I’m assuming that many of my readers have at one point been, if not currently are, part of a critique group. If not–join one! They are truly invaluable–as well as an excellent test of character and patience! This post, however, is not to espouse the virtues of critique groups, but rather to discuss what to do after your manuscript has been shredded–I mean properly and rigorously critiqued–by your group of writing experts. Your options are:

1) cry

2) retaliate

3) learn and grow  from the comments

Let’s move directly to #3, since you’ve probably already tried #1 and #2 and discovered they were both rather unproductive.

The first thing to do after receiving your well-commented on manuscript is to make sure that you actually understand everyone’s comments. Do this immediately. If you wait too long, the person may not fully remember why she wrote what she did and what was going through her mind at the time–which is the precise information you need to have. Don’t assume you know exactly what someone is talking about in regards to a suggestion that has been made. If you’re not 100% positive what the comment means, ask.

Similarly, if you’ve received comments suggesting that you do something differently, or don’t do certain things, but there are no examples of alternative ways of doing it, again, ask if you’re not sure. For example, if a critiquer writes “Dialogue not believable in this scene,” find out why it’s not believable and what the critiquer’s idea would be to change it into something more believable. If you don’t know how to make your work better based on a critique, then the critique is useless.

Once you know that you have total understanding of all the comments, start with the small stuff–the quick and easy fixes–like grammar, small plot or character inconsistencies, re-writing awkward sentences, and so forth. This will help remove some of the clutter of notes off your manuscript, and you won’t get bogged down with details while you’re working on the larger revisions.

For the bigger issues, take each comment to heart, giving them serious consideration. We’re often too quick to dismiss good advice because we may not immediately agree with it. Think through how your story or nonfiction piece would change if you applied your group’s suggestions.

Don’t be too quick to revise after a critique, unless you are certain that the particular suggestion is 100% on target. Mull over the comments for a while and allow those parts of the manuscript to sit. Not only will this help you view the comments more objectively by distancing yourself from your emotional attachment to what you’ve written, but you may be able to see your manuscript from your critiquer’s perspective more clearly after you’ve been away from your manuscript for a while.

If you do decide to incorporate suggestions, but don’t know exactly how, ask your group for help. Have a brainstorming session with them to help generate ideas of how you can effectively make their comments work for you. That’s what they’re there for!

Remember that you are ultimately the one in control of your book. If a comment doesn’t set right with you and the direction your story is heading, simply toss it aside. Along those same lines, when you do send your manuscript back to your group for another read, don’t feel you must defend your position. Your group members will respect your decision, whether or not you’ve used their suggestions, because they know their turn is next!

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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.