Many, if not most, of you probably don't. But it bears reading, since we all are cut from the writer's cloth, and could stand the occasional reminder.
Etiquette Rule Number One: Always sit on your hands while reading critiques of your work.
Think about it. You fearlessly (or fearfully, as the case may be) post your 250 words and await the critical words of your peers. The critiques start to roll in, and--horrors! Someone has misunderstood your main character. Or someone doesn't understand how you got from Point A to Point B. Or how you could possibly get to Point C. Or how an armless man was able to untie a triple square knot just in time to save your heroine from death by poisonous snake, a scenario which another critter had trouble understanding because the snake seemed to be speaking telepathically to the armless man, but there weren't any italics.
What happens next?
Your pointer finger gets twitchy, and before you know it, you are in the comment box, feverishly explaining yourself, lamenting the 250 word cut-off, trying to help the critters understand that your work makes perfect sense, and that they only need to understand this, that, and the other thing about your characters, setting, and overall story arc, not to mention your degree in Hoplocephalus Telepathy.
My dear, fellow authors: Don't. Do. It.
Resist the urge to explain yourself in the comment box. Restrain yourself from the "But...but...but..." that is sputtering from your lips as you read the critiques of your excerpt. Remember the following:
- Not every story resonates with every reader.
- Not every critter is going to "get" your genre.
- Not everything you write is as clear as you think it may be.
- Critique sessions of this nature are not meant to be debate sessions. Take what you receive in the spirit in which it was intended. Read with a grain of salt. Read with a heart open to learn, a mind willing to receive correction. Look for patterns in the critiques. Have seven different people expressed the same point of confusion? Seven people? They might be on to something. Listen carefully. Examine your work. Take the advice that best resonates with you. Leave the rest quietly behind.
You are so kafluffled by a certain critique that you email the critter in an effort to express your offense, chagrin, frustration, or whatever it is you feel you need to express.
Um. This is something you should absolutely never do.
I don't care if your email is couched in the friendliest terms possible. I don't care if you don't have a mean bone in your body and aren't capable of writing something "mean." This isn't about "mean;" it's about "inappropriate."
Friends, critiques are a gift. They are a gift of time, a gift of thought, a gift of generous spirit. Receive them as such, and do not take things further. The only personal communique that would be appropriate is a thank you. Plain and simple.
It is always okay to thank a critter for his time and critique. And I don't mean "thank you for loving my story!" I mean, "Thank you for your helpful critique." As in, the critter may have ripped your work to shreds, but you're still saying "thank you" because you know how valuable that rippage is.
If a certain critique has your hair standing on edge, go take a brisk walk. Get over it. Move on. Keep writing.
Remember this, too: It's all about the writing. In the end, an agent, an editor, or the reading public isn't going to care that you have a degree in ornithology or that you spent three years researching the effect of lava flow on the mating habits of brush-dwelling mustelids or that everyone in the East Weloria Public Library Critique Club loved your novel right from the first draft. They are going to care about the story. Or not care about it.
In short, this is a highly subjective business. Don't make it more complicated, more uncomfortable, than it needs to be.
And don't take advantage of the kindness and generosity of your critters by questioning them or responding defensively to their critiques. You may end up stabbing yourself in the foot with your quill, and ending up with fewer folks willing to critique for you.
Final word of wisdom: Never love your manuscript more than you appreciate your critters.
That about says it. And for the record, I deeply appreciate each of you who have given so much of your time and talent to this blog. Thank you.
*shuffles note cards into tidy pile, steps away from podium, exits stage, devours waiting chocolate*
(Tomorrow: The next 5 "First 1000 words". Critters, get ready for the fun!)