By J.A. Marx
We fondly call each other critters, and I consider this group of serious writers essential to my writing career.
I’m sure online critique groups work well, but I prefer face-to-face. For one, as the facilitator, I like to observe the newbies to ensure they are holding up under the initial shock—reading their story out loud for the first time in public. The majority of new members will confess to having huddled in their vehicles outside my house before group and cried their nerves out. But after persevering for a couple of weeks, they grow a thick skin, and they’re hooked.
Elements of a Healthy Critique Group
- Select a location sans distractions. A home setting works best. Twelve or fewer is a manageable number of members. Three hours max is sufficient. My critters keep our bowl of chocolates stocked.
- Keep the focus on the most important influence—God (read: The Holy Author). Begin each meeting by committing it to His, and invite the Holy Spirit to guide your time together. If I forget to pray, our devotional writer faithfully reminds me.
- Highly recommended. Having a traditionally published author in the group helps tremendously. Anybody can self-publish, but an author who’s familiar with the world of agents and editors, and who has walked this challenging road, will offer invaluable insight to beginners.
- Each member may bring up to 10 pages (12 pages for a smaller group), otherwise we tire out. Guidelines: double-spaced, 12pt font, 1-inch margins. Why? To get them in the habit of formatting for submission to agents and editors.
- Strive for this. During these few hours, everyone, no matter their writing level, is equal. While we are eager to celebrate individual milestones, no one, including myself, is allowed to dominate with self-praise or self-promotion.
- I’ve been in groups where one member shares their small success (their milestone), and a seasoned author will promptly one-up them. In order to mature as writers, humility must rule the atmosphere. Good facilitators will model and implement altruism
- Encourage constructive input only. Critique is hard enough on the ego; no need to stab the heart, too. (If I perceive especially difficult feedback would be helpful, I offer this in private or write it on their manuscript so I can follow up later.)
- No negative talk. Don’t allow members to speak derogatorily. For example, “Oh, that will never sell. Nobody would read that.” This can occur when immature writers are unfamiliar with genres outside of their own, and they have no concept of what interests readers different from themselves.
- Besides different genres, we love our nonfiction authors. This has created a unique symbiotic relationship. The fictional readings help the devotional and Christian living authors add character to their nonfiction, and they return the favor with input as beta readers. (Not to mention the spiritual insight the group gains.)
Writing a book is often a journey of self-discovery where God speaks to the writer’s heart. Creating an atmosphere of acceptance that won’t inhibit members from interacting with the Spirit will keep them coming back.
When a critter’s book releases, a launch team is already in place to throw a Facebook party. We’ve had at least two occasions where we’ve dedicated a meeting to help fellow authors launch a new release. Everyone brings laptops, and each member comments on posts and interacts with FB guests. A potluck dinner adds to the fun. And someone usually posts a live video on the party page, revealing our crazy antics.
Multi-published author, J.A.Marx writes psychological suspense. She loves working with authors and presides over her local ACFW chapter. When not writing, J.A. hangs out with her children and grandchildren, volunteers at church, and paints. Find J.A. on her website or Amazon author page.