|Photo credit: Jack Amick on Flickr|
When evaluating CPs, you want to be sure that not only will they be able to help you in a way that you want, but you’re also able to help them. And the easiest way to determine right off the bat whether or not you’ll be a good match is to trade samples, usually first chapters, to see each others critiquing styles.
Sometimes, however, it’s not easy to determine what exactly you should be looking for when trading first chapters. How can you tell whether or not you’ll be a good match based off of a ten page trade?
While I don’t think there’s a foolproof method to determining perfect CPs, there are a few things you can pay special attention to that can help you make your decision:
- Feedback. This, of course, is the most important factor. Take a look at the feedback—is it helpful? Remember that sometimes helpful means saying something you didn’t want to hear, or indicating you may need a lot of work. Determine whether or not you like the way they delivered the feedback (was it balanced?) and whether you think their comments can help you.
Sometimes, you’ll trade with someone and they’ll say nothing but nice things about your writing. This can feel great, but let’s be honest—it’s not helpful. Even if they loved your first chapter, they should be able to pick out even a couple nit-picky things to suggest some improvements—if they don’t, chances are they aren’t going to be very helpful CPs.
On the flip side, you may trade with someone who rips your work apart entirely and without telling you what is working or how you could possibly improve your work. If that’s the case, you may want to find someone else. Honest feedback is good, but even the toughest feedback should make suggestions for improvement, rather than saying that your work is terrible.
- Time expectations. If you’re looking to have feedback on your full MS in a month and it takes your CP trial buddy three weeks to get your first chapter back to you, that’s a pretty good sign that you may want to work with someone else. On the flip side, if you aren’t able to provide a quick turnaround time and your CP trial buddy gives you your chapter back in an hour, you may want to make sure that you both have the same expectations as far as turnaround times go.
Having a quick or long turnaround time doesn’t necessarily make or break a CP relationship—the key is to make sure that you establish early on what the expectations are, and stick to the deadlines that you set.
- MS length. If your MS is 60,000 words and their MS is 150,000, that may be a good sign right from the get-go that you’ll want to swap with someone else. Your manuscripts don’t have to be the same exact length, of course, but ideally you want them to be comparable, so that one CP isn’t stuck with twice as much work as the other.
- Do you like their MS? When doing CP trials, you’re not only trying to determine whether they can help you—you want to make sure that you can help them. If you find that you didn’t really enjoy the first chapter that your CP trial buddy sent you, then now may be the time to bow out. Because the truth is, if you don’t enjoy your CP’s MS on some level, it’s going to be much more difficult for you to give them a balanced critique—and it’ll make the process much less enjoyable on your end.
- Balance. A good CP relationship is about balance. Ideally, you should be at about the same stage of your writing ability and experience. Your WIPs, expectations, and ability to give feedback should be similar. When you find someone who fits that right balance for you, you know you’ve found yourself a great CP match.
What do you look for when choosing CPs?