Five Tips for Critique Groups

I'm currently placing Storyteller Academy students in critique groups. Some of them have never been in a critique group, so they have been asking me for advice on how to make their critique groups work. I've compiled a list of five things that will help keep your critique group running smoothly.

1. Show up.

This is the most important thing that you can do. Yes, you want to have work finished and ready to share when you meet. But even if you didn't finish something to share, you show up to help your critique partners with their projects.

2. Build Relationships on Trust

Get to know each other. You probably want to spend some time introducing yourselves (and asking each other questions) the first time that you meet. Be honest with each other in a constructive way . . . both about your work and about the way that you run your critique group. If something isn't working, then make sure you say something. As long as you are giving specific, constructive feedback, don't hold back out of fear that you'll hurt feelings. That's the whole point of having a critique group. 

On the flip side, when someone offers you critique, assume the other person is trying to help. Remember that we're all a little awkward sometimes without meaning to be.

Have each other's back. Nobody likes to find out that someone she trusted has been criticizing her behind her back. You're a team. Help each other rise. If you can support a critique partner's books or art, then do. I order my critique partners' books at my library, buy them to give as presents, and review them on Amazon. (I had an epiphany at a conference in 2017 when I was bragging to someone I'd just met about how awesome my new critique partner was–that she'd illustrated over 20 children's books–and when he asked me about her books, I had to admit that I hadn't read any of them yet.) The last conference I went to, I gave both of the editors (and the conference organizers) cards that one of my critique partners sells on Etsy. They weren't necessarily “Thank You” cards, but they were so lovely that one of the organizers said she was framing hers for her daughter's room. One of my other critique partners is my lifeline if I'm having anxiety over an opportunity or feeling crushed by a rejection. You can find ways to support your team, even without money.

Last August, I got to meet some members of our Story Stitchers critique group at the annual SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was seriously fun to meet a Storyteller Academy critique group and hear about how much having their critique partners has helped them. These women have even put together their own retreat and matching t-shirts.

Amy Flynn, Amanda Malek-Ahmadi, Laura Bost, and Kristy Nuttall (Photo Credit: Cindy Ritsko)

3. Give Equal Time and Consideration

This might seem obvious, but it's important to give everyone their fair share of time to speak and time to listen to critique. It doesn't need to be exactly equal, but everyone should feel their critique is valued, and that their stories are getting their fair share of critique.

You might need to use a timer. In fact, if you're a new group, I recommend using a timer. My current group doesn't use one, but we've been meeting for three years.

4. Listen

You can learn a lot by listening to critique, even if you don't agree with it. Don't waste your critique group's precious time (or make your critique partners cautious about giving you critique) by arguing. Just listen, take notes, and thank them. Even if you disagree, those notes might help you figure something out later on.

5. Give the Best Critiques That You Can

Raise your hand if you've ever gotten a critique from someone you're pretty sure spent less than 10 minutes on it. It doesn't feel so great, does it? Don't be that person.

You won't be able to give a fabulous, story-transforming critique every time. There will be stories that you don't connect with, that you won't be sure what advice to give to improve them. Just do your best. 

And if you'd like some advice on how to give the best critique, Arree wrote a wonderful post that covers:

  1. How to get the most out of critique by asking the right questions and letting people know what you need
  2. How to give better critique by assessing where your critique partners are at with their stories.

If you have any questions or tips, please leave them in the comments.  Thanks for reading! 

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Myrna Foster
Myrna Foster

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems.

19 thoughts on “Five Tips for Critique Groups”

  1. I’m the SCBWI person in charge of setting up critique groups in my state. These tips are helpful and I will pass them along.

    1. Thank you for being a SCBWI volunteer! I wish I’d started volunteering with SCBWI when I first joined. Volunteering has made a world of difference in the way I experience SCBWI.

  2. Thank you for the five tips about a critique group. I’ve just joined a writing group and they critique each other’s work. I was feeling very insecure about this aspect of the group. Your article has helped enormously.

  3. I am interested. I am in makers pro
    Are requesting for those wanting to be critiqued pay $400 for this?
    I am hoping not. Is this free to makers pro members

  4. diane s. scotti

    Being a person with some ADD issues I was at first daunted by all the writing on this page. Moving forward to do my best for myself I read on. I must say how wonderfully you broke down each section and how fluidly it was to read. Before I knew it I had read it all and had absorbed all the information. Thank you. Great job!

  5. I’m always afraid to give a negative review and sometimes think I may hurt their feelings; believe me, feelings get hurt. But I got a critique from an agent once, (I paid for it) and from it, I learned to start with the positive. Say three positive things that I really liked about the story. My last critique had whirlybirds and mustache, now those are fun words that kids would love. But it lacked a hook for the beginning of the story.
    So when I read the critique and what I need to improve on and get discouraged and I need a boost, I read what was (is) good about my story and start again. Rhonda

  6. I think it is very important to give comments based on what the author is trying to do, not just on your own subjective taste. You may not care for a story but you can help the author reach her goals.

    1. Charlene McNamara

      I tend to agree with you Beth but honestly, sometimes the author needs to know how their book is impacting their audience.
      what may be good for some…may in fact, trigger others. Also with different ideas, it helps to generate more ideas that are possibly helpful and useable for the future. Any author, male or female, needs to know what others honestly think and then it’s up to their discretion how they will use that knowledge to benefit not only themselves but hopefully their readers as well.

  7. Christopher Lepage

    “Remember that we’re all a little awkward sometimes without meaning to be.”

    Great statement!

    Enjoy the process:)

  8. This is my first time in a live critique group and I don’t know how is the process. Will it be on the spot reading of each other’s manuscripts?

    1. I’m hoping your group decides to share your manuscripts or dummies with each other in advance. It’s much better to come to the meeting with notes because you’ve read everyone’s work already.

      1. alicia m. minor

        that’s a great idea because it is hard to read and critique manuscripts right on the same day it was presented whereas if it has been submitted and read in advance it will have a better chance to get better critiques. thanks.

  9. Thanks, Myrna, this was good to read. As was said in so many words, I think as long as a critique partner feels that you are coming from a place of caring about them and bringing better kids books out into the world, and you make it clear that you are welcoming the same from the group, it’s a foundation for a positive and productive group. I enjoyed my group on Dec. 8, and am looking forward to more.

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