Weekend Workshop: Critique

I touched briefly on this last weekend but critiquing someone else’s work is such a huge part of the self publishing milieu these days. If you aren’t willing to critique someone else, chances are they aren’t going to help you. And we all need the help when we’re wearing 47 different hats in the pursuit of independent publishing.

When S and I were kicking around ideas for Nano to Publish we had a lot of thoughts on critique and in our infinite wisdom we decided to go to write in and ask other writers what they thought. The resulting list was born.

What is good, useful critique?

The primary goal of your editing critique should be to help the writer create the best version of their novel. By keeping this in mind, you can avoid many of the negatives that are sometimes associated with feedback, critique, dare we say criticism.


Ask if your partner has any specific concerns in mind that you could be looking for.
Be specific.
Talk about the work not the author.
Talk about things that will help them improve their work.
Note what works as well as what doesn’t.
Point out the repeated grammar or punctuation mistakes (once or twice) so the writer can learn not to do them.
Always explain why.


Critique their voice until they change their voice to be your voice.
Rewrite things in exact words.
Line edit for them, unless asked to do so.

Questions to think about as you read for critique:

Are the characters relatable? Are they as likeable/detestable as they should be?
Are there any characters that don’t serve a purpose or are one dimensional?
Too much back story or not enough back story?
Are you confused at any point?
How is the pacing?
Where does the story really start?
At what point are you completely sucked in?
Are there any scenes that don’t make sense, that are out of place? Do they all drive the story forward?
Did you like the ending?
Did you feel the ending was appropriate to the story?
Would you have abandoned this book? Where and why?

When I went through this at the January Nano to Publish workshop a lot of groans happened at that last line. “That’s so harsh.” It could be. But think about this. If everyone who reads your novel prior to publication tells you only how wonderful it is, you won’t know until you publish if it’s actually any good. Imagine getting your first honest critique on Amazon in a review. That scares me more than zombies.

So tell me, did we forget anything on our list? What would you add? What do you like to see from your first pass, beta, and ARC readers?

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