Need help thinking through how to form a critique group?
Whether you are writers or illustrators, you want to create a group that works. A critique group is not a static group; they evolve as you get to know each other, and as your own writing/art skills increase. And, it’s not permanent. As you change, so may your own needs and that of others in your group.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
WHERE TO MEET?
What local places in your community might be a good spot for a regular group meeting? List five local places in your community that might be a good spot for a regular group meeting.
What kind of genre do you want as a focus? What would be the pros and cons of a single genre group? Does the group want to be only about picture books? Or maybe MG/YA?
What would be the pros and cons of a mixed level group? (i.e., do you want only pre-published members, or only published ones, or a mix? remember there are benefits to each type).
How many members do you want in your group? You can start a group with just two. Three is better. Do you want to cap the number? What would that be? (Many groups cap at 4 or 5 members to make the meeting duration reasonable and then may adjust later.)
How do you plan to handle new members? (Vote, see their work, have them come to a few sessions to see if it works both ways?) While it’s good to have guidelines up front, be open to change in the way you handle new members.
MEETING TIMES AND DATES?
What days would you like to meet? Weekends? Weekdays?
How often would you like to meet? Monthly? Bi-weekly?
How much time do you want to spend? Remember that giving time to each member to read and receive feedback takes time. Fifteen minutes each for four members is well over an hour. Consider this when setting up your times. Also, some groups require that their members email the individual manuscripts a week to several days before the meetup so that members can pre-read and bring their prepared comments to the meetup.
DO YOU NEED A GROUP MISSION STATEMENT?
What is the goal or intention of the group? A group mission statement can help your group keep on track in providing feedback for each member.
What do you hope members will gain from being a member of your group? This is really useful in that it helps you think through your own goals.
WHAT ABOUT GROUP GUIDELINES?
How much work will you allow for submission, per meeting? This can be # of pages or words (i.e., 500 words for a Picture book or a double-page spread of artwork; or one chapter for MG or YA). Remember to keep it to the guideline that will allow each person a turn to be critiqued at each meeting–unless you plan to rotate turns at each meeting.
How will you submit your work for critiques? See a few options below.
· Will you require that members forward their manuscripts via email X days before the meetup to save reading time at the meeting?
· If not, will the author read his/her own work aloud while members take real-time notes to share when the reading is done? (Make sure the author speaks loudly and reads slowly enough for members to take notes, perhaps pausing on occasion.)
· Or will you require the author to bring a copy for each member to read silently and make notes before commenting?
How will your group provide feedback?
· Do you want to use the Critique Group Notes and Talking Points?
· Will it be just verbal?
· Can you write on the manuscript itself, share it out loud, then hand the edited version back to the author afterwards?
How will your group provide feedback?
· Will you request each member provide live feedback every time?
· If someone has to miss a meeting, will s/he be required to email his/her feedback to the author/artist via email by a certain time?
Other important considerations:
· How many meetings can be missed? Remember life situations will come up so keep it reasonable but something that works for the dynamics of the group.
· Are you open to writers outside the SCBWI membership?
· What possible reasons could you think of for asking a member to leave your group? Again, very useful and will save a lot of grief later.
· What other guidelines are important for the group?
· Providing guidelines for giving a critique (create a new-member handout)
· Providing guidelines for receiving a critique (create a new-member handout) *
(Kind thanks to SCBWI Carolinas and New Jersey for the helpful information. Additional edits by CenCal.)