Finding the Right Critique Group

As office manager of Willamette Writers, a non-profit writers group, I often get calls asking about critique groups. I advise people to think of them as coming in four types:

Light Critique
Heavy Critique
Wise Readers

Support groups generally offer encouragement in writing or marketing, and little or no critique. Some support groups also operate as social networks, and might involve eating a meal together or meeting at a restaurant.

Light Critique groups could have a format for critique, like a time limit to respond; or limits on the person responding; or a requirement that a critique start and end with a positive comment, etc. This is something a group works out. A group might have a moderator to make sure the guidelines are followed.

Heavy Critique
This is generally for writers who are published or who are interested in mainstream publishing. People read something and offer a no-holds barred critique. The author takes it in and does what they want with what is offered.

Wise Readers
Orson Scott Card developed this idea, that an author can give a spouse or friend guidelines for how to respond to a manuscript (for example, when someone started skipping pages or lost interest). A good resource for getting good feedback from casual readers.

Where to Meet

Some people meet at a home; others meet at a Starbucks (some do close at 6 pm); some people meet at a local restaurant (3-6 is often a quiet time for a restaurant, and they appreciate people coming in; this is also a typical Happy Hour time for lower costs for food). A few groups sign up to meet at the WW Writing House.

What to Look For

I advise people to try 2-3 groups to find a group that offers the right fit and personalities. Cynthia Whitcomb belongs to both a support and critique group to meet her needs.

Some people call the office and want to join a critique group (or be mentored by) New York Times best-selling authors. Those kind of people are generally protective of their time.

Finding a group that works for you could take some time and effort, but the rewards can be worth it. Even a group with prickly personalities that don’t accept feedback on their work might offer you the feedback you need. Just don’t get ‘stuck’ in a group that doesn’t work for you.

Good luck.

Bill Johnson is the author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99, and at Smashwords.