Like I said earlier this week, I’m in the midst of finishing up the latest additions to the critique group list and will soon be sending the updated info out. Add to that I’m working on the forum based groups and have a lovely volunteer who’d like to tackle the challenges of putting together an online real time option and it’s pretty exciting stuff!
When I meet a writer or artist that’s looking for a critique group I get all excited. Why? Because I realize I may be talking to the next J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman or Stephen King (and for you artist out there – the next Dave McKeane). As a writer or artist, looking for feedback is the next vital step in moving your work closer to publication. It shows you’re serious about your craft and dedicated to the process to reach your goal of publication. Bravo to all of you that are on the critique group list!
But it takes more than showing up week after week (or month after month) to a critique group to realize the magic that can happen, so to help you get some perspective on critique groups I’d like to offer you a few pearls of wisdom – the first of which is:
I am not your fairy godmother and I will not deliver a critique group to you with a big bow on it.
Ouch – that sounded harsh! Honestly – it wasn’t meant to. I love you one and all and would KILL to wear a Glynda type costume (yeah I know –she’s a witch, but if the shoe fits…) but like Dorothy you all have the power within yourselves to find a group. The list you will get access to (or have access to) is full of SCBWI members just like YOU. The awesome thing is as the list grow larger the possibility to find a group close by in the format you are looking for becomes even greater, so check the list often and connect with one another! Keep in mind too that critique groups come in all sizes so don’t be afraid to start as a group of two and see where it goes…
If you ask to only work with “published” authors, you may be doing yourself a big disservice…
This subject can be a bit of a sticky wicket as I totally get why published authors may want to be in a group with other published authors. Let’s be honest, it takes dedication and perseverance to be published – the same dedication and perseverance a successful critique group needs to have in its members. Look, when published authors say “I only want to be in a group with published authors”, what they are really saying is “I want to work with people that are dedicated, open to feedback and use it to better their writing and offer me the same in return”. I think that’s fair.
The interesting thing is, I’ve had unpublished authors ask to be in a group with published authors exclusively. Now – to be fair it could be for the same reason as above, the level of dedication. But I sometimes am a little suspicious that the individual looking for a critique group is more interested in trying to get through the published members to get to their agents. Perhaps that’s the writer in me looking for a more interesting angle BUT – please don’t ever ask a published author who their agent is and if they will send stuff to them. That goes for not only critique groups but anywhere you might meet said published author…
So back to the published/unpublished thing, here’s my two coppers to both published and unpublished writers/artists looking for critique groups:
- Those who are published – consider taking in one or two unpublished writers who show dedication to the craft and the willingness to participate at the same level a published writer would. That said NEVER feel bad asking to be in a PAL only group.
- To the unpublished folk – be professional in your approach to critique groups. Yes, we love our critique group members and want to see how their lives are going BUT at the end of the day, we are there to WORK. If you want to be in a group with a published author, that’s fine but do it for the right reasons (not as a search for an agent/publisher) and realize it will limit your search for a group.
Shut up and listen.
The biggest mistake I see in those new to critique groups (to be sadly truthful, I occasionally see in in those not so new…) is the need to justify what they have written. I mean, I get it, you bled those words across the paper or sketched that image in blood. It’s rough to have a room go silent when it gets to your turn for a critique. Even rougher when your group begins to discuss areas for improvement. Been there, done that, have the scars… But that is why we go to critique group is it not? Did you go there for people to pat you on the poe-poe and tell you you were awesome? Yeah? Guess what? You went for the wrong reason…
There is NEVER a good reason to argue with those in your critique group. And, there is NEVER a good reason to argue with those in your critique group. No that wasn’t a typo. I just want to make that really clear. Sure, there are going to be some people in your group that really just don’t like your writing style. Do you all love Twilight? No? The Fault in Our Stars? Some do some don’t? How about Harry Potter? OK that last one was pretty much a resounding – YES! But guess what? A few said no… Not everyone likes everything and hopefully your group will be able as a whole to look past a genre and style and give you feedback on your craft but there is always going to be that one person who really doesn’t like your work. Or you. And that’s OK because you’ll learn who they are so just shut up and listen. Do. Not. Argue.
Remember that you have the choice to use as much or as little of the feedback given to as you wish. Now there’s a caveat here – if you keep hearing the same things from the majority of your group – you need to listen and address the issue. While you may ignore some feedback, you cannot be inflexible to learning – it is why you came to the group to begin with.
Lastly, never ever be afraid to say “This group is not for me”. You are going to spend a lot of time with your critique group and if you feel you’re getting less out of the group than you are putting in, it’s OK to bow out gracefully. Be polite and courteous and you will always be welcome into another group!
So, there you have it – my quick tips on critique groups. Not on the crtique group list or need to update your info? Go here to submit a request:
Good luck to you all on your path to being published!