Critiquing for Maximum Benefit and Minimum Hurt Feelings–part 1 of 7

The Grand Poobah,

not an actual rendering of heather burnell
not an actual rendering of heather burnell

Heather Burnell, has asked me to write a post about how to critique since we now have a sparkling, fancy Sub It Club Critique Partner Matchup. And of course I’ve thought of so many things to say about critiquing it will take seven parts.

First, a little bit about my critiquing past to convince you that I know what the heck I’m talking about. I’ve been a member of several different critique groups since 2008, some specific to the YA genre and several all-genre situations. Currently, I moderate a monthly YA critique bunch and attend a weekly all-genre critique group that has been around for decades. I’ve done a Benefits of Being Critiqued talk for SCBWI, run critique roundtables at quite a few SCBWI conferences and with Jenn Bailey, designed and facilitated a Critique Speed Dating workshop for SCBWI. I have been critiqued by award-winning authors, editors and agents.

I am an expert.


Sort of.

The first thing to learn is how to deliver and accept a critique well. Literary criticism doesn’t do anybody any good if emotion gets in the way of hearing the information. Therefor…


  • Use the sandwich method: First, find something praiseworthy–a great opening sentence, excellent use of active verbs, even a fun character name. Then gently, go over the places where the manuscript has room for improvement. And always end your commentary with something the writer has done well.
  • For crying out loud, don’t tell the writer that the manuscript is a mess, even if it is. Every story starts out as a mess. Even yours!
  • Don’t tell a writer a bunch of baloney about how great his/her work is if it isn’t. It’s lazy and cowardly, and you aren’t helping anybody. The writer will never improve, she/he will clutter up agent/editor boxes with sub-par work and you will begin to resent spending time on a writer who isn’t progressing.
  • Remember, your critique is a series of suggestions. If the writer disagrees with your take on his/her work, you’ve done your job. Let it go.


  • Close. Your mouth. Do not argue. You are listening to one person’s opinion, the quality of which is dependent on the knowledge, experience and insight of the critiquer.
  • Keep. Quiet. Don’t “explain” things. You will not be sitting at the agent’s/editor’s elbow while he/she reads your work, your manuscript must stand on its own.
  • Don’t take things personally. This is an opinion about this one piece of writing, not whether you have a right to exist as a human being.
  • Take notes, add your own thoughts as you hear/read the critique. Then let some time pass before you consider the worth of each point.
  • If you hear the same criticism from several sources, this is one you really need to look at. If John Green gives you a critique, also something you take seriously, BUT John Green could be wrong. And a newbie writer might be quite insightful.
  • Remember, you asked for this. The critiquer spent valuable time reading and thinking about your manuscript. THANK HER.

Next time: Moving Things Along

15 thoughts on “Critiquing for Maximum Benefit and Minimum Hurt Feelings–part 1 of 7

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  1. Great post. ESPECIALLY the part on receiving a critique – not taking it personally & keeping quiet. Shutting up is the hardest and most useful skill to have. It’s worth being knocked down for a year straight, because at the end of it when you are still standing, you’re ready for anything. Good luck to everyone (but mostly to myself)!


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