Consider a Critique Group

A Rate Your Story Member Guest Post


Susan Twiggs

Writing a picture book is like a trip to Costco. When I walk in the store, I am lured and distracted by interesting displays. I arrive at check out with a full cart. Half of the items were not on my list. My early drafts are like that full shopping cart—a jumbled collection of interesting characters, facts, and ideas. Have I included the right ingredients? How do I discover my story’s juicy core?

I share it with my critique group. With fresh eyes and sharpened pencils, they separate the unnecessary details from the heart of the story. Their confusion tells me where I need to clarify. They urge me to add feelings where I have only action. They see clearly because they are objective, because they are reading it for the first time. Before I submit a manuscript to Rate Your Story (RYS), I revise incorporating my critique group’s suggestions.

Last year flying squirrels invaded our cabin. One dropped on a sleeping guest’s face. It was shocking. It was hilarious. It was the perfect story. I researched; I wrote. I collected facts and imagined feelings from a squirrel’s point of view. He was the perfect protagonist. I was so certain that I bypassed my critique group and sent it in directly to RYS.

I received my lowest score ever and learned a valuable lesson. From that point on, I share manuscripts first with my critique group. I give them questions to consider and specify the edit I’m looking for: developmental edits focus on the overall plot and characters, content edits look in depth at setting, pacing, and characters, and line edits pay close attention to word choice, phrasing, and grammar. I consider their suggestions and revise. Then I send the manuscript to RYS. The judges’ comments are now more positive and the manuscripts’ scores higher.

Building an effective critique group is a process that takes time and effort. Groups contain from four to seven writers working in a same genre, picture books (PB), middle grade (MG) or young adult (YA). I’ve matched Author/Illustrators and Illustrators as well. Specialized groups for nonfiction and rhyme are an option. Members are expected to critique others’ manuscripts and to submit their own. Some groups have a rotating weekly schedule. Other groups submit once a month on Google Docs and critique all the submitted manuscripts. For my critiques I highlight the heart of the story. I suggest mentor texts to consult and recently published picture books to read. Critique partners can help with submission opportunities. The road to publishing is not without its disappointments and your critique partners offer consolation and empathy. Once published your group can celebrate your success. In addition, they offer marketing suggestions and write and post reviews.

These benefits don’t happen overnight. It takes time to build trust that members will keep your story confidential, within the group. It takes time to recognize the strengths and limitations of your critique partners. It takes time to build confidence in their opinions so you can receive feedback without being defensive. Critique groups are not without their issues. Watch for a future column where I’ll address them.

Consider finding a critique group or partner when you’ve completed at least three PB manuscripts or one MG or Y/A manuscript. Regardless of your genre, I would recommend that you revise before you submit to the group. Because of the pandemic, most in-person groups have gone virtual. Some groups meet via Zoom. Mine exchanges manuscripts and critiques by email.

Interested in finding a critique partner or being part of a critique group? I recommend that you choose a group specifically for your genre in kidlit. General writing groups will not have the expertise needed to help you in this specialized field.

· Begin by contacting your regional Society of Children’s Book Writers (SCBWI). Some states offer this member benefit. Check the SCBWI Blueboard discussion boards for critique partner requests on the organization’s website.

· Classes offered by The Writing Barn and the Highlights Foundation may give registrants the opportunity to join a critique group lasting beyond the class.

· Facebook groups such as Kidlit 411 Manuscript Swap, Inked Voices ($$), and Sub It Club Critique Partner Matchup offer the opportunity to share your work with like-minded writers at no cost.

Additional resources:

Kathy Temean has a number of articles on critique groups and being receptive to critiques in her blog archives.

Pro Writing Aid Guide to Critique Groups

Susan Twiggs is a poet and children’s author. She has served as the Manuscript Critique Group Coordinator for SCBWI Wisconsin chapter since 2018, matching over 175 writers and illustrators in online critique groups. Her past vocations as a psychotherapist, a mediator, a yoga teacher and studio owner provide needed skills. Her social media is Twitter @yogasusi, FB Susan Twiggs, Instagram setwiggs

If you have a question you’d like me to answer, send it to RYS with ASK SUSAN TWIGGS in the subject line.

Recent Posts