Basic etiquette in the writing world requires that when someone critiques your work, you do the same for them. After all, critiquing is time-consuming. Often, to read a rough manuscript, to think through it, and to offer coherent, positive, and helpful comments throughout can take many, even double-digit hours.
But sometimes this tit-for-tat rule doesn't work out. Maybe the critiquer doesn't have a manuscript ready to read. Or she already has several trusted readers. This is where critique karma comes into play.
Frequently, it takes the form of an IOU. A critiquer offers to read my manuscript now, and I'll read hers as soon as it's ready. Somehow it never fails that when it's ready, I'm in the middle of two thousand other, important things. But that's karma, and I read it anyway, and do a good job on it, because I know she did for me.
Sometimes long-standing writing friends will offer their services, knowing that the debt has been paid and repaid so many times, and will be again in the future, that it's not worth counting.
Recently, I was offered a home-cooked dinner with other readers as a thank you for my critiquing. That wasn't a bad trade-off, either.
Of course, sometimes this karma doesn't seem to work. Someone won't repay the favor. Or they don't even think to offer. Or I get a near worthless critique.
This doesn't bother me as much as it used to. I've been around the block enough that I have a number of trusted readers. Plus, critiquing someone else's writing has its own benefits. I can see what's up and coming in the market, read something I wouldn't ordinarily choose for myself, and hone my own analytic skills. Besides, I want my industry to be made up of gracious and helpful people, so I figure I should do my part. And I really do believe in critique karma.
Because sometimes a wonderful critiquer will offer to read for me, with no strings attached, and I am so completely grateful. So it all evens out.
Do you do this dance, trying out new readers? Or do you have a set group of readers you always use? Do you believe in critique karma?