When you critique your own or another person’s picture book manuscript you can use my Picture Book Cheat Sheet as a guide to probing questions and analysis. Get it here.
Besides this, be a good reader. Your feelings and opinions will go a long way, helping you discover what works and what doesn’t.
Your critique is an argumentative response to probing questions, feelings, and opinions, supported by evidence from the text or visuals.
After you have interrogated the content, develop an argument describing how and why the content does or does not aid the creator’s objectives. Refer directly to related best practices and identify textual or visual evidence to support your argument.
You will have to take notes (they could be mental notes) so you can provide detailed examples.
A good critique focuses on the content.
Straying from the content leads to problems, such as:
Provide a way forward. This does not mean you have to solve your partner’s problems. I become very suspicious of arguments that try too hard to solve my problems because they are prone to personal agendas, subjectivity, and misrepresentation.
Think along the lines of the 10-second rule: “If they can't fix in 10 seconds or less, don’t point it out.” Not really. Revising will always take longer than 10 seconds, but if there is not a clear and simple way to fix the problem, then there is not a path forward and you will leave your partner feeling lost.
Before you deliver your argument, analyze it as well. Be sure you can constructively deliver the argument.
There is no need to mince words. A direct and honest critique is the best way to get to the point and let someone else have the floor.
Start on a positive note, and end on a positive note (a Bad News Sandwich). I don’t like the bad news sandwich personally, because it suggests that critique is a negative thing. A critique is not about listing everything bad; it is about building.
Nevertheless, it is important for a healthy critique group that everyone leaves feeling like the experience was constructive. Because bad news is louder than good news, starting on a positive note and ending on a positive note will emphasize the constructive experience.
Finally, if multiple people support a critique, or say the same thing, there must be something to it. So, if you agree with someone else’s critique, chime in. It will let your partner know to pay attention.
Let me give you an example of a good critique following the points above:
“If your audience is 6 to 8-year-olds, who are reading books on their own, then you likely want to select words that are challenging but simple to understand from context. Words on lines five, ten, and twelve are difficult words to pronounce and understand without assistance.”:
A Good Critique Is:
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Hi, my name is Cory Shaw. I am an author and illustrator of books and book covers for children.
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