Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Crit Groups, Beta Readers, Critique Partners - What's Your Flavor?

I've had a range of critiquing experiences, everything from winning a full MS critique by a published author to forming my own online critique group. I've found that different strokes work for different folks, and I was wondering what works for the members of the Cove?

Here's (some) of what I've done:

Online Critique Group: An evolving group of 4-7 writers of different genres and experience levels. Every week, or whenever we have something to post, we submit a chapter or two (4-6k words), and each member posts their critique within a week (mostly).
Pros: Weekly feedback to spur you on; long-term relationships mean you're familiar with the author and their work; three or four perspectives on every chapter.
Cons: Only small chunks of an MS can be critiqued at a time. Not everyone can critique or submit every week. Writers out-of-genre might have a hard time critiquing each other.

Critique Partners: A one-on-one swap of anything from first chapters to partials to full MS. Often I'll critique someone's full MS, and they will critique mine months later (or vice versa), whenever each of us is ready (and in need of a critique).
Pros: Thorough feedback of a complete MS; the commitment to critique often builds long-term relationships.
Cons: Only one perspective; sometimes you don't know if the author is a good match before critiquing.

Face-to-Face Critique Group: On the third Wednesday each month, my local SCBWI group meets face to face. Anywhere from 9-13 people show up, each with a dozen copies of 5 pages of their WiP (beginning, middle, or end). We read our pages aloud, or split the pages among five others, who read aloud for us. Everyone makes notes on their copies, and there's about 5 minutes for verbal feedback after the reading.
Pros: Instant feedback from a dozen different people; verbal feedback during a read (Oohs! Aahs! Ha!) can help you judge the timing of your work; works well for openings (the first 5 pages), less so for subsequent pages, where more background is necessary.
Cons: Only critique very short pieces of work; sometimes a group will reverberate off itself, with independent (conflicting) perspectives not as easily drawn out; only meet once a month.
 In truth, I highly value all these different forms of crits, each in their own way helping me grow as an author, and enabling me to help other authors grow as well.

What crit forms have you used? And what do you see as the pros and cons?


  1. First, let me say I love swapping manuscripts with you, Sue. You're one of the ones who really appreciates it when I work hard to get my science right.

    My first critique group started out with a rotation where one writer would submit fifty pages each week, and the rest of us would read and comment. This was a sort of compromise between chapter-a-week and full manuscript swap. We got larger portions of the text. The problem was, it was hard for people to hang in there when they were only getting feedback once every six weeks. The group eventually fell apart.

    Right now I have three on-line critique groups. One is a small group of sci-fi writers, three of us, and right now I'm the only one submitting. They're awesome alpha readers. I can send them first or second draft material and get good suggestions. I have another small on-line group of local SCBWI members. One of them has worked as a professional editor, so I don't send them stuff until it is more polished. Don't want to waste that awesomeness on an early draft. My third group is made up of friends from Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. There are six of us, and we're all swapping a chapter a week right now to get ready for the workshop. I'm also advising a group of teenage girls who like to write, and we read our work aloud to each other and give feedback.

  2. Wow, Susan and Rebecca, you sure have awesome support groups! I've done a variety of critique groups, too, but currently three good writing buddies and I have formed our own group, which has great writing chemistry, and I really respect their tastes and feedback. (Sorry for the run-on sentence.) We meet once a week for about two hours, and can submit up to 20 pages each. We read them in advance and then give our critiques when we meet. We also use the time to discuss problems or ideas. Great post, Susan!

  3. I have a face-to-face critique group that is pretty much the most amazing thing ever. They are the best writers and most supportive friends a girl could ask for.

    I also have some online beta readers/crit pals that I'm only starting to interact with regularly but I'm really enjoying it so far.

  4. Cool post! Let's see, I'm a lucky duck in Jonene's group. Yay! I'm also in a group that meets twice a month and exchanges ten pages each time. Then I'm in an online group that exchanges 20-30 pages twice a month. Then I'm lucky enough to be working with Rebecca online getting ready for WIFYR. Then I also do a manuscript swap with some friends when we're all ready to swap. Phew, no wonder I'm so tired. Yikes. But it's fun, and I like submitting different things to the different groups most of the time. This helps me work on a wider selection from my WIP/s, but it also means I critique a LOT of pages from other writers. I'm going to have to scale back, though. I am a tired girl. But I'm also smiling. :)

  5. @Rebecca That all sounds awesome (and I love your crits too! Some of the best I've had.)! And I forgot to point out that it's good to have people you can send the rough stuff to, as well as the polished stuff. It sounds like you've got a good mix!

  6. @Jonene I like the idea of submitting in advance, but then meeting face-to-face! That seems like a good way to get the best of both techniques!

    @Sierra I found I can do more critiquing with the online ones, just because I can do the crits when I'm able (more flexible) - but that in-person support is priceless!

    @Leisha Wow! You ARE busy. Having too much critiquing is a danger too, because then your writing time suffers. I learn something from every crit I do, but at some point you have to write. Hang in there! :)

  7. I started with a workshop, Clarion West, which was a face to face critique group of seventeen of us. That was intense, but helped me grow by leaps and bounds. Then I went from there to Critical Mass for ten years, which is another face to face critique group in New Mexico that requires all of its members to be professionally published or a graduate of one of the Clarion workshops. That was a real learning experience, as about half the material I read from others was under contract to be published.

    Now I just rely on getting one on one critiques from any of the above.

    I know I'm way behind on posting stuff here. It's been a crazy week.

  8. I have one wonderful CP. So far, that's it. I wouldn't trade her for the world, but it would be nice to have more than one. :-)

  9. I don't think I really began to improve until I let other people read my work (besides my husband, who thinks I'm brilliant no matter what I do). One of the first people who read my work was a newspaper writer who gave me Williams' "Style:Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace." I owe her big time forever. Others through the years have shown me painful flaws and also cheered me on. Critique groups and test readers are what keeps me going through the long, hard struggle in the dark.

  10. I belong to a writing group and we meet once a week. We bring copies to pass out to everyone and we read aloud what we brought. You get instant feed back and scribbles on your manuscript. I like this, but wish we met more than once a month. I've often thought of joining an online critique group, but haven't did it yet.

  11. @Emily I'm doing a workshop in June that I'm hoping will be similar experience! Sounds like you found some great CPs out of that!

    @Shannon You need more than one! (And I'd be happy to be #2 :))

    @Rebecca You paid Williams' book forward with me! Definitely what keeps me going in the long, hard struggle too.

    @Janet The online crit group can really work great, although I would recommend crit partners first, until you have a group that you feel you can fit well with. Then you can make a group!

  12. You know, this is all very brilliant. I know it's important to have all of the above, actually. I have alphareaders, crit partners, and betareaders. I'm scared of critique groups because, once I step foot in one, I panic. I'm still trying to figure it out. It has nothing to do with what they'll say about my stuff, more like how I'm going to fit them into my schedule.

    Do you have any solutions?


  13. @Elizabeth Managing the time part of crit groups is key, I agree. I think keeping it small (think crit partners times 2 or 3 to start) keeps it manageable. And also deciding up front what you can commit. Walking in cold to an already formed group...that scares me to! Yet, it's what I did with the SCBWI group, and it's working out great.


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