Writing Tip: Finding the Right Critique Group

If you’ve decided you’re ready to take the plunge to find a critique group, you’re ready for the next step.  What’s that, you ask?  Now you need to take the time to figure out what type of critique/writing group fits your needs best.  Are you the type of person that works best with face-to-face interaction with other people?  Do you prefer working at your own pace?  Or, would you prefer having the expertise of a professional?  
Face-to-Face Group
In a face-to-face group, you get to meet with your group on a regular basis.  It may be at the library, a school, a bookstore, a restaurant, a person’s house, etc.  Each group operates differently.  Some will have the submissions sent to each group member ahead of time and then you can critique it at your own pace, bring it to the meeting and then discuss the work.  Other groups may meet, and the writer will read out his/her work out loud, so the members can discuss the work.  There may also be variations where submissions are handed out at the meeting, the writer reads aloud his/her work, and the group members then discuss.     
Private On-line Group
A private on-line group is usually small and meets on a regular basis via e-mails and whatever group networking system they decide to set up:  ie, Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, etc.  Submissions are posted and the group members post their critiques.
Open Critique Group
I don’t know anything about this type of group, so please research before signing up.  Basically, there are groups you can find on-line or even through the magazines, newpapers, etc. that anyone can join and I don’t think there are limits to the number of people that belong to the group.  Again, if you go this way, research this very carefully.
Professional Critique (via conference, writing program, editor, professional writer, etc.)
You will need to do extensive research if you go this way, particularly if you decide to hire an individual to critique your work.  I don’t know enough about this to write about, and if you’re going to pay someone to critique your work, it only makes sense to find out what the person’s experience is, interview the individual, get references and find out what he/she will deliver to you, and in what timeframe.
However, I’ve only heard good things about the critiques offered through the SCBWI conferences and a select group of writing programs.  Just be sure to research and ask questions before handing over your money.
If you know of any other type of group I’ve left out, please mention it in the comments.
Okay, now you know what kind of critique processes are out there, you need to decide what you hope to accomplish with your writing and what kind of writing you specialize in.  Are you writing non-fiction or fiction?  Picture Books?  MG?  YA?  Are you starting a manuscript and want to learn as you go?  Are you a writer looking to join a group before you finish a project?  (Thanks, Becky for mentioning this.)  Or, do you want to polish up your manuscript before sending it out to an agent or publisher?  Regardless of your writing level, you still need to research where the critique group openings are, find out their requirements, and ask questions to see if they meet your requirements.
Here are a list of places you can go to to find out about critique group openings (geared towards children’s books):
  1. Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators
  2. Verla Kay Message Board
  3. Smartwriters.com
  4. Writer blogs
  5. Start your own group
  6. Local colleges and writing programs
  7. Local library
  8. Word-of-mouth
  9. Local bookstore
  10. Writing Magazines
  11. Google search
Any other ideas?
So, you’ve got one or two or more potential critique groups in hand.  What do you do now?  The answer, my pretties, is you’re going to research and ask questions, if need be.  Things that are important to know:
  1. How many people are in the group?
  2. What is their writing experience?
  3. Any published writers?
  4. What genre does the group focus on?  
  5. What type of time commitment does the group require versus what kind of time are you willing and able to put in?  ie: meetings, travel time (if pertinent), reading through the submissions, writing a critique up, etc.? (Thanks Chris and PJ)
  6. How is confidentiality of your work handled?  
  7. What do the critiques focus on?  ie: plot, character development, grammar, writing structure, all of the above or just on one or two areas?
  8. How are members added to the group?
  9. What happens when a group member leaves?
  10. What are the rules/guidelines of the group?
  11. What are the submissions requirements and how are critiques handled? 
  12. If you are going to pay for a critique, make sure you research thoroughly.
Any other pertinent things to think about?
Tomorrow I’ll discuss critique etiquette and how to decide whether the group is working for you.  
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