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It's the golden goose of the writing business: a qualified critter who reads the whole novel. Every writer wants them, but few are able to find them. What makes a critter walk away from a novel? What can writers do to prevent it?
Sometimes real life gets in the way and a critter must take a break from projects. That happens often, and there isn't much you can do about it. In those situations, it's best to be polite, supportive, and selfless. But, if the novel is ready for forward progress, do what's best for the novel – don't flounder for six months because you're waiting for them to come back. Let them know you understand their situation, and then work on finding other critters.
Although personal obstacles can get in the way, in the majority of cases, critters stop because they don't like something about the project. These are the things you can do something about! However, it's best to address possible concerns early; an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure.
Let's discuss the most popular reasons why a critter drops a novel.
The genre or subject matter is not what they were led to believe
Every experienced critter knows this feeling. They're reading a lovely romance with a precocious female protagonist, and then – bam! – chapter five has a graphic rape scene. A little warning would have been nice! Or, perhaps the novel was advertised as a spy thriller, but halfway through the critter realizes they're stuck with a YA romance that has a very juvenile attempt to solve a mystery.
You must be absolutely honest about your genre and your storyline. Too often I've witnessed authors fudge on their genre to attract more critters. Don't get sucked into doing that. The truth will come out in the end, and you'll burn a bridge with a good critter.
Decide on a genre that accurately portrays your novel. Don't just vaguely say it's YA, for example; say it's YA life-on-the-street with a paranormal twist. If you're using a private queue on CC, take advantage of the description space to specifically describe your novel, making sure to disclose all relevant information. Yes you might lose some critters on the spot – but that's better than losing them on chapter 10 when they suddenly stop answering your messages.
Once an experienced critter has been burned with that a few times, they're reluctant to even consider novels when the author sounds evasive. That means your vague trying-to-please-everyone sales pitch will actually scare them off right away. It has the opposite effect of what you think! Be honest, precise, transparent, and darn proud of your genre. Critters will respect that – and it often impresses them enough to give you a chance.
Different levels of advancement between two writers
This can have a very negative effect on both sides. The less experienced beginner does little more than count the adverbs in a submission, or perhaps they even offer advice/correction that is totally wrong. Meanwhile, the more advanced person is stuck with a terrible submission that makes their eyes bleed.
Have an audition period where each side looks at chapter one. See what you're up against before you commit to a novel. If you don't think you'll be a good fit, it's best to speak up then – making yourself plow through it rarely works, and you'll find yourself avoiding their messages by chapter 10.
If you have your novel in a private queue on CC, it would behoove you to offer some sort of preliminary access to chapter one. Perhaps you submit the first chapter to a public queue and then show future critters where it lives in your archive. Maybe you use the note feature on CC to stick the opening scene on your profile. The fact is that many critters don't want to go through the hassle of joining a queue if they're nervous about leaving on chapter one. That's the single biggest obstacle critters face. Give them a solution.
Keep in mind that there's nothing to be ashamed of when two people are on different levels. Beginners need time to develop; they don't always need someone with high expectations telling them the whole thing is crap. If a more advanced writer is willing to withhold advanced feedback, that's great. But not every critter has the time to mentor a newbie. Recognize the difference, and walk away if necessary.
The second half of the novel is just plain boring or too far-fetched
You got the critter past chapter one… hooray! They're excited about the story. They say it has great potential. Then they find an infodump in chapter three, then the protagonist dies and somehow comes back to life, then we meet a strange character who has nothing to do with the plot, then… then… then… now it's chapter 12 and the protag hasn't gotten any closer to solving their problem.
Cue up the bored critter starting to avoid you. What else are they going to do, tell you 30,000 words of your novel are rubbish – especially if you said you're keen to get it published soon? When you make it clear that you're not interested in major edits, you will leave them no choice but to disengage.
If you got an agent or editor interested in the novel, and they told you the wheels came off in chapter 12, would you respond by saying you're not interested in changing it? If you wouldn't give that answer to an agent, don't give to a critter.
I strongly recommend that crit relationships start with chapter one and a synopsis. But you say you want critters to be surprised and to have the experience of a normal reader! News flash: critters are not normal readers. They know the inner workings, they're thinking about your market, and they're trying to help you prepare the novel for print.
Think of critters like a surrogate agent – because that's what they are. Give them an idea of your entire novel before they commit to critting. And if they say you totally lost them in chapter 12, be willing to find out why, no matter what number of drafts you've already gone through. After all, if the novel is practically perfect, why are you still asking for crits?
If you notice over time that their crits are coming later and they're offering less advice, take the initiative to ask for a reason. Even if a critter isn't worried about hurting your feelings, there often comes a point when they just feel blah toward a story, they feel like it's not all that interesting, and they don't know how to say that in a way that would be helpful. You can let the issue fester until they disappear, or you can talk about it, resolve it, or perhaps part ways as friends.
Personal chemistry/partnership problems
Nothing kills a crit friendship faster than making them feel like their advice is worthless. Be truly open to their feedback and truly transparent about your style. Yes, there are times when crit advice can be unhelpful, but the solution is not to argue about it. Set clear expectations of your style, tone, premise, and opinion on adverbs. If the critter is trying to work within those lines to help you, listen to their advice. If they want to change your style, politely disengage. Don't let it fester.
On a final note, always be sure to give as much as you take. If they send you pages of feedback on a chapter, don't just lazily count their adverbs in return. If you don't have time to crit as fast as they do, explain that up front and come to an agreement.
A good crit partnership is very much like a min-marriage. It takes time, investment, honesty, humility, and a belief in each other. The more hard work you put in at the beginning, the easier it will be for critters to finish.