Wednesday, September 11, 2013

CPFs – Finding and Keeping a Critique Partner Forever (or at least for 3 years…) with Guests Naomi Rawlings and Melissa Jagears

Naomi here. I’ve read numerous posts on crit partners, and every time I read one, it often gives advice I never follow. So I frantically email Melissa and say, “We don’t do half this stuff. Am I failing you?” So we revaluate our critiquing and always arrive at the same conclusion: 

“No way I’m giving you up or asking you to crit differently. Even if you become a NYT bestselling author, you promised to keep critting for little ol’ me, remember? Please, please, please, don’t leave me!!!” 

 Then we continue critting as usual.

Why? Because we know we’re making each other better writers no matter how much our critiques initially hurt.

So we thought we’d write a critique partner post Naomi wouldn’t panic over! The first section contains suggestions for finding a crit partner, the second dives into maintaining a good CP relationship.

Guidelines for who’ll make a good CPF – Crit Partner Forever: 

1. Find someone who wants to learn and write at the same pace– You need to have approximately the same work load to stay fair. Even pre-published, consider how quickly you write, how quickly you want crits turned around, and how determined you are to get published.

2. Find someone who writes in your genre (and probably even in your sub genre) – We’ve worked with (and one still works with) someone outside of our genre, but you’ll likely outgrow a crit partner of another genre once you get published because after you’ve learned the basics of novel writing, your focus will switch to the expectations of the genre and its readers. A writer critting her preferred genre is a reader of that genre as well—and someone you want to make happy! She’ll be able to articulate why she’s not happy, give you suggestions for fixing problems, and possibly compare parts of your story to other novels—things someone unfamiliar with your genre might find difficult.

3. Find someone who writes stories you enjoy – I
f you aren’t waiting with baited breath to read your CPF’s next chapter, then your relationship will likely end sooner rather than later. (This is one of the most important points for Naomi, who has dreaded opening chapters from a critique partner before. If you dread opening a new chapter, then there’s no way your critiquing relationship will last long term.)

How do you know if “she/he’s the One”?

1. Show an example of how you crit a person’s pages  Prior to committing to a critiquing relationship, exchange sample crits so you have a good idea of what to expect. Then crit something short for each other. If you find the other person is too easy, too hard, or doesn’t get your stories, then move on. Finding a CPF is not easy, and you may need to work with several writers before you find the CP who’s right for you.

If you’re curious on what our crits to one another look like, 
there’s a sample page on the site for you to look at. 

2. Set up a No Fault, No Blame Trial Run – It’s hard to know if a new crit partner will work for you, but the longer you crit together, the harder it is to leave without hurting feelings. So before you exchange that first chapter, determine how to get out with no need for excuses. Such as “We will crit for a month and if for any reason one of us does not want to continue, we can part without saying more than ‘thanks, but I can’t continue.’ No hard feelings.”

If you’re a member of ACFW (or a similar organization) join a large pool critiquing group. You can see how people crit without committing, determine what writing level you’re at, and keep an eye out for someone who crits the way you do. That’s how the two of us found each other. Melissa needed another critique group member and lurked in the big ACFW Scribes loop until she found someone who wrote at a similar level and critted in a similar fashion. Then she got down on her virtual knees and begged Naomi to give her group a month’s trial. 

How to work with your CPF and stay CPFs:

1. Don’t be offended when your crit partner does his or her job - Your crit partner’s job is to criticize your writing. That’s right. I said criticize. Not spout fluffy little praises. Not make you feel like you’re going to sell more books than Nora Roberts.

In fact, your crit partner’s job is quite the opposite. She’s going to point out ALL the perceived story problems and every inconsistency (and sometimes the really BIG, really GLARING ones) so when an editor looks at the first two pages of your story, he/she will want to read the following two pages, then the next two after that, and that, etc. 

Statements like: “Unless you want to lose me as a reader, you need to either make a major change to your character’s motivation or rewrite the chapter” are the exact kind of statements you and your crit partner need to tell each other. If you don’t, not only will you hurt your CPF’s chances of selling the novel, but if the story gets a contract, an agent or editor WILL say those things. Or shudder—the Amazon One Star Review people who don’t care about your feelings will point your errors out to the world!

Your CPF may not catch everything your publisher will ask you to change, but you’re far more likely to sell to an editor desiring a handful of changes than to one who thinks it needs twenty plus. 

2. If you find what you think is a big story-destroying problem, warn your CP – It’s never fun to hear, “You have no tension whatsoever in this scene. I wanted to fall asleep” or “Your heroine needs to grow some brains and get some balls, or I’m ready to throw her across the room.”  (These are direct quotes, and no, we are not sharing which of us wrote the brains and balls sentence). 

Even if you’ve sold millions of books, you can still disappoint readers. Sometimes your favorite authors disappoint with a boring book or an annoying heroine. So, tell your CPF what you think is a problem and give her as many suggestions as possible to jumpstart her problem-solving juices. BUT in your email, warn her! 

Ex. “You’re not going to like this crit, so make sure you don’t have be happy at someone’s wedding today and have chocolate handy before opening it.”

That way, she can decide when to open your crit and mentally prepare herself for bad news.

If you’re on the receiving end of a painful crit, you may feel like a dunce or a failure, but remember, your CPF wants to save you from disappointing editors and readers. The overarching goal is to make your writing better, and good writing is hard work. 

However, while pointing out the errors in your CPF’s story, keep these things in mind . . .

3. Be kind.

We admit we don’t like the sandwich principle for critiquing. Please don’t fill our chapters with two smiley faces for every one critical comment if you’re groaning through the whole thing because you’re completely bored with our story! (We know this flies in the face of the usual advice, but stick with us while we explain.) 

  • Say things as politely as possible. Write what you’re thinking about the story the first time through, then go back and see if you said things in the nicest way possible (sometimes you can sound snarky even if you don’t mean to—or because you really were!). Though, personally, we still laugh about the “get some brains and balls” comment, and one that went something like “You’re making me gag on the strawberries your hero is feeding your heroine.” Now when a scene needs a little more romance, we tell each other that we need to gag on some strawberries.

  •  Point out the good things you notice. Don’t force yourself to come up with nice things to say, but get in the habit of typing a smiley face when you actually smile, a “NICE” when you’re impressed with a turn of phrase, or an “LOL” when you chuckle, etc. Of course, longer praise is nice too, but don’t fake it! We want to hear what makes a critiquer genuinely happy—not what she fabricates to fit a ratio!

  • Clean copy=KUDOS – If you have a page where your CPF says nothing, rejoice! That means it was perfect for them. That’s praise even if there are no compliments in the margin.

4. Learn to forgive

At times you may hurt or offend each other. Your comment might sound meaner than you intended, maybe a misunderstanding occurred in your emails, someone had a bad day, or perhaps your differing personalities require you to adjust how you communicate. 

Regardless of the cause, you have to work through hurts like in any mature relationship. (Whose spouse hasn’t hurt them?) Your writing is a vulnerable part of you, and like a spouse who gets to see the “real you,” your CPF gets to see your biggest writing failures. Her job is to point those failures out, so don’t throw a tantrum and declare crit partners don’t work for you when she’s only doing her job. Grieve, let time take away the sting, pull up your big girl panties, etc. If needed, call your CPF to lament. She’ll more than likely apologize and then want to talk you through your story problem, because remember, you picked someone who loves your writing and believes in you!

Unexpected Benefits of Finding your CPF:

1. A friend – I think both of us would say we’re best of friends now. When you expose your raw writing to someone over and over again you’re bound to get close.

2. A prayer partner – What affects your life affects your writing. Your CPF will kick your behind if you’re procrastinating or pray trials go away so you can get back to creating the stories your CPF loves.

3. Someone safe to gripe to about publishing – Okay, maybe this works just for us, but there are things in this writing journey that simply suck. Whining to everyone at your writing conference table or complaining on a blog will hurt your reputation as an author.  So a CPF can be a safe zone for complaining. (We have a Mutually Assured Destruction agreement. If we become enemies for some reason, we've sworn to destroy our emails to each other. Because boy oh boy have we written some incriminating things over the years. Gulp!)

4. A writing advocate/influencer – Not only does your CPF love your stories, but she had a hand in making it better and wants to see you and your stories find success! (She did, after all, put a ton of hours into your story too!)

We’re not perfect writers or people. 

Recently, Naomi ditched and rewrote 13,000 words from one novel at Melissa’s advice, and Melissa completely rewrote the ending to her novella at Naomi’s advice. 

And do you know what? It was painful to tell each other those rewrites were needed, and excruciating for us to rewrite what we thought was already perfect. But once we stepped back from our writing and considered our CPF’s advice, we knew our stories would be better with those changes. So now when we turn our stories into our editors and see our published novels in readers’ hands, we know they’re reading our best work because we critiqued each other’s novels as thoroughly as possible. 

  • A good critique partner will kindly but unashamedly point out every way she thinks you could do something better—because she believes you can do better! 

  • And a good writer will realize when a crit partner is right and change things instead of whining or giving up.

CPFs don’t let her CPFs publish books with known flaws—they’ve got your back. That’s what makes a good Critique Partner Forever.

Naomi Rawlings is mom to two young boys, a wife to her wonderful husband, an author for Love Inspired Historical, and an avid reader. She and her family live in Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, where they get over 200 inches of snow per winter and share their ten wooded acres with black bears, wolves, coyotes, deer, and bald eagles. Because of her romance novel addiction (and the alarmingly high number of books she devours per week) she started a website for inspirational romance lovers like herself: Naomi is looking forward to the release of her next book, The Wyoming Heir, in January 2014. For more information about Naomi or her books, please visit her website at

 Melissa Jagears, an ESL teacher by trade, is a stay-at-home mother on a tiny Kansas farm with a fixer-upper house. She apologizes if she’s not commenting up a storm today. She very well could be in a hospital delivering a third child due on the 12th because she decided she wasn’t busy enough. But she’s got a free ebook novella, Love by the Letter, available this month to make up for it! It’s the prequel to her debut novel A Bride for Keeps releasing October 1st.  Learn more at

***Note, Naomi is quite content (and rather busy and frazzled) with the two boys she already has. So she is most definitely NOT in the hospital having another baby today and should be around to answer any questions. 

GIVEAWAY – Comment on this post and one commenter will win a copy of A Bride for Keeps in winner’s choice of format, another winner will receive Naomi’s debut Sanctuary for a Lady in ebook format only. 

And EVERYONE can read Love by the Letter for free!


Jan Christiansen said...

Great post on what to expect from a critique partner. I've had people read my work and received glowing reports when I knew there were flaws in my storyline. I wasn't sure why it wasn't working and really wanted some honest feedback, but just got kudos. I'm sure they just didn't want to hurt my feelings, but I can't grow as a writer without some straight-forward input. Keeping my eyes peeled for just the right critique partner(s). Thanks for clarifying what to look for.

Melissa Jagears said...

Jan, that's exactly why I sought out a professional organization. My local writer's group only gave me kudos....on my very first manuscript, on my very first draft. I think the worst they ever said was "you use too many adverbs." As much as I wanted to believe I was so talented as to be able to write perfection from the get-go, I knew that couldn't be the case.

Cindy W. said...

This is a wonderful post Ladies! Thank you. I plan to review it again this evening when I have more time to get into the meat of it.

JAN, I'm right along with you. It's nice to hear the compliments but when you know there are areas needing to be addressed and no one can put a finger on it, well, it really doesn't help to just hear the good.

I'm going to have to venture into the ACFW critique partner loop and take a look. Thank you for all the suggestions.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

Naomi Rawlings said...

Good Morning Everyone! Thanks for hosting Melissa and I today, Seekers! And happy "Day Before Conference" to those of you who are going to ACFW (and are probably too busy being nervous or packing to read this post, but I'm saying hi anyway).

It's early here in northern Michigan, but I'm bringing some coffee and apple muffins made from the apple tree right outside my kitchen window. I'll probably think of more food to bring to breakfast in a bit, but the coffee has yet to arrive, which means my brain function is severely impaired. :-/

Naomi Rawlings said...

Hi Cindy,

Do take a look at the ACFW critique loop. It certainly worked for Melissa and I. But be warned that you'll likely need to do a lot of filtering and assessing. Hang out there for a while and wait until you find a writer who offers tough feedback and has a level of writing similar to your own. Don't just jump into a critiquing agreement with the first person who offers.

Mary Curry said...

Good morning, Naomi and Melissa,
Thanks for such a great post. I love the honesty of your relationship.

One thing I'd add from long ago experience is not to try to change your partner's voice to match yours. I belonged to a crit group with a pubbed friend of mine and several other writers. My friend eventually had to drop out of the group because her editor was having fits. The crit partners were editing her voice right out of her stories and her voice was what made her books work.

Wishing you happy baby news today, Melissa!

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Excellent advice, ladies.

The only thing I would add is it is great to have folks who read your book and look at the overarching themes as well as the misplaced commas!

I have the books you have out already and loved them.

Now I am waiting for your new books almost as eagarly as Melissa is waiting for that next baby to get here. Well, I think she is a LITTLE more anxious than I am!

Peace and prayers to you both, Julie

Jackie said...

Good morning,

Thanks so much for sharing. I crit with others in groups but hadn't thought about just working with one crit partner. That must be such and awesome experience.

I hope that baby gets here soon.

You both have beautiful book covers. I'd love to be entered in the drawing. Thanks!

Naomi Rawlings said...

Good morning Mary and Julie! You ladies did such a fabulous job with your post yesterday, it almost seems wrong to follow in your footsteps!

Mary, I'm afraid Melissa and I trample on each other's voices all the time. (We did warn you at the beginning of this post that we approached this whole CP thing entirely wrong.) Learning when to take other's advice vs. when to keep what you already have is part of maturing as a writer.

There's times where I'll write a couple sentences for Melissa . . . okay, well, more like a couple paragraphs to show her the direction I think something should go. If she keeps it, fine. If not fine. I usually say something like that in the comments. "Oh, I totally think you should say this, but if you hate it, just delete."

So yeah. We write all over each other. I'm probably worse than Melissa, but we make it work for us.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Hi again Julie,

I wanted to answer your thought about having others read a novel for overarching themes. I know authors who regularly do this, and I think it depends on both how you write and where you are in your publishing journey. I pretty much build my novels around a theme, which is a bit odd, but it works for me and eliminates the possibility of messing the theme up since I first write theme, then story details.

Also realize that writers with agents and/or editors are probably getting themes and general story lines approved before they write the majority of a story. So having beta readers might not be necessary.

I just had two beta readers look at my April 2014 release (waving at you Christina Rich!) and while the feedback was nice, the beta reads didn't offer me some essential and previously unrealized information. They pretty much confirmed what I already suspected.

For unpublished writers, beta readers can be a really wonderful tool. I don't know too many published writers who use both beta readers and crit partners. Most I know use either one or the other.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Morning Jackie!

Melissa and I both started in a crit group and then kind of gravitated to the one-on-one relationship. But yes, I prefer the one-on-one relationship, partly because it's so flexible, and partly because I feel both of us are really able to dive into each other's stories in a way you can't if you're critiquing for 3 other people.

Also, it took me a lot longer to work through a book using a critique group. I appreciate the quickness of working with just one other person, which is certainly helpful for authors with deadlines. There have been times over the past few months where I critiqued 50-ish pages/week for Melissa. That's usually not doable with a larger crit group.

Rose said...

Great advice, Ladies!

I especially like the advice on finding a partner that writes at the pace as you do. I think that is very important!

Also, writing in the same genre.

I'm so glad you found each and are a perfect match for critique partners.

Mary Hicks said...

Thanks to both of you, Melissa and Naomi. This is most interesting. I have several people who read for me, two are good at story, plot and transition. The other looks more for grammar. it's a huge help... but I sometimes feel they all guard against 'hurting' my feelings.

Two facts I believe in :

You must grow a tough hide to be a writer.
You can't change a flaw if you can't see.

Bridgett Henson said...

Naomi and Melissa, I'm jealous of the relationship you guys have.

Since I haven't found a critter, able to put up with my sometimes harsh critiques. I use beta readers for now.

Thanks for some great advice.

Audra Harders said...

Oooo, Melissa! Praying that baby makes a safe splash into the world!

Great post about finding and keeping the right CP. Much like finding the right spouse, due diligence is required when researching the right qualities, LOL!

I've critiqued with MANY wonderful (and many not so wonderful) authors and my word of caution to everyone is: stay away from those who critique in purple ink!!!

Thanks, ladies!!

Cindy Regnier said...

No Baby yet? We're all holding our breath here. I have to sneak one every now and then.
I have no crit partner but would love one. Any takers? I've been told I'm too nice. I love to point out the good things I see. I've tried to be mean and grouchy but it just comes out nicey-nice. Such horrible stinkin why-me traits I have to live with. I'm trying my best to be grumpy - really. Anyone got a 12 point program on how to grumble effectively?
Oh btw - great post Melissa and Naomi. I know my perfect crit partner is out there somewhere.

Connie Queen said...

Your post makes sense to me.
I'm w/you on the fake compliments. I can see right through them.
I joined a couple of crit. groups while in RWA and people weren't afraid to use red pen all over the page. Then a couple of years ago I joined an ACFW group and everyone was too nice.

I missed the criticism.

I have two fantastic cp right now that I very comfortable with, but neither one of them read western. Sometimes I think I'd like to add a cp from my genre.

Great advice.

And Melissa, I'm ready for you to have that baby.

Connie Queen said...


Pretend you just paid $4.99, $11.99, whatever, for those pages.
What would you think about the writing? Would you buy another one of her books? Read it even if it was free? That's my mind set when I critique. If she's my friend, I want her books to be successful. Let her know your true feelings, while being nice. :)

Surely you've had to wade through misery to read to end. Have you ever thrown a book? I have. Don't leave your partner. (Sudden urge to watch Fireproof.)

Janet Dean said...

Melissa and Naomi, thanks for the excellent post! Wonderful, practical advice throughtout!

My favorite tip:

"Don’t be offended when your crit partner does his or her job - Your crit partner’s job is to criticize your writing."

Writers are often too close to their story to see what needs fixing. Not that my crit partners don't praise, but their job is to help me see the problems I missed. I'm grateful for mine!


Janet Dean said...

Melissa, prayers for the safe arrival of your baby.


Helen Gray said...

The coffee has arrived!

This may be the last pot from me for a few days. I'm packed and will be leaving the house in a couple of hours. Not sure when or how much I'll be online between now and my return home.

I enjoyed your post, girls. Thanks for the insights.

Looking forward to a birth announcement.

Jeanne T said...

Melissa and Naomi—what a great post! Melissa, I hope THIS is the day! :)

I appreciate your thoughts and things to consider. I had the privilege of critiquing with a couple pre-pubbed authors for most of the last school year. It was a good experience. We found we each brought different strengths to the group, which helped all three of us. And, we were in different genres. The only challenge for me in that was I had to be careful not to be critical of one writer's love for research for her historical. Critical in that I didn't want to critique the history she wanted to include, if that makes sense. :)

I don't know that I've found my CPF yet, but I sure appreciate your considerations here!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Well obviously you guys are big girls and I'm not.

Or you have psychologically evolved and I have not.

I like the sandwich method. I like smiley faces on my msc.

Apparently I am much needier.

Melissa Jagears said...

Mary C.

I think Naomi is right, I'm a little more careful of leaving Naomi's voice when critting, but it is my responsibility to protect my own.

But when I first started out in a crit group, I did "lose" it a bit by taking almost every suggestion, but that was still in the newbie phase and I think I learned through it.

I don't mind when Naomi breaks out in writing me paragraphs. Sure, I'm not going to say it like that most the time. But I can see more clearly what she wants than what she writes in her bubble, so I run with the general idea. Sometimes I keep it close to what she says, sometimes I write something entirely different but working in the same idea into my work (if I agreed that is. :)

My other crit partner does a fantastic job of finding where I said something with 20 words when I could have used 2, but he too at times cuts too much and makes it sound like him instead of me. So then I work to figure out how to shorten the sentence my own way if possible.

Now, if the crit partner is massacring your voice, sure, that's not worth working with because it'll take too long to get anything out of the crit. But it is my responsibility to know when my voice is being messed with, but as I said earlier, I think that comes with time, I didn't know my voice when I started in the group, I was just learning writing.

Walt Mussell said...

I parted ways with the most wonderful critique partner I've ever had because of one of the reasons mentioned: different schedules. We actually write in different genres, but she was the perfect partner for my style. However, my day job increased in workload and she was writing full time. I couldn't keep up.

I finally got to meet her at Nationals this year. She's published, making a living at it, and even nicer in person than she was in e-mails. And, she's stil a friend.

Please allow someone else to win today's drawings. Thanks.

Mary Connealy said...

Good morning, Ladies. I'm here bearing greetings from your hostess Julie Lessman.

Who has NO ELECTRICITY this morning and is freaking out because she can't get online. (Julie? Does this sound like our cool, collected, beloved JULIE???)

And the real wonder of it all is that I actually got her message because I never turn on my cell phone. NEVER. And yet this morning I did and there were two messages from her asking me to come and be hostess and also to pray.

So here I am. And we might all pray for St. Louis Power and Light. That they might withstand the awesome wrath of Julie

Melissa Jagears said...

Oh Julie, I give up, the baby's never coming..... :(


Both of my crit partners tend to make comments on the overall themes as they crit. As an English teacher, comma/grammar stuff is such a minor need for me. It's definitely the story things I need help on.

Melissa Jagears said...


I'm thankful for having start out in a group as a beginner writer. Each person had different strengths so that I learned from one good story structure, another showing and telling, another, something else.

Plus I loved reading their crits of someone else. What did they see that I missed in helping someone improve?

Terri said...

Ladies, this is a wonderful post! I've been blessed to find a fantastic critique partner, though I fear I need her more than she does me.

She recently pointed out all the holes in my plot. Believe me I was thankful it was her and not an editor!

Oka, now I have to ask. Is there really going to be another baby?

Melissa Jagears said...

Rose, that pace thing has become much more important now. Pre-published the one a week thing worked, now that's so not enough. It's a lot more at once, but also in spurts.

I think the fact that both of our work schedules are similar helps. We're both homeschooling stay at home moms. So you might look at that too, how much do they work outside of the home, is it the same amount of hours as you? That would probably be a good way to judge their ability to keep pace.

And then of course, their willingness to change when one of you makes it to published. Naomi, got there before me, so her pace changed before mine did.

Melissa Jagears said...


There is a way to say the hard things without hurting....and sometimes no matter how you say it, it hurts.

Both of us have been pretty devastated by a particular flaw pointed out by the other. But after we get over the initial hurt, annoyance, denial, whatever, then we can learn from it. Sometimes Naomi is exactly right about my work, sometimes she's not, but because she thought so, there is something I'm not doing right to get what I want across and I have to figure out how to attack it another way so to keep my readers from believing as she did.

Melissa Jagears said...


We do got it good. As we said, we've begged each other to stay forever :) It would be hard to find again! But it's worth it to keep looking.

Melissa Jagears said...


I don't think we're mean and grouchy, just critical. But making the critical sound nice naturally would be a wonderful talent.

Melissa Jagears said...


I do think that's a "problem" with Christian crit groups. They take the "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" to an extreme--That's supposed to be their job "Critique"

My other partner doesn't write my genre and we do work well together, but I'd miss the genre crit from Naomi very much, If I had to choose only one person to ever crit with, I'd definitely choose the same genre, they know what's expected and what'll work for the genre along with good writing.

Missy Tippens said...

What a great post, Naomi and Melissa!! So very true. And I smiled, because I've been putting LOL and smiles and nice (any time I do or think those things) in a critique I'm doing right now. So I'm doing something right! :)

I see comments from Melissa, so it appears there's no baby coming today--YET. :) :)

Melissa Jagears said...

Safe travels, Helen.

Have fun at conference everyone!

Sherri Shackelford said...

Wonderful post, Ladies! I would not have made it this far without my critique group. We have a lot of variety, but we're all avid readers with good instincts.

I know you two realize what an incredible gift it is to find each other :) People search for ages...

Tina Radcliffe said...

"Sometimes Naomi is exactly right about my work, sometimes she's not, but because she thought so, there is something I'm not doing right to get what I want across and I have to figure out how to attack it another way so to keep my readers from believing as she did."

EXACTLY!!! You have to validate the critiquer's perceptions. Then you have to figure out a way to fix it.

Tina Radcliffe said...

No, Missy. They said no smilies.

Smilies are bad. Clean copy is what you want.

Clean = Good. NO DARN SMILES.

Melissa Jagears said...


That's you protecting her voice. A wonderful crit partner quality.

Naomi is a more dramatic writer than I am, and so I have to be careful not to tell her to tone it down just b/c I would ....unless it turns into melodrama and makes me want to throw her book. :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

WAIT. Alert the media. I have read this post four times and still missed it. DUH.

"Point out the good things you notice. Don’t force yourself to come up with nice things to say, but get in the habit of typing a smiley face when you actually smile, a “NICE” when you’re impressed with a turn of phrase, or an “LOL” when you chuckle, etc. Of course, longer praise is nice too, but don’t fake it! We want to hear what makes a critiquer genuinely happy—not what she fabricates to fit a ratio!"

Smilies are okay.

Okay thank you, Dear Lord.

I live for smilies.


Melissa Jagears said...

Well, Tina, from yesterday, you got the big girl points because you don't cry at conferences with room service, so you're one up on me there. :)

And don't get us wrong. We love smiley faces, we just want them to be truly earned.

Tina Radcliffe said...

You know it occurs to me that you both are a perfect fit because you both have that same droll, dry, Bob Newhart (don't overthink this one, you are too young to know Bob) witty, sarcastic and honest sense of humor.

You are very much alike. In fact at times Melissa scares me. In fact the thought of critiquing with you two scares me. No, terrifies me.

Finding someone like me would be very difficult.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Mary, thanks for being our fill-in hostess. :-) And Julie . . . I'm hoping, wishing and praying you get that power back pronto! What a terrible time for that to happen. Ugh! Sending you some imaginary hugs right now! :-)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Yeah. I thought you made that up. I find it hard to believe you cry. You are kinda kick butt super chick, Melissa.

Melissa Jagears said...

Walt, that would have been so difficult!

Maybe I should pray that Naomi never gets a full time job outside the home......that's not selfish or anything.....

Melissa Jagears said...

Poor Julie, hope she gets her electricity back on soon!

Terri, yes a true to life baby is due this week, but seems to be happy living in the dark. And yes, I so want Naomi to point out holes rather than an editor. I'd like the editor to have as few as possible to deal with. Naomi makes me look more talented than I am.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Ack! Okay, it's kind of confusing trying to answer all these comments that Melissa is answering at the same time (and much better than I possibly could answer). But I'll give it a shot.

After I bring more coffee. Lots and lots of coffee to clear my muddled mind enough to type coherent sentences.

And I'm bringing some fried eggs, toast, and sausage patties--which is the exact breakfast my husband asked me to make for him instead of writing this morning. Is it just me, or does hunting season make men completely irrational. A husband wanting his wife to make him breakfast before he runs a bear bait? Oh the shame!

Walt Mussell said...

I'm old enough to know who Bob Newhart is. My image of the posters has just changed.

Naomi Rawlings said...

For those of you still looking for a wonderful crit0 partner (like Mary H and Brigitte), keep on looking, pray that God will lead you to others who will be helpful to your writing, and understand that Melissa and I didn't start off best friends or CPFs. We grew into it. :-)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Tina, you crack me up. Yes, you're allowed to give and get smiley faces and "nice" and "cute." The just need to be honest rather than forced, and they shouldn't take the place of truly helpful comments. You need those helpful comments to make your writing better!!!

And as for Melissa and I being similar, well, that kind of makes me laugh. :-)

Melissa Jagears said...

Sherri, we are incredibly blessed. We'd love everyone to find a CPF!

And yes, Tina, Smiley faces are good, feel free to use them!

And I am not a big crier. But I'm such a high, high introvert that I just get stressed out. I've found it easier just to let myself cry in those situations to release the tension. But well "bawl" was probably writer's hyperbole, it's more like shed some tears. :)

And I've watched Bob Newhart reruns! Back when I watched TV as a kid anyway.

Melissa Jagears said...

Yeah, I didn't know how to respond to the Tina comment on "being alike" Some of our major crises in critting has been that our personalities are soooo different.

And you should probably be more terrified of me than Naomi, my personality makes me a bit more oblivious to others' feelings. You should feel sorry for her, poor girl.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Mary C., Melissa, Tina, Jeanne, and anyone else who cares,

There are always going to be differences of opinion between you and your critique partner. Sometimes one of us will suggest something, like yesterday I was working through a crit from Melissa and she's like "You need to bring the mule and wagon to the camp site." She was confused, I'd messed something up, and her solution was bring the wagon to the people.

So I emailed her with all the reasons I couldn't bring the wagon to the people, and then it kind of hit me. The problem isn't the wagon's location or that I need to change it per Melissa's recommendation. I need to explain why it's by the road and can't be moved in the first place.

So was Melissa's advice accurate? No, but it led me to pinpoint where the true problem was. Critting is like that sometimes. There's got to be a give and take to your critiques and relationship. Melissa and I actually had a phone call about one of her characters a couple weeks ago. I got to the end of her novel and I was all like "You can't do this to your character. It doesn't work because of A,B,C." And Melissa's like "I want this way because of X,Y,Z, and it's my character, so it stays." So after some more intellectual discussion on the subject (otherwise known as arguing), we came up with some ways for Melissa to make her character work by threading some hints earlier in the story.

So critiquing isn't all simple fixes and two sentence suggestions. Sometimes it's big and sloppy. Sometimes there are phone calls. Sometimes one of us just backs off and lets the other go ahead and do what she wants.

But yes, if one of your CP's stands by a 2 page historical description that bored you to death:
1. You're probably not going to be CPFs who work together for years and think the same way about books you read.
2. Realize that some people actually like that kind of stuff. I'm not one of them, but there is a market for historically detailed novels.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Let us clarify. Your sense of humor is very similar.

Donna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jan Christiansen said...

Checked out the ACFW Critique Groups. Have to wait until the first of the month to take Orientation, then join. Can't wait to read and learn from the critiques there and then find my "sent-from-God" CPS.

Going to heed your advice, and take my time in selecting. I appreciate Seekerville - it helps us newbies to see that we really can do this. Thanks!

Heidi said...

What an amazing look into a relationship between writers and critique partners. Lots of great advice to help keep things in perspective.

Thanks for the giveaway too! :)

Donna said...

I could not be happier with my critique partner, Sherida! First of all she is super sweet and we work at a similar pace. I trust her to tell me if something doesn't work.

I think part of critiquing is to comment on things that your partner has written that works really well. They need to know they've gotten an important point across that benefits the story or raises the reader's interest to another level.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Jan, I hope the ACFW critique group works well for you and you're able to find a good crit partner. :-)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Thanks for stopping by, Donna and Heidi. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

And you're right, Donna, pointing out what your crit partner does well is definitely important. And so is pointing out what isn't working. :-)

Chill N said...

A Mutually Assured Destruction agreement -- I love it!

Finding a crit partner who writes the same sub-genre and at the same 'heat level' is my #1 challenge. However, having someone who doesn't write your sub-genre do a critique can make you aware of what a first-time reader of your genre might experience. One of the most constructive (repeat, constructive) critiques I received in a crit group I belonged to years ago was from an author of contemporary suspense. I critiqued for her, too, and what fun to see her work in print now ... a perk of critiquing :-)

Sending tons of good thoughts for Melissa!

Nancy C

Mary Connealy said...

I just have to say BEYOND all the critique advise the last point, the FRIEND point. My original critique partners just saved my LIFE at my first conference. More than that, I'd have never gone if not for them.
It wasn't something I even considered. When they first said, "Oh, you've got to come to conference."
I just dismissed it.
"No, I can't do that."
I didn't even take it seriously. Not even after I double finalled in the Genesis.
It wasn't even a longing in my heart that I had to deny.

But they pestered me. And they said they'd room with me and take care of me.

If Erica was here today (she isn't my critique partner but she remembers me from my first book signing and knows how insanely shy I was, and helped me through it--by that I mean, she came over to the corner I was hiding in and talked to me there)

Conference would have been like that for me if not for the ladies in my critique group, Christy Barritt, Susan Smykla Osborne and Nichole Young. All incredibly talented and then unpublished authors.

Chill N said...

>> Tina Radcliffe said...
I like the sandwich method. I like smiley faces on my msc.

Apparently I am much needier.<<

The line forms behind me.

Nancy C

Mary Connealy said...

Melissa, I don't know how far along you are on this baby march but I remember being about 12 months pregnant a few times. Once I remember reading about some crazy woman they found running wild, screaming on the streets in some big city, wielding a knife, bleeding and the police determined that she had given herself a Cesarean. They found the baby fine back in her apartment.

I remember thinking, "I totally empathize, honey. I am sooooo close to that right now."

Melissa Jagears said...


Be prepared to be in the big loop for awhile. It was 3 months of me lurking before Naomi jumped in to the big group. So if the ones already there don't seem to be your kind of crit partner OR they don't have the time to do anything but the Big loop and don't want to jump out of it, just stick around and pay attention to the new people coming in while you exchange crits with those in the group already.

And keep your eyes peeled in other places too, of course. Never know where your CPF may come from!

Tina Radcliffe said...

LOL, Nancy C. The Affiliation of Needy Critiquers. Chocolate served at all sessions.

Our motto "If you can't say something nice then eat chocolate."

Myra Johnson said...

Super post, ladies! Thanks for this excellent advice on finding and working with a critique partner!

I don't currently have a crit partner (unless you count my agent, who NEVER pulls any punches!!!). However, in the first several years of my writing career, my crit partners' advice was invaluable!

Especially as you're learning this business, making the effort to find someone whose opinions and advice you trust and who will be brutally honest when necessary is absolutely worth it.

Tina Radcliffe said...

"Never know where your CPF may come from!" -Melissa J

"by that I mean, she came over to the corner I was hiding in and talked to me there" -Mary Connealy

The moral here: the best critique partners can be found under rocks. Keep your eyes open.

Mary Connealy said...

Yes, if you're under a rock, keep your eyes open for others under there with you. It might be a kindred spirit.

(it might also be a slimy critter and you should run, rock dwelling is not without risk)

Mary Connealy said...

I don't do critiquing anymore either. There just isn't time. It really helped me though, back in the day.
Everything I know about writing an action scene I learned from Christy Barritt. She's put comments in and say THIS RIGHT HERE STOPPED THE ACTION DEAD.
For some reason I couldn't see it. Then she'd show me and it would be obvious. I learned to see it in HER work and the other ladies I'd critique and eventually I could see it in mine. Now often when I revise I'll be reading along and just BAM I can hear Christy in my head .... THIS RIGHT HERE STOPPED THE ACTION DEAD.

Cara Lynn James said...

Fabulous post, ladies! I've had several crit partners and the best are the ones who tell it as they see it. Even if they say what you don't want to hear, their opinions might be right.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Mary, if I didn't have someone like Melissa that I worked so well with, I probably wouldn't use crit partners anymore either. But I'm really, really glad for Melissa. Reading her chapters is fun, and I usually end up begging for her to send me the next one quickly. So it's only like I'm half critting. :-)

And I totally understand what you're saying about not going to conference or doing a book signing. The thought that I might one day be forced to do a book signing terrifies me. Then again, I'm one who has trouble telling people that I'm an author. And as for conference? I was a bundle of nerves my first year, though you and Julie and Myra and some of the others made me feel super welcome. But I probably never would have gone if not for Melissa and knowing I could room with her and have someone to hangout with.

Even this year, it was technically my year to go to ACFW, but neither Melissa nor my other good writer friend, Roseanna, was going. So I don't even want to go, let alone pay to go. So that's the real reason I'm not at conference this year. I didn't want to go without my friends. Sniff. Sniff.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Myra, when I tell people I have a crit partner and an agent and that's plenty, I don't think most people understand. I always just think to myself "Yeah, and you've probably never had my agent tell you what she really thinks about your book, either!"

A few more smiley faces might be very appropriate for some of those critiques!

Naomi Rawlings said...

And I usually avoid hiding under rocks because of snakes and salamanders and worms and so forth. But if Mary and Tina and some of the rest of you want to go hang out underneath one, I might stop by for a bit just because the company would be so nice. :-)

mary dean said...

Thanks so much for this post. It is very informative. I love to hear about how writers work together.

Nancy Kimball said...

This was a GREAT post, Melissa and Naomi! =D You'll laugh but my crit partners and I use "HUGS & CHOCOLATE" as a warning when returning a crit that we know is going to sting.

I found my partners through the main ACFW group Scribes but you are so right in that you should take your time, get very familiar with someone's skill level and personality before testing a trial run. I think like agents, a bad crit partner is worse than no crit partner.

Blessings to everyone getting ready to storm Indy! =)

Myra Johnson said...

Naomi said: "A few more smiley faces might be very appropriate for some of those critiques!"

Oh, honey, I know the feeling! ;-)

Janet Dean said...

I brought lunch. Grilled chicken on salad with fresh fruit and a variety of dressings. Light and perfect right before a conference--or labor. :-)


Julie Lessman said...

NAOMI AND MELISSA!!! I am soooooo sorry I am AWOL (away without 'lectricity), but rest assured I am alive and well and quite unattractive at the nearest McDonald's where I sit with screaming kids next to me in the playroom and VERY dirty hair due to an oil treatment I put on last night to soak in. I've been banned from the shower by my hubby due to basement possibly backing up.

At any rate, this is a STELLAR post and one for which I am MOST grateful that you rescued me from since I am limited on email access and am now behind on getting ready for ACFW while at Micky D's. :(

Soooo appreciate everyone's prayers -- THANK YOU!!


Elaine Manders said...

Thanks, ladies, for a look into a near perfect critique relationship. There are no perfect ones.

I adore my critique partners, Piper and Natalie. Our pacing isn't always the same, but everything has worked so far even though I'm very detailed and hardly ever put in smiley faces.

I agree you should critique with someone who writes what you like to read. I like their stories and they're such good writers. Neither one has sent me anything boring yet.

I like Tina's advice. If you can't say something nice, eat chocolate. That's bound to help...or put on weight.

Prayers for a safe and happy delivery, Melissa.

Pat W said...

This is a great post ladies! Melissa... praying for safe delivery of your little one.

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Hi Naomi & Melissa!
Nice to see you here :)
I laughed about your incriminating emails. Maybe they'd make a good postmortem book, a true look into the world of writing. lol
Praying for the safe arrival of your baby Melissa

Andrea Strong said...

Wow! It's been so long since I was here, it looks so different from last time. It's a travesty how infrequently I stop here.

I saw my two friends on Facebook, and I couldn't miss this post.

It's amazing. Someday, I'll need a CP, and I know this advice will be so helpful.

If you haven't read either of these two ladies' books, don't hesitate. They're wonderful. Love By the Letter is the best thing I've read in months. I can't wait for my influencer copy of A Bride for Keeps to show up in my mailbox. I've checked the mail everyday for a week, and that never happens.

And Naomi's Sanctuary for a Lady was just right, all the way through...wonderful.

Hoping everyone has a great time at conference.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow, Andrea!!! Good to see you!!! You have been missed.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Total nightmare day, eh Jules???

Sherida Stewart said...

Great points, Naomi and Melissa! I believe I've found my CPF (waving to Donna and thanking Tina). We write in the same genre and the same pace--and I look forward to reading her stories. She writes great openings, so I know I'll learn from her suggestions. We're learning together...which is fun and motivating!

Best wishes for the new arrival, Melissa...and to all those traveling to ACFW. Thanks to you both for your post!

DebH said...

very cool post ladies. i haven't completed enough of a manuscript to even consider a crit partner, but i have read other people's stuff and given my opinions. i always worry that what i wrote was totally off for that person and they'd be miffed at me. i don't want to be a "bad critter", i want to help.

i'm thinking your advice about lurking to find someone at that similar stage will be most beneficial. THANKS!!!

put me in the drawing. i'm uber excited to go fetch that free read as well. WHOOOT!!!!

DebH said...

hmmm, now that i read on screen: "bad critter"
all i can think is "Bad dog... bad, bad, dog..."

Jackie Smith said...

Great post, ladies!
I am currently reading Love by the Letter ....loving it.
Prayers for a safe delivery, Melissa.
Please count me in the drawing.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Nancy, I don't laugh at all about the hugs and chocolate comment. We both totally understand! And it sounds like you've got a great relationship with your CPs if you're able to be honest with each other, yet kind enough to warn them what's coming. :-)

Debby Giusti said...

Excellent crit advice, ladies! Sounds like you both are a perfect match.

I've had a number of crit groups over the years. Early on, we had way too much fun! Laughed our way through the edits. :)

Now, my cp and I try to stay on track, although sometimes we do giggle...

And we meet at Panera's so there's a yummy lunch and refills on the cola to keep us going.

Debby Giusti said...

Melissa, you're still here!

How's baby? Quiet?

Continuing to pray for healthy baby and safe delivery.

Guess we'll hear during ACFW! Naomi, be sure to let everyone know, okay?

Naomi Rawlings said...

Mary Connealy, I believe Melissa's official due date is tomorrow. Everyone started ask her if she was having twins well over a month ago because she was so big. So it's not that the baby is overdue so much as that poor Melissa can't sit or sleep or walk or move with the world's biggest watermelon strapped to her stomach. Poor Melissa!!!!

And that's a really funny story about the woman and the C section. I can totally relate.

Piper Huguley said...

My cps are wonderful *waving at Elaine and Natalie*. I've had to slow down a bit as of late, but I want to make sure that I'm not overburdening them with too many things that don't work.

If you had asked me a year ago, I would have thought I needed more cps, but this current situation with some great beta readers *hey Julie Hilton Steele* works for me.

Happy baby, Melissa and safe travels to ACFW! Enjoy!

Naomi Rawlings said...

Julie! Yay! You made it! Greasy hair and all!!! So my only question is, what's wrong with the power company where you live that you're power has been out for so long? Are they going to knock a hunk off your electric bill? That's just terrible, and to have it happen the day before conference? Even worse. I hope you and Mary and everyone else have a really lovely time (even if you have to go drag Mary out from under her rock). :-)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Janet, that lunch does sound perfect. I'll toss in some homemade, fresh-from-the-garden salsa and chips too. :-)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Elaine, your comment about our "near perfect" relationship makes me laugh. We're both so not-perfect it's ridiculous. But we're still willing to work through things together, which is most important. I'm glad you've got yourself a couple critique partners.:-)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Hi Eva,

I totally need to install some kind of self destruct thing in my hotmail account so that if I die and the account goes inactive, no one will ever be able to read some of mine and Melissa's email exchanges. And it's not always just about writing. Husbands. Family. Kids. Random people you may or may not know who decide to terrorize your life. Plus all the writing stuff. It's a mess!

Naomi Rawlings said...

Awesome to see you here, Andrea. And you're right. You should totally come back more often. :-)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Sherinda and Donna, I'mm so happy you ladies found each other and work together so well. I personally think every writer in the universe deserves a crit partner relationship as wonderful as mine and Melissa's. So your comment makes me smile really, really big! :-)

Naomi Rawlings said...

Funny about the bad critter DebH. I'm almost positive Melissa wrote that line of the post. It certainly wasn't me . . . :-D

And you might do the same as some others and join ACFW's big Scribes loop. Then from there you can just kind of watch and see if a writer sticks out as being on the same level as you. I personally waited until I was a rather mature writer to look for a crit group. Whereas Melissa started with a crit group right away. Everyone's different and our paths won't all be the same.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Debby, I'm jealous of you living so close to a Panera's. I don't even know how far away the closest one is. Entirely too far, I'm sure. And I won't be at ACFW to let anyone know about Melissa (why would I pay $$ to go to conference if my CPF wasn't there???) You'll have to check facebook if you want an update about Nathaniel Jagears . . . unless he decides to be born within the next couple hours.

Mary Connealy said...


Mary Connealy said...

Deb H, If you get a crit partner and find yourself dealing with her by swatting her with a rolled up newspaper, you'll know things aren't going well.

Mary Connealy said...

Julie, if you can't get a shower before leaving for the conference, I'll help you sneak up to your room. You can clean up there before you make your 'official' entrance!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Melissa I think you got sucked into Ruthy's daughter's due date before Labor Day. Not fair to you at all.
We don't know what your baby bump looks like after all.
I'm sure you're an incredibly svelt 9-months pregnant woman.

Mary Connealy said...

Good luck. If you have the baby while we're at the ACFW Conference, I'll try and get Brandilyn Collins to announce it from the stage. :)

Mary Connealy said...

Unless, I guess, you're intending to be there. I shouldn't make assumptions.

Natalie Monk said...

I'll have to come back and read the entire post, but I to stop by to say, I've read and own Love by the Letter AND Sanctuary for a Lady. Both are FANTASTIC. To anyone who doesn't have a copy. RUN and get them!

And did ya'll see? Love by the Letter is FREE! Oh my goodness. Go get it now. :)

Okay, okay, back to the writing cave I go.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Where have you been Connealy. Go to Facebook. Her baby bump is all over Facebook. It's twins for sure. One is hiding behind the other reading on his Kindle.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Ha, Mary, and thanks Tina! Melissa's personal profile picture is currently a lovely snapshot of both her babies. Her book baby is prominently displayed directly in front of her tummy baby. Yes, she's huge, and yes the pic is from over a week ago. And I assume Melissa is currently MIA because she had an OB appointment today and the doctor probably offered to induce AGAIN and Melissa is debating. The doctor offered to induce her last week, and Melissa said no because she had to finish revising her novel. Novel is done now, so that means baby can come, right?

Naomi Rawlings said...

Okay, I just got a phone call from Melissa, and yes, she's definitely MIA because of baby. The baby's movement has decreased over the past couple days and the doctor is concerned so . . . They're going to induce. She'll have the baby either tonight or tomorrow morning. Yay Melissa!!!!! :-)

Julie Lessman said...

WHOA, BABY ... LITERALLY!!! Soooo excited Baby Jagears is on his/her way!! Prayers going up for a safe and healthy delivery. :)


Julie Lessman said...

Thanks, Mare, for the offer, but I will be squeaky clean tomorrow when I arrive in Indy, so I'm sure that's a relief for both me and EVERYBODY I come in contact with!! :)


Cecelia said...

Wonderful advice, Naomi and Melissa. I can honestly say I've never had a long-term critique partner before. I've just had different partners and groups sporadically over the years. You've given me much to think about!

~Cecelia Dowdy~

Tina Radcliffe said...

Is she by chance naming him Seeker Jagears. Nice ring to it.


Naomi Rawlings said...

I believe it's Nathaniel Ross, but I'm not completely sure about the Ross for the middle name.

Glad you got that shower, Julie. ;-)

Jenny Blake said...

praying for a safe delivery.

Debby Giusti said...

Ah, sweet Nathaniel!

We're all praying for mom and baby. A September 11th baby perhaps? Or he could be stubborn and wait until tomorrow. 9/12/13!

DebH said...

Nathaniel is an awesome name. My little guy has it. Means gift of God. My Nathaniel is definitely that. Prayers for all to go well with Melissa's delivery.

Jan Christiansen said...

Melissa & Naomi - thank you for your tips on navigating the ACFW Crit Big Group. I'll listen and learn until I find just the right person(s). Oh, and congrats on your sweet new baby, Melissa. I'm assuming he/she is here, now. Blessings!

Mary Preston said...

It would be very important to 'partner' up with the right person to critique.

Naomi Rawlings said...

Thanks for the well wishes everyone. Still no baby yet, but I hope those of you going to conference have a lovely time. :-)

Tina Pinson said...

Tried to comment a few times and the site ate my answer. Soooo

I enjoyed the post and am waiting with anticipation to hear about the new little seeker. Congrats Melissa.

I used to be in a critique group, but it disbanded and found myself hunting for another one. I joined ACFW's group and was put in several groups but those didn't get off the ground and there weren't any exchanges of manuscripts.

I tried a couple privately and that didn't go anywhere either.

I figure if the opportunity arises for me to have a CP I'll be ready, until then I'll just plug away at writing.



Naomi Rawlings said...

He's here! Melissa had her baby, and Nathan Ross Jagears was born just after 8:00 CDT this morning. Thanks to everyone who prayed and asked about Melissa and the little guy yesterday. Wanted to stop by and give a final announcement. :-)

Barbara Thompson said...

I am not blessed with the talent like all of you writers, but I do love to read this blessed gifts. Thank you for sharing and please enter me my name in the giveaway. Thank you!
Barbara Thompson

Micky said...

Congrats with the baby! Please enter me in the drawing, but just for the print book. I don't do e-books.