Stages of Writing a Book: Post #4 (Critique Groups)

In today’s video, Janet Syas Nitsick and I discuss critique groups.  If you go to critique groups, you want to make any changes they suggest (that you agree with) before you send your book off to an editor or beta reader.  (Beta readers can work as a critique partner.)

One huge benefit to a critique group is that you have other writers looking at your work.  

I do believe it’s important to have beta readers who read your book through the eyes of a reader.  It’s also important to have other authors look at it because authors will be looking for storytelling elements and grammatical issues readers might miss.  So really, you need both writers and readers giving you input in order to make your story the best it can be, but above all else, this is your story so take everyone’s input with a grain of salt.  If they’re saying one thing, and you feel like doing something else, my advice is to go with your gut and do what you feel is best for the story.

Where do you find critique groups?

You can find critique groups by doing an Internet search of writer groups in your area.  I suggest doing a search for your state and look up writing or critique groups.  Of course, you don’t have to keep your focus to critique groups in your area.  You can find some online.  There are plenty of places writers get together on the Internet to share and critique each other’s work.  A basic Internet search should lead you to these as well.

Another way you can find them is through word of mouth.  By coming in contact with someone in person or through a social media site (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc), you might hear about a critique group.  This is yet another reason why social media is more than just selling books.  It’s a way to connect with people and find resources of what is out there.

What makes for a good critique group?

Honesty is a key element.  You want someone who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth about your work.  You need to hear the truth, even if it stings, and it’s way better to get stung before the book is published than afterwards.

Another key element is comfort.  You want the group to be a positive experience.  It’s hard to get in front of others with your work and expose it to the world.  But it’ll be a lot easier if you are in a supportive and caring environment.  You want to feel safe.  Listen to your gut.  If your gut is telling you you’re in the wrong group, get out.

What makes for a bad critique group?

If you’re feeling rushed or don’t have time to get sufficient input into what is troubling you about your story, this is a possible red flag.  Now, it is important to make sure everyone in the group has a chance to share their work.  This is why I like smaller groups instead of bigger ones.  But you shouldn’t feel like you’re in a race to finish reading your excerpt.

If the other writers aren’t valuing your input, this is another possible red flag.  Granted, they don’t have to accept your feedback.  No one has to do their story the way you think it should be done.  But if they’re arguing with your opinion multiple times, this isn’t a good thing.  Why waste your time giving your input if they’re not going to take it?  You have better things to do with your time.

If someone is treating you poorly, get out of the group.  If you feel like you’re being talked down to or someone makes a snide comment, you don’t need to put up with this.  They should respect you and your time.

How much feedback do you listen to?

Part of this depends on how many people are telling you the same thing.  You might not agree with what they’re saying, and that’s fine.  But if you are hearing the same critique from a few people, at least take the time to think over whether or not it’s worth heeding.  It’s possible they might see something lacking in your story you don’t.  As writers, we can be blind to how a new reader will look at our work.

Another factor to consider is what genre the writer writes in.  If a science fiction author is telling a romance author their story is too emotional (esp. lovey dovey) and needs more action, take into account that science fiction as a genre is more action oriented than romance is.  As a romance writer, I get tired of all the battle scenes in a science fiction book, but I understand battle scenes is something the science fiction reader wants.  So I wouldn’t advise the science fiction writer to tone it down on the battles.  However, if another science fiction writer were to say, “This has way too many battle scenes.  There is no real plot,” then my advice would be for the science fiction writer to carefully consider the feedback.

This isn’t to say you can’t learn something valuable from someone outside your genre.  You can.  Just be aware of the lens that author is looking at your story through.

Multiple formats are great.

Some writers like going to multiple groups to get additional feedback on their story.  Some don’t.  There is no right or wrong on this one.  You do what you’re most comfortable with.   Some people like one group and Janet does several, but she an extrovert and I’m an introvert.  This is one area where you have to do what fits best for your personality.

One thing I do think is useful, however, is for people critiquing your work to be able to read it if you are in person reading it.  I don’t think people catch as much by hearing it as they do by hearing it and reading it at the same time.

The best critique groups are smaller because you can gain more feedback.  Otherwise, you can feel you are rushing through something.

Final thought: Whether or not you go to a critique group is up to you.  In my opinion, critique groups are optional.  (Janet might have a different opinion on this than I do.)  To me, the crucial thing is having a good editing team that includes at least one writer and one reader.  It’s not the number of people you have looking over your story; it’s the quality of the people looking at your story that matters.  I have four people on my editing team (two beta readers and two editors who also write), and for me, that is enough.

So do what is most comfortable for you.  There is no right or wrong way to go about this as long as you’re taking every step you can to polish up your book before it’s published.

11 Comments

  1. ronfritsch says:

    I agree the right critique group can be valuable. A smaller one is more to my taste as well. But the group should have a good knowledge of the genre. Otherwise, it’s not likely to be worth the time and effort. And I also agree that a critique group is optional, but “a good editing team that includes at least one writer and one reader” is “crucial.”

    1. Small critique groups are a lot better than large ones. The larger ones are set up in a way that it’s hard to get valuable feedback because of time constraints and the size of the group. I’ve been in a group where people were given a time limit to read, and once the timer went off, that was it. With a group that size (about 25 people), all I got were things a proofreader would have caught. I didn’t get anything useful out of it. But in the 2-3 group one I was in, that was perfect, especially since I was with another romance author who saw the book through the same lens as romance readers. Being familiar with the genre helps a lot for both the writer doing the critiquing the one getting it. I probably have learned more from critiquing since it trained me to look at the storytelling craft in a different way.

  2. I’m really enjoying these videos! 🙂 I can’t wait until the next one, editing, since that’s kind of my thing.

    1. We basically say editors are evil. Wahahahaha. Just kidding. 😀 I think editors are much more important than a critique group.

  3. aderynwood says:

    I get all of my critiquing done on scribophile now and find it the most helpful crit group I’ve ever been a part of. However you get feedback on your writing, it is absolutely essential!

    1. I’m glad you mentioned where you do your critiques. Sometimes I get questions on where to find a good one, so now I can pass this along. 🙂

      A good critique group can make the story shine.

  4. cav12 says:

    Tried critique groups and felt as if I was under attack. None of what was said was constructive. As a teacher, I am very conscious of how to give feedback to students and NOT criticise, which happened in my case. I haven’t joined another group since. I rely on my beta readers, which consist of two writers and two readers then followed by two editors. This has worked for me.

    1. Sometimes the attitude of the people in a group goes a long way to ruining things. 😦 The best way to give feedback is in the spirit of encouragement and support, but I know some people enjoy feeling superior and when they do, it comes across in how they critique.

      I don’t use critique groups anymore. I rely on my beta readers and editors, too, and they are a small group. It’s the quality of people looking at your work, not the quantity that counts. 🙂

      1. cav12 says:

        A pity people feel the need to strike at you to feel superior. They certainly would like it if the tables were turned!
        I’m with you Ruth, it’s the quality of people reading your work not the quantity 😀 Well said!

        1. I agree. It is a pity. This is one reason why it’s so great to connect with other writers online. The atmosphere seems to be a lot more positive. 😀

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