Is it just me or should those who perform critiques be required to follow a code of ethics? (btw I did say I was heads down all this week to work on my book but I just had to get this in). Let me explain: whether you are a beta reader, a critique group member, a critique partner or an agent at a conference, agreeing to perform a critique should require a few standards. Specifically, what types of things NOT to do. I’ve had my work critiqued a few times so I know what my responsibility is as a writer: don’t take things personally, learn from the comments, make needed adjustments and incorporate only what is really useful. But what about the one who is giving the critique? It goes beyond just being constructive and pointing out both the good and the bad, it also requires and I emphasize, requires, some credibility standards. This is especially true if the person performing the critique is getting paid to do so, as in the case of agents at a conference (yes they get paid because the author has to pay for the critique as part of the conference). If you have hired someone to critique your work, as in an editor, it is within your rights to demand a credible critique. Just because someone has the credentials to critique does not mean they are necessarily credible. Personally, if I am shelling out some dough for you to comment on my work, I want the most for my money. The following are two inexcusable practices I’ve seen done that really should not happen in a quality critique.
Premature questions – I know you have all seen this in your manuscripts: the person uses track changes and before reading the entire 10-20 pages (or whatever the number) they stop prematurely and add a comment about something they usually find the answer to later on in the read. If you are performing a critique and you ask a premature question, have the courtesy to go back after you’ve found the answer and remove the comment.
Skimming – This should be a cardinal sin for anyone who performs a critique. We writers can tell when you have only skimmed the material. How? Because you end up asking questions again, this time because you skimmed the part that would have answered that question. This is especially insensitive and down right sinful if you are an agent getting paid to read for a conference. I’m not saying all agents do this, but many do, so I say to them, either agree to read fewer pages so that you can commit to doing a good job, or don’t do any critiques. It is not our fault that you did not have time to read the entire submission – most agents get these manuscripts well in advance of the conference. If you want us to be professional when we submit, be professional when you critique.
So now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I must say that some critiques I’ve had were great; very well done. But for those of you who are skimmers and premature-question-askers, p-l-e-a-s-e cease and desist!