Is A Critique Group Right For You? by Connie Campbell Berry
You’ve spent months alone with your characters. The setting of your novel is more real to you than your hometown. You can quote whole chapters word for word. You laugh and cry at all the right places. But is your manuscript ready to be seen by agents and publishers?
What you need is feedback. An unbiased take on your dialogue, characterization, and plot flow. Someone to point out lapses in continuity or point of view. Someone to catch the typos your brain automatically corrects. But where can you find unbiased readers who don’t demand your firstborn in payment?
One option is to join a critique group. After belonging to several, here are the top ten things I’ve learned:
1. You can’t write a novel by committee.
Critique groups work best when members feel free to express honest opinions and writers feel free to ignore them. You are the final arbiter of your work.
2. Agree on the guidelines.
Will you meet in person or online? How many pages will you submit? How long will you have to complete critiques? My suggestion is to limit submissions to
fifteen or twenty pages, double-spaced. Two weeks to complete critiques is usually workable. The important thing is to agree in advance.
3. Limit the number in the group.
More than five is probably too many. Critiquing four submissions every two
weeks takes time. Most of us have day jobs and families.
4. Seek a group with relatively similar skills and projects.
Including an inexperienced writer with those more skillful can work, but it can also be frustrating. Critique partners aren’t teachers or editors. And while good writing is good writing, the norms for various genres vary wildly. Would a group of cozy mystery writers really get dystopian fantasy? Would a writer of steamy romances fit into a group writing Christian historical fiction?
5. Share approximate word count in advance.
If three manuscripts fall in the 75,000 to 80,000 range and one is an epic of 250,000 words, you’ve got a problem. Will three of you hang in there with the fourth for several additional months? If manuscripts are dissimilar in length, agree on a plan. Those with shorter manuscripts might agree to post revisions or another WIP.
6. Don’t expect to be told how magnificent you are.
Be open to both positive and negative feedback. If you don’t want an honest
critique, ask your mother to read your manuscript instead.
7. Don’t argue.
Avoid the temptation to defend or explain your work. You’ve made no promises to agree with or use the feedback of others. Asking questions, however, can be very helpful. For example: “Can you tell me why that section didn’t work for you?”
8. Be timely.
Submit on time and finish critiques on time. Period.
9. Include positive feedback.
In addition to pointing out what doesn’t work, tell your critique group partners what you loved: a character finely drawn, a passage you just couldn’t put down, a lovely turn of phrase, the place where you laughed out loud. There is always something positive to say.
10. Give group members the right to opt out.
No explanations necessary.
If you are interested in forming or joining a critique group, find a local chapter of one of the national writers’ organizations like Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers. I hooked up with my first critique group through the Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters in Crime, dedicated to helping writers get published.
Attending writers’ conferences and workshops is another great way to meet fellow writers. The critique group I’m in now was formed at Seascape Writers’ Retreat in Connecticut.
Or you can find a group online. Check out these possibilities:
Ladies Who Critique (www.ladieswhocritique.com)
The Critique Circle (www.critiquecircle.com)
The Writer’s Chatroom (www.writerschatroom.com)
Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com)
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Connie’s WIP, An Antique Murder, takes place on a fictional resort island in Lake Champlain. Leaf-peepers have come and gone on historic Lanark Island, and the locals gather for the Tartan Ball, the annual end-of-leaf-season gala. Among the invited guests is Ohio antique dealer and young widow, Kate Hamilton. Kate hoped never to return to the island where her husband died. But when his sister, proprietor of the island’s historic inn, claims to be in danger, Kate reluctantly agrees. Then a body turns up, and Kate finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. Kate has an alibi, but when the police arrest the gentle, mentally disabled man who tried to save her husband’s life, Kate launches her own investigation. What she uncovers is a secret that will rewrite Lanark’s history. And perhaps Kate’s future.
Like her main character, Connie Campbell Berry grew up in the antiques trade. She and her husband have two sons, a lovely daughter-in-law, and a sweet Shih Tzu named Millie. Connie loves travel, technology, knitting, and mysteries. Her day job is teaching a large, interdenominational Bible study.
0 thoughts on “Guest Blogger – Connie Campbell Berry: Is A Critique Group Right for You?”
What a helpful post! My critique group meets tonight and, while it works reasonably well for our dozen members, Connie’s advice makes a lot of sense as an alternative approach. We engage in more developmental critiquing, because each submitter is limited to about 1500 words (8 per meeting), so it takes a while to get through an entire manuscript (alternatively, members may bring only the most troublesome sections to the group). Advice we get early sometimes carries through and shapes how we think about the rest of the project. Also critically reading the work of others helps all of us realize areas of our own writing that we want to improve. Our group is called Room At The Table, ostensibly because we meet around my dining room table, but as a metaphor, it can be thought to refer to our intellectual ability to expand with new leaves and to embellish and refine the bounty of what is presented there. Thanks, Connie and Debra!
I love the idea that you meet around your dining room table. As for Connie’s advice, I also agree that her points make sense. I have had good and bad experiences in critique groups, but the good has far outweighed the bad in terms of making me think about the entire work. Thanks for stopping by today — and for the comments explaining your group’s approach.
I LOVE the name of your critique group! With a dozen or so in the group, it is wise that you’ve limited submissions to about 1500 words. And I like the fact that you are sticking together. Some critique groups form for a specific task and then disband. Others stay together for years. Several pairs of critique partners I know actually decided to collaborate.
Hi, Connie —
Terrific article. So many writers go it alone and don’t realize how valuable peer feedback can be. Thanks for the wonderful tips.
Grace, Connie has made some good points. I also think that when you can’t get into a formal critique group, it is important to have peers read your work and give you feedback. Even one on one can make a big difference in a final work.
Hello Grace! Thank you for your comment.
Agreeing on the rules ahead of time is great advice. Thanks.
Thanks for stopping by “It’s Not Always a Mystery.” Agreeing on the rules ahead of time makes a big difference. I think it helps everyone balance time and results in fairness in how everyone’s works are treated.
Hello Laura! Thank you for commenting.