Starting Your Own Critique Group, by Heather Stigall

Starting Your Own Critique Group

Quite some time ago I wrote a series of blog posts about critique groups. In them, I tackled five “Ws” and one “H”: Why join a critique group? How do you find or start a critique group? Who do you include in, and where and when do you hold a critique group? What to do when giving and receiving a critique, and what do you consider when joining or starting a critique group? You can refer back to those posts to read how I addressed those questions, but today I’d like to zero in on one aspect—starting a new critique group

To date, the Eastern PA chapter of SCBWI has 39 active critiques groups listed on our website. That means that many of our members are taking advantage of a valuable resource to help them on their writing and illustrating journeys. But I know there are many out there who are not in a critique group but want to be. How do I know? As the Critique Group Coordinator for our chapter, I receive emails from these members. Some of them decide to start their own groups, and you can too!

Who can start a new critique group?

Any of our Eastern PA SCBWI members! Are you looking for a critique group for picture book illustrators? Middle grade fiction? Poetry? YOU decide what genre you want to include in your group.

Where can your critique group meet? 

One perk of being a critique group leader is that you choose your meeting location. Currently, SCBWI is recommending that all events meet virtually, but when we are finally feeling comfortable with in-person events, you can choose a location that works for you. That can be a local coffee shop, bookstore, community center, or Zoom, Google Docs, or email.

When can your critique group meet? 

This is another advantage to leading your own group—you determine your group’s meeting time and frequency. You can choose a day and time that suits your needs and schedule. Or you can use that as a starting point and, once you have members, adjust to accommodate everyone’s needs.

Why start your own critique group? 

Sometimes members reach out to me after they have already looked through our critique group listings but couldn’t find a group that suited their needs. Sometimes members are already part of a critique group but want to be in a second group (for another genre or to have more eyes on their work, for example). Whatever the reason, you are welcome to lead your own group.

How do you start your own critique group? 

First, contact me at scbwiepaCGC@gmail.com to tell me you want to start your own group. I will ask you to provide me with some basic information so I can post your group on our website. I will also provide you with resources you might find helpful. Then I will send out an email to our members announcing your group is open. Sometimes all it takes is for one person to take the initiative to start a group and, before you know it, you have a full group. Some groups take longer to gain members, but you won’t really know if there are other writers looking in your area unless you advertise.

What are the critique group leader’s responsibilities? 

Critique groups are a collaborative experience, but at least one person needs to be listed as leader. Interested writers/illustrators will contact you if they are interested in joining. You can form your group on a first-come-first-serve basis until you are “full” (whatever “full” means to you), but you might want to utilize some sort of “screening” process. Some things to consider when forming your group are genre, experience, critique style, commitment, and career goals. You can ask potential members some screening questions, ask them to submit samples of work, or you can hold a meeting or two to see if you work well together. Once your group is established, you will likely have all your members weigh in on decisions about adding more members. You also act as leader during and in between meetings by doing things like making sure everyone has equal time or sending reminders about deadlines, meeting dates, and Zoom links. 

Still have questions? 

Don’t be afraid to ask! You might find the answers you’re looking for in the blogs I referenced above. If not, please contact me at scbwiepaCGC@gmail.com. I’m happy to answer any questions or concerns you might have. I can also provide you with resources about leading critique groups and giving and receiving critiques. 

If you’d like to consider creating your own critique group, please let me know.

I know first-hand how valuable critique groups can be, and there may be several others like you who want to find a group with openings in your area. 

Additional Opportunity:

If you’re interested in hearing more about critique groups, I’m planning a FREE virtual Meet & Greet on Tuesday, March 9 at 7:00 p.m. I’ll be giving an overview and some tips, but mostly I want to address YOUR questions and concerns. Maybe some of you will connect to form your own group! Whether or not you are already in a critique group, are considering forming one, or just want to hear about critique groups, all are welcome. I hope you’ll join me!

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