How to Start a Critique Group

Rae Francoeur

Rae Francoeur

Rae Padilla Francoeur has dedicated herself to helping authors network, even before publishing her first book, Free Fall: A Late in Life Love Affair.

Rae owns a small business, New Arts Collaborative, that helps artists and art organizations with branding and marketing needs.

She formerly was creative services director at the Peabody Essex Museum and editorial manager at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. She has developed and managed several magazines and newspapers in New England and publishes a weekly book review column distributed nationally for GateHouse Media newspapers. She produces literary events and writes and publishes essays, nonfiction and fiction.

The Importance of Reviews

Free Fall: A Late Life Love Affair by Rae Padilla Francoeur

Rae wanted people to know that all is not lost just because you age.

I asked how important reviews are to an book’s success. Very. Especially positive reviews on Amazon and with book bloggers.

Rae’s book was traditionally published, but she said, “All the reviews that I got were ones I found on my own,” Rae said. “I targeted reviewers I wanted, then called or wrote them. You have to put on your professional hat and represent your book appropriately.”

How to Get Reviews

Rae, like all the other successful authors I’ve interviewed, said the key is to have a good product. And then work very hard.

No matter where you are in the process of writing your novel, Rae recommends that you begin compiling a list of people, especially book bloggers, who you want to review your book. Develop a professional presentation, and when the time is right, begin asking them to review your book.

But how do you know when you have a good enough product?

Rae says the key to that is a good critique group. I’ve been told that many times, but Rae went a step further by providing the following advice about how to start and run your own critique group.

How to Start a Critique Group

Step One: Spread the Word

  • Put up postcards in the local bookstore, bank, market and library, etc.
  • Advertise in the newspaper classified ads, newspaper community bulletin board and/or via Craigslist.
  • Use the website bulletin board at your apartment complex, if you have one, or the bulletin board of your local library or bookstore.
  • Call writers you like, especially published ones, and ask them if they’re interested. A writer will drive an hour or more to participate in a good writer’s group.
  • Visit local writing classes and ask if anyone’s interested in starting up a group with you. Contact local writing teachers and ask if they know anyone.
  • Try, but be very specific about what you want.

Step Two: Screen the writers

  • Be very selective. Look for: people who are serious writers—people who write everyday, are professionals, who publish, demonstrate good manners and compassion, have experience giving good, measured feedback and are non-argumentative types.
  • Make a list of goals and values for your group and come up with questions that get at these values/goals. Communicate via phone first. You’ll be able to tell a lot right away. Carefully interview each candidate.
  • As the group expands, always use these questions and values.
  • A writing group is not a democracy. If someone isn’t working out, it’s OK to ask her to leave. Otherwise your group will become dysfunctional.
  • Ask for submissions and read carefully.

Step Three: Start meeting

  • Agree on time and frequency.
  • Decide about refreshments.
  • Set up guidelines and tell everyone what they are in advance (keep it simple; too many rules sets an unpleasant tone).
  • Try to see to it that everyone who has something to read gets to read. This is what keeps people coming back. You’ll set the number of pages each person can read by the number of people who are reading that week.

Step Four: Vetting newcomers

  • Once your group is up and running (it only takes two or three), there will be times when you want to consider another candidate.
  • Ask in advance for three writing samples. Send these samples to the group and ask for group feedback.
  • If the group likes the writing (and it’s advanced enough for your group), invite the candidate in for one meeting. Make it clear that this is so you can all get to know each other. In that session, the candidate will read and also discuss other group members’ writing.
  • Speak with your group afterward to decide whether this is, indeed, a person you’d like in your group.

Step Five: Enjoy!

  • A writers group can become like a family.
  • Make sure to have fun.
  • But too much socializing can impair productivity. Rae has set up a holiday dinner so people could chat and enjoy each other. They gave each other book lists of their ten favorite books of that year. They made them up like bookmarks and each member made her/his own.
  • Rae also set up small celebrations for important accomplishments like a book contract or an article published.
  • Sharing: Share info about agents, publishers, new magazines, etc.
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2 Responses to How to Start a Critique Group

  1. What a great service you provide, Karen, with your wonderful blogs. And I thank you for connecting with me. I enjoyed every minute. This blog post about writers groups is really helpful and I hope it helps a few lonely writers connect with each other. Thank you so much.

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