We all know how important a good critique partner is. They can help catch embarrassing typos, voice, plot holes the size of Canada, character development, plot development, resolution, etc. etc.
Getting the most out of your critique partners is easier than you think. I've been through several and really locked out with two or three. So I'd thought I'd pass on the advice and what I've found has worked. It really is a two-way partnership.
1. Find someone who reads or writes in your genre.
I cannot stress the importance of this. If you are writing a YA paranormal romance and your crit partner is writing an adult literary piece and doesn't typically read romance, you're off to a bad start. There are just elements that each of you will not mesh well on. You have to enjoy the genre and be familiar with it to be able to give good, sound advice. If you've never read a YA novel, you're not going to be able to catch things like voice. Or if you don't read or write fantasy, you're going to find yourself way out of your element.
2. Find and KEEP someone who won't blow smoke up, well, you know where.
The same goes for you. Don't be mean about it, but be HONEST. You're not helping someone by NOT telling them the truth. 8 out of 10 times, there's a good story in there, but the voice is off or the grammar is terrible, the plot is confusing, etc. My beta-chick is awesome in this way. She will flat out tell me when I'm not making any sense. And I love her for it.
3. Have someone crit your WIP.
Have someone crit your work in progress. Why? Because it's so much easier to fix big problems like plots and character development before you are typing "The End" and doing a happy dance. You can address problems as they arise not after you've finished. And who wants to have to basically start all over.
4. Write Notes
I do this. When I'm struggling with a scene or a character, I write a note in the manuscript (usually highlighted), asking the crit partner rather or not the scene is fleshed out, is it making sense, do you understand the motivation, or whatever it is. I find this really helpful when you are coming to the resolution on the plot.
5. Ask questions
I think handing your MS over to a crit and saying, "Have at it!" isn't the best approach. The crit partner doesn't know if you're looking for a line edit, a plot summary, feedback or pace and flow, or anything. What do you want from the crit partner? Ask questions at the end of the chapters so the crit partner's feedback is valuable. Let them know what you need and ask what they need. When I'm giving a MS and have no idea what to look for, I tend to be all over the place.
6. Know when to say No.
Start off with only a 3 chapter swap. Why? Let's be honest. We've all gotten MS's that we just couldn't get into, and forcing yourself to read a 93k MS with no interest isn't helping anyone. If you aren't interested, don't feel obligated to continue. This shouldn't be taken personally. Wouldn't you rather have good feedback instead of false kind because they didn't actually read it?
There are so many more tips out there. So it's caring and sharing time. What works for you and your crit partners? What doesn't?