Calling All Swooners! How To Write a Good Critique

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The deadline to submit manuscripts for our third list has passed. Now it’s time for readers to shine!

We try to be active on the site and will dip into as many manuscripts as we can, but we really count on your honest ratings and, even more importantly, your in-depth critiques and comments to help us narrow down our search and tell us which manuscripts have the most potential to be truly swoonworthy.

Some readers might be shy about sharing their honest opinions, or are worried about hurting a writer’s feelings. But constructive criticism is an essential tool for writers to help them grow! Tell them what you liked about their book and also tell them what didn’t work for you. This feedback is extremely helpful, and believe me, as nerve-wracking as it may be, writers love hearing what readers think about their work!

So how do you, as a reader or a fellow writer, give a well-thought, helpful critique?

As someone who has worked with not just creative writers, but academic writers as well, I know how sensitive and insecure writers can be at times, especially when their work is on the line. Through my years of critiquing, I have developed certain guidelines that I have found helpful, not only to help make the literary work in question stronger, but to keep the writer from getting discouraged.

1. Always start with something positive: Even if you decided this story wasn’t your cup of tea, was there really NOTHING you liked about it? Maybe it was a character that you could relate to, a certain scene that came alive for you, or even the title, but something had to catch your attention that made you want to read it in the first place. And by starting on a positive note about the manuscript, the author can now face the rest of your criticism with a better outlook, knowing there was something, even if it was just one item, that you did enjoy.

2. Tackle the big problems first: Try to focus on the big picture in your critique and don’t get caught up in minutiae like grammar errors unless there are enough of them to completely distract from the story. Instead, focus on things like whether the characters are relatable and interesting, or whether all the subplots make sense. Remember, if this book is going to be selected for publication, we can fix little things like the occasional spelling error during the editing process. Bigger problems are harder to fix, so help the writer by pointing them out.

3. Use your words: Remember when you were in school, and you called something “stupid” and you were told to “use your words” in order to articulate and explain yourself better? Well, same goes for critiquing. Instead of simply telling the author that something is “stupid” or “boring” or “I don’t like this,” and then move on to the next section, go more in depth. The author deserves to know what you didn’t like about a certain section, dialogue, character, or the story overall. Tell the author exactly WHY you didn’t like it, and don’t be afraid to offer a suggestion as to how they can make that better. Remember, without readers wanting to read the story, the writer doesn’t have an audience, so give honest feedback and suggestions for improvement.

4. Listen to the author: Once you have given your feedback in a positive, constructive manner, if you have a chance to actually speak directly with the writer, listen to their response to your critique. If they have taken the time to listen to your revisions, then hear them out. Maybe they have a good reason why they had the hero die at the end, or the “perfect” couple that everyone wanted to end up together at the end goes their separate ways. The author might have had a reason for why they wrote what they did, and it can help you understand (and maybe change your critique) after hearing them out. Together, you two can make the manuscript the best it possibly can be.

Of course, everyone critiques in a different way. There are many different ways to give feedback to a creative writer, and the ones I have listed above are just a few. No matter how you choose to deliver your criticism, just remember that writers are people too, and it is never easy to put yourself (and your creative work) out there.  And remember, if you didn’t like something, that doesn’t mean you should just say nothing. Pointing out weak spots won’t knock a writer out of contention for publication. If anything, thoughtful critiques tell us that readers care enough about the story to make it even better. And even if the writer isn’t chosen, they now have some feedback to work with when they go back to revise and resubmit.

Happy reading! We can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Author spotlight

Erin Carroll

Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, I always had a fascination with NYC and books, and now I get ...

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