DIY Critique Group

Having trouble finding a writers’ critique group that works for you?  I was in that spot two years ago. Then I received an email from an author who had relocated to New Orleans. Missing her group from California, she decide to start one here. The following tips are a combination of how she organized the start-up and how we have evolved over the past months.

  • Determine what genre(s) of writing you want submitted to the group. One of the groups that didn’t work for me included critiques of any type of fiction. I was the only children’s author and the gamut of adult books we critiqued ran from mystery, sci-fi, romance, Christian, Steampunk, to erotica. While I have no problem with any of these, and there were some excellent authors in the group, I felt that critiquing with people who wrote for  a similar reading audience would be more productive for me.
  • Audition applicants to the group. Knowing that she wanted to limit participants to writers of middle grade and young adult fiction, the woman organizing our group contacted the regional advisor of our local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She asked her to send an email to chapter members about the critique group she was forming. Interested persons were requested to submit a short query letter and a ten page writing sample from a current manuscript. From these submissions, she chose participants she thought would work well together.
  • Pick a meeting place. Most public libraries have meeting rooms that can be reserved and are free, but usually participation in the group must be open to the public. Some coffee shops have meeting rooms, but often charge a fee.  Our first few meetings were held at a neighborhood chain restaurant. I don’t recommend this option. We weren’t guaranteed a table and noise sometimes interfered with our discussions. We thought about taking turns meeting in each others’ homes, but that wasn’t feasible for everyone. For the past eighteen months we’ve been meeting in a conference room in my husband’s office which is centrally located for the group and has free parking.
  • Determine the desired number of participants and how often the group will meet. These two seem to go hand in hand and are directly related to the type of critique you expect to do. We started with nine participants and met monthly. At that time, we each submitted ten pages of our manuscript by email to every member of the group at least two weeks before the next meeting. At the meeting, we discussed each selection and gave the author a written critique. This was okay for a while, but it became difficult to remember where you had left off in each story the month before and have a feel for the story arc. Our critiques became mainly line edits, and this wasn’t what any of us were looking for.                                                                               We now meet approximately every six weeks and critique a whole manuscript that has been submitted by email from a designated member a month in advance of the meeting. At the meeting, we each give a verbal critique of the manuscript and turn over a written analysis to the author. Unless she is asked a question, the author does not speak until all critiques have been given, at which point we discuss the novel as a group. Right now, this is working for us.
  • Length and time of meeting. This depends on the schedules of group members. We find meeting from 6:30PM to 9:00PM works for us.

I’d love to hear about your critique group. What is working well and what would you like to improve? What suggestions would you offer someone wanting to start up a group?

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