Sunday, May 8, 2011

You've Got to Have Friends: Crit Groups Beta Readers

Critique groups help in many ways
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I belong to several critique groups, and I wouldn't trade any of them for anything. I'm incredibly lucky to have found some amazing and talented writers to work with. But not everyone is so lucky, and finding a good crit group can be tough.

I'm pro crit group. I know without question that I wouldn't have sold a novel (let alone three) if I hadn't had these folks taking the time to read my work and offer their feedback. I think it's hard to be objective about our own work, and since we know everything so well, we often miss what's in our heads and what's really on the page. Outside eyes can tell us what our words say, not what we think they say.

How to Find a Crit Group of Your Very Own:

Check your area for local or state writers groups. A quick Google search with your state and "writers groups" will likely bring up a few organizations. I'm a member of the Georgia Writers Association, and they have folks who organize crit groups and help their members find others who are also looking for a group.


Check your genre for national or local organizations. I write children's fantasy, so I'm a member of both the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). I'm also a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), and  even if you don't write romance, it's a very good group to belong to. All of these organizations have forums and ways for writers to connect. Most genres have similar groups and ways to find like-minder writers. You can also try agent blogs who rep those genres, as they often have links to the various groups.

Forums are another good resource. I've been a member of Absolute Write for several years now, and they have a great bunch of folks happy to help writers with questions, and even critiques. People are always looking to connect and form groups there.

Online workshops can offer feedback. When I was starting out, I was part of Critters, an online crit group for science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers. In fact, I met my best friend through Critters, which in turn led me to one of the crit groups I'm in now.

For those who can afford it, there are also paid workshop groups you can join, where an instructor as well as your fellow writers read and crit each others work. Gloria Kempton's Writers Recharge is where I met several of my current crit buddies and good friends.

There are also other classes at Writers Online Workshops and Writers.com, where you can take online classes (for a price) and work with instructors and students.

Not everyone can afford to pay for classes on a long term basis, but sometimes they can be a good way to meet other writers, and if you hit it off, you can find crit partners that way. (I know I did). But if you can't, don't feel that you're missing anything. There are plenty of ways to meet folks without these classes.

Conferences are another way to connect with fellow writers. While the conferences themselves won't offer crit group services (though sometimes they do crit workshops), I've never attended one where I didn't meet someone I still keep in contact with. And many of those people are now part of my crit groups.


Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but it doesn't have to be. A little time with a search engine and you can find resources to help you get the feedback you're looking for.


And if anyone has additional information on getting in touch with crit groups and writers forums, please post them in the comments section. I'll add them to this post.

25 comments:

  1. I'm also pro-crit group. I'm in a small crit group with members in the USA, UK and here in South Africa. We all write in different genres and connected through on-line discussions groups because of the South African connection (the UK & US members are ex-pats). It's extremely helpful getting different views and comments. And you've pretty much covered all the ways of getting involved in crit groups that I can think of.

    One question: now that you're published, do you still participate in a crit group?

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  2. So much talk about critique groups this week in the blogosphere!

    I found my writing group by posting about it on my blog (inviting any interested members to join) and then posting a similar invitation on AbsoluteWrite. We started off with seven members, but some of them never participated on our group blog and started drifting off. It's down to four of us now, and I couldn't be happier. These ladies have become real friends. They're smart, funny and they GET writing. We can be honest about what we like and don't like in each other's work, and also in life. We all write MG or YA so we read the same books and can discuss them without worrying about offending anyone. I can't recommend a good crit group enough! (And one of our members, Natalie Bahm, just signed with Sara Megibow! Squee!)

    For everyone looking to start or join a crit group, be prepared to devote time to it. You will read other people's work and offer feedback. In turn, they will read your work and offer feedback. Find people that you can be honest with, and who understand you and your work. And have fun with them!

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  3. Ann, absolutely. Their feedback was part of the reason I got published in the first place, so I'd be nuts to change something that works so well :)

    MeganRebekah, that's great about your crit partner! Tell her grats from a fellow NLA gal.

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  4. I'm madly in love with my crit group. I can say with absolute certainty that I would not be so near finishing my novel--and so excited about how it's going--without the ladies of the First Novels Club. We met in a small children's writing class (with a strong critique component) and realized that our critiques were spot-on for each other, despite our varying writing styles. Now I consider them some of my closest--and most honest!--friends.

    Also, something great about having that support (besides that they speak your language) is that you're so invested in each other's work that you have more things to celebrate!

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  5. Thanks for answering that Janice. I just wondered because on our crit group a published author joined but asked not to be involved in the crits as, understandably, she wanted to avoid potential issues around copyrights etc.

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  6. That's something I've thought about with one of my groups, because it's a more public group than the others (the workshop one). As much as I hate the thought of bowing out, I probably will before too long. I can't control who sees what, so the potential for something getting posted without my permission is higher. I can also see the potential for copyright issues being higher as well.

    The other groups I trust and know no one would do anything to hurt me, same as I'd never do anything to hurt them. I think that's something every writer has to judge for themselves based on their group and situation.

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  7. I used http://www.meetup.com/ to find a group that meets in my area. We meet every Monday, alternating between screenwriters (there's a lot in LA) and "other" (which is pretty much everything except screenwriting). I haven't really workshopped anything yet, but it's good to go and hang out with new people, talk about writing, and all that. I found that it's good to hear what other people think about the pieces that are presented. Even if it's not something I've written, it helps me with my writing as well.

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  8. Another great place to get yourself writing and to get your writing critiqued is the Liberty Hall Writers forum (http://phpbb.libertyhallwriters.org/). They have weekly flash fiction challenges (write a story in 90 minutes!!) plus short story challenges, and other writing activities. We just recently did a novel outlining challenge and a worldbuilding challenge.

    It's a great group of people who are serious about writing, and part of every challenge is reading and commenting on other people's work, so you'll get plenty of good feedback.

    For more info, check out this page on the Liberty Hall Blog: http://www.libertyhallwriters.org/about/

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  9. I should also mention, most of the Liberty Hall forums are for members only, so you don't have to worry about copyright and prior publication issues with what you post.

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  10. Ok... I know this is an old post. I'm just starting out. How early is too early to start looking for a crit group? Yes, I have some writing, but it's just fragments of larger projects.

    Should I wait until I have something finished and whole before looking for people to read it?

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  11. I don't think it's ever too early, if the goal of the crit group is to better your writing. But you'd probably want to find a group that is around the same level as you so you can grow as a group. I've found that groups where the skill levels were vastly different often had someone who was frustrated. Either they were above the group and felt like they were always teaching and never got anything out of it for themselves, or they were below the group and always felt left behind or lost, or worse, like they weren't good enough.

    I believe an ideal group is one that has some folks a little higher and a little lower than you, so you can benefit from those a step farther along the path, and you can learn by helping those a step behind you catch up. You learn just as much by giving a critique as getting one.

    As for when to submit something, it depends on what you're looking for. And what the group knows it's critiquing. You don't want to give them first draft stuff when they think they're reading finished work. But if you want some general feedback to help you develop a story, and you have a group that doesn't mind reading works in progress, there's nothing wrong with submitting pieces. I have a work in progress group, and we don't worry about typos or stuff that will clearly be changed in the next draft.

    What's most important is to find a group that provides the type of feedback you need. Just like there's no one way to write, there's no one way to work with a crit group.

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  12. Anyone know why the www.critters.org link isn't working?
    Thanks!

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  13. I think it's their end. I went directly to their home page and it wasn't loading either.

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  14. This is an old topic, but I wanted to ask something, and share my two cents.

    I used to have a really great critique group, but after my last burnout, I couldn't live up to the demands and expectations of our group and after a childish, but unavoidable fight, I left, and my spot was quickly taken by someone else.

    On the upside, I eventually calmed down and apologized, and we're still friends, but I no longer have a group to share my work with.

    I can't find any existing groups that would be a good match, and I'm too likely to be overly shy in an in-person group, and my fast talking doesn't help. Plus, since I don't drive, and even I did can't afford a car, getting to an in-person group regularly will be a small miracle in and of itself.

    But I don't know any writers I can start a new online group with. They're either too busy with their family and day jobs to meet regularly, or they're already published like you, and have too many other things to juggle on and offline, or worst of all, they don't read or even like what I love writing and reading, and as someone recently told me, if they don't like and respect the stories you love telling, it doesn't help.

    That said, I need other people to give me insights to my stories that I don't always see, and NOT because I'm lazy or narrow-minded, but you can only be so objective about your own work, and I'm either too hard one myself, or something I know is a problem just won't get better no matter what I do, and I need someone else to show me why I'm going, and maybe how to fix it, but I don't have thousands of dollars to throw around either.

    I will say that I don't always feel confident in my critiquing ability because all the writers I worked with in my old group rarely had much wrong with their work, but I always get the laundry list of things I didn't do, should've done, or trust them to get, what they didn't get that to me is so obvious, etc.

    Now don't get me wrong, they weren't mean and horrid, but as Janice described in an earlier reply, I felt like the weakest link in the group sometimes.

    I was the only one in the group who'd never published anything (For pay) and only one other person in the group who found writing engaging nonfiction a headache as opposed to being the "Easy sell" you always hear it is.

    Any advice or commiserations?

    Also, has anyone else changed groups when your old one wasn't working out? How did you start a new one, or find an existing one that better fits the writer you are now?

    Taurean

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  15. You might try Absolute Write. They have a share your work forum, and you can post and get feedback. You get a wide range of it, so you have to be able to weed out the good from the bad, but even that's a great learning experience. It also might be a good place to read through other crits to get a feed for what people are looking at and what common errors folks make. That'll help you with your writing and your critiquing.

    They also have folks looking for crit groups, so you might click with some there.

    I found my current groups from joining other crit groups/crit sites. I was part of a workshop group for a while, and met folks that I'm still friends with and now crit partners with. I belonged to Critters.org for a while and met my now-best friend and crit partner. She introduced me to some of her crit partners and we all ended up forming a group together several years back.

    It's about getting out there where the writers are and making connections. Local writers groups and organizations, schools, bookstores. Check online for the genre/market organizations like RWA (romance) SFWA (sci fi/fantasy) SCBWI (children's/YA) There's one for just about every genre, and that often have local chapters.

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  16. http://www.scribophile.com

    Just putting this out there. This is a good website for getting your work critiqued. It has a karma system, too, so that you must critique other works before you can post yours and a spotlight system, etc. It's been all right for me so far. Everyone's pretty respectful of each other and encouraging. It's free to join, but there's a premium membership if you want a little more.

    I wish I could find a good real life crit group, but there's a language barrier for me, so I've never even tried to look for one.

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  17. Thank you thank you thank you for posting this! I'm going to check out Critters now.

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  18. Thanks V.N! (missed your comment earlier, sorry about that) I'll check that out.

    Debra, hope it works out for you :) I found it very helpful.

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  19. I just started an Author Crit Connect Event on my blog. Hope you don't mind but I'm posting links to ALL your crit posts, heehee!

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  20. Carissa, don't mind at all, thanks for thinking of me :) A crit connect is a great idea. Hope it finds lots of writers great crit partners. What's the link so folks can find it?

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  21. thank you for all of the above! Great and encouraging.
    Will do some checking to see what may be available here in South Africa - Ann Victor, I saw your comment right at the top from 2009 -

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  22. Susan, I hope you find something. Always nice to find a local group, but online options are out there as well.

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  23. As odd as it sounds, I actually come in knowing its unlikely the first draft 8f my stories, translate perfectly from the dream. Often I have to revise five times before it resembles the original dream. And then a beta reader, can help kake suggestions further.

    I wouldnt be where I am without mine.^^

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  24. Just Sarah, I don't think anyone gets it perfect on the first draft, so you're not alone there. Thank goodness for beta readers.

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