No one said finding a good CP was easy– in fact, it’s probably one of the harder things you’ll do as a writer. So why invest the time and energy into finding one or several who really click with you?
A CP gets you experience having your work read by someone else who’s well-read in your field. You also get to read and write editorial letters, or use Word’s Track Changes (depending on which, or both, methods you two decide to use). Both of these are tools that editors in the industry use when they give feedback to their authors, so getting familiar with them early on is a definite plus.
You may also discover cool new tools. One of my CPs raves to me about how awesome Scrivener is and fields my weirdo questions with it. Another one suggests great YA reads to me so we can both keep on top of where the category is going. A CP’s usefulness doesn’t end when she finishes your manuscript: this is a person who is with you for the whole ride, from querying to agented to published (or any other paths that end in published, really).
CPs and beta readers are often mentioned together, but the terms tend not to be interchangeable. Usually, a beta reader reads manuscripts on more of a book-by-book basis. Maybe you want a second opinion on the setting since you’re not from the area your book is set in and you want to make sure that it’s done right. There’s less of the inner circle aspect that you and your CPs develop, but also less of a time investment. If you’re still figuring out who you want to CP with or if you don’t have the time to commit to a CP relationship, finding a beta can be a good option.
So, how do you find CPs?
My biggest advice here is to just put yourself out there in as many ways as possible. I found one of my CPs through How About We CP, a super useful tumblr maintained by a literary agent. Other people use Maggie Stiefvater’s CP Love Connection to great success. My CP and I started emailing and we discovered that we were just awesome wow much write and it’s been shibes and manuscripts ever since.
Another CP and I met over twitter when she asked for publishing intern bloggers and I offered to help. Not only did she get me a running start with blogging, but we also stumbled into being each other’s CPs along the way.
Most other people whom I exchange work with I’ve met through twitter (if you’re not on that platform, or less active over there, step it up!).
Okay, so let’s assume you’ve discovered a few people who sound cool/interesting, they like you as well, and you’ve decided to swap first chapters. Here are some questions to determining who might be a good match for you long-term:
Do you write in/have familiarity with the genres and categories the other writes in? This is kind of the big one, so I put it first. Familiarity with the genre and category your manuscript is in is indispensable.
Do you have similar goals? Like how we asked this in the agent blog, do you and you potential CP also want to get traditionally published and agented, or are you exploring different paths? Obviously there’s no embargo law saying NOPE IF YOU WANT XYZ PUBLISHING PATH YOU CANNOT CP WITH THIS ABC PERSON, but it’s sometimes helpful to have a CP with same goals as you.
You can ask each other about querying (and omg exchange chat hugs, party, etc depending on how that goes), whether the agent who’s offering rep is a good choice, should you accept this publisher’s contract, etc. Likewise, if you decide to go indie, having a CP who’s been down that path can be a huge help both with setting deadlines for yourself, locating formatters, editors, and cover artists, and budgeting time and costs.
How long do you plan to be in this game? Similar to career goals, how committed is your potential CP to staying in publishing? It’s not like you guys need to make a blood pact to be PUB BUDDIEZ 5EVA but it sucks when someone whose work you really liked and who you jived with as a friend decides that they’ve had enough after the first book (or gives up during querying). One thing you should discuss with people is contingency plans– will you continue to write and attempt to get published even if this manuscript doesn’t sell or does poorly?
How slow or fast a writer are you? Sometimes it’s hard to read and crit two of your partner’s manuscripts while you haven’t even finished your own. Do you need someone who writes more at your pace, or are you okay with helping out a faster/slower person revise? Most CPs tend to work this out on their own if they’re not evenly matched– like, for example, the faster CP may promise to give the slower CP’s work priority over her other manuscripts for a quicker turnaround time.
How brutally honest do you want critique? Chances are, if you’re seriously looking for publication you want as honest feedback as possible. Make sure that this is something you and your potential CP agree on– no one has to be mean about things they find that need work (mean/deprecating honesty is nowhere on the scale), but you do have to agree that you’re ready for whatever the other finds.
Are you writing things that your potential CP is okay reading? Let’s face it: really no one can predict everything they want to write/will write ever. Writers and their tastes change. But, if you know off the bat that you want to write edgier YA, perhaps with more explicit sex scenes, maybe consider checking in and making sure they’re still up for reading that.
In general, if you and your CP like the same type of books you’ll probably find that you have similar tastes for how edgy or dark you prefer to write.
Is their critique actually useful to you? Is your potential CP about at your level of writing or are they providing you comments that you value? Your time is important– once you start writing professionally and getting on deadlines it will become even more important. If someone is just not getting your manuscript or gives you feedback that doesn’t jive with your vision, they may not be the best match.
And that’s fine! It doesn’t mean you can’t be friends if you don’t click as CPs– it just means that you’re both mature enough to know what you need in a critique partner, and that you respect each other’s time enough to move on.
Are you willing to commit to a CP relationship? This seems kind of silly– obviously you wouldn’t be reading this page on finding CPs if you weren’t somewhat willing to put in effort–but it’s important to recognize that you are making a commitment to another person by agreeing to be their CP. It varies person to person– I have some CPs I speak with almost daily (and whom I am 100% there for any time of day) and others who I have a more relaxed relationship with, either over twitter DMs, occasional chats, or email.
No matter what kind of CP relationship you have, if it’s high-involvement, medium, or low, make sure you’re willing to put the time in. If it’s going to take you a while to get to a new manuscript from a CP, let them know. Put in your best quality work on notes, and be available to celebrate or mourn when something goes awesomely or catastrophically.
While you can’t share everything with the writing community at large, you can with your CP. I know they’ve helped me improve my writing and made my work the best it could be. Good luck!