Critique groups can be the bomb-diggity. Slang aside, a great critique group can accelerate a writer’s growth in their craft.
And of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a critique group can be an immense time suck with very little return.
Even worse, it can steal a writer’s joy and shake their confidence. Today’s Teaching Corner is going to focus on how to get the most oomph out of a critique group.
What Is a Critique Group?
A critique group is a group of writers who agree to meet on a consistent basis in order to exchange feedback on each other’s writing.
Find a Critique Group When . . .
You want to be with your people. Those people who “get” what it’s like to have words living inside you that must be written down. Revised. Shared.
You want to grow as a writer. You’re ready to learn and practice new skills.
You are ready for honest feedback, even when it stings. You can give yourself space and time to feel the disappointment, and then you can review the feedback with some objectivity.
You have time to share your own expertise and feedback to partners.
You enjoy supporting other writers.
Where to Find a Critique Group
The usual places to look for an established group:
A local writing organization
Ask a friend who writes
Not so usual places to look:
A local coworking space
A local coffee shop
Meetup.com “Meetup is a service used to organize online groups that host in-person events for people with similar interests.”
Online: social media groups, like Nextdoor and Facebook, and Google
How to Get the Most Out of a Critique Group
Be prepared when it’s your turn to share material.
Have the words written. Print the files or share electronically by the deadline.
Ask specific questions to garner the feedback you want/need.
Be open. Getting feedback, especially critical feedback, doesn’t always feel great, but try not to be defensive.
If you’re up to it, ask the group to help you workshop the trouble spot.
If you’re not, say thank you and give yourself time to marinate on the problem.
Remember that you don’t have to share your entire manuscript, or even your current WIP (work in progress). Sometimes, especially in the early days of a draft, this will just bog you down. Or you’ll get stuck in the revision phase forever. Rather than writing and then revising, you’ll feel like you have to revise as you go, which is a fast way to kill a story.
The point of a critique group is to grow you as a writer. You can get the same effect, and practice new techniques, with a short story or an essay.
Share feedback that is both honest and kind. Honesty doesn’t have to be brutal. Practice offering feedback from a place of positivity. “I like the way you wrote ________. I’d love to see you include more _________. Here’s an idea for how to do that . . . .”
Don’t be the strongest writer in the group. If you want to learn, then that’s hard to do if you’re the person everyone looks to for guidance as the resident expert. You want to be part of a group where you can also be challenged. You may start with a group and later outgrow it. That’s okay.
After my first round of developmental edits and revisions, I was ready to receive beta-reader feedback for Love Letters to My Body. I wanted to make the task as easy as possible for me and my readers.
First, I identified what my ideal readers looked like. Then I made a list of everyone I knew who fit into those descriptions, and who might be willing to give me specific feedback. Once I knew WHO I wanted to ask, I turned to the questions of WHAT I wanted to ask and HOW I wanted to ask.
Trying to manage multiple email threads felt daunting to me, and I also wanted my beta readers to have the option to respond anonymously. I turned to Google Forms to create a survey.
Beta readers are early readers who give you feedback after you’ve gone through developmental editing.
Who to enlist: Readers in your target audience (the type of reader who would enjoy your book). Who is your ideal reader?
How many readers: 5-??? This number is up to you. The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you have to sift through. You want a large enough sample that you feel confident in the feedback, but not so much that you’re overwhelmed by the amount of feedback.
When to enlist them: After you’ve finished developmental edits and big-picture revisions.
Where to find them: Ask folks you know (these people don’t have to be close to you; they just need to like the type of book you’ve written). If you have a newsletter, ask your subscribers who would be interested in beta reading for you. This is a great way to engage with your fans, but remember that you can (and should) be picky with your selection. Say yes to the folks who regularly engage with you.
You can also reach out to local book clubs; check in with a local writing group; or hire a professional.
Hiring a professional beta reader is a great idea when you’re struggling to find beta readers on your own or you have a hard-to-reach audience, i.e. children. Both of my daughters beta read for Quiethouse Editing, and they love giving authors feedback.
What to ask for: Come up with a handful of questions to guide your beta readers. You can ask about characters (do they like them?) and plot (any boring parts?) and any areas you’re unsure of. Make clear that you’re not looking for help with spelling or grammar.
Next Steps: Be gentle with yourself. No matter how thick your skin, receiving critical feedback can hurt. Take time to feel sad or embarrassed or angry. Then, when you’ve had a bit of space, dissect the feedback. What resonates with you? What doesn’t? Did readers agree about what worked and what didn’t? Was there an outlier? Once you’ve gotten clear about the feedback, dive back into revisions. And be sure to thank your beta readers, even if you disagree with them.
Pro Tip: Use a Google form or a survey platform to collect reader feedback.
What’s your favorite book, or who’s your favorite author, in the genre you write?
If you can’t answer that question, then it’s time to head to the library or bookstore.
Reading other works in your genre has so many benefits for you as a writer:
Be Inspired: Read with curiosity and wonder because inspiration abounds everywhere, especially in books we love. Maybe you’re just inspired to exist in a world where a book like this exists. Or maybe the author is clever and plays with structure in an interesting way. Or prompts you to wonder about something that becomes your next great idea.
Find things to avoid: What does the author do that annoys you?
Stay current with trends.
Support a fellow writer.
Learn about comps (when writing a query, book proposal, or preparing your elevator speech). Comps is short for “comparative titles.” It means books that are similar to yours.
We’ve all heard ad nauseum how saturated the book market is, but as long as there are writers, there will be voracious readers eager to sink into their next good book.
Style sheets are one of my favorite organizational tools during the line editing process. They will save you so much time as you move from line editing, or copyediting, to proofreading.
When you’re reviewing your line edits, the style sheet is like a buddy that you can refer to when you’re wondering why I made a suggested edit.
Providing your proofreader with a style sheet is a great gift and will make their process so much easier because they’ll have access to all the decisions we made for your book. And if you’re writing a series, there a must have because there is no way you’ll remember all the stylistic decisions you made when writing the first book.
Style Sheet Organization
But I know from years of working with clients that they can be overwhelming the first time you see one. Style sheets can be organized in a variety of ways, including simple lists.
Here’s what my style sheet looks like:
And here’s what I track with it:
What words are capitalized
What compound words are hyphenated, or open, or closed
Spellings of character names
How numbers are styled, or written
All the stylistic decisions that are the author’s choice
Rules followed for various punctuation marks, per Chicago Manual of Style
Formatting decisions (think italics, bold, etc.)
What do you do with the style sheet?
Give it to your proofreader to make her job easier.
Update it if/when you make changes previously noted on it.
Refer to it when you’re writing the next book in your series.
Use it to understand why I made suggested edits.
Learn more about the mechanics of writing (because I often include short explanations and helpful links).
I’ve always been a teacher at heart, and I love sharing what I know about editing and writing to help authors grow. This is why I created the blog “An Editor’s Teaching Corner for Writers.”
Each post will contain a writing tip from one element of the Teaching Corner Framework, which consists of Mindset, Content, Mechanics, and Feedback to help you grow as a writer. So what kinds of things will I be teaching?
Mindset: Mindset tips will cover everything from imposter syndrome to defining success, to creating a writing practice that works for your individual style.
Content: Content tips will dive deep into story elements and other ideas that make your writing unputdownable. Nonfiction folks, don’t worry, I’ll explore content areas for your growth, too.
Mechanics: Mechanics tips will cover ways to improve your writing at the word and sentence level. Think all things punctuation, grammar, spelling, formatting, etc.
Feedback: Feedback tips will explore how to source feedback and what to do with it once you’ve received it.
What kinds of things will I not cover? The Teaching Corner won’t explain publishing or marketing tips. That is not my wheelhouse, and there are other folks who are doing a great job with this already. However, I promise to share helpful resources in these areas whenever I run across one.