Nancy Kelly Allen
You’ve pounded the keyboard day after day, week after week, creating your story.
You’ve spit-shined the revisions, rearranged the sentences, and typed the last word. Now
you’re ready to kiss your manuscript good-bye and ship it off to strangers, AKA editors.
Not so fast! Mailing you’re manuscript at this time may be a little premature. Consider
joining a critique group. Not only will group members view your work with new
perspectives, they will also provide feedback, positive and negative. The critique group
will hone in on areas of quality writing, praising your efforts, and will offer examples for
improvement in areas that need revision.
I’ve been writing for publication for almost twenty years and have had seven
picture books published. During that time, I completed revision after revision, relying on
my skills, alone.
A couple of years ago, I joined, via the Internet, a critique group composed of four children’s
writers. In that short period, my critique group has provided professional input into picture
book and chapter book manuscripts, making each work stronger. This group completes
line-by-line, in-depth critiques, rather than general overview critiques. For me, the more
specific the evaluation, the better.
Members of my group provide emotional support for each other, too. If a member
has a manuscript rejected or another personal problem, we listen and provide words of
encouragement. When a member receives good news, we perform a chocolate dance in
Each month, a member is responsible for generating a weekly newsletter that
provides news about grants, conferences, and all aspects of writing, marketing, and
promoting our work. Since my group consists of four people, I will be responsible for the
newsletter three months (twelve weeks) per year.
The primary purpose of a critique group is to read and evaluate works in progress
for each member. My group submits manuscripts, a maximum of 1,000 words per
submission, on the first and fifteenth of each month. That means that each member
critiques three, 1,000-word manuscripts every two weeks. That also means that each
member receives three critiques per manuscript every two weeks. Critique groups
require a vast amount of time and effort from each member to be successful, but the
rewards gained are invaluable.
If you decide to join or form a critique group, set guidelines. How often will
members submit work? What is the time period for critiquing and returning each
manuscript? What is the maximum number of words per submission? How extensive are
the critiques, line-by-line or general overview? Set guidelines on allowing additional
membership once the group is established. Remember to critique the manuscript, not the
writer. Be respectful of the writer at all times. Be honest in your critique.
I want the members of my group to be honest in each evaluation of my work and
react to my manuscripts as an editor would. Anything less than total honesty is of no
benefit to me. I want to know WHY my manuscript didn’t get the contract and HOW I
can improve it. If I could figure out WHY and HOW on my own, I wouldn’t need a
critique group. The honesty of each member and their varied viewpoints can only make
my work stronger, better, and more likely to be accepted for publication. Therefore, I
have a responsibility of not taking the criticism personally. I wear my rhino hide when I
read the critiques and often think AHA! She’s right! when I read a criticism or a
suggestion. Why didn’t I see that? Because I only see from one perspective—mine.
So how can I join a critique group? One way to form a critique group is to
post notices on the bulletin boards of public buildings—library, college, church,
museum and other places that may attract potential members. Church bulletins, free
classifieds in local newspapers, and community calendars on local television and radio
are other ways to notify writers. Attend local writing groups and writing conferences to
network with attendees. Check out Web sites, such as www.write4kids.com and SCBWI,
that have message boards for writers.
Critique groups vary in size and goals so join or start one that fits your needs.
Hand over your manuscript to the members you trust and respect. Your manuscript will
come back to you, stronger than ever.