Part III of Laura Gehl’s exploration and discussion of Critique Groups for writers. This is the final entry. For earlier entries: Part I and Part II. Many thanks to Laura for this clear-eyed view of critique groups!
Welcome to Part III of my critique group series. If you haven’t read Part I (about the benefits of critique groups) or Part II (about different critique group formats), please feel free to go back and visit them. This post will focus on how to find or set up a new critique group. And if you are joining or starting a critique group, reading through the benefits and difficulties of different formats as I discussed in Part II will probably be very helpful to you as well!
Where can I find an existing critique group or find other writers interested in starting a new group?
1) Check with your local SCBWI chapter and other local and national writing groups/organizations
2) For picture book writers, Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 is a great place to find a critique group
3) Use your Facebook, twitter, and other social media accounts (State what type of group you are looking for or trying to start. Ask others to share. If you aren’t already connected to/following lots of writers, start making those online connections now.)
4) Directly email writers you know. Even if they aren’t looking for critique partners themselves, they may know of groups with openings or other writers looking for groups.
5) Attend conferences, workshops, classes, and/or retreats, then contact the other participants afterward.
6) Put up notices in bookstores, coffee shops, and libraries.
If I am looking for a group, or trying to start a new group, what should I be looking for thinking about?
1) Think about whether you want everyone in your group to write the same type of books. I have one critique group that is all picture books, and it is amazing, because everyone has a huge knowledge base related to picture books. But I have one critique group that is for all types of kidlit, and that is amazing too, because people are bringing different perspectives and if I decide to write a dark YA fantasy (this is not going to happen), I can bring it to those same trusted people. Of course, if everyone in a group writes dark YA fantasy and you write rhyming board books, it might not be the perfect fit for you.
2) Think about what kind of rules are important to you, and how rigid you want them to be. Do you want a group where everyone has to submit every month? Do you want a group where you can send your partners manuscripts at any time? For an in-person group, do you want the author whose work is being critiqued to stay silent? Or are you okay with that author joining in the discussion during the critiques? If you are critiquing longer works, how many pages are okay to send at once?
3) If possible, find critique partners that you like personally and whose writing you respect. Of course, you don’t have to like your critique partners personally in order for them to give you valuable advice and vice versa…but you will feel more comfortable with people you like, and any time you spend together in person will be more enjoyable!
4) Make sure everyone agrees to be honest—with kindness—and make sure you are ready for that honesty. If you want someone to tell you that your writing is great and that you shouldn’t change a thing, ask a spouse, parent, or non-writing friend. But your critique group is for having people tell you what isn’t so great. (And when they tell you part of your story IS fabulous, it will be all the more meaningful.)
5) For an in-person group, think about where you want to meet. Maybe someone’s home, a coffee shop, a library, a restaurant. Think about whether you want your meetings to include meals, snacks, or neither. Think about how far you are willing to travel, and if you want to rotate meeting locations to be closer to (or at) different members’ homes or keep a central location for all meetings.
6) Look for, or set the stage for, stability and commitment. The longer a group is together, the more the members trust each other and can be open and honest with both critiques and industry questions/advice.
7) Don’t expect your critique group to do the hard work for you. They may tell you your ending is weak, but they don’t have to think of a new one for you. They may tell you your character isn’t remarkable enough, but they don’t have to tell you how to make that character stand out. Wonderful critique partners may suggest ways to fix the problems they point out, but often their ideas will just be springboards for you to figure out how to solve the problems yourself.
8) Look for writers with a similar level of skill and similar goals. Not everyone in the group has to be on the same level, but make sure some of the writers in the group are on your level.
9) If you’ve never been in a critique group before, remember that you DO NOT have to take everyone’s advice all the time. It’s perfectly okay to take what rings true to you and discard the rest.
10) If you join a group and it falls apart, or a group you have high hopes for isn’t a good match after all, don’t lose heart. The perfect group for you is out there—or you can start it yourself. Good luck!
Laura Gehl is the author of picture books and board books including ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR, the PEEP AND EGG series, MY PILLOW KEEPS MOVING, and I GOT A CHICKEN FOR MY BIRTHDAY. She has four books releasing in spring 2019: DIBS! (illustrated by Marcin Piwowarski, Lerner); EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T (illustrated by Joshua Heinsz, Little Bee); BABY OCEANOGRAPHER and BABY ASTRONAUT (illustrated by Daniel Wiseman; HarperCollins).