Critter: (noun, dialect.) A reader who undertakes to provide a constructive critique or helpful feedback on behalf of the author of the piece being read.
Critters are great. Critters are indispensable to my writing process, and I suspect that 90% of successful writers have critters of some sort.
Where to find good critters can be a difficult problem. Non-writer friends are often not the best critters, because they don’t always understand what kind of detail is helpful to a writer. Writer friends can make good critters, but not when they’re busy with writing first drafts of their own.
Critter exchanges can be a very good arrangement, or writer’s circles in which the entire group acts as critters for each of the members in turn.
I’ve found some good critter exchanges on the ‘Nano swaps’ forum of the National Novel Writing Month online community, and I’m attend two local writer’s groups that do critiques of pieces that members bring in. I’ve even acted as a critter wrangler for the Stringing Words online forum, organizing their third CritMo (Critter Month) event and pairing up authors with volunteer critters who read their pieces and send in feedback.
Recently, I’ve also joined an amazing online workshop called… (drum roll please,) critters.org, which runs something like the same program on a much larger scale. Here’s how it works, basically:
- I submit my formatted short story manuscript, either by email or through a form on the critter.org site.
- My short story waits in line for several weeks, because there are a lot of other authors who have also submitted work to be critiqued and they only send out so many stories per week.
- In the meantime, I look at the manuscripts that have been sent out and pick at least one per week, critique it, and send my thoughts via the website or email, from whence they’re forwarded to the author. There’s an accounting system that keeps track of how many critiques I’ve sent in per week, scoring that as a percentage.
- Just before my story is about to be sent out for the critters to read and critique, the system checks my percentage score. If it’s 75% or lower, (meaning I haven’t at least sent in three critiques for every four months I’ve been a member,) my story gets put on hold, to be sent out some other week when I’ve improved my score.
- People read my story, and send their thoughts through critters, which get emailed to me!
- Everybody is VERY good about phrasing their thoughts diplomatically, because the critter Captain takes it very seriously if you start lecturing authors about how the three rules of writing are so-and-so and you’re doing this other thing wrong.
So – do you work as a critter for writers? If you’re a writer, where do you go to look for critters?