Critique Groups

To follow up on my most recent post, I wanted to finish my thoughts about what to consider when starting a critique group. The first three considerations were to select the genre your group will be working in, to decide whether your group is an in-person group or an online group, and to actually find the appropriate members for your group.

Today, I’ll finish with two more thoughts:

1. How many people should be in your group?

I don’t believe there are any hard and fast rules to this, and you may have to do some trial and error to see what works best. My Picture This picture book group has eight, and we work to keep it at eight, so if someone has to drop out, we’ll scramble to find someone new. Eight works for us because each person submits every two months.

Considerations when you’re trying to decide on size will be: how often do you want people to submit their work, and how many is too many when it comes to critiquing your work? I’ve been in groups larger than eight, and I’ve found that having too many people can really slow the process down, although you then have the advantage of having more eyes look through all the manuscripts.

Bottom line answer: I don’t know! It’s truly whatever works best for your group. If you decide to have only a few people, you may find yourself stretched to get your work in on time, unless you have large gaps between submissions.

2. Form some loose guidelines for how your group will operate. This is simply to keep everyone on track and to let members know upfront what is expected in terms of participation. It’s not to create a critique group police state.

Simple guidelines that tell members exactly how to submit their work (if you’re sending online), when to submit (create a submission schedule that carries you through six months to a year), and that offers some critiquing tips is all very helpful, especially to writers who may be new to critique groups.

If you’re meeting in person, it’s best to send the manuscripts to the group ahead of time so that when you meet, everyone has had a chance to look through the drafts and write down their comments. You may want to include some guidelines as to how this process will work. Guidelines will help members be better prepared and will create a smoother process for your group overall.

If you’ve started a critique group or have been a “founding member” of one, what tips or advice can you share?

Be sure to stop back next Monday, February 15th, as I will be hosting award-winning children’s author Nancy I. Sanders on her virtual book tour for her new release, America’s Black Founders.

See ya then!

Many people ask about critique groups–are they important, how do you find a good one, and how do you start your own? I’ve already addressed the importance issue in a previous post, so today I’d like to talk about how to start your own.

I struggled for years trying to find a group I could physically meet with to review my work. Because of small children at home, scheduling conflicts, and not wanting to drive across town every week, I gave up. Then I was presented with an opportunity to get involved in an online critique group. That was over a year ago. The group started getting so big, that we had a wait list. Once the wait list got long enough, I broke off from the original group and formed my own. I now facilitate this group, which is a children’s writers’ critique group, called Picture This.

From my experience with this, I’d like to discuss several considerations when trying to start a group:

1. Choose the genre you want your group to focus on. This will probably be a natural byproduct of what you are forming a group for in the first place, but if you have several writer friends who want a critique group, but you all write in different genres, you’ll find yourself with two options: either leave the group open to all genres, which can get tricky if you have too many people who have no experience with certain ones, or choose just one or two you can focus on.

2. Decide on an online or in-person group. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Online is obviously great because you can connect with people anywhere. We currently have a member who lives in the UK, which offers an excellent perspective and insight on the UK publishing  market. Additionally, you don’t have to worry about scheduling conflicts or not making it to a meeting because you’re snowed in (like I am right now). Being able to meet in person is good because you can have in-depth conversations with your members about their work and share critiques in person, which eliminates email “tone” problems.

3. Finding group members. Good places to start when you’re looking for critique group members are local writers’ workshops, writers’ conferences, writer friends and their referrals, mentors, and online writing forums or blogs. One note of warning is to be careful when inviting friends into your group. You may have a great relationship now, but once you start prodding in their manuscripts, you may see a side of your friends that you didn’t know existed!

Another tip is to try to find members who have a similar experience level. It’s helpful to have a couple of members who are more experienced if they’re willing to serve as mentors for the group. If possible, find people strong in different areas of writing. For instance, in my children’s critique group, we have a couple people who are amazing at developing rhyming texts. Others are very strong with plot development; others in word choice or character development. You may not know strengths until you are in a group together, but it makes for a very well-rounded critique group if you can find such members.

Next time we’ll talk about how many members is best and developing group guidelines.

In a word, YES. Whether you’re just starting out as a writer or are already a veteran, critique groups can provide many benefits. Let’s face it, critiquing your own work is useless. You’re either going to love everything you write, or you’ll be so hard on yourself that you’ll never make any progress. You’ll stay stuck in the mud, constantly revising your work. Critique groups can provide just the jump start you need to give stale ideas a breath of fresh air, help you figure out an ending to your mystery story, or find just the right word to appeal to the four-year-old audience for your picture book.

Good critique groups offer the perfect balance of constructive criticism and encouragement. In addition to editing and critiquing each other’s work, they are also great places to network, gain new leads, and learn about market trends.

Some words of wisdom when hooking up with a critique group: don’t be in the same group as writer friends, unless you are very good friends who are able to be honest with each other. It’s not worth ruining a friendship over differences in plot line. Also, learn to be open to constructive criticism, and don’t take negative remarks about your work personally. Remember, the idea behind critique groups is that your work will be critiqued! Get used to it!

Once you start looking, you’ll realize that many critique groups exist. If you’re part of a writers’ group, that’s a great place to start your search. If your group doesn’t have one, considering starting your own. You can also check with colleges, libraries, or bookstores in your area.

Another great option is finding or starting an online group. I used to be involved with a local critique group that met twice a month at a coffee shop. But with kids’ activities and my own busy schedule, it didn’t last long. An online group was perfect for me. I now facilitate an online picture book group with members from all over the U. S. We even have one member from the U.K.!

One other tip for being involved in critique groups. Most will focus on a particular genre: children’s, youth, nonfiction, fiction, sci-fi, etc. Even though you may classify yourself in a certain genre, it may be worth your time to check out a critique group that’s outside your niche. I’m pretty much a nonfiction writer, but I once joined a fiction group to learn about writing dialogue, how to pace a story, and how to liven up boring facts! This one group added invaluable tips for my nonfiction writing.

Be adventurous and try something new. A critique group is the perfect, safe place for doing just that!

For aditional tips on starting or being a part of an effective critique group, check out these articles from Chip MacGregor’s blog and Blogs about Critique Partners.