Critique Partners are like a great pair of panties.

Supportive yet comfortable and they keep those embarrassing seams from showing. (And now it’s a little creepy I just compared my CP’s to panties. Can we say “awkward?” Oh the joys of being CPs with me.)

Today, boys and girls, you’ll be schooled in the Critique Partner Panties Selection process. There will be a three part essay quiz at the end, so pay attention. For those men reading this post, don’t get your panties in a wad. Substitute thong for boxer briefs, granny panties for tidy whites, and boxers for boy-shorts and you’ll get the picture.

Why do you need a critique partner? You might as well ask why you need panties. Or nose hair? Or those small plastic tips at the end of your shoestrings? Sure, you can function without them but isn’t life just a little smoother when you have those things? (Someone call the Rhetorical Question Police, please.) There’s no free-balling it or going commando in writing. You can’t do this on your own. Sure you can pay freelance editors, but they won’t have the heart to tell you, you suck. (And friends, family or neighbors do not qualify as CPs. See “Hard Truths Every Writer Should Accept” post, paragraph 8.) Moving on.

Picking out a CP is as easy as picking out your panties. Don’t get over-supportive granny panties. Don’t get loose panties that constantly give you a wedgie. Or worse, too small panties that give you plumber’s crack. Maybe you’re a low-rise boy-short, kind of girl. Or maybe, you need the bikini-cut cheeksters. And hey, don’t underestimate the sleek Hanky Panky thong to do the trick. Or if you’re like me, yes to all three. (Now my CPs are wondering what pair of panties they are.)

Critique partners come in all shapes and sizes. Different people have different skills at various levels. Some are better at over-arching big picture kind of stuff, and others are great copy editors. Whether you need hand holding, hardcore truth tellers, detail police, character developers, voice aficionados, or maybe a mix of all the above, knowing what you need before you begin the relationship is key.

The best way to find out what kind of CP they are, work with them. I’d suggest exchange sample pages, the first ten. (Never exchange panties with your CP, that’s just weird and gross.) Sometimes the first ten pages are all you need to bow out gracefully. But if ten pages works, then graduate to first three chapters. First pages can be well polished so reading up to three chapters is good before you commit all in. THEN if both of those go well, maybe their entire manuscript.

Things to analyze from the critique: Do you like their style? Was their critique helpful? (And I don’t mean a kiss-your-ass-how-awesome-are-you critique.) Can you CP their manuscript painlessly in return? Critiquing is a “I’ll read yours if you read mine” partnership. Your time as a writer is valuable, use it wisely.

Where do I purchase one of these fluffy, cuddly critique partners? First off, if your CP is fluffy and cuddly, cut them loose. Cheerleaders won’t get the job done. Also, if your CP is just the opposite: cranky, noisy, whiny, defensive, immobile or berating. Ditch them like a bad prom date! But I digress. This is where the sucky part comes in; it takes time to find several good critique partners. Until you have your own YA Mafia, it might take you a while to settle in a CP relationship. In the meantime, here’s where to look. Fellow bloggers or twitterers you’ve become buddies with is a good place to start. Or like me, I found a great CP though Natalie Whipple’s blog, where she offered to play for CPs. (I’ve toyed around with doing a CP matchmaker on my blog. If I get enough interest I might.) Or how about the wonderful people you meet at conferences and now you’ve become besties with them and you call them your “girlies” and you have sleepovers and writer’s retreats and wear matching pink fluffy slippers together….okay, maybe not the slippers, yet.

Relationships change and dissolve. Don’t become dismayed. Sometimes those cotton bikini-cut panties no longer work.Maybe you’ve out grown them, like those days of the week panties you had as a little girl. You’re looking to be more adventuresome with a g-string. It could be that you or your CP have moved on to a different project. Sometimes life gets in the way for one or both of you and you can’t maintain a reasonable level of courtesy. Whatever the reason, breaking up shouldn’t be high school drama, leave that for the manuscript. Bow out gracefully, with no hurt feelings if the relationship is no longer needed or simply isn’t a good match.

You will find the perfect pair of panties. Not the kind that cover your butt like a wide load sign. No these perfect panties come in every color, even electric neon pink. And when Vicky’s is having a sale, you buy twelve pairs of the “Any 3 for $33.” You’ve got the prettiest panties in the lot. You strut around in your hot pants, thinking you’re the shit. Because you are, baby. Yeah, that’s what if feels like to have an arsenal of critique partners in your pocket.

Like your momma always told you, make sure you always have on clean underwear, you never know when you’re going to be in an accident. Same advice applies when you query your manuscript. Nothing like skid marks to get an automatic rejection from agents. (Oh yeah, I went there.)

Moral of the story: Critique partners, get one damn it.