Thursday, May 3, 2012

What's Your Take (3)

This is week three for my new feature and I have to say everyone who has participated thus far has been awesome and really helped me define more about what this feature will be like and really it comes down to the title - What's Your Take. There are so many topics out there that all of you know about concerning the blogging network, publishing world, writing world, reading world. I love getting people's "takes," and so far I am learning a lot. Make sure to stop by every Thursday to see each week's feature and feel free to contact me to do a post!

Week three of What's Your Take is one that I learned a ton from. Steph from Word by Word did a huge post on critique groups. I have never been part of one, but a friend told me recently about a group of writers who get together at a local library. Her perspective has been super beneficial to me because I have an idea of what to expect when I walk in there and also I have some expectations. Thanks Steph!

Without further adieu, I give you steph!

I walked into the classroom on pins and needles. I had on my lucky writer gloves and a copy of my short story clutched to my chest.  I was about to watch my baby being slaughtered, and I was so not prepared.  I wanted to be.  Yes I wanted to get a few pats on the head, but I also wanted to know what I was doing wrong, so I could be a better writer. 

So the critique started, and I sat in my chair and tried to affect an expression of bland distance, nodding and looking critically at each person as they discussed my story.  Scribbling down notes, crossing out or circling parts of my story.  It took a few minutes for me to realize that I was being critiqued, and it really didn’t hurt that much.  Even better, I learned a ton that day about my writing style. 

As a caveat, the critiques I received that day were very gentle.  The story I submitted had little description, little character development and a plot that was more suited to a B-grade action movie script.  I’m not sure why they were so easy on me. It was a college class, and we were all at different levels, but perhaps they sensed that I was really inexperienced. 

I’ve since gotten critiques that were the slap in the face I’d been told to expect.  When you’re in the game, you will be dressed down at some point.  But I survived those to, and so will you.
If you ever have any hope of getting your work out and selling it, you will need to show it to someone you trust to be honest with you.  You will likely find that someone in a critique group, and I’m here to tell you how to go about finding a group that suits you.

These days, especially if you live in a moderately well populated area, finding a critique group is not difficult.  You can use websites like, or talk to owners of local bookstores (yes they still exist) to find already established groups.  You can also start a group of your own, or use one of the many online critique groups available to you. 

Let’s start with face to face groups.  If you find established groups that are accepting members, you’ll have to determine if the group works for you.  The group should understand that, allow you to observe at least one meeting, and be respectful of the fact that you are still on the fence.  If they’re not, move on. 

Things to look for:
-What gets critiqued?  What genres are accepted, and what length of submission?  This is big.  If you write historical romance, don’t settle for the fantasy and science fiction critique group because it’s the only one you could find.  Talk to the group members and see if enough of them are fans of your genre that they would be able to help you.  And make sure you’re comfortable with what they write, so you can help them in turn.  There’s usually a limit to length, which will be stated to you.  There may also be a rule about whether novels are allowed (chapter by chapter) or if the group only does short stories. 
-When do they meet and how often?  Anywhere from once a week, to once a month is pretty normal.  You probably won’t find a group that’s perfect, but there will hopefully be one that fits your schedule.  They should also be flexible about missing a meeting.  Everyone gets sick, or has to work late, and you shouldn’t get booted because you missed one meeting.

How are the critiques scheduled:  Mileage may vary on this one, but I like a group with a set schedule.  Meaning, each person knows when they need to deliver a story and when that story will be critiqued.  Otherwise, one or two prolific group members will constantly be getting critiqued, and the shyer members will allow themselves to fade into the background.  A deadline is always a good thing, in my opinion. 

-What is the tone of the group?  How does the group interact?  Do one or two members monopolize the discussion?  Or does everybody chatter at once, so you can’t understand what’s going on?  There should be agreed upon rules to help guide the discussion, and give every member a chance to speak.  How are the critiques given?  Is it a free for all, where everyone openly states whatever ugly feelings they have about the writer’s work?  I hate that sort of thing, but some writers thrive on it.  Or are opinions stated as politely as possible?  Again, I prefer not to feel like I’m being attacked, but some writers get frustrated by the polite approach. 

Avoid any group that:

- Appears to be engaging in hero worship of one or two particular members, to the detriment of everyone else’s writing:  I.e. Everything Joe Blow and Susie Smith write is considered pure gold, and everyone else’s writing must be like theirs, or it stinks.

- Flat out states that only negative or only positive opinions be given:  Yes, there are groups that do this, and they are usually up front about it.  Only negative remarks gives you ego a solid beating, and few writers can take that week after week.  Meanwhile, only positives is like being showered with candy every week.  The sugar will rot your ego.  If I had to choose one over the other, I would go with only negative.   At least it will help you improve your writing. 

- Doesn’t actually do any critiquing.  No brainer, right.  This is a case where a group is good when you join, but flounders over time.  You are always free to leave.  There is no contract that states you will remain with the group for life.

Of course, if you can’t find a group that suits you, try to start one.  We live in the glorified days of internet, and getting in touch with people is easier than ever before.

Which brings us to online critique groups.  These are a slightly different animal than face to face, but very useful if you can’t find a group to join in your area, or afford the time to start one up. 
There are many online critique groups, but I can only comment on the three I’ve used.  Shop around at the others, test out trial periods and see what their members say. 

-  This group used to be sci-fi, fantasy and horror only, but they have since branched out to every other genre.  You’ll get something like 5 to 30 critiques for any one story.  Longer stories, and later chapters of novels get fewer critiques, for obvious reasons.  There is also a really good system for getting full novels critiqued, so I highly recommend this one to novel authors.  Few online groups have a good option for getting novels critiqued.  Most of the critiques you receive will be good quality, little fluff, or deconstructive negativity.  You only have to critique one story a week to keep your membership active, and it remains to this day, a free site.  This is both a free and pay site.  Membership costs about $65 for a year, or $9 for monthly access, and you get all the bells and whistles, unlimited story postings, unlimited mailbox space and free contest entry.  Free membership means you can only post two stories at a time, you have limited mailbox space and you’ll be charged points for entering their monthly contests.  You earn points by critiquing posted stories, which allows you to post your own stories.  You’ll get more critiques the longer you’re a member because you will build relationships with other members, and trade critiques with them.  The point system is susceptible to abuse, with some critiques consisting of lots of fluff, but you can easily report that sort of thing.  There’s also a very active forum. 

Online Writing Workshop for sf, fantasy and horror:  Not the most inventive title, but it gets the point across.  This is a full pay site.  You get first month free, then, to remain a member, you have to pay $49 a year or $6 for monthly access.  I didn’t particularly care for this site.  You get very few critiques, and only about half of them were useful, in my experience.  There are a lot of stories posted, and generally the new or short ones get all the attention.  New stories offer extra points and critiques past a certain length offer nothing extra.  A lot of members will say they critique in return for critiques, but that’s hit or miss.  I found myself critiquing five people who claimed this, and maybe one would actually critique in return. 

Please feel free to ask any other questions you might have.  Being part of a critique group is a fun and rewarding experience if you go into it with an open mind, and find a group that fits you.    

I just want to thank Steph for this awesome post and giving me a ton to think about.

Hey bloggers, if you want to participate in What's Your Take, shoot me an email at mf060784 at gmail. I would love to hear your points of view on blogging, writing, trends, reading, YA, any topic goes. 


  1. Wow Steph, you really have worked with critic groups to learn so much. :) Thank you!

  2. That's what I thought! Isn't this super informative?

  3. Thanks so much. I really went crazy with this but I hope people get some useful information from it.