Member Monday: Critique Groups in New England and Beyond, Part 2

Happy Monday Morning! I am slowly adjusting to the dry, cold and snowy weather that is ¬†Maine (read: not Puerto Rico). I’m so glad that you are here to read Part 2 of my interview with NESCBWI Critique Coordinator, Stacy Mozer. If you missed Part 1, take a look here.

Today we talk about critique group conflicts, intellectual property, and setting structure norms. How does your crit group deal with these issues? What do you get from your writing pals? Join the discussion and leave a comment.

Hey Stacy, welcome back. Sometimes crit groups are made up of long-time friends and sometimes they are constructed of writers and illustrators who have just met. Either way, there are bound to be issues. What if a group is having problems with a member? Are you (as crit group coordinator) 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.

Some people are reluctant to join a crit group because they are afraid someone will steal their ideas. What are your thoughts about crit groups, the SCBWI community, and intellectual property?

You have ownership of what you write, even if you don’t have a copyright on the work. If a member is still worried, set up email submissions. That gives the file a date stamp you can use if it should ever come to it.

I know that a crit group can ask important questions that make a manuscript tighter, but what other benefits do you hear about?

The critque group is your tribe, a group of people who are there to help you survive. Make sure to leave time during group meetings to share more than your work. It will help keep you going through the very slow process that is writing and publishing a book.

Is there a structure for reviewing work in an SCBWI crit group that is standard? What does it look like?

Each group needs to set up their own norms. Some like to submit work before, some like to bring it. Some critique into the circle, everyone talking when they have an idea. Others like to go around, giving each person a chance at critique. There really is no “one right way” to do it. It’s a good idea to take a step back every so often and review the group’s norms to determine which are working and which need to change. I also find it helpful to type up the group’s norms so that they can be reviewed later. One of my leaders sends new members the group’s norms before their first meeting.

What are the differences between online crit groups and in person groups? Structure, relationships, etc.

I don’t know if there is a good answer for this question every in person and online group is different. I can tell you that SCBWI is creating a new website which will make finding online groups much easier. They are hoping to have that up and running by the summer.

I know that our Illustrator Coordinator, Casey Girard is working on a new illustrator sharing blog. How many of the crit groups are for illustrators?

At this point we have few open illustrator groups. We do have illustrators that belong to picture book groups if they are author/illustrators. I would like to see this area grow in the future.

Thank you so much, Stacy. I wish you luck on your current WIP!

Your welcome, Anna. For more information, members can look at past NESCBWI News. I write a column each month that focuses on some area of critique groups.

SCBWI Members from any region can access the NESCBWI News by logging in to SCBWI.org going to the Regions tab>Regional Chapters> click on any New England State>Regional News and scroll down until you get to the PDF links.

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!