I've been asked several times by my lovely readers how to find a crit group/what makes a good one/do I really need one/etc.—maybe because I have the most awesome crit group in the world. (I really believe that, too.)
So today I present you with:
The Mostly Complete Guide to Crit Groups
If you're a writer seeking publication, you need a crit group. No, really, you do. And not just for the technical support, but the emotional support as well. A good crit group can propel you to the next level in your writing, can motivate you to finish that book, can bring friendships of a lifetime (teehee, sorry, inside joke). Working with my now-close friends has been one of the most rewarding experiences I've had.
I think we all know this, but when I first started my journey I remember how scary it was to try and find people to read my book. Not only are those first crits terrifying, but you initially aren't sure you can trust someone, if you're a good match, if they'll "get you." It's like trying on clothes—sometimes they just don't fit and that's not anyone's fault. Writers come in all shapes and sizes, and you have to find what works for you.
Tips for Finding Crit Partners:
1. Get Around
In this age of social networking, it is so, so easy to find writers on the web! When I first started my blog, I would just stalk blogs, read a post or two, and see if I "clicked" with that person. I followed a lot of agent/industry blogs and tried to participate in the discussions. If I read a comment from someone and liked it, I would check out their blog, too.
I ultimately found Kiersten and Renee this way—through Evil Editor. (See? He ain't so evil after all, but don't tell him that.) Kiersten had posted her query over there and I noticed we both went to the same college (and later realized we went to high school together, too!). Renee found Kiersten the same way, and then we started visiting each other's blogs. After getting to know each other better, we decided to exchange work.
I've also found my other crit partners through blogging. Kasie and Sara found me after a certain contest, and once we got close enough we started exchanging work, too. It's turned out quite well for me, and I feel very luck for that.
Blogs aren't the only place to find writers though. I've heard many people connecting at conferences, at local writer's groups, on writer's forums like Absolute Write. But the key is to get out there, get to know people.
2. BUT. Be Careful
There's always a "but," huh. Not everyone on the internet is, shall we say, sane. Sometimes you don't know that right off the bat. You have to be protective of your work—don't ever send it to someone you've just barely met or whose identity seems sketchy. Trust your gut, take your time to get to know the person, and if possible confirm in some way that they are who they say they are.
You can never be too careful with your work. I've heard a few stories that make my blood curdle. All of them could have been a avoided by being a little more careful about sharing your work. I always get nervous when writers call for betas on their blogs. Not only do you not know who you might get, but you don't even know if they'll be helpful to you. I recommend seeking people out you think would match your style and asking them personally (huh, like looking for an agent).
3. Try Not To Take It Personally
If someone declines to read your work, try not to take it to heart. Most writers are busy people with day jobs or families. They also might have a crit group that keeps them busy, and they can't take on more. I, unfortunately, am in this situation now. I used to have time to read more from my fellow writers, but now I am limited to my own circle. I feel very guilty about not being able to give more of my time, but that's just how it goes.
Also, when you're first trying out crit partners, you have to take into account that they might not be a good fit for you. That's okay. Not everyone will make a helpful partner. Just cross them off the list for the next project. I've had this happen a few times. I am still friends with these writers, but we just realized that we're not a good match for one reason or another.
4. Don't Go Overboard
You don't need a throng of readers, just a few trusted ones who get your work. Really, you don't need 20 beta readers—you don't even need 10. The more you have, the more confusing/overwhelming your crits will be. I have about 5 or 6 total. I now send my MS in rounds of two, so I get three beta rounds out of them and they don't have to waste time rereading.
What to Look For In a Crit Partner:
1. The "Click"
It's so important to find someone who gets your work. Who gets you. It's a hard phenomenon to explain, but you know it when you feel it. I really think crit partners should be friends in some way—not critics. Real friends are honest with you, but not in a way that hurts your feelings. They know how to tell you your butt looks big in those pants without saying you're fat. They have your back.
2. Some Skill
You can have non-writer friends and family read your work, but your crit partners need to be writers. They have to know books, know writing on a technical level. They should at least be around the same skill level as you and be working to gain more skill. Usually I see writers of like skill/journey level gravitating toward each other, which is how it should be, I think. You grow together, experience the same ups and downs together.
3. Genre Similarities
It doesn't hurt to have a few crit partners who write in the same genre as you do. They should know the tools of the genre and be better able to tell you if something works for that type of book. I admit I'd feel a little "fish out of water" if I was critiquing an adult thriller—I just don't know what's expected. I've never actually read one...for reals. But give me a YA MS and I can tell you exactly what will and won't work.
4. Positive Vibes
Crit partners should never leave you feeling AWFUL about your book. They should be able to point out problems in a way that makes you want to fix them. They don't try to make your book into their book. They find good things to say along with the bad things.
Most importantly, they make you think differently about your book. The help you see what you can't and approach problems in ways you'd have never thought without them. They get you thinking. This is what I particularly love about my crit group (and my agent). For the most part, they don't tell me how I should fix things—they tell me what they struggled with and trust that I'll come up with the answers. And because of that trust, I know they respect me and my work. And because of that respect, I don't feel defensive about their crits. And because of all that, I can and want to make my book better.
That is how a crit group should work—through inspiration and encouragement, not criticism and belittlement.
So get thee to a crit group! They rock! It's incredible to watch my little group of writer friends progress. So many of us have agents now or are getting close to that. Some of us even have book deals. It has been so rewarding to experience these milestones with my closest friends and to share my own with them. I don't think the journey would have been as good without them, and I am grateful everyday for their support, intelligence, and humor.
To all my writer friends, not just my crit partners—love you guys!