Here is another post in my WRITERLY WISDOM series I first ran back in 2013. Five years later, I’ve updated the material and made sure it still applies to today’s writers. This week’s post is from children’s book author, Janee Trasler, on how to be able to tailor make a critique group…
Tailor-made Critique Groups
by Janee Trasler
Like Jim Averbeck, I count myself lucky to be a member of an excellent critique group. But don’t be fooled; it is by no means dumb luck. What I have is a tailor-made, suits-me-to-a-T critique group.
Unlike Jim, I was not lucky enough to find my perfect group on my first try. I had to shop around a bit before I knew exactly what I liked and needed in a critique group.
Once I had the answers, I just needed to ask the questions.
Who did I want in my group?
Some critique groups are made up of members who are at varying levels in their writing education and careers. This can work out really well. It gives the newer writers access to the more seasoned writers’ experience and gives the seasoned writers the chance to see how far they’ve come and to give a little back.
Other groups are made up of members who are all at a similar level, whether that be a total newbie, almost published, or published. This type allows the members to grow together and offers an equal level of confidence across the board.
I knew I wanted a group of writers at a similar level, so I chose to ask people who were all represented by the same literary agency but by different agents. I figured this would keep it all in-house and make the sharing of information easier. At the same time, we would avoid any hurt feelings if an agent spent more time with one writer than another.
What did I want my group to be about?
I’ve been in groups that have writers from board books to YA, and I’ve been in groups that stick to one genre. Both have merit and it is strictly a matter of personal taste.
I know I am not equipped to comment on novels (and you can only say, “Yup, I like it.” so often before your critique group also realizes how little you know about writing novels), so I opted to ask writers who write picture books/board books.
Where would we meet?
In-person groups allow for more socialization. You can bring along a book you’ve found, break bread, and just get to hang with other writers.
Online groups, which allow you to critique at your own convenience, give you the opportunity to really study a submission before you comment. They are easier to fit into a busy schedule and don’t require geographical closeness to the other members.
I’m an online type of gal. I like to read a manuscript several times before I comment, and I like to get feedback in writing. It makes revising much easier for me.
Just how many members should you invite? This is an important question because it dictates how much time you devote to critiques.
I prefer a smaller group, so I invited three other people.
Once all had been invited and inducted (Oh, you don’t even want to know about the initiation ritual we all had to go through. Let’s just same some of us look better in lampshades than others.), we still had a few logistical questions to answer:
When would we meet and submit work?
This is heavily influenced by whether you meet in-person or online.
I’ve been in critique groups where members just submitted whenever they had something, and I’ve been in groups run like a military boot camp. It’s up to you how often you meet or submit work, but I’ve found having a set schedule helps me get work done.
As a group, we chose to have a designated member submit work on the first four Tuesdays of each month. (I’m Third Tuesday Girl.) The other three members have until the following Tuesday to send comments.
Life gets in the way sometimes, and we’ve been known to swap a Tuesday here or there. We also try to remain flexible as to what you can submit. If we don’t have a complete draft ready, we can submit what we have and ask for brainstorming help. I’ve also been known to sneak in two board books instead of one picture book.
How would we submit and critique work?
This is one area where I feel online groups have the advantage over in-person. It’s so much easier to read and comment on manuscripts online.
We send our work in MS Word format in my group and use the comments feature to put our feedback right in the document.
After all these tough questions where answered, we found ourselves right back to “Who?”
Who are we?
Janee Trasler (www.trasler.com)
Jessica Young (www.jessicayoungbooks.wordpress.com).
We are the PBJeebies, and since we joined forces seven and a half years ago, we have collectively sold numerous books.
My critique group suits me to a T. It ought to; it was tailor-made.
Janee Trasler is the author-illustrator of eight books for kids, including the board book series for HarperCollins, BEDTIME FOR CHICKIES.