Critique Etiquette & Giveaway

I’ve been blessed with great critique partners since I snagged a seat at Darcy Carson’s kitchen table in Seattle years ago. Romance greats like Elizabeth Boyle have logged time with Darcy and her friends from Eastside RWA.  In a few months, I learned more about writing from those generous women than I’d figured out in a year and a half of flailing on my own.

I’ve continued to be lucky in my choice of critique partners here in Boston. I meet regularly with paranormal author Ashlyn Chase. Not only do I benefit from a fresh set of eyes on my work, I’ve also made a dear friend. Please welcome my guest blogger for today, Ashlyn Chase.

My wonderful, marvelous, terrific critique partner!

by Ashlyn Chase

My critique partner Mia Marlowe would have immediately made me narrow down my adjectives in that title to one. (grin) Thus begins my talk on the value of a critique partner. And when I say, “made me” I actually mean she would have given me the suggestion. I’ve learned to take a great many of her ideas and suggestions, but now and then I like something the way I have it. I don’t argue. I just say, “I’ll think about it.” She does the same with me. Thus our fruitful partnership continues to be happy.

Recently I had a bad experience with a critique, and I have to say I was as much to blame as the other person. She was too picky. I was offended. What? Isn’t my writing as brilliant as I think it is? Perhaps she had a good point or two, but they got lost in my defensive backlash. Thank goodness we dissolved that partnership before we lost our friendship!

Her style works for her. She’s in a critique group and says this is how they do it. Holy Moly, I’d run screaming from a whole group of people picking apart every word choice and doubting the validity of every fact! Thus, I’m going to expound upon the value of knowing what you need when finding your ideal partner or group. The ideal critique situation is the one that meets your needs.

Most of us need validation regarding what we’re doing right as well as pointers on what we’re doing wrong. Because Mia and I critique verbally, and she has a wonderful sense of humor, I can hear her laugh at my jokes. Very helpful considering I write comedy. I was critiquing on-line with the other critique partner, and just getting criticism in writing. I missed those Ha ha ha’s!

Ah, there’s another bad habit Mia would call me on. She’d say, “Every time you use an exclamation point, you kill a kitten.” Needless to say, I rarely use them anymore. I love kittens.

That’s another advantage of allowing your work to go through the process of a thoughtful critique—before long, you can hear your critique partner’s voice in your head. Suddenly your writing improves and they don’t need to stop you as often.

I give Mia positive reinforcement, and it’s not because I think I should—it’s because I’m honestly blown away by her incredible writing. That must be why she keeps me around. (grin) I find much less to correct in her manuscripts than she finds in mine, but I stick with her like glue because someday I want to write as well as she does. It’s important that you respect the other person’s writing. Ah…the Mia in my head just called me on using a cliché. Okay, I’ll remove the glue until I can come up with a fresher metaphor.

I’m looking back at this article now and discovering a few too many uses of the word, another. So, I won’t point out another great reason to submit to a critique, I’ll merely state that pointing out an overused word or phrase is something a good critique partner does too.

A gentle critique can be good for productivity as well as the ego. It can push you to write more, because you know you’ll be critiquing again in X number of days. Mia writes much faster than I do. I never learned to type. (Ashlyn blushes in embarrassment) But I’ll do my darnedest to produce enough to critique weekly.

After all, I’ve learned to love a good critique.

Thanks for sharing, Ash. Now I’ll share a little about the talented Ms. Chase’s newest release, The Werewolf Upstairs.

The Werewolf Upstairs

Desperate for change, public defender Roz Wells moves to a new apartment, but she’ll get more than she bargained for when she starts dating the seriously hot guy upstairs who just happens to be a shapeshifter and possibly a criminal!

Konrad Wolfensen has made a living staging break-ins to spook businesses into buying his security system. But when he’s accused of a serious crime, he’ll have to enlist the help of his new neighbor/girlfriend to keep his cute, slightly criminal rear-end out of jail.

Reviewers say…

“I absolutely loved The Werewolf Upstairs. Roz is complex, strong, stubborn, determined and has image issues… like most of us do. She can’t get over that she is overweight and a hottie like Konrad could possibly be interested in her, but he is wholeheartedly. There is no lack of delicious steamy romance, that will keep you turning pages and wanting more. Konrad seduced Roz and The Werewolf Upstairs seduced me!” ~ Sparkling Reviews

To learn more about Ashlyn, visit . You can buy Ash’s books at Amazon.

If you’re a writer, do you have a critique partner or group? Have you set down certain rules to guide your partnership?

If you’re a reader, do you have someone who mentors you in some endeavor?

Leave a comment or question and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Ashlyn’s book!

44 thoughts on “Critique Etiquette & Giveaway

  1. Sheila says:

    I beta read for an author. I look to see how the story flows and let her know what works for me as a reader and what isn’t working. We’ve done about 5 or 6 books together. I enjoy it and we’ve been successful as 5 of the books have been published. It’s fun and I’m glad I took the chance to work with her.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Wow, Sheila. 5 out of 5 published! You’re batting 1000.

  2. Kat Duncan says:

    I have a fantastic crit partner. We don’t have any set rules, we just happened to be a good match for one another. She keeps pushing me to improve my work in many ways and also gives me encouragement. I think you’re right, Ashlyn, that’s it’s important to me that she laughs in all the right places. I was in an online crit group before that and didn’t get as much out of it as I’d hoped. I’m very glad I “found” my crit partner. I don’t know what I’d do without her!

    1. Ashlyn Chase says:

      I know what you mean about the on-line critique group, Kat. I was in Jennifer Crusie’s crit group (the cherries) for a year and a half. In all that time my work never received a critique because of the way the rules worked. I learned some things from the mistakes of others, but it’s not the same as having your own work benefit from a fresh set of eyes.

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      Sound like you’ve found the right one, Kat. “Pushy” in the nicest sense of the word. ;-)

  3. Gorgeous site, Mia!

    I know I don’t know where I’d be without the support, insight, and mad skills of my CPs.

    The Werewolf Upstairs sounds fantastic. Thanks for the great post, Ashlyn!


    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Critique partners really can make all the difference. Thanks for stopping by, Erin.

  4. Jennifer Cryblskey says:

    Wow, the comment on if you use an exclamation point you kill a kitten is going to stick with me for a long time. I think I use them alot on Facebook because I’m trying to portray my excitement. Is there a better way to portray excitement when typing?

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Hi Jennifer. I think using ! on FB and blogs is different than using them in fiction.

      If I can’t convey excitement with my word choices, I’m not choosing the right words.

  5. Camille says:

    My friend is trying to write a novel at the moment and she’s so far got only me as a critique partner and it’s working out quite well :)

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      When I started writing, my DH read all my stuff, but we quickly realized he was not my target audience. (And besides, he wanted to continue to sleep with me!) Sounds like you are a an avid romance reader, so that makes you an excellent sounding board for your friend.

  6. Love the new site, Mia! And I agree completely about the value of a good critique partner/group. I was actually just talking about it on my blog this week…how to give AND get a good critique.

    Ashlyn, thanks for sharing. And your book looks great!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Back at you Shannon. I love your new Happy Writer site too. There’s so much encouragement packed into that space.

  7. Johanna Jochum says:

    I enjoyed the post today and really enjoyed Ashlyn’s last book! She is a new favorite of mine. Thanks for sharing today!

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I’m glad you dropped by today, Johanna. Did you enter my contest as well? ;-)

      1. Ashlyn Chase says:

        Thanks so much for the encouragement, Johanna! It means the world!

  8. Jane L says:

    EEKS! With friends like you I will be running all the time! Thanks Mia, as always you are the best. You keep me motivated and dedicated.

  9. Marcy W says:

    Love the new website, Mia, and today’s post and comments are a fabulous beginning. What I come away with after reading them all is what wonderful friends women are to each other … whether critique partners, or kick-in-the-pantsers, or encouragers … what would we do without our gal-pals!? Life wouldn’t be half so much fun, or productive!

    1. ashlyn chase says:

      You’re right about that, Marcy!

    2. Mia Marlowe says:

      So true, Marcy. I certainly value your friendship!

      One of the reasons I despise reality TV is that the women who are most heinous to each other seem to be rewarded for their bad behavior. And in my experience, that’s not reality. As a whole, romance writers are the most supportive, helpful women on the planet.

  10. ashlyn chase says:

    But you kick so softly, Mia. I barely feel it. LOL

    No, seriously, she’s right. At Christmas I was having a rough time. She just said, “I’m concerned about you, because you’re not writing.”

    When someone knows you , they know when you’re not yourself. Fortunately she gave a very sympathetic kick. And I’m all better now.

  11. Mia says:

    Hello Darcy, my dear. Here you are telling everyone I have a kind heart, when I just threatened to hurt Jane!

    Now that you’re here, I need to mention one other thing to look for in a critique partner–someone who’s not afraid to give you a kick in the pants when you need it. Without you prodding me, Darcy, I’d have given up.

  12. darcy carson says:

    Love the white background, Mia. You give me too much praise for critique. I was the lucky one to have invited such a talented writer.

    Hi Ashlyn, You are very fortunate to have Mia as a critique partner. She is very astute and has a kind heart.

    Good luck to both of you for a long and beneficial critique partnership.

  13. Jane L says:

    WOW! Love the new site Mia. You and your crew did a fantastic job.

    I need a good critique partner. I just have not found a good fit yet. I bet you two ladies are a hoot when you get together and start editing. LOL!

    Until then…

    I am working on something close to my heart. Starting a review site! Please visit me at

    It is in the new stage, but I am very excited about this. YES, Mia I will still work on my writing!

    Thanks Ashlyn for the crit advise! Have a wonderful weekend ladies.

    1. Ashlyn Chase says:

      You’re in the same boat as a lot of people, Jane. It’s not unusual to have to “try on” a few critique partners before you find a good fit.

      You might even find one person is better for a particular book, but another helps more with a different project.

      I have an Aussie crit partner who helps me when I want to know if my story is universally appealing. There are times when even among English speakers we have a lnguage barrier. LOL

    2. Mia says:

      Hi Jane. I popped over to your review site RomanceReadsAndReviews and clicked to follow you.

      You’d better keep writing, though, or I might have to hurt you. ;-)

  14. Sandy says:

    Ashlyn, I agree that a cp who doesn’t tear down but does point out your weaknesses is very valuable. Your story sounds delish.

    Mia, I love your new website.

    1. Mia says:

      Thanks, Sandy.

      I can’t give you chapter and verse, but one of my favorite proverbs is “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” That about sums up what I think a good critique should be. Honest. Specific. And always with the other person’s welfare in mind.

  15. Nynke says:

    Thanks for the interesting post, Ashlyn! And it’s really triggered some interesting comments, as well.

    Mia, congrats on the new site… here’s goes my first smiley in the new format, after punctuation! ;)

    1. Mia says:

      I look forward to your smiley’s, Nynke!

  16. Ashlyn Chase says:

    LOL. I usually critique myself before it gets to my crit partner…like the double post shows. LOL

  17. Ashlyn Chase says:

    HI Pat,

    I used to get much harsher critiques from a group when I was just starting out. I needed it then. I had a lot to learn. Now, it’s more like fine-tuning. I’d hope I’m doing something right by now! LOL.

  18. Ashlyn Chase says:

    HI Pat,

    I used to get much harsher critiques from a group when I was just strting out. And i needed it then. I had a lot to learns. Now, it’s more like fine-tuning. I’d hope I’m doing something right by now! LOL.

  19. Edie Ramer says:

    The new website looks great!

    I don’t like it when a CP messes with my voice. I do like an honest critique, but when someone rearranges perfectly good phrases, that’s not a good match. My CP, Michelle Diener, is brilliant! The first of her Tudor books will be out in August, and I know it’s going to do well. She’s phenomenal.

    1. Mia says:

      Hi Edie! The only reason to rearrange a sentence is if it isn’t scanning well the way it is. My general rule of thumb is “When the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”

      Glad to hear about some new Tudor-set stories being released. I love unusual settings.

  20. Pat Brown says:

    I’ve learned to love a good critique too. But I think I may be more like your friend. I recently went to a weeklong workshop with James N. Frey (author of How to Write a Damn Good series) There you get intensive critiques from 11 people, then Jim gives his critique. It’s sometimes harsh and you don’t get much praise from (which of course makes it all the more valuable when you do get it) but he thinks too much praise spoils a writer.

    I know his type of critique isn’t for everyone, but I also know after I got home and reworked my manuscript I signed with a big New York agent within 2 months — and it was an agent I queried after the rewrite. So for me, his style of critiquing worked far better than a gentler one.

    Another thing to consider in the search for a good critique partner is to consider the type of critique you want. I prefer one that focuses on story structure, conflict and character development. Some of my critique groups did little more than line edit, adding commas or other stylistic nit picking. That’s useless on an early draft. I’d welcome that as I format the ms for submission.

    Good article. Thanks for posting.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Pat, some people are motivated by the stick rather than the carrot. If that’s what works for you, fantastic. I’m not opposed to honesty. Not at all. I always say an accurate bad self-image is more useful than a false good self-image. But harshness just isn’t my style–either giving or receiving.

      That said, I too appreciate Mr. Frey’s grasp of the writing craft. If you check my Workshops page, you’ll see one of his books on my recommended reading list.

      I’m with you on the focus of a good critique. Structure, conflict and characters are the bones of a story. No amount of fancy line edits can fix a story whose bones are weak.

      Best of luck with your writing!

  21. Mia Marlowe says:

    Thanks, Christie. Love the pic of your new grand-puppy on your website!

  22. Great post. The book sounds amazing. And great website.


  23. Virginia E says:

    I beta read for several authors. It’s important for the dialoge to go both ways. My comments need to be specific and constructive. If you want my opinion on a particular scene or character, tell me. While some authors need gentle more than others, all of us need courtesy. Sometimes you can’t be gentle if you’re going to stop your friend from leaving the ladies room with her skirt in her elastic.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Absolutely, Virginia. There is no substitute for tact, but I count on Ashlyn to yank my skirt down when I need it!

      I too have a trusted beta reader. Unlike a critique partner who deals with the work piecemeal and in its formative stages, a beta reader can take a more wholistic view.

      “Specific and constructive.” Excellent watchwords for an effective critique. Keeping a positive attitude is so important because nothing quashes the creative spirit like negativity. Before my first sale, I visited a writers’ group (Nothing will induce me to reveal the name, but it was an RWA chapter) and felt like I was being smacked in the face by every gloomy comment. The market was down. No one was acquiring new authors. It made me feel there was no reason to try. Needless to say, I didn’t go back.

      Writers must surround themselves with honest feedback, but don’t get trapped in a bucketful of crabs. If you put a crab in a bucket by himself, he’ll eventually climb out. If you put in another crab, no one’s going anywhere. They’ll pull each other down every time.

  24. Christine H says:

    Hi Ash, I’m going to try to stop using all those exclamation points I use in all those emails. lol I love Kittens too! But I’d love it, if you’d tell me that it’s only true for writers. lol

    I already bought your book, But I need another. So I definitely hope to win another. Every year I buy the book, then win an autographed one and I give my extra to a friend, so I try and get you one other fan with each book. lol I know it’s not much but everyone counts. I just mailed some books including Strange Neighbors to my friend Erin and she’s excited to read it. I’ll try and get her to write you when she’s done or I’ll relay a message for her.

    Your the best Ash!!! I hope everyone who hasn’t read the series yet picks up both books soon and enjoys them as much as everyone I know has!! :)

    Hugs, Christine

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      Christine, what a lovely idea! I love it when a friend gives me a book. There’s no stronger reason for me to try a new author than the recommendation of someone I trust. It often means I’ve found a new favorite and I’m always thrilled when I discover the writer is prolific so I have a long, juicy backlist to tear through!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *