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Getting More From Critique Groups

09-08-21, DaveHamster, judging of best pig in show

When reading articles on critique groups, it amazes me just how much of the article is normally on how to behave. So in this post I am assuming you already know how to behave like an adult, even when insulted by some snot nosed…     
who has completely misunderstood…
and who has the spelling and grammar of a…

To get the best from critiques they need to be used as a tool. You must know the reasons why you submitted any piece of work and what you are hoping to get out of it. Also you will need to analyse both the critique comments and the critique itself. Did I just say the same thing twice? No. The comments that form the critique are one thing and the critique as a whole provides quite separate information.

Which critique group you join is a big part of making this tool work for you. Depending on what level your writing is at will determine whether your submissions are wasting the time of the group or if you are wasting your own time. There are some groups on the web that require an assessment submission before you are allowed to join. Others have participants with a wide range of abilities, sometimes with sub groups specialising in genre or stricter critiques. So select groups that will stretch your writing and ignore the socially minded ones.

Having found a suitable group, lurk for a while and read other critiques, pay attention to who critiques in your genre and gives solid and constructive advice. Don’t be in a rush to get your work up. If you are reading good critiques then chances are that some of the points raised can be applied to your work. It will do you no favours to upload your work when it is riddled with flaws, the better the submission, the better the feedback. Having identified suitable members, build relationships with them, be honest and tell them you admire their work and would appreciate it, if they’d consider critiquing your next submission. The worst that can happen is they say “No”.

Before you submit your piece, decide what it is you want the focus on and request that scrutiny when submitting. If you are weak with dialogue or think your protagonist might be shallow then ask for comments on these. People will still comment on all your other sins but instead of concentrating on their pet peeves they will be primed to spend time elsewhere.

For the initial submission limit the word count. This is a kindness to whoever performs the critique, since doing a decent critique takes time. Additionally, people who do the best critiques put a lot of work into them and a high word count may put them off starting one for you. You can always increase the submission word count after you have shaken out any initial problems.

Apart from the critiques that you solicited, there will be critiques returned from other members, all varying in length and quality. This is where you have to analyse the critique; look up who performed it for you and rank the information against what you already know. If there are flaws in the advice displayed then double check the remaining points, don’t ignore them, check them. They may be right.

Critiques that are ‘light weight’ or contain silly errors of comprehension are valuable, so don’t disregard them. The reader, who reads line by line and word by word, has a different experience than someone who just reads and expresses from emotion. The judgment of the latter is closer to that of a public readership, so if they are having difficulty or they missed the point, you had better listen.

On any point raised, if you don’t understand it then don’t be scared to ask for some more help, maybe by way of an example. Most people will go to great pains to help you understand if you are taking a sincere interest in their advice. However, if the same information can be found on the web then do not abuse people’s good will, as you may alienate a good reviewer.

Photo; Judging of Best Pig in Show, Dave Hamster

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7 comments to Getting More From Critique Groups

  • Critique groups have been a hot topic of discussion lately. My blog last week on Warrior Writer was “Critique–If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen.” I have been an editor for going on a decade, and president of a local critique group for five years, and I have to say this is absolutely EXCELLENT advice that I fully intend to pass on.

    During my tenure in this profession, I have witnessed the best and the worst. One thing I have found on Twitter (at least)is that there are predators who capitalize on a new writer’s desire to avoid pain. They advertise a kinder, gentler, hand-holding-tuck-you-into-bed-at-night-with-your-blankie sort of critique which is, in my opinion…useless as ice trays in hell (oh, and they charge, too, which is mighty convenient). I believe most writers do have to suck it up and realize a lot of critique groups are made up of other writers who may or may not be skilled in critique. If you (the writer) happen to find a group/people/person who is skilled at critique, count yourself mighty blessed. It is a lot harder than it looks. But, if the group isn’t a whiz at critique? That in no way means their opinion is not valuable. Worst-case-scenario is they will serve as beta readers. Most of the people who one day buy will your book are not going to be skilled editors…but be very assured they will judge your story.

    Thanks for this great post!

    • Teresa: Good point, you don’t have to agree with the advice but you do have to consider it carefully.

      Kristen: I read your post and was impressed with it, so I included it in last week’s Sunday Wash-Up, so very nice to meet you here.
      “Absolutely excellent” a bit strong but thanks (blushing).
      All of your second paragraph, yes, yes, yes. Darn it, I wish I’d included those points in the post.

  • Hi Andy,

    I really like this, especially the part of never discounting any critique no matter how lightweight. I think every critique is valuable, and while I don’t always agree with the recommended change, I can usually come up with a way to clarify the sentence or section.

    I agree with with you: if it bothered one person, it’s entirely possible it will bother twenty down the line.
    Great post!

  • Andy,

    Successfully managing critiques is a skill that any author who wishes to be long term needs to master. There are folks who turn into a massive ball of quivering jelly at the mere mentioning of the word. It can be very hard to hear people stepping all over your baby, so take the time to find a group that fits you and your style. Consider going the gentle route at first, and as you become more comfortable, feel free to hang out with the savage types. ;-)


    • Hi ya George, (Shack notes to self, must pop over to TM services to check Newbie blog of the week feature.)

      You do have a way with words, especially these ones “needs to master”. :) Because if you/we don’t, then by the time an agent and editor and copy-editor have all chewed on your/our “baby”. Point made I think.

      No pressure but remember it is only one week to next month and TM newsletter, I have marked it on my calendar. ;)

  • [...] you getting what you need from your critique group? Visit Andy Shackcloth and read his post Getting More From Critique Groups to see if you [...]