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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to Find a Great Critique Group

If you follow me on twitter, you know how much I love my critique partners. Rarely a week goes by that I do not feel the need to tweet to the world about how brilliant and helpful they are. Invariably, this brings the response, “You’re so lucky! How did you find them?”

Well, I actually have two wonderful critique groups, this one for historical romances, and another for my contemporary novels. But before I found them, I bounced through several other groups that weren’t a good fit. Along the way, I learned a few things about how to find a good critique group/partner.

5 Keys to Finding a Great Critique Partner:

1)Take an honest look at your own writing.
Before you go looking for a critique group, stop and think honestly about your own writing habits, and what you want to get from this relationship. How much do you really write? You want to have someone who writes about as much as you do. Do you want critique partners who write the same genre? When writing historicals, it’s a big help, because you can share research. And last but not least, think about your steam/gore level. If you’re Penelope Prude, you might have problems critting Steamy Sue’s erotica.

2) Looking Local or Online?
This too is a matter of personal preference. For sheer volume, nothing beats online. There are plenty of Yahoo groups for writers. Many of the online RWA chapters, like Hearts Through History or Kiss of Death, have crit groups. Even if your chapter doesn’t, you can always post a message looking for other members who want to start one.

Local groups, which meet in person, are harder to schedule, but more likely to grow into lifelong friendships. Again, your local RWA Chapter is a great place to start, even if you don’t write romance. Search online for other local writing groups meeting in your area. Libraries and independent bookstores often have bulletin boards where writing groups can post notices. So do colleges, or any other place where you might find a writing class.

3) Don’t Dismiss the Newbie.
You might think that the ideal crit group is full of brilliant, published authors. But published authors are really busy people on tight deadlines. So you want to have some reliable unpubbed’s in your group. People who have time to brainstorm with you and read your revisions. A new writer might not know all the tricks of the trade, but they can tell you what a reader thinks and they may be more honest than your experienced writing friends who know how hard it is to hear that your hero's a jerk.

4) Check the Rules.
Once you’ve found a group you’re interested in, check around for a list of rules. The bigger the group, the more likely you need some. The important thing to look for here is the exchange rate. How many critiques do you have to do before you can submit your own work? Do you decide how often you submit, or is someone else making up a schedule for you? How are the critiques given, in writing or read aloud?

5) Love them, Love their work.
The most important thing about joining a crit group is finding people you can like both as writers and as friends. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people, reading thousands of pages they’ve written. I can honestly say that I get a little thrill every time one of my crit partners submits a new chapter or starts a new book. Published or not, they’ll always be my favorite authors. And that’s what makes a great critique group.

I would love to hear your experiences. Where did you find the perfect crit group/partner? And what do you think is the most important factor in forming a great critique group?


  1. Gail, great blog! I totally agree! I don't know what I'd do without my crit group. I've been part of several throughout the years, and most of the women I've worked with have been awesome and helped me in so many ways. Last year I met a new author who was just contracted with one of my publishers, and she's been my best friend...and crit partner, too. We write a LOT a like, think alike, our lives are alike... Yeah, we're made to be crit partners. (grins) But if I hadn't have read her story (because she's a new author), I wouldn't have known her writing is a lot like mine.


  2. Excellent advice, Gail! I'm so grateful for all my crit partners! I was part of a group that started out okay for me, but that acquired some really mean members eventually. So I would add to this that you want to find a group that has a moderator who is discriminating and/or willing to ask people to leave if they prove they are not cooperative critters. It's one thing to give constructive criticism, but it's quite another to tell someone, "This chapter is boring. Cut it."

    Or, if you're having trouble finding a group, there's nothing stopping you from starting your own! I'm so glad that's what I did almost 2 years ago because I've made some life-long friends (yourself included!) as a result :)

  3. Gail,

    Great post! I agree with everything you said. As one of your crit partners in your other life (group), I can attest to the support. I've learned so much from the people in my crit group, particularly you!

  4. Gail, what a wonderful post! For me, my critique group has been invaluable in a couple of different ways.

    1- Each member has a different strength, so I get a couple sets of eyes to read my work and a couple of different opinions. Someone who catches every grammar nit, someone else who lets me know if the flow is right, someone else who knows an aspect of history that I might not, etc.

    2- I can honestly say that I have become friends with the members of my critique group. And in many ways we're also a support group. We've all had a harsh contest judge or heartbreaking rejection. Only another group of writers understands the pain that goes along with those realities. My group cheers for each other when there's good news and commiserates with each other when there's bad news. This business is tough, and having others who understand this makes it easier.

    Just because we've become friends doesn't mean we aren't honest with each other. We do all want each other to succeed and praising un-praiseworthy writing won't help your critique partner’s ultimate goal of publication. With that said, there's always a nice way to say something or get your point across. And my critique partners have never held back in telling me they don't like something. I appreciate their honesty and, in fact, depend upon it.
    ~ Lydia

  5. I lucked out finding my crit group. I finished my first manuscript then started searching on what I needed to do to become a published writer. Over and over I read advice to join a critique group. I did a search on historical romance critique groups and found a perfect match the first time. I bet eHarmony can't boast the same. My group has been invaluable in my growth as a writer, and I had the honor of meeting many of the members at the RWA National Convention last year. That was very cool!

  6. Gail,
    What a great post with great advice. I was in a critique group before this one, and the feedback was very imbalanced. I critiqued my behind off and did not get much in response. The group eventually fell apart which led me to start my search again. I was very lucky to find my current critique group who are my teachers, cheerleaders and friends.

  7. Thanks for a great post Gail. Having a good crit group is what has kept me going. Where else would I get such invaluable feedback, have my blind spots exposed, and find a lifeline when I get discouraged? It has been a fantastic experience, even if most of us have never met in person.

    I would add one thing to your great recipe for the success of a crit group, which is numbers. Unless everyone in the group is super productive and writes fast, having enough people in a group will help ensure its survival. Too few members often means that activity stops when one or two get busy and don't have time posting or critting for a while.

    My first crit group fizzled out pretty quickly, because there were only four of us.

  8. Gail, another great post. It's essential that a writer find a welcoming place, one where you can expand your skills. If you land in a negative place, where criticism is petty and personal... and the esprit de corps unravels... move on, quickly. Otherwise, enduring snark will erode your confidence. We writers need all the fortitude we can get, given the publishing odds and sheer competitiveness.

    I learn as much analyzing another person's work, as much as I have posting my own stuff. Plus, I've learned the most from people who write differently from me.

  9. Great post Gail. I joined two groups at the same time, one a general romance, the other historical (this lovely group of ladies). I dropped the other pretty quickly because there was no sense of closeness in the tone of the emails between members.

    Intially I remember feeling a little left out but getting to know people takes time (especially to understand the inside jokes). I value my writing friends, their feedback and particularly the honesty. If something isnt working I want to know that the person telling me has my best interests at heart.