Critique Like a Sandwich

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-2-03-22-pmSo, my last post talked about how EGO is not for EDITING, and we got into a discussion about giving and receiving feedback, which turned into – HOW CAN I BE A BETTER CRIT PARTNER?

  1. Be Aware of Bias
  2. Critique Like a Sandwich – ALWAYS smoosh the not so great things, with the great things
  3. Author needs. Are they sending you a first draft? Or something that’s already seen a few rounds?

Critiques and Edits are designed to make a manuscript better. Keep that idea in mind as you’re leaving notes.


We don’t realize sometimes how our own tastes play in to a novel. BE AWARE OF THIS. I try and tell the author what my biases are right away – “Please know that the notes along this thread are coming from someone who doesn’t read much fantasy.” Or “You might want to have someone else give feedback on this section, because this feels similar to something I just wrote/read” Or “I know love triangles can really work, but I find that I’m super critical, so keep that in mind when you read my notes on that thread.”

This is SO helpful for the author.

Be aware of what kind of mental space we’re in. I’ve had some crits that were borderline mean. Those don’t help me as a writer, they definitely won’t make me MS better, and the process of reading my book clearly didn’t go well for the reader. If you’re not in a good mental place, just say no. That’s allowed.

There have been times when I’m reading, and I mark a particular thing – let’s say “JUST” and by the time I’m on page 300, I want to die a little when that word comes up. You know what? The author already knows from your previous notes. Make a broad note – Watch the use of X, XX, and XXX, and then stop marking those. Otherwise your notes are going to come off as rude, snarky, or will do more damage than help.


Sprinkle the good with the bad. Always.

™Specifics—explain why something isn’t working. Or if you’re not sure why it’s not working, do your best to say that the action feels wrong somehow and let the author figure it out.

™Avoid “You”—instead of “You’re not making sense here” use “This is a little confusing.”

™Phrasing—in lieu of saying “I dislike your MC,” say, “I’m not sure I understand where your MC is coming from. What is it about her/him that makes her/him behave in this way?”

™Back up opinions—prepare yourself for questions.

™Suggestions—Don’t just say, “Change this.” Give a helpful alternative. (NOTE: When I’m critiquing for people I’ve critiqued for a lot, I sometimes just say – DO BETTER, b/c they know me, and I know them. I specifically don’t like suggestions, but I’m clear with my beta readers. I’ll ask if I want specific suggestions after they’re finished reading) Very often, I’ll use “CONSIDER: And then lay out a useful alternative” – My Copyeditor at AW Teen does this, and I love it because something about that phrase makes me feel like there’s more room to it right and also to do it my way.

All of these things being said – I believe that authors should solve their own problems – the solutions will normally come much more naturally to the story, but the solution might take longer w/o help.


No one should be doing a line edit on a first draft. Make sure you ask the author where they’re at with edits.

Do they want any notes in the text of the novel? Or just general thoughts after?

Are they feeling solid in the storyline and now want someone to help them look for typos or misused words?

Are other people reading the MS? How many? I’ll never do line notes, or anything more intense than general story thoughts, if the author has sent the MS to more than just me. It is a colossal waste of time to mark missed words and commas, when someone else is probably marking the same thing.

I’m of the opinion that fine line edits and copy edits should always be done by a pro, not your crit group, unless your crit group is full of pros.

If you’re hazy on levels of edits, I chat about that HERE

More than anywhere else I’ve been, I love how writers support one another. And like anything and everything else, being a good criticial reader is a skill that needs to be practiced 🙂

PLEASE NOTE: Part of this post was inspired by a class I taught with the fabulous CASSIE MAE of Cookie-Lynn Publishing Services.

Happy Reading!

~ Jo




Published by Jolene Perry

Hiker. Occasional Yogi. Equestrian. Couch potato. Music lover. Mediocre guitar player. Sailor. Tailor. Home body. Traveler. Enjoys suffering from being interested in everything. Co-founder and instructor at Waypoint Author Academy. Rep'd by Amy Bishop of Dystel, Goderich, and Bourret.

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