Monday, June 1, 2009

Critique Group Evaluation

A critique group can be a wonderful spot to learn the craft and develop lasting relationships with fellow writers. However, it’s also a place that can become overwhelming if rules aren’t implemented. At least, that’s my experience, but I’m a rule follower.

Imagine having to critique every chapter that was put out to the group. What if those chapters were 20-30 pages long and there were 24 members posting? Do you realize how long it takes to go through just one of those chapters? I’ll tell you, it takes a good chunk of time.

If you’re a member of a critique group, I have some questions for you.

-How many members belong to your group?
-How often are you required to critique?
-How many chapters can you put up for critique each month? (if there’s a limit)
-How long are the submissions? (double spaced)
-Is everyone at the same writing level?
-Are all members writing the same genre?
-Is everyone unpublished?
-Once someone is published, do they continue with the group?
-How did you hear about the group?
-Did you have to pass a critique or writing test before becoming a member?
-Do you feel you’re getting what you want out of your membership?
-What could improve your critique group?

You may have already guessed, but I’m THINKING about starting a small critique group, so your comments will be very valuable to me. Thanks for taking the time to dish out any advice on the subject.


  1. We're at 8 people and each person gets to submit one 5000 submission once a month (two members submit each week).
    Our group in online and came to be through blogging.

  2. I just joined my critique group within the last few weeks. Right now we're at four people, which I've found is a wonderful place to start. In this, we can get to know each other better, learn about about each other's writing styles but still have enough people to provide a good variety of critiques. Not many rules so far because we each contribute what we'd like to see or how we'd like it to go. I'd say that once you find your group, particularly if it's a new group, ask everyone there what their goal is in joining the group. Ask what kind of things they write and they'd like to submit so you have an idea how time consuming it will be and if you have to set submission limits. Good luck!

  3. For the sake of easiness, I'm only going to detail one of my critique groups

    -We have 3 writers and 1 illustrator in our group
    -We meet once a week and critique each time.
    -We meet weekly so our limit is usually no more than two chapters per meeting, per person.
    -The lengths vary because our genres are different. We have two novel writers who alternate each week so that we can have enough time.
    -We are at different levels of writing, as well as genres
    -We have one picture-book author, one YA author, and one fantasy author (and the illustrator)
    -Two of our writers are published
    -Yes. We're friends as well as writers
    -One of our members started it and just asked us to join
    -Yes! Yes! Yes! (Love my group)
    -I'll have to think about this last one.

    Those are my answers and they follow the order in which you asked them. =]
    Good luck with your group!

  4. I belong to two critique groups that meet in person. Both have members in the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, which does offer some guidelines.
    The participants are a mix of professional and newcomers. There is a 10-page reading limit (although it can be stretched for something not much longer) or if there are few readers. We read outloud, although sometimes chapters are e-mailed for various reasons. The critique goes round the table, and people are supposed to stay on topic, point out what works and give constructive criticism for what does not.
    I have found it to be supportive and helpful.
    The key may be to establish rules and have a moderator. I had been in critique groups years ago that got too off-track.
    Recently, one of my groups set up more specific guidelines that include what to look for during critique: Plot (what's the problem, is it compelling, are the scenes moving it forward, is there a strong hook); Character and Setting, as well as Style. This can be challenging in a reading situation, probably would be easier by email. But getting together is rewarding, too.

  5. I've yet to join one due to time constraints but I'll keep my eye on your blog and see how this progresses.

  6. I've belonged to a critique group in the past where the members were unpublished, but they gave great advice. We wrote all different genres, but I've found it doesn't matter. Writers are going to pick up on areas you need help with.

    One thing to consider: timeliness. There's nothing worse than posting or e-mailing your work and never hearing back on it.

    I think honesty and kindness are also a big deal.
    Good luck!

  7. My critique group has a total of 10members. Each member can submit one chapter (up to 10 pages) every month...but that never happens. Our writing is all on different schedules so we usually only get three or four actually submitting in any given month

    Oh, and we are all over the it is an online group.

    good luck!!

  8. We have 4 (onlin) and it's new. I like the smallness and we don't have to read if we don't have time. No guilt as we are all busy at different times. But so far, I love reading what I've read and each of us our at different points in our publishing careers.

  9. I think that would be neat, but you'd have to put alot of time and effort into it, but in the end I think it would be worth it.

  10. I did two online crit groups. Dropped one and am in the last one mainly for social reasons. However, the second crit group really helped me grow in my writing, but I was lucky and fell in with a group of craz--er, wonderful gals. I'm involved in the beta swaps rather than the actual chapter critting.

  11. Hey Lynnette! Great blog! I have a crit. partner, but am not part of a crit group. I'm going to try out the new ACFW crit group system though. I like small and intimate. That's my two cents! :)

  12. I'm slightly terrified of critique groups. I'm just not sure I'm ready to share my novel with anyone until I have an agent. I suppose I'm probably doing it backwards though ;)

  13. In looking for a crit group I found a crit partner. I feel like I won the lottery! We write completely different types of story's (yep, I call them stories. They are stories in the end, are they not?) Anyway, I think on the first day of the chapter exchange we were both scared, but we brought the right type of objective eye to the work we created. One piece of good advice I got from someone who was just agented was to make sure I found someone who was at a similar point in their journey. We both had fulls out as well and were working on new novels. That was important because we could critique and let off some steam as well.

    BTW we are virtual if you want us!

  14. -How many members belong to your group? Thousands, but many of them break up into smaller groups, and you can invite about 8 people max into your private queues for a specific pieces or pieces of work.

    -How often are you required to critique? We set that up between us. It varies on people's schedules.

    -How many chapters can you put up for critique each month? (if there’s a limit) As many as you like and you agree with the group.

    -How long are the submissions? (double spaced) Usually basic chapter size - between 1500 - 4000 words.

    -Is everyone at the same writing level? In the groups I've created, I believe so.

    -Are all members writing the same genre? No.

    -Is everyone unpublished? Novel-wise, yes.

    -Once someone is published, do they continue with the group? Yes, I think they will.

    -How did you hear about the group? Through a blogging friend.

    -Did you have to pass a critique or writing test before becoming a member? No.

    -Do you feel you’re getting what you want out of your membership? Yes.

    -What could improve your critique group? My putting more time into it. :)

  15. I know joining a critique group is probably the next step I should take with my writing. I'm really nervous about it though, especially coming into an established group as the critique group newbie. I would only consider joining a group if there were other members that wrote middle grade/YA books. I'd prefer in-person but online is probably more practical. Good luck!

  16. First group:
    -How many members belong to your group? 5
    -How often are you required to critique? twice a week
    -How many chapters can you put up for critique each month? (if there’s a limit) We rotate--so I have one chapter up every other week
    -How long are the submissions? (double spaced) About a chapter; about 10 pages (we're flexible)
    -Is everyone at the same writing level? no
    -Are all members writing the same genre? all is mg/ya, but different sub-genres
    -Is everyone unpublished? yes (except for mags)
    -Once someone is published, do they continue with the group?
    -How did you hear about the group? SCBWI
    -Did you have to pass a critique or writing test before becoming a member? yes
    -Do you feel you’re getting what you want out of your membership? Actually, no--there are two members who are great, two who are not
    -What could improve your critique group? having better, more in-depth critiques. If it weren't for the two members I like, I would be out of there.

    Group 2
    -How many members belong to your group? 5, but only 3 active
    -How often are you required to critique? we each do a critique of all of them per week (so 2)
    -How many chapters can you put up for critique each month? (if there’s a limit) once a week
    -How long are the submissions? (double spaced) about ten pages
    -Is everyone at the same writing level? yes
    -Are all members writing the same genre? yes
    -Is everyone unpublished? yes
    -Once someone is published, do they continue with the group? probably
    -How did you hear about the group? met through the ABNA boards
    -Did you have to pass a critique or writing test before becoming a member? no--we got friendly in the writing community first, and have taken on no new members
    -Do you feel you’re getting what you want out of your membership? yes
    -What could improve your critique group? more regular submissions--we get slack sometimes.

  17. is a wonderful online critique group if you write SF/F/H. One short story I sent through eventually was published. I feel the model of how it's run works very well. It's been around for awhile too.

  18. I'm all for critique groups, and I've been in many. I even compared their critiques against each other. Well, it takes a long time to get through a novel, that's for sure. As a beginner, I owe everything to my first group.

    I'm a slow reader, so I think there out for be a 3,000 work limit or less.

    I think it would be lovely to have no more than ten member.

    You can put up as many chapter as you want, but don't expect them all to be critiqued in a speedy manner.

    It would be nice if everyone was at the same level, but how do you measure that?

    Same genres would be preferable, but I've found it hard to find that. And I'd love a published author, one who isn't, like, I'm a published writer, and therefore know it all.

    Okay, here's the most important thing. You have to teach people to critique. Most people, jump on what's wrong with your chapter without one positive statement. That stings.

    I'd love to have a critique partner. One on one, as long as you were right for each other.

  19. Thanks for the great advice. I will take it all into consideration.

    Lynnette Labelle

  20. Lynnette -- commenting at my blog this morning reminded me to come back and read part 2 of your robbery story, and then I spotted this post about critique groups. I have put together some guidelines I use for the groups I'm starting for Northern Colorado Writers (based on the rules my own group established in 2004). If you'd like a copy of how we do it, just e-mail me at patriciastoltey (at) and I give you the whole plan. It's a great method that doesn't overwhelm anyone (and is best for groups of 6-8).


  21. Great post. I love my critique group but it was trial and error before this one was formed. After a series of online groups that "didn't fit" a partner from one of the groups and I formed our own. We set it up the way we thought would work best based on past experience.
    We currently have about 12-15 active members
    It isn't how often you are required to crit, but reciprocation. Some members crit everything posted, others not so much. It goes hand in hand with posting. If you want to post a chapter, you must have critted 3 other chapters. You are not required to post so many chapters or so many crits other than that. However, if you go a long time of doing neither we will contact and see if they still want to be a member of the group. We don't have a length on submissions - they usually range from 15 to 25 pages. Given we don't require everyone to read every crit, that isn't too bad. Not everyone is of the same level. Some are beginning, but we do require that the manuscript be at least halfway completed. We don't want someone who thinks they may want to do this and is playing around, but someone who is serious with their eye on publication.
    All of our members write historical romance. We found it is easier to critique what you write and your critique is familiar with the genre as well. Two of our members are published and they have not been able to be as active. 3 have contracts so we will see if things change but they still post and crit. We don't have anyone take a test to join. They learn pretty quick if the group is going to work for them.
    I am very happy with this critique group and not sure I would change a thing.
    I noticed that some comments were fear of putting your work out there or being the newbie to the group. We have all felt that way, but our motto is Crit Honest and Crit Nice. There is always a good way to say what isn't working. I've been on the end of cold, mean comments and nobody wants to hear that. Don't be afraid of an established group either. My group has been together little over a year and some membersh have come and gone. We've had 3 new members in the last 6 weeks and it is like they have been with us all along.