The Great CP Search Is On! (Reprisal from 2011)
Posted by Laurie Kellogg Apr 11 2017, 12:30 am
It’s not too late to post your CP profile, which can be added until late Friday night.
If you’ve been a Ruby blog follower for a long time, you may recall my March 10th, 2011 article on critique partners — AKA cattle prods. If you didn’t read it, you might want to now as it’s relevant to this post.
During the RWA national conference we heard from many writers looking for a CP. I won’t spout hearts and rainbows here and say finding a compatible CP is easy. It’s not. It’s a relationship that develops over time and requires a lot of questions at the beginning and some honest conversations later on. If you happen to be searching for a CP, here’s your chance to network.
The first question CP wannabes always seem to ask is if writing in the same subgenre is important. My answer is emphatically NO. Good writing, characterization, and plotting don’t change from one area of fiction to the next. Story structure and mechanics remain basically the same. In fact, it can be a huge advantage if CPs target different markets for a variety of reasons:
- There is less chance of affecting each other’s voices.
- You’re never in competition with each other.
- Writing in different subgenres decreases the probability of unconsciously borrowing from each other’s work.
- You probably aren’t as well versed in your partner’s subgenre so you’ll question details another writer or reader in the same market might take for granted. For example, my CP writes historical and sci-fi romances. I’m not much of a historian and I tend to be pragmatic so suspending my disbelief doesn’t come easily. Therefore, when the history begins to take over my CP’s story or her world-building stretches plausibility, I’m the first one to notice it. As a contemporary writer, I’m more likely to question whether a term or phrase is anachronistic.
However, writing in a similar subgenre isn’t a bad thing. There can be a lot of advantages to that too, such as familiarity with the market. In any case, you should also have a BETA reader who writes or reads the opposite subgenre from your critique partner so all of your bases will be covered.
I believe the most important questions to ask when choosing a CP are the following:
- Are you writing at a similar level? Naturally, we’d all love to have Stephen King or Nora Roberts as our CP. But would you be able to give back as much help as you receive? Would they need to spend an inordinate amount of time teaching you craft, thereby making it a one-sided relationship? Would you even know enough about the myriad facets of literature to understand when they make suggestions about mirroring the theme in the subplot or adding a touch of irony to your characters’ situation to enrich the story? Asking for a potential CP’s contest credits and for the opportunity to read the first chapter and synopsis to her WIP is a good way to judge if you have about the same experience.
- Do you write at a similar speed? If you’re writing and polishing three books a year and your partner is lucky to pound out a first draft in that same time period, it will eventually breed resentment. You’re probably able to write that much because you’re not spending all of your time critiquing someone else’s work. If you happen to be extremely prolific, you might want to consider using different CPs for your various manuscripts.
- Are you thick or thin–skinned? It’s important to work with someone who is compatible with your critique style. I personally want my CP to rip my work to shreds before I submit to an editor or agent. I don’t have to take all of my CPs advice, but it’s nice to know what she really thinks so I can at least consider all of her issues with my book. If you know you’re the sensitive type who doesn’t handle criticism and rejection well (you know who you are), you need to find someone who like-minded and willing to put in the additional time to bolster your ego while they point out the flaws in your work. Newer writers tend to need more hand holding and stroking.
- How detailed do you prefer a critique to be? Line-editing (writing and mechanics), a broader evaluation (story and characterization), or something in between? My CP and I critique at a story and characterization level and only line-edit when something stops us cold in our reading, which can be anything from a typo, a run-on sentence, a pronoun referring to the wrong antecedent, to even a bit of wit or humor one of us failed to capitalize on. What we don’t do is analyze every sentence and paragraph, since doing that tends to affect a writer’s voice.
- What are the strongest and weakest aspects of your writing? It’s best to have a CP who has different strengths in the various craft elements than you have. (Such as narrative, plotting, grammar and mechanics, characterization, humor, suspense, setting, dialogue, emotion, action, synopses, marketing blurbs, hooks, brainstorming, POV, five sense, showing versus telling, etc.) Ideally you should work with someone who can help you become stronger where you’re weak and vice verse. For example, my CP is stronger in vocabulary, grammar, and mechanics, narrative, and action scenes than I am, whereas my strengths lie in deep POV, plotting, pacing, humor, and hooks. We’re equally strong at dialogue, characterization, setting, and emotion. And we both used to suck at writing a succinct synopsis (or should I say SUCKNOPSIS), however we’ve both improved drastically over the last year or two.
Once these questions are answered and you’ve found someone who seems compatible to you, there are still a few things you need to do before trying to work together:
- Agree the partnership will ALWAYS be temporary, and you will not be hurt or angry if the other person decides your working relationship is no longer beneficial. Having this conversation can be difficult – especially if you’ve worked together for a while. But circumstances change that affect a writer’s time and needs. One of those changes can be publication. I’ve heard many disgruntled writers gripe about how their CP suddenly stopped working with them once they had an editor reading their work. It’s important to agree up front that dissolving the partnership is ALWAYS a possibility. Contracted authors have time constraints and pressure to produce that a CP from her pre-pubbed days may not be able to handle. Or, she may not have time to continue critiquing anyone else’s work. In the end, your career has to come first, and if a CP is holding you back professionally, it’s time to become simply good friends who have writing in common.
- Agree that sometimes you’ll disagree and neither of you is obligated to take the other’s advice and there will be no resentment if they don’t. Ultimately, it’s the author name that goes on the cover of her book. She has the final say as to what does or does not belong in it.
- Agree to be totally honest with each other and to support each other emotionally whenever the truth hurts. Many phone conversations or e-mails are going to begin with, “I know you won’t want to hear this, but. . .” or “I hate to have to tell you this, but . . .” If you can’t accept that reality and you take criticism personally, you don’t really want an honest opinion of your story and writing professionally probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, if your critique partner never has anything good to say about your work and is overly critical, FIND A NEW CP ASAP!
- Agree if the other person sells her book you will be happy for her (AND JEALOUS). It’s only natural to be envious when someone else sells a book before you do—especially if you were instrumental in shaping the book into a marketable product. The important thing to remember is that professional jealousy is a fact of life, and we don’t feel it because we want our partners to fail or that we want to be published INSTEAD of them. It’s simply because we want to succeed too!
So here’s your chance to place a CP WANTED AD and join the Great CP Search!
If you’d like to find a compatible critique partner (or cattle prod), post a comment here with the heading GREAT CP SEARCH at the top in all CAPS. We won’t be matching anyone up, but you can copy the SEARCH FORM (below) into a word file, fill it out, and then paste it into your comment box. By posting this form, you are agreeing to be contacted by other visitors as a potential critique partner.
Tomorrow, you’ll be able to scan through the posts to see if anyone else who’s searching seems compatible to you. If you find an individual you think might be a good fit, e-mail the Ruby Blog at http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/contact with your introduction message and the SCREEN NAME of the individual you would like to contact, and we will forward your e-mail to him or her. We need the screen names in order to find their e-mail addresses in the blog’s admin files. Please be aware that we will only forward messages for one week, so don’t procrastinate in following up.
OR, you can have other searchers contact you directly by including an e-mail address on your form (However, you may only want to do that if you have a secondary e-mail account that you use specifically for SPAM, which most of us do.)
AND PLEASE, if this search results in a partnership for you, let us know!!! We love to hear success stories. If you don’t find a CP here, don’t despair. There are a lot of other places that are great for networking. Contest discussion boards are a wonderful place to find other writers who are at about the same writing level as you are, and many on-line special interest chapters have matching services for their members. The first five years I was writing, I used contests as my main source of critiques. However, that can get expensive.
For those who already have a critique partner, please share your advice and personal experience on what helps make your partnership work.
For those still searching:
Cut and paste the questionnaire below into a word file. Fill in as much information as possible about yourself, then cut and paste the form into the comment box under a heading (in all caps) THE GREAT CP SEARCH.
On the questionnaire use a Y as a definite YES, N as a definite NO, S for sometimes, sort of, or somewhat with questions you’re on which you’re in the gray area (there will be one answer you lean toward more heavily). And use N/A for not applicable.
Please E-MAIL me directly at __________________________________________
______ Contact me through http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/contact
I write:_____________________________________________________________________________Be as specific as possible about subgenre and style. (For example: I have a humorous voice and write ST contemporary romantic women’s fiction and category romances with a home & family storyline.)
My favorite authors are _____________________________________________________
My work would be enjoyed by the audience of_______________________________________________________ List a well-known author your stories/tone/voice are similar to
I prefer to give and receive critiques that include:
Story & characterization analysis only ____ With occasional line-edits ____ With in-depth line-edits ______
I prefer a no-punches-pulled, straightforward critique focusing mostly on problems _______
To avoid feeling discouraged, I prefer frequent praise to surround negative comments ______
I’d like help brainstorming problems ____ I just need the problems pointed out ____
I’m highly self-motivated_____ I need someone to help me set goals (kick my butt) ____
I have completed ___#___manuscripts
I usually write________,000 words a week.
I finish and polish a _______,000-word book in _# __ months.
I have been seriously writing / pursuing publication for ___#____years.
My strengths are _________________________________________________________________
My weaknesses are _________________________________________________________________
My writing credentials are:________________________________________________________________________________________ List contests you’ve won and when, contests you’ve been a finalist in and when, what percentile you’re work has fallen into in the GH, any job related writing, publications, blogs, etc.