Finding a good critique group can be as difficult as finding that elusive pair of perfect-fitting jeans. Don’t commit to a group too soon. Make certain to find a good fit. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Make certain that you enjoy the writing style of the people you are committing to critique. I’ve been in groups before where I wasn’t excited about a particular writer’s voice (meaning the sound of their writing) or the content of their manuscript. Know what happened every week? I’d wait until an hour before group and force myself to go through their submissions. Ouch. Not so great of me. They deserved more attention, and they deserved someone who was thrilled with what they were working on. Critiquing shouldn’t be a chore. You should look forward to your group members’ next installments.
The group I’m in now is a perfect for me. When I see a new email from another member I skip every other message waiting for me and open up their note because I’m so excited to get their next submission. I LOVE reading through their pieces and rejoice at the opportunity to help them make said pieces stronger.
You don’t have to find people who write the same as you. Within my critique group we have a suspense writer, a spec writer, a YA writer, and a romance writer. Some of us write historicals, some write contemporaries, and some write in the future. It works because we all respect each other’s writing.
2) Find People Who Like Your Writing Voice
Each one of us writes in a way that is unlike anyone else. This is your writing voice. We’re not meant to sound like another author, in fact, that’s boring and probably won’t sell. The problem is many novice writers kill each other’s voices. They innocently believe they are helping that author by cutting out all the things that make that author unique. They tell them to stick to rules, or point out when a writer is doing something “not right.”
Find people who enjoy your writing style and who are going to make your voice stronger. Don’t stick with critique partners who strip your piece of its voice. If after their changes, your piece reads like just about anyone walking down Main Street could have written it, then dump that critique partner quick! Your uniqueness and voice is what draws a readership. That’s the thing that’ll catch an agent or an editor’s eye. Find people who can critique YOUR voice.
3) Find People Who Know What They Are Talking About
But wait, Jessica – I’m an unpublished author and I only know other unpublished authors. Do you mean I have to befriend J.K. Rowling and see if she’ll critique my stuff? No, absolutely not. Although, sending her homemade cookies couldn’t hurt. In all seriousness, you don’t need to find accomplished writers to find effective critique partners. But you do need people who are knowledgable.
Case in point, I use to belong to a group of wonderful writers. Within the group I was the only fiction writer and they all wrote non-fiction. We all had encouraging things to say about each other’s writing, but we couldn’t truly critique.
Find people who are actively learning about the publishing industry and niche that you are writing within/for. Someone who wants to write for the ABA market will have different things to say than someone who wants to write CBA. A writer’s conference is an excellent place to meet critique group members (that’s where I found mine!). The other members should be just as motivated as you are to keep up on industry standards and trends. They need to be people whose opinions and advice you’ll trust and respect.
4) Choose A Manageable Number
Focus on your work load when making a choice of what type of group to join. A group with ten people might sound tempting (I mean, nine people giving feedback!), but remember that means nine people’s stuff you have to critique constantly. Do you have that sort of time? I don’t. My group has four people (including me). We each get one week a month to submit 5000 words, the other three members critique before Saturday each week. When there are other circumstances (looming deadlines and whatnot) we send a call-out for help and one or more other members will step up and help critique full manuscripts or larger portions as needed. This model works well for us. We can all focus on our own writing, knowing that each week our responsibility is manageable (20 pages a week).
5) Find People Who Have Different Strengths/Weaknesses Than You
Before you commit to a critique group, sit down and be honest with yourself. What are your writing strengths? What are your weaknesses? Discuss these things with potential critique partners. Find people who have strengths that will improve your writing and weaknesses that you can help them with.
Know what? I’m terrible at grammar and the mechanics of writing. Embarrassingly so. But I can craft a plot that’ll keep readers guessing and can make-up characters that leap right off the page. I’m also strong at sensory details and describing things in unique ways. If I found critique partners who needed grammar help, what good would I be to them? It would be a waste of time.
When all is said and done, a critique group can be a huge encouragement, or just a lot of extra work. It all depends on who is in your group and what your goals are.
Write on -Jess