Etiquette for a Critique Group

Set Expectations Up Front

This can make a big difference in the critique exchange and relationship in your group.

Be professional. Set time and exchange expectations up front. 

For instance, are you going to provide your critique at the live meeting (or if you can’t attend that meeting, within the following week?) If for some reason you can’t provide the critique at the given time, let the other person know.

And what specifically does the author/visual artist want you to critique for? Big picture comments? Your take on characterization development, or plot, or arc, or dialogue, or anything that strikes you? Illustration/art work matching the manuscript? Try to be specific. What would be most helpful to you when someone critiques your work?                 

Receiving Critiques Takes a Thick Skin (But Worth It!)

When we receive a critique, sometimes even the tiniest comments can seem harsh. But remember you are here to get feedback to take your work to great levels and hopefully to be picked up by an agent and publisher! So, take advantage of being in a relatively safe environment with others who also love children’s books and are willing to take the time to read your work and give you their honest impressions.

Try to take notes and give it a few days and then re-examine the feedback with an open mind. Try to look for trends (i.e., more than one person said the same thing at the same point about your story or art work).

The bottom line is that it is your work and your vision, and you don’t have to change it because someone else thinks you should. You will get the hang of who in your group has strong personal preferences (and we all do!) and which comments are the most useful for you.

Yes, it can be hard to “take“ a critique. Understand there must be a level of trust. It is important to trust your critique partners who understand your strengths and respect your abilities, so that when they have a criticism, what you hear is “We know you and KNOW you can do better. And, by the way, we feel your work is worth the effort and can’t wait to see more.”

The best manuscripts and art work are revised many, many times before they are ready to go out into the world. And critique is one of the best ways to help you see your work from a fresh point of view. 

Giving Critiques Isn’t Easy Either, But You Will Get the Hang of It

If you are new to giving critiques, understand that it is important to share what you think about someone’s work in an honest but polite way so that your feedback might be find useful.

Remember what it’s like to be on the receiving side. When we receive a critique, sometimes even the tiniest comments can seem harsh. So, if you feel there are lot of areas of improvement in someone’s work (which there should be–unless the manuscript or art work is at the perfectly polished stage!). Pick the comments you have that strike you as the most important feedback coming from you. 

Listen to what the other members say and don’t repeat with long detailed examples, but you can say briefly “that also caught my attention” so that the author/illustrator can start to see that if there is a pattern related to an area of improvement (i.e., more than one person got stuck on a word). 

Bottom line: Don’t overwhelm the author/artist with all of your thoughts all at once.

Keep in mind that providing critique to others will also help you develop skills that will make your own work better. Often, you get more out of reading another’s work critically than you do from a critique of your own work. And also hearing other readers’ opinions about someone else’s work may improve your own work, too. 

Other Thoughts

Finding long-term critique partners can be challenging. Keep going until you find the right match. It’s like dating (sometimes more like a marriage), but with the specific purpose of making the work in question the best it can be. It is important to treat each other with the utmost respect before, during, and after a critique exchange.

(Excerpt taken from SCBWI’s message board – thank you Verla Kay. Additional edits by CenCal.)