5 Signs Your Reading Partner Is A Dud

Original images by Leah Kelley & Markus Spiske

Finding a great reading partner(s) can be like finding a needle in a haystack—you’ll likely go through plenty of perfectly fine writers before you find that one reading partner perfectly fit for your work. It can be hard to tell a good fit from a great fit, so here are five tell-tale signs your reading partner is better fit for someone that’s… well, not you. 


1. They’re your (mother/best friend/SO)

A great reading partner will have your work at the center of their critique, not your feelings. That’s not to say that a great reading partner won’t also protect your feelings when delivering not-great news—it means you can trust them to provide real feedback and not sugar-coated gum drops in the form of little hearts and smiley faces in the margin comments. Your reading partner doesn’t have to be a fellow writer, but it does have to be someone who can read like a writer. And as much as your mother/best friend/SO loves you, you can’t trust them to tell you when they don’t love your work. Do yourself a service, and find a reading partner who will tell you the honest truth. This is going to be someone who hasn’t seen you naked or wiped your baby butt (and whatever weird things you and your besties do—I don’t wanna know.) 

2. They don’t read in your genre

We need specifics, people. Look for a reading partner that is able to pinpoint the whys in their feedback.

I mentioned that a reading partner doesn’t have to be a writer. This is true! You can find a non-writing reading partner (and they can be great picks, too)—but they have to be very familiar with the genre you write in. Each genre has unique quirks and hallmarks. Someone not attuned to those quirks and hallmarks may miss them, or worse, steer you away from them simply because they’re not familiar. Just as we would expect any writer to read in their chosen genre, the reading partner should read widely in the writer’s genre as well. 

3. They like—no, LOVE— everything (or they dislike—no, HATE everything) 

We ask for feedback on our writing because we want just that—feedback. While feedback such as “I liked it!” or “I hated it” is technically feedback, it’s certainly not helpful feedback. Why did you like it? Why did you hate it? We need specifics, people. Look for a reading partner that is able to pinpoint the whys in their feedback. A good reading partner will point out craft specifics, such as “the pacing is slow here,” or “the character’s motivation doesn’t seem clear enough,” etc. Receiving the liked it/hated it feedback is a sure sign of a reading partner in need of more critique expertise. Unless you just want a pat on the back (or you’re a masochist,) keep looking.

4. They don’t meet deadlines 

Ghost me once, fool on me. It only takes one time to be ghosted by a reading partner before they make my “do not send” list. I have perfectly fine people on my “do not send” list. I have dear friends and long time writing pals on that list. We’re still dear friends and pals—but I will look elsewhere for feedback. It’s okay to miss a deadline, or to ask for an extension once or twice. Shit happens, especially in this shit happens world. It’s totally okay if you need or want more time to read. Just ask. But reading partners that blow past your deadlines without notice—or worse, don’t respond at all—are reading partners that do not value your work or your time. Thus, their feedback can’t always be trusted (Were they rushed because I nudged them? Was it so bad they don’t want to talk to me or see me ever again??) Life’s too short. Get yourself a reading partner that makes their deadlines (no matter how arbitrary they are.) 

5. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder

The very worst reading partner of all is the reading partner with a chip on their shoulder. They’ve been rejected one too many times. They’re stuck in their own work. They got their own bad feedback from a bad reading partner and now they’re going to take all that hurt and pain and place it squarely at your feet, you asshole. How dare you. It’s hard to tell when someone is critiquing out of a place of hurt, but there are some giveaways. Perhaps they nitpick on small potato details that don’t have anything to do with the manuscript or craft. Maybe you find yourself recoiling from each of their comments thinking “Ouch,” but when you look back, you can’t tell what exactly rubbed you the wrong way. It’s one of those things that if you know, you know. Even if it’s not because of a chip on their shoulder—if you’re receiving feedback from a partner that is just making you uncomfortable and it has nothing to do with craft, it’s a good idea to find someone else. 


These are a few of the most common reading partner “red flags” out there. Like I said before, I have plenty of dear friends and long-time pals on my “do not send” list. It’s not personal. It’s about finding what serves your work best. Take plenty of test drives to amass your stable of go-to readers. 

What are some of your reading partner red flags? 

Lisa Bubert

Column by Lisa Bubert

Lisa Bubert is a writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Puerto del Sol, Washington Square Review, Carolina Quarterly, Cleaver Magazine, and more. Her story “Formation” was named a finalist in the Texas Institute of Letters Kay Cattarrula Award for Best Short Story. She has been nominated for Best Small Fictions 2020. She works a day job as a librarian and a staff member at the Porch Writer’s Collective, where she leads Lit Mag League, a literary journal reading club, and Draft Chats, the Porch’s group for critique and writer support. 

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