Monday, September 17, 2012

Finding the Right Critique Group

by Bill Johnson
As office manager of Willamette Writers, a non-profit writers group, I often get calls asking about critique groups. I advise people to think of them as coming in four types:

Light Critique
Heavy Critique
Wise Reader

Support groups generally offer encouragement in writing or marketing, and little or no critique. Some support groups also operate as social networks, and might involve eating a meal together or meeting at a restaurant.

Light Critique groups could have a format for critique, like a time limit to respond; or limits on the person responding; or a requirement that a critique start and end with a positive comment, etc. This is something a group works out. A group might have a moderator to make sure the guidelines are followed, or a rotating moderator for each meeting.

Heavy Critique

This is generally for writers who are published or who are interested in mainstream publishing. People read something and offer a no-holds barred critique. The author takes it in and does what they want with what is offered. There's no mentoring here.

As an office manager, I once had to listen to a heavy critique group self-destruct when they were joined by a new writer who demanded and insisted on support only.

Wise Reader

Orson Scott Card developed this idea, that an author can give a spouse or friend guidelines for how to respond to a manuscript (for example, when someone started skipping pages or lost interest). A good resource for getting good feedback from casual readers.

Where to Meet

Some people meet at a home; others meet at a Starbucks (some do close at 6 pm); some people meet at a local restaurant (3-6 is often a quiet time for a restaurant, and they appreciate people coming in; this is also a typical Happy Hour time for lower costs for food). A few groups sign up to meet at the WW Writing House.

What to Look For

I advise people to try 2-3 groups to find a group that offers the right fit and personalities. Cynthia Whitcomb, president of Willamette Writers, belongs to both a support and critique group to meet her needs.

Some people call the Willamette Writers office and want to join a critique group (or be mentored by) New York Times best-selling authors. Those kind of authors are generally protective of their time and not open to working with unpublished, inexperienced authors.

That said, I've known published authors who have Beta readers to go over their new work and offer feedback, and sometimes that includes some feedback from the published author on a reader's work.

Finding a group that works for you could take some time and effort, but the rewards can be worth it. Even a group with prickly personalities that don't accept feedback on their work might offer you the feedback you need. Just don't get 'stuck' in a group that doesn't work for you.

A student mentioned recently she used the online group MeetUp to find a screenwriting critique group. If you can't find a local group that meets your needs, there are online options.

Good luck.


Bill Johnson is the author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, available on Amazon Kindle for $2.99 and on Smashwords. More about Willamette Writers at

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