As I look at doing novel crits for folks, I find that it may be easier for me to just write down how I do it in one place and then point people at that. So! This is how I give novel critiques. Hopefully it makes sense. (It sometimes comes to pass that I am speaking Patrick-language as opposed to something everybody else uses.)
State and genre of Manuscript:
First, I want to know what state your manuscript is in.
If you’re in a place where you’ve done four drafts and just want to know if the style is consistent before you submit, and you don’t want me nitpicking your plot, I can do that.
If you want to hear whether even the concept works and want me to ignore grammar and typos because you’re already planning to blow stuff up, I can give that kind of high-level feedback.
Generally speaking, though, unless I hear otherwise, I treat a manuscript like a strong first draft:
- I look hard at plot, characters, and setting.
- I call out lines that really threw me off and make suggestions.
- I call out minor style issues that bug me a little if I see them repeated often.
- I call out typos as I see them, but it’s not my highest priority.
As far as genre, I do not want a full synopsis beforehand, as that can prejudice me. However, I do want to know which shelf I would find this novel in were it sitting in a bookstore. “Hero hunts a vampiric killer while sparks fly with a local werewolf,” could be filed in Fantasy as urban fantasy, in Romance as paranormal romance, in Horror, or even in Mystery or in Thrillers. Each genre has different tropes and pacing needs, and I don’t want to slam the slower pace of your thriller if you’re thinking of it as a romance. (And if I read your mystery with a few supernatural bits and feel like it would have a better chance of selling as urban fantasy, I’ll mention that in my crit.
Sending the Manuscript:
I prefer to get the complete manuscript in Word or RTF format. That’s the easiest for me to convert into something I can easily read on my phone (which is where I do most of my reading, in Acrobat or on the Kindle app).
(I get better results when I crit a complete manuscript rather than a sample and so do most of the people who send me stuff.)
I do not usually mark up the document as I read. This is partially because it isn’t something that helps me when I get critiques (I prefer to wait on that until I’m dealing with an editor), and partially because that means I can’t read on my phone, which ends up being where I get most of my reading done.
I send a critique as document with the following sections:
Overall: My general thoughts. Also where I call out things like, “I am not a big fan of (genre), but I’m trying to act like I am for purposes of this crit. If something feels off to you and you think that this is my dislike for (genre) shining through, go with your gut.”
Major Issues: The big stuff. If you only look at one section, this would be it. Here’s the stuff I would definitely address to maximize your chances of getting this accepted somewhere. I try to call out when this is my very strong opinion versus when it’s something I know from experience most editors will dislike. I also try to offer possible solutions while avoiding full-blown “This is how I would have written this,” directives.
Medium Issues: Stuff that is more subjective, or stuff that I don’t have a great fix for and honestly don’t see ruining your chances of getting it published if you really don’t want to change it.
Minor Issues: Little style things that cropped up all over the place, nitpicks, stuff that is nice to fix but not super important.
As I Read: The notes I took as I read. This includes:
- Typos, grammar issues, and turns of phrase that really jumped out at me. (Although as above, I’m not doing a full copy edit.)
- Specific phrases that I really loved.
- What I’m thinking as I read this section. For example, “At this point I’m pretty sure Bob is the killer, and I’m irritated that Detective Summers hasn’t thought of that yet.”
The “as I read” section is the longest, and the total critique is usually a few thousand words.
Once I’ve delivered the crit document, we go back and forth a bit, going over any points where you’d like clarification or suggestions.
Also, to be completely clear, you are under NO OBLIGATION to agree with my feedback. (I don’t feel like it should be necessary to say that, but I’ve been told that I’m more intimidating than I realize.) Sometimes the reader is wrong. Sometimes the reader is right, but you need to stick to your guns anyway, because that’s the story you’re writing.
Aside: When I get crits either at work or with my own writing, I write down each point, and when someone says something that somebody else said already, I put a check next to it. At the end of the crit session, if something has no checks, then I’ll address the feedback or not depending on whether I agree with it. If a piece of feedback has five or six checks from a group of ten readers, well, I usually address it somehow even if I disagree. When I give a crit, I am only one check. Don’t take my word as gospel if you think I’m full of it.
That’s my critique style, and if you’re looking at getting a novel critique from me, that’s what you’re signing up for. 🙂