What Makes a Great Critique Group?

cupcake

Kristen Lamb is one of my absolute favorite bloggers.  She has a way of dragging me into her posts with her engaging, honest, and fun writing style despite the inevitable pile of work on my plate. I always learn something or come away from her posts encouraged or motivated and glad I invested the time. 

Today, I read a post on KL’s blog about critiquing. You can find her post here.

I started leaving a comment and realized it was getting a wee bit long. Rather than write a book in the comments section of KL’s blog, I decided to do my own post on what it takes to make a great CG (critique group). My CPs (critique partners) and I have been discussing this lately. We are in agreement that our group, The Cupcake Crew, works really well. Here are some of the reasons we’ve come up with as to why that might be:

(1) We write in the same broad genre and read in similar subgenres to what group members write.

If you’ve got a Sci-Fi reader critiquing historical romance, no matter how good the intent, the Sci-Fi gal might miss plot nuances important to historical rom and vice versa. Critique on plot, character motivation, and setting is best, IMO, when group members are well-read in the genre you write and vice versa.

That’s not to say the Sci-Fi reader won’t have anything to contribute. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Every reader who is passionate about what they like to see in a book will have valuable critique. But the more I read, the more I notice that subgenres have rules and common tropes and things their fans will be looking for. It helps if your CPs understand those nuances of your particular genre.

(2)We’re all at similar places in our careers.

No one’s riding coattails or throwing around lofty-ass unchecked opinion because they’re a bestseller while the rest of us pleebs are nobodies. We’re all at relatively the same level and hoping to move forward in our careers while cheering each other on. We all have a humble, grateful attitude toward the little bit of success we’ve all found so far, and we’re hoping for more success with hard work.

It might be a coincidence, but all 3 of us, who had been trying to get published for years, signed our first publishing contracts within 1 year of meeting as a group. Of course, we had submissions out and had been pushing for publication before we started meeting, so wheels were in motion, but IMO, the confidence, support, and camaraderie of our CG were instrumental as we all took this step in our careers together.

(3) We all have the same level of commitment to the group and to making writing work as a career. 

We read each others work and meet on a weekly basis. This is a big time commitment, and we take it seriously. Without similar levels of commitment, the group wouldn’t hang together as well as it does, and the critique wouldn’t be so consistent. I can’t imagine the frustration of having a group made up of people with different levels of motivation and commitment.

(4) We are all decent, passably sociable, polite people who understand the purpose and process of critique. 

The purpose and process of critique could be a whole other blog post. I won’t get into it here. Suffice it to say, we all (a) want to grow as writers (b) give advice to encourage each other to grow as writers and (3) respect each other’s opinions, even if we don’t always agree. 

(5) Cupcakes.

Need I say more? Who wouldn’t want to sweeten critique with a tasty treat?

Okay, seriously, the cupcakes don’t hurt, but they’re not essential to The Cupcake Crew’s success as a group. What is essential is that we all agree on a format and location for meeting. Whether you’re meeting in a brick and mortar location or using a free Yahoo group online to organize your submissions, you need a “place” to gather and be organized or chaos will rule.

For The Cupcake Crew, it’s like a perfect storm of factors that make us work. I fell very blessed and wish everyone could be so lucky. But I didn’t find my way into this CG easily. It happened after several trials and “meh” results with other CGs that didn’t quite meet the needs I had. I had to be a little selfish and step back from a situation that wasn’t working, and only after I did that, did this new, wonderful opportunity evolve. Maybemy genuine thankfulness has a little to do with experiencing a group that didn’t work as well for what I needed at the time.

For anyone looking for a good CG, hang in there. It won’t happen over night, unless you’re very lucky. Seek out people similar to you in commitment level, career goals, and reading habits, and you might be surprised what develops.

For those with CGs that work, what’s your secret? What challenges have you had to overcome? What advice do you have for authors looking for a CG?

Special thanks to the ladies of The Cupcake Crew, Amy Raby & Julie Brannagh for being awesome and helping me figure out why:-)

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About Jessi Gage

Jessi lives with her husband and children in the Seattle area. She’s a passionate reader of all genres of romance, especially anything involving the paranormal. Ghosts, demons, vampires, witches, weres, faeries...you name it, she’ll read it. As for writing, she's sticking to Highlanders and contemporaries with a paranormal twist (for now). A career student (aka indecisive and inquisitive bookworm), Jessi brings her love of research to her worlds and characters. Her guiding tenet in her writing is that good always trumps evil, but not before evil gives good one heck of a run for its money. The last time she imagined a world without romance novels, her husband found her crouched in the corner, rocking.
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7 Responses to What Makes a Great Critique Group?

  1. Mae Clair says:

    Wonderful post and all great points, Jessi. BTW, I love Kristen Lamb’s blog too. 🙂

    Congrats to you and The Cupcake Crew for making it work!

  2. Jessi Gage says:

    Thanks! They’re a good bunch. So are my online CPs!-)

  3. I loved this post, Jessi. Your Cupcake Crew sounds amazing. I know I’m so blessed by having gotten to know you over this past year. Those are two lucky ladies in your group.

    By the way, I’ve had trouble with my email subscriptions to some of my favourite authors’ blogs (yours included). Everyone’s posts keep going to my spam folder. I unsigned from one, then resigned, and it’s fixed the problem. When you see I’ve rejoined today, that’s why.

    • Jessi Gage says:

      That stinks about having to re-up with your blogs to get their emails. I wonder if you could add worpress or blogger extensions to your accepted senders list? That might help. Might not. Sorry!

      • I’m going to try that. When I signed again with you, I got three signups notifications (not one, but three). Crazy. I’ll unsign, bookmark your page, and try again once I’ve fixed whatever is wrong. I just didn’t want you to see me unsigning and signing up and go WHAT? If you see that, I’m just testing how to fix my problem. 🙂 Not sure how long it’ll take, but I’ll get there.

  4. Liza OConnor says:

    For some reason your blog made me hungry. I hope I’m not becoming a cannibal…That would be very bad. Seriously, it sounds like you have a great group. I’ve got great crit partners, but we don’t meet in a group. And no one brings cupcakes.

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