liked. That is as unhelpful as the “you do this” or the “I don’t like fantasy” comments. Be honest, but keep it focused on your feelings and reactions as you read. Where did you laugh, whether the author meant it to be funny or not? What areas fell flat for you and why did you feel that way?
For a more comprehensive list of questions to consider, check out this sheet at Writers Helping Writers.
Critiques can be a great opportunity for everyone to grow and learn, and to make some great new writing friends. Keep the whole thing positive and respectful.
We are in this together!