09 December 2009

How to Survive a Peer Review

by Linda Yezak

If you’re like me–and heaven help you if you are–you like to get occasional feedback on your current project just to see if it’s as wonderful as you think, or if it would be well-received, or to garner some much-needed encouragement. I thrive on the encouraging words of others; they spur me to write more and write more often. However, I get slapped with “Your writing is great, but . . . ” so often that I spend way too much time wound-licking and not enough correcting my errors.

I admit that I tend to submit my work for review too early, something I wouldn’t recommend to just anyone. I do it because someone else can catch things I’m not seeing, and the sooner I discover the problem the sooner I can fix it without having to do a major re-write. Since I write by the seat of my pants, fresh eyes on my work are necessary. But don’t be fooled–the reviews can also be painful.

Free peer review sites are wonderful primarily because they are free (there are tons of them in cyberland; one choice is AuthorNation). But they also come with built-in hazards: too many people saying different and sometimes conflicting things, too many who are honing their critiquing abilities at your expense, too many who don’t know how to express themselves without being rude, and way too few who actually know what they’re talking about.

Here is what I’ve learned from being a peer-review junkie:

1. Be gracious. The people who are honing their skills, who are learning how to write and how to critique, may not be the best sources of advice, but they are readers: Readers know what they like and what they don’t. Since they’re the stuff an author’s bank account is made of, it isn’t wise to blow them off–they may have a point you shouldn’t miss. Always be thankful for the time a person spends reading your work.

2. Put on your Teflon jacket. Like those who are honing their skills, those who are seemingly rude often have a point worth heeding. Lick your wounds if you must, but spend time analyzing what they wrote to see if they’ve given you some roses among the thorns.

3. Stick your ego in your pocket. This pearl of wisdom came from my writing buddy and critique partner, K.M. Weiland, and really should’ve been #1 on this list. If you view the words of a critique through the eyes of your ego, you’ll never grow as an author. The craft of writing is never learned entirely. It’s honed over the years, it’s organic in its changes, but it’s never fully mastered. Even the best of authors find ways to make themselves better.

Peer reviews are necessary. They can make the difference between a well-written book and a passable one--between one accepted by an agent/publisher and one destined for the self-pub route. I advise having your project subjected to review and critique, but let me remind you: Always be thankful for the time a person spends reading your work.

Linda Yezak teaches creative writing in Texas. Her novel, Give the Lady a Ride, was a finalist in the 2008 ACFW Genesis Competition and is in the editing stage. Linda is a frequent contributor to Christian Romance Magazine, an independent editor, and a critique partner/writing coach. She co-hosts AuthorCulture with two other authors. You can contact her at pprmint155@yahoo.com.

(Flickr illustration, "Peer Review," by Gideon Burton.)


  1. Great article. Receiving crits is one of those oh-so-necessary, but often oh-so-cringe-worthy, parts of writing. It's a necessary evil. I'm endlessly thankful for faithful crit partners, who are willing to be brutally honest with me.

  2. Excellent article.
    I agree with it whole-heartedly.
    One thing that I would add to it is to avoid using friends and family members as critiquers. They tend to tell you what they think you want to hear out of fear of hurting your feelings.
    As an interesting side note - I gave a copy of my novel "Living the Dream" to a newspaper reviewer once. After two months I emailed him asking about his progress. He told me that the book "wasn't his cup of tea" and hadn't finished it and therefore never written a review.
    I could be wrong - but isn't a reviewer's job to read the entire book and write his review - god or bad?

  3. This is exceptional advice.

    And I'd also like to mention that despite any drawbacks with sites like Author Nation, you meet some great people and wonderful resources.

    You'll get a feel very quickly for those who can offer useful feedback verses those whose insecurities prevent them from giving constructive criticism.

    I'm not sure about the newspaper reviewer, but I think they get to pick and choose what to write about. However, saying it wasn't "his cup of tea" is an issue of style and taste. You might want to submit it to people who have reviewed the work most similar to yours.

    I know there are certain genres that I just can't evaluate because I just don't have anything intelligent to say not being well read in them.

  4. @K.M. Weiland: "oh-so-cringe-worthy" is sooo right!

    @Tim: No kidding! Your mom and your friends are going to love everything you write. They're great for encouragement, but turn to critique partners for truth and advice! (As for the reviewer, unless you were paying him to review your book, he isn't obligated to read it.)

    @C.E. Bailey: Yes--there are drawbacks to all the sites, but you do meet some terrific people. And you do get a feel for folk's expertise pretty quickly!

  5. It can certainly be difficult to swallow our pride when it comes to our precious writing, but developing a thick skin and listening will only help us improve. Wonderful article!