Critiquette: Giving and Receiving Writing Feedback with Grace

This is the second blog post in a row I’ve written on etiquette and the irony hasn’t escaped me: yes, I am a potty-mouthed, socially inappropriate reprobate who struggles not to tell parents their babies look like elderly wizards.

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All it needs is a pointy blue hat.

It’s also ironic that I’m advising people how to be graceful. I’m roughly the size and shape of a submarine and I would sulk for three years if I ever lost at Monopoly. Not that it’ll ever happen.

But I do know about critiquery (totally a real word). And, on that note, critiquery artists are called critiquers (also a real word) because critics sounds negative.

I critique on several writers’ sites as well as privately, and I’ve completed around 50 beta reads of novels. I’ve also had close to 50 betas for my novels and short stories. I know what it’s like on both sides.

There’s a right way to do critiquery, and a wrong way to do critiquery. In fact, quite a lot of wrong ways. I know, because I did most of them when I was a n00b.

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Right (via Imagur)                                                          and very very wrong

You never, ever, want to be that poor, abused cake.

Read on to be the beautifully arranged peppers.

The Author’s Quick Guide to Critique / Feedback

Inappropriate Responses to Critique / Feedback

  1. Silence. “Thank you” is not optional.
  2. “lol thanks” Not all thanks are made equal. And yes, this happened.
  3. A lengthy rebuttal of each of the critiquer’s comments.
  4. “Yeah, well, your FACE needs more editing.”
  5. Listing all the pieces of feedback you’re going to be ignoring. Optional extra: explaining why you don’t think they’re worthy. To clarify, it’s absolutely fine to discard feedback. Not fine to tell the person who’s just spent several hours trying to help you–unless, of course, they asked for feedback on their feedback. Don’t ask for feedback on your feedback of their feedback. That’s just silly.
  6. “I will find you and I will kill you.”
  7. Trolling the critiquer’s website.
  8. “What gives you the right to judge my work? Are you J.K. Rowling?”
  9. Quitting writing.
  10. “Thank you for your suggestions. Unfortunately, my colleagues at NASA do not agree that the moon should be renamed Mr Cheesy Shiny Face.”

I hope I don’t have to explain why any of those are wrong. Especially the last one. NASA idiots.

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Appropriate Responses to Critique / Feedback

  1. “Thank you.” Never optional. Ever. Even if the feedback is amateur, plain wrong, not useful, or so bizarre you’re actually scared [I’ve been there, friend]. Say thank you, and mean it.
  2. Request for clarification on feedback. The critiquer might not respond–some people think once feedback has been sent the exchange should be over–but it’s not wrong to ask. Personally, I love a back-and-forth to discuss things.
  3. Asking the critiquer’s opinion on something they didn’t mention. Same caveat as #2.
  4. “I will name my firstborn elderly wizard after you.” Optional extra: specify the sex. Personally, I think it shows more gratitude if you’re willing to take a chance.

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The Critiquer’s Quick Guide to Critique / Feedback

Inappropriate Critique / Feedback

  1. Silence. If you agree to critique something, it’s not okay to just never respond. It is okay to back out–life happens, we have other priorities–but tell the author. To my shame, I took this cowardly way out of a few reads when I was greener and didn’t know how to say, “This isn’t ready for beta reading,” or “This isn’t my thing and I don’t think I can help you.” To those authors, I’m very sorry.
  2. “Dude, do you even dictionary?”
  3. Rewriting another author’s work. You might rewrite a short passage occasionally to illustrate a point you’re making (e.g. “This might be a better way to punctuate this exchange to illustrate the interruptions.”) but avoid rewriting for style.
  4. “This is bad and you should feel bad.”
  5. Printing off the manuscript to use as toilet paper.
  6. “I think this would be better if you rewrote it in an entirely different genre with a new plot and characters.”
  7. Anything suggesting they should give up writing, will never be a good writer, or can’t improve. Ridiculous AND untrue.
  8. “I will find you and I will kill you.”
  9. Desperately nitpicking to find flaws. If you think the piece was perfect, say it. Doesn’t happen often, but when it does there’s no shame in it.
  10. “There were only nine constructive things I have to say, but I like lists of 10 so I’ve made something up.”

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Appropriate Critique / Feedback

  1. Tell the author what you loved. Positive feedback is just as useful as negative (despite what some think) and you never know how badly they need that encouragement.
  2. “Do you think it could work if…” rather than “You need to do…”
  3. Tell the author what you didn’t love. You aren’t helping if you don’t highlight the elements that could be improved, or could’ve made you love the manuscript more.
  4. “My cat is really looking forward to sitting on your book when it’s published.”

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Who wants to share their critiquery stories?

 

 

 

 

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24 thoughts on “Critiquette: Giving and Receiving Writing Feedback with Grace

  1. buggybite says:

    Good post and good etiquette. This from somebody who has beta-d and been beta-d probably as many times as you have.

    One thing that occurred to me the other day which is good etiquette. I nearly always print off MS samples that people send me, unless it’s an entire novel which I read on Kindle. I hate reading onscreen. However, I always dispose of any printed work as carefully as I do my own. That is, via the shredder. Don’t just fling it into the bin when you’re done with it. It’s probably over-caution, but hey.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. theresacartier says:

    In my first ever creative writing class, I had a professor write “UGH!” on a personal poem that (I thought) was deeply meaningful. It was a litmus test of how much I really wanted to be a writer. At some point you have to develop a thick skin. Criticism is hardest to take when you’re new and you can’t tell if the other person is right or not. It’s easier when you’re older and more experienced and you can blow off the stuff that doesn’t apply.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Steven Cowles says:

    “Hi. This is my first time coming to the group, and… I am an over-critiquer.”

    I regularly write paragraphs of critique just for a single sentence. It’s a compulsion, I think.

    Anyway. Admitting it is the first step, right?

    (Pretty sure there are ten steps involved. Because ten.)

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Liz Meldon says:

    I had one beta reader basically call my main character an asshole/every other profanity in the dictionary, and then she spent a lot of the comments that followed vocalizing her hope that said character would die. And this was for a romance. All the comments were rude and delivered with zero tact, along with a “LOL I’m just blunt I guess” in her email when she sent the manuscript back to me. And this was a PAID beta reader.

    Who I never hired again, for obvious reasons. Even if the manuscript is a total mess, you can deliver constructive feedback thoughtfully and in ways that will be of use to the author. That’s the whole point of a critique. To help someone improve. If you don’t feel you can do that, and you’re just there for the lolz, don’t offer to critique.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Janice Seagraves says:

    I critique with a group I’m with and took a course in Savvy Writer so I could improve as a critiquer. And you’re right, writers are desperate to know what they did right. When I find these little gems I will give a happy face and either a “LOL” if it is funny or “Good job”.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. jaysquires says:

    Thank you, Anna, for doing a heckova job with the do’s and don’ts about the critiquette. I tend to call the critiquette a crit and the critiquer a critter, but that’s my own bid for uniqueness, I guess. I wrote a series of posts on FanStory called “How this Critter Crits,” but I tended to ramble more than you. An interesting thing happened, though, toward the half-way point in my series … what started as guidelines on what to look for in another’s writing that might help that person improve, turned into a treatise on “How to Write.” I wonder if you noticed that in your guidelines. Regardless, given your natural bent toward humor, especially of the self-deprecating type, you found a smooth and gracious way to lay down the ground-rules for being helpful in a mature manner. We can all use a dose of that!

    Jay

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Bryan White says:

    “And, on that note, critiquery artists are called critiquers (also a real word) because critics sounds negative.”

    Ha! It always kills me when people think the issues with a concept are resolved by packing it up and moving it to a new word. If “critic” hits a sore spot because they often provide harsh and difficult to digest feedback, and if “critquers” are going to find themselves performing the same function, then it’s only a matter of time before the concept has to pack up and run from town to town (word to word) like some desperate fugitive.

    Like

    • annakalingauthor says:

      You misunderstood – it’s not the concept that’s the fugitive, but the connotations of the word ‘critic.’. Thinking of oneself as a ‘critic’ puts one into that “MUST FIND FLAWS” mindset, which leads to bad critiques. Thinking of oneself as a critiquer removes those connotations.

      But people can call it what they like. This is not an entirely serious and academic study of the critiquery process.

      Critiquery still a real word. Definitely.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Bryan White says:

        But that’s my point, though. Sometimes the connotations stem from the concept itself, and then they just end up getting associated with the new word and the concept ruins its reputation in the new neighborhood all over again.

        Granted, this may not be the best example of one of those cases. It’s just a thought I had after reading that passage. It seems to me that “critiquer” is also used to make the distinction between someone who is provide feedback on work in progress, as opposed to a critic who is reviewing finished, published work. In that case, it makes sense to have a different term in order to tell them apart.

        At any rate, I’m not trying to complain (or criticize.) I liked the post. Very helpful and entertaining.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Steven Cowles says:

          I believe that someone’s idea of what’s required in a task is dictated by the words that are used to describe it.

          For example:

          Alice asks me to be her story checker.
          Beth asks me to be her story taster.
          Carol asks me to be her story doctor.

          The task I’m going to perform for them is dictated by the words they’ve used to describe it — even though none of those three words have anything to do with writing, per se.

          For Alice, I’m going to focus on grammar, punctualization, fact-checking, spelling, and formatting.
          For Beth, I’m going to focus on how the writing makes me feel.
          For Carol, I’m going to focus on the high level stuff — plot, characterization, voice, and setting.

          IMO, the problem with critique (and critiquer/y), is that they’re both strongly associated with critic/al — which is thesaurus central for Bad Things™.

          Liked by 1 person

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