Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 19, 2013

CRITIQUE GROUP START-UP 101

critgroupAsk anyone who’s been in a writers critique group, and you will hear that there is no better way to hone your craft.  Ideally, a critique group gets you where you want to go as a children’s writer.  But what if you can’t find a group to go to?

Start one of your own.  I know, it’s a little scary.  But it’s worth it.  (Trust me:  I’ve been in critique groups since 1995. All that critiquing helped me reach some major publishing milestones!)  So here goes, a few pointers from my own experience:

GET THE WORD OUT.

The best way to let like-minded writers know that you’re starting a group is to contact the SCBWI critique group coordinator listed on your regional chapter’s website and/or newsletter. This chapter volunteer collects names of ‘critique seekers’, and sorts them according to geographic location.  If there is not a group in your area open to new members, he or she shares your contact information with interested writers who live and work in the same area so you can network on your own.  Another route is to contact local community education programs and universities offering ‘writing for children’ courses, and ask the instructors to make an announcement to students about your intention to start a critique group.

GATHER ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT POTENTIAL MEMBERS.

Start a file with everyone’s email, phone number, address, websites. Ask basic questions: what genres and for which readerships do you write? When can you meet—mornings, afternoons, or evenings—and which days of the week?  How often do you want to have meetings:  once a month, twice a month or weekly?  Where are you located and how far are you willing to travel for the meetings?  Do you want to read/critique manuscripts at the meetings or outside of the meetings?  Do you want to share marketing information at the meetings or focus only on the craft inside of the critique group?  Answers to these questions will assist you in structuring the group for maximum mutual benefit, and get things off to a strong start.

FIND YOUR MEETING SPACE. 

This is a matter of choice and luck.  The first place to look for free meeting space is your local library.  Most have a community room for small groups, and if there is room, you may be able to schedule the space up to a year at a time.  Other options include bookstores, coffee houses, and members’ homes.  As long as the venue is comfortable, relatively quiet and convenient to all members, your location will work well.

SET YOUR FIRST MEETING.

Set the date, gather members and get going.  The agenda for a first meeting should be to discuss and set ground rules, and to simply get to know one another a bit.  Sample work might be read to the group so others can get an idea of your writing ‘personality’, but no real critiques should be done at this first gathering.  You might hand out tips on critiquing the work of others, and a checklist of literary elements to look for in a manuscript.  There’s a lot of information about the critique process on various websites, as well as entire books on the subject. Two excellent books are: HOW TO START AND RUN A WRITERS’ CRITIQUE GROUP by Carol J. Amato; and THE WRITING GROUP BOOK:  CREATING AND SUSTAINING A SUCCESSFUL WRITING GROUP by Lisa Rosenthal.

KEEP IT GOING.  Encourage each writer to take their work up a notch with upbeat yet honest comments. Listen with patience and respect.  Motivate one another.  Commiserate and celebrate together.  Keep up the good work.

mollybygollySubmitted by

Dianne Ochiltree, www.ochiltreebooks.com

Author of MOLLY, BY GOLLY! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter, 2012 Bronze Medal winner, Children’s Literature, Florida Book Awards.

Here is another article: Critique Groups for Self Editing

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. All so true! Thanks to Kathy and her post on her blog about my hopes to start a critique group, we now have a group going. Members come from several towns in northern NJ and southern NY state. We meet in my local library ( which also advertised for me) and we look forward to supporting each other on our writing and illustrating journeys!

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  2. There are lots of terrific resources on Dianne Ochiltree’s web page if you found this post helpful. I encourage you to hop on over to http://www.ochiltreebooks.com.

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  3. Thanks for this super helpful how-to!

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  4. Dianne and Kathy, I don’t know how I missed this article when you posted it, but it’s wonderful–and thanks for also suggesting my post, Critique Groups for Self-Editing. As you know, I’m a big fan of critique groups, and for indie authors who are looking to save every penny they can, they are a perfect choice. When writer-clients ask me for more info, I’m pointing them to this article and to Dianne’s website.

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