Friday, August 22, 2008

Up for Discussion: Critique Groups...

Today on Jane Friedman's There Are No Rules blog, she posted the following:

This morning, we pitched a book on writing and critique groups. While anecdotal evidence tells us that most writers do participate in some form of critiquing (whether as part of a formal group or not), we don't have hard evidence. So the sales people tabled the project until we could return with information that substantiated our claims. They also disputed whether writers would spend their money on a book about writing groups and critiquing, even if they are an active writing group member.

So we're putting together a survey that will soon go out to Writer's Digest newsletter subscribers, to see what data we can collect. I'd love to hear from readers of this blog as well, if you know of any information/data that would be useful to us. (And if you have a blog, perhaps you can post on this topic and gather feedback too!) Ultimately, I'd love to create a groundswell of discussion that will convince our sales team that this idea deserves realization as a physical book.

I'd love to know your opinion on this issue.
  • Are you in a critique group?
  • Would you or your group consider buying a book about writing groups and critiquing?
  • Do you think such a book is needed?
I know a lot of you out there have critiques groups or critique partners. Maybe some of you are interested in joining or forming a group. Please weigh in our our discussion--comment here or on Jane's blog.


Carly said...

1. I'm in two critique groups.

2. I might consider buying such a book, but unless the book blew my mind, I wouldn't tell my other critique members about it.

3. It's hard to tell whether such a book is needed when the only description given is that it's "on writing and critique groups." What does that mean, really? Unless there's something specific and alluring to draw me to the book, I'm not going to spend my money on it. I'm trying to spend more time writing... which means I would like to spend only the time necessary (read: very little) to read about writing and critiquing.

Bonnie A said...

Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft addresses critique groups with an overview of what to look for in a group, how to structure critiques, and how to adapt the writing exercises (which form the bulk of the book) for use in a group. That's one I've already bought, so I might not be interested in another.

Also, I've been in a successful critique group for about two years. I do see new writers coming up all the time who are hungry for this type of information, though.

Amitha S. J. Knight said...

I am the leader of a children's writers critique group. I would be interested in a critique group book, and like carly, I would scope it out before recommending it to the other group members. I am actually attending a workshop for New England SCBWI critique group leaders on running a successful critique group. The workshop is being run by The Write Sisters, a critique group that has been going on for many years and has even published a book together. There are going to be many attendees at this workshop, so I think you can read this as a sign that people are interested.

Amy Tate said...

My critique group is a critical component in my writing. We only have four people - add one more and it would be too many. I've been in a group as large as 15. That means 15 different views, opinions, etc... When we formed our SCBWI group last spring, I read a couple of magazine articles that suggested good criteria for starting the group. Now that we've been meeting all summer, we're in a groove that works. So I think there is a market for folks who are just starting out, but then I agree with Carly in the fact that once the group is off the ground, the book would be a distraction. Serious writers want to dig into our manuscripts - not discuss the rules and legistics of the group.

cindy said...

1. i am part of two crit groups.

2. probably not--only because i've been critting for nearly two years now.

3. i can see it being useful for those who are new and want to form one?

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I am in a couple of groups and used to facilitate a group for the Glendale Library system. Here's the thing. Though open critique groups can be valuable (poets can learn from novelists and novelists can learn a lot from screenwriters!), open groups tend to draw mostly newbies and, in that case, the information that is gleaned there may be very valuable if the group members keep in mind that the critiques are more like advice that would come from a general reader rather than from someone experienced in writing. A facilitator definitely can help them with a more experienced point of view.

Having said that, I think the best critique groups are those that writers assemble for themselves. I address this in The Frugal Book Promoter (check the index to lead you right to everyting on the subject of critique groups). The major piece of advice it gives is to:

1. Take a class in writing in the genre you prefer with a well-vetted instructor. You'll be more assured you'll get expertise if you choose classes offered by universities or by respected program like Gotham in New York.

2. After you have a handle on who you're compatible with, who will bring some experience to the group, etc., ask them to become part of your newly formed group.

In my first class at UCLA Writers' Program, our teacher took the time to put people she thought would be writing-compatible together. She is now part of my the very critique group that she put together for us. In ten years we had come such a long way she felt that we had something to offer. (-: I've even written a column for MyShelf. com on this experienc. Go to and click on the "Back To Literature" column on the home page. It should be up for a week or so. After that it will be archived.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Author of the award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers

akcotham said...

1. I am in two critique groups. One is a more general writing crit group that meets in public and is open to anybody who wants to show up, though 90% of the time, 90% of the participants are regulars. The other group is a novelists critique group, and it is a closed group.

2. I'm not sure. We're all avid readers and we love sharing technique books in general. I know the founders of the first group did some research to figure out how best to run the group, and a lot of it was stuff they learned along the way (that didn't work, but this did, etc.) Each participant in the second group contributed their own knowledge of how writing groups work to set up ground rules here, whether that knowledge came from personal experience or something they read. Inspiration for setting up the novelist group in the first place was partly thanks to an article we read in Writers Digest.

3. Although I had the same question as carly--what exactly does "on writing and critique groups" mean?--I am presuming that such a book would include information on how to set up a group, and moreover how to RUN a group in a way that benefited all participants, and I think such a book would be very helpful. A lot of people are eager for writing support groups, and a good one is hard to find.

Debbie Diesen said...

My critique group, which I've been in for almost seven years now, has been crucial in my development as a writer. The members of my group have also over the years become my great friends -- they're now like a second family.

But I know that not all writers have such positive experiences with critique groups. I think many writers would welcome a book that would help make the starting-a-group process more deliberate, perhaps with a "what are you looking for in a critique group" or a "what's your critique group style" questionnaire that potential members of a new group could fill out and then compare ahead of time. That way, they could see if they really match up on key points of why they want a group. Also useful would be a list of common mistakes/issues that critique groups run into, and how to prevent them. Critique group advice and stories from experienced writers (those with positive experiences as well as Awful Experiences) would be great, too.

The nuts and bolts of critiquing are crucial, and would need to be covered in detail. But the compatibility issues are something a lot of people don't think to discuss until they suddenly discover things aren't working out, so if a book on critique groups covered those along with the critiquing how-to, it would be a hugely helpful resource.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

AK Cotham said: I think such a book would be very helpful. A lot of people are eager for writing support groups, and a good one is hard to find.
Although there are books on the subject, perhaps yours could bring something new to the table. Maybe hints from facilitators, as an example. I did that with The Frugal Editor (yes, there are lots of books on editing out there other than that one!) and the expertise brought to the chapter I included with ideas from agents (for query letters) is one of the most popular--at least it's the one people mention most frequently.

I don't think the question is, would a book on this topic be helpful? It should be what can we bring to this book that would make it more helpful than others out there. Stephen King, as you noted, mentions groups (mostly unfavorably) but there his is not a how-to. I believe in tons of resources and step-by-step instructions. I thin if you do that, this niche market could be a large enough niche to make it well worthwhile.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Fran said...

1. I am in two critique groups: one has 5 SCBWI members in it, and the other has 12 members (not all active at a given time) and is a mix of children's and adult lit authors. I've been in the former for 3 years and the latter for 2.

2. I would not buy such a book now, primarily because I am completely satisfied with my groups!

3. I do think there is a market - I would have bought such a book prior to getting into my groups. I think a person who is not satisfied with her group would want such a book. Or a person who is having a problem with a crit group member might want to access such a book. Or a group that has been together for a long time and needs a shake up might want to read it together.

Julianne Daggett said...

I'm not apart of a critique group per se, but while I was a student at Louisiana Tech University I had English professors, some writing friends, and some reading friends read my work and discuss my writing. It's not formal in any regard and there are no rules, just great discussion and feedback, and it works for me.

I can see where a book would be good for some groups, but it wouldn't work for my ad hoc group.

Kristi Holl said...

I've been part of a critique group for nearly a year, and I love it. I will ask them tomorrow if they would buy such a book. I do sometimes refer to Judy Reeves' book WRITING ALONE, WRITING TOGETHER about different ways to structure groups and various activities to try. Would your book be different?
Writer's First Aid

Becky Mushko said...

I'm in the same critique group as earlier poster Amy Tate. That the four of us are tightly focused on the children's market is a plus. We are each different enough from the others to offer a variety of viewpoints. Although this group has only existed since the spring, it has been invaluable in helping me develop my manuscript. Since we're so small, we don't really have a leader.

Three of our group were previously members of a now-defunct writers group that had no specific purpose and was tightly controlled by a leader who didn't encourage critiques. The fourth was a member of another (larger) group I'm in—a helpful group with several genres represented. Because the four of us shared common interests and experiences, we knew rom the start what we wanted in a crit group. However, a group formed of strangers could probably use some guidelines, so a book might be helpful.

I might consider buying such a book, depending upon its information. A book about forming a critique group would certainly be for a niche market—but it would fill a definite need..

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Just an additional comment. Give it a great, snappy title and a subtitle that lets writers know how they'll benefit from it, and this book is sure to sell to its niche.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Author of The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success

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