Critiquing a Novel

This post is the last in a series about critiquing. I arrived at my keyboard this morning heavy with the realization that when it comes to critiquing novels I am out of my league. I have never completed a novel, although I am quite an expert at starting them, and thus have never been through the process personally. All I can do is pass on some helpful tips gleaned from successful novelists.4378254447_bc78ac0aec_m

Almost universally, novelists advise that you finish the novel first before becoming too caught up in revision. Ray Robertson (our guest at yesterday’s WCYR meeting) likened writing a novel to “flying a plane while you are still building it.” He emphasized that there is not a lot of point in nit-picking when you are not sure of your final destination, and he prefers to just make notes along the way about things that he knows he will have to fix later. Critiquing mid-project can be damaging to one’s momentum.

Another piece of advice that most novelists give is that once you have finished your manuscript you should put it away in a drawer for a few months. When you come back to it you will have enough distance to see it with new eyes, and with more clarity. Only then can you start to reshape it with objectivity, energy and wisdom.drawer

Finally, it is helpful if you can enlist some beta-readers. Ideally you can find some friends in your writing community to exchange this service with. Beta-readers come from all kinds of perspectives and backgrounds. I’ve often offered to lend my mother out as a beta-reader for mystery novels because I know that she has read thousands of them. She would not be able to give highly technical opinions on the writing, but she could definitely give an informed opinion on how engaging, original, or interesting a new work is when compared to the “canon” of the genre. Your beta-readers do not have to be experts to provide excellent feedback.

The final step in having your novel critiqued, if you can find the resources to pay for it, is to have a professional editor review it. If you are lucky enough to entice a publisher to accept the book, the editing will usually be included in the process, although not always. Recently one of my friends had the publishing company (a division of Random House) send the book back to him with instructions for him to pay for a copy editor—they were willing to publish the book but not willing to invest much money in it. Once it was copy-edited they had their in-house editor do a final check and make sure that it conformed to their style guide, but they were forthright in stating that if he wanted his Sanskrit words spelled correctly that was up to him.4902389971_c80e7bbc10_m

If you are going via the self-publishing route I would advocate strongly that you hire a professional editor who has good credentials and experience in whatever genre you are publishing in.  The old adage that you get what you pay for is as true in this regard as any other. Do your research and check out your editor in the same way you would research a contractor for your home. (More on this in a future post).

My original plan for this post was to provide a useful list of qualities to look for when critiquing a novel. When I started to research the list I came across a website that already had what I think is an exceptionally good one, and the author (C.S. Lakin) should get the credit she deserves. Check out her suggestions at .

If you notice any items missing from the list, or have any other comments, please enter them in the comments box below. Was this post helpful to you? Let us know about that as well. We’re always looking for suggestions about topics. Until next time,

Happy writing,


Our next writing retreat will take place on Sunday, May 25, 2014.  We hope you can join us.

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Photo Credit for airplane: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit for drawer cat: Finn Frode, Denmark via Compfight cc

Photo Credit for abstract design: Bigstock



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