When I decided to take children’s writing seriously, I heard two pieces of advice: (1) Join SCBWI and (2) Join a critique group. I put both off for a while, but I figured there had to be a reason I heard this over and over again. Eventually, I did both, and I am SO glad I did!
I could write a whole post on the benefits of SCBWI membership, but today I want to focus on piece of advice #2 (Besides, guess what I kept hearing after I joined SCBWI? Yup, “Join a critique group”). Maybe you’ve heard the same advice. Maybe you’re not sure why it’s a good idea to join a critique group. Maybe you even took the advice, but you’re still not quite sure what this whole critique group thing is all about. So, I present to you:
10 Reasons Why Joining a Critique Group is a Good Idea
- Your very own posse: Writing (and illustrating) is often a solitary activity. Navigating the publishing world by yourself can get lonely and downright depressing at times. Belonging to a group of like-minded people means you have shoulders to cry on, cheerleaders to encourage you, and friends who understand what you’re going through along your kid lit journey. And, having a strong support system will help you become a better writer/illustrator.
- Receive feedback on your manuscripts/art. Your critique partners will be able to look at your work with a fresh set of (relatively objective) eyes and point out the strengths and weaknesses of your stories/art in a supportive way. Yes, critiques have a subjective quality to them, but critique partners aren’t as “close” to your stories as you are and will be able to give you a little more feedback than, “This is great, honey!” (from your significant other) or “Boring!” (from your disgruntled tween). You’ll be able to use the feedback you receive to revise your manuscripts, which will help you become a better writer/illustrator.
- Learn how to receive critiques. You’ll learn from your mistakes and then learn to avoid repeating them; you’ll gain self-confidence and develop a thicker skin; and you’ll even learn how to discern what advice to take and what to decline. This will help you become a better writer/illustrator.
- Learn how to give critiques. The more critiques you give, the better you will become at seeing the weaknesses in your own work and how to fix them. Learning how to be a better editor of others’ and your own work will help you become a better writer/illustrator.
- Information. Besides critiquing each other’s work, you can share books you’ve read (instructional, mentor texts, comp titles) and resources you’ve discovered (conferences, publishing/editor/agent news, on-line challenges, blogs, podcasts). Being better-informed will help you become a better writer/illustrator.
- Guidance/Inspiration. You can brainstorm new ideas to get opinions on what to work on next or how to strengthen an idea you have for a story. You can discuss ideas about how to approach an agent/editor/art director or how to develop a submission plan or write a query letter. Knowing the market and strategizing your kid lit career will help you become a better writer/illustrator.
- Sounding board. Having critique partners means you have a built-in audience when you are preparing for a pitch session, school visit, workshop presentation, book launch or reading. If you write picture books (since these are meant to be read out loud), you have access to someone who can read your manuscripts out loud so you can listen for any baubles in rhythm or rhyme. Rehearsing and listening will help you become a better writer/illustrator.
- Accountability Partners. Having others who are along the same journey can help you to set and achieve goals by motivating you and helping keep you accountable. Setting and striving for goals (you know what’s coming …) will help you become a better writer/illustrator.
- Promotion. When you have good news to share (You got a book deal! You having a book launch! You’re presenting at a conference! You won an award!), you have a group of people who will be more than happy to share your happy news. Promoting you and your work will lead to books sales and more opportunities, which will lead to more writing/art. And the more you write/create art, the better writer/illustrator you’ll become.
- If nothing else, just believe me when I say: You’ll become a better writer/illustrator.
Have I convinced you? Great! Your next step is to go to https://epa.scbwi.org and click on the “Local Critique Group” link (on the right) to see if there’s a local or on-line critique group open to new members. If you don’t see a group that’s a fit for you, contact me (Heather Stigall, Critique Group Coordinator – my contact info is on the page). We can discuss other options, including starting your own group. Please also keep checking back, as new groups are added and information changes often.
If you plan to attend the upcoming Poconos Mountain Retreat May 4-6, 2018 (info at https://epa.scbwi.org/events/pocono-retreat-2018/), you will have the option to participate in a FREE (with registration) Peer-to-Peer Critique-a-Thon (for manuscripts, PB to YA) or Peer-to-Peer Portfolio Critique session. Whether you are brand new to critiques and want an opportunity to give it a try, or are a seasoned critiquer who wants some “fresh eyes” to look at your work, this is a great opportunity!
If you’re still feeling tentative about joining or starting a critique group, stay tuned for my next few posts to address the “who, what where, when and how” questions you might have. In the meantime, feel free to ask questions or submit comments below.