Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Critique karma

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?


  1. At the moment I have just a couple of go-to folks for critiques because I've not been to the point yet with a WIP of needing more input. But I'm about to participate in an "open mic" critique event at an SCBWI meeting and I'm nervous about that because all of of my experiences up till now have been one-on-one (as opposed to a group setting).

    I think Karma comes around in all things, including but not limited to, critiqueing. Paying things forward makes the world a better place.


    1. Definitely agree about paying things forward to make the world a better place. Much bigger than just critiques!

  2. I belong to an online critique group, but we only crit in small doses - a few chapters at a time and on a five-week rotation. Which means it can take a very long time to get a full novel looked over. For a full novel critique, I rely on one friend from a (now disbanded) in person writing group (who doesn't even normally read YA) and my daughter (who reads nothing but). I keep thinking I should branch out, but I'm not sure how to go about it. Also, I'm not real confident in my own critiquing skills, so I fear being that person who gives the "near worthless critique" in return =( I do enjoy reading others' work, for the same reasons you mention above. It's just that I'm better at spotting little fixes rather than big picture kinds of things.

    1. It's hard to find other readers, Ruth, especially good ones. Because I'm moved so much, I've had a lot of opportunity to meet people in various critique groups. I never thought of that before, but it's definitely broadened my options!

      I can't imagine your critiques being worthless! I think I'm more of a big picture person myself, but that's why I sometimes need readers who notice the small, inconsistent details that bring down the whole.


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