Member Monday: Critique Groups in New England and Beyond, Part 1

As the Northern New England Regional Advisor for SCBWI, I often get email queries that look a little like this one:

I am a new writer of children’s PB. I currently live in [My Town], NH, but am originally from [another state]. I recently completed my first PB manuscript. I am considering joining SCBWI, particularly because I need some assistance on publishing houses and/or agents to submit to. I would like to find local resources if possible. Can you tell me a little more about the regional chapter and the resources available?

As you can see, this very short email would require a very long response. I’ve answered a lot of these with:

Here’s my phone number, let’s talk. Please plan a 45 minute block of time for this phone call.

But more often, I send something that looks like this:

Welcome to the wonderful community of children’s books and SCBWI! The most important thing for that new manuscript is an audience of like-minded, knowledgeable writers. If you are an SCBWI member you can take advantage of our critique groups. Please take a look at the critique group site. http://nescbwicritiques.blogspot.com/ The groups are broken down by state. You’ll also find the contact for our critique group coordinator Stacy Mozer. She can help you with any questions you have about finding a group closer to you or starting a new group.

Today, I’ve invited Stacy Mozer to Creative Chaos to discuss the up’s, down’s and etiquette of critique groups.

Welcome Stacy! Can you give us a quick “state-of-crit-groups” in New England?

The state of our critique groups are constantly in flux. New groups open and close all the time. Some groups take particular interests. I’ve been working on ways to connect our groups and find our leaders. When people registered for the conference this year they could register as a critique group leader. We are inviting all leaders to a pizza party on Saturday night to say thank you and connect them.

If someone can’t find a critique group, how do they start a new one?

My first suggestion when someone contacts me is for them to use the member finder on SCBWI.org to see how many members live in their area. That can determine whether they want to start a local group or try something online. Either way, they should contact me at necritiquegroups@gmail.com.

Why is it so important for people to contact you?

I keep a list of members who are looking for critique groups and sometimes I can find new group members off that list. If there are members in the area, we next write a listing for Http://nescbwicritiques.blogspot.com. I also ask the new leader to join our Critique Group Leader Yahoo Group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CritGroupLeaders. I have made document files available to the crit group leaders through the listserve. These documents help give the leader ideas. The group is also a place where leaders can connect to each other and ask questions.

What do you think is the optimum size for a crit group, and why?

The size of the group depends on the needs of the members and the organizational skills of the leader. If the group is critiquing novels, I recommend no more than six because you need the time to read before the meeting and to review each one. A picture book group can vary in size because members usually bring the work with them and members don’t always submit every week. I have one amazing picture group leader who invites dozens of people each time. Usually only six show up to one meeting, but when she gets more she separates the group into different rooms in her house

That sounds great. How often do you suggest that crit groups meet?

I recommend no less than once a month. I do have some groups that meet weekly.

What if a group is having problems with a member? Are you available to help? What types of problems do crit groups have?

Critique groups certainly can have issues with members. The best way I’ve seen it handled is to go back and review the group’s norms (which should be set up at the first meeting). If that doesn’t change a member’s behavior, the critque group leader needs to have an honest conversation with the member, which I am happy to help with either by coaching the leader or making the call. If things continue not to work, it is time to part ways.

Please come back next Monday for Part 2 of my critique group interview with Stacy Mozer. We’ll discuss intellectual property concerns, structuring your critique group, illustration and online groups and more!

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