Critique Groups

A.M. BurnsA.M. Burns lives in the Colorado Rockies with his partner, several dogs, cats, horses, and birds. When he’s not writing, he’s often fixing fences, splitting wood, hiking in the mountains, or flying his hawks. As of January 2013, he is the president of the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group. You can find out more about A.M. and his writing at, or follow him on twitter @am_burns

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Good beta readers are extremely important to writers. Without them we have no idea if what we write is any good until we waste a lot of time getting rejections from agents and editors, or in the case of self publisher, just no sales. Finding good beta readers can be a challenge. One of the best sources I’ve found is critique groups. You just can’t beat finding a group of other writers to sit down with and go over each other’s work.

There are several kinds of critique groups out there, both live and online. I personally prefer the live groups. I feel that you get better input from a live group. Most cities have writers groups of one form or another. The larger the city, the more groups there are. You may have to visit several groups before you actually find one that suits your needs and your writing style. Not everyone likes or will be able to provide a good critique of fantasy/scifi/mystery/romance/steampunk/historical or whatever it is that you’re writing. In larger cities there’s a group out there for nearly every genre, and there’s tons of resources online custom designed for your particular flavor. I feel that the benefits of finding the right group outweigh the time involved in the search.

What a good critique group is varies with the ideas of each writer. The odds are if you polled each member of any critique group, you’d hear different things about what they think makes up a good group. I personally don’t get much out of the “I loved every word” folks. I like hearing that folks enjoyed reading my work, don’t get me wrong, but I want to know what was wrong with it. Were there plot holes big enough o drive a train through? Did my characters fall flat? Did the ending leave the reader fulfilled or going “What just happened?” A good honest group will tell you all of that and more. A strong critique will point out both the good things and the bad things in a work.

An Uncommon CollectionIn the group I’m involved with, I know that each member is liable to point out something entirely different. We’ve got grammar Nazis. We’ve got fight/weapons experts. There are science geeks, animal people, and other folks with other opinions. There have been occasions when we’ve spent time (hours) explaining to writers how to make their fantasy horses more believable to the readers. We’ve gone into detail about how certain fighting styles work and don’t work on paper. A good writing group helps fill in the gaps of a writer’s knowledge and skills.

A good writers critique group is give and take amongst its members. I feel that I need to be giving good, useful critiques to the other members just like what they give to me. And in doing so, I think I improve my own writing. By seeing the mistakes that others make, I’ve started catching those same things in my work. This makes it a win-win situation for me.

Being part of a critique group is also good preparation for dealing with editors. If you can’t handle your work being picked apart by people who are getting the same treatment from you, the odds are you’re not going to handle getting your work torn to shreds by editors. I know if I hadn’t gone through some of the critiques I experienced prior to my first encounter with an editor, I probably would’ve hung up my keyboard and found another line of work.

If you’re serious about polishing your writer’s craft, there’s really no better grit than finding a real critique group that is willing to help you brave the slings and arrows of reality. You emerge a better writer with a much tougher skin, ready to take on whatever the publishing world throws at you.

8 thoughts on “Critique Groups

  1. I’ve been in several groups over the years and agree there are plenty of benefits. But groups also grow stale – for want of a better word – and you have to be ready to admit that it’s time to walk away because you’re not getting anything from the experience and not giving anything, either.


    • Carolyn, I’ve heard about groups that grow stale after a while. I’m lucky that mine hasn’t. We have have folks come and go while maintaining a core group. Some people join because they think that they can handle their work getting critiqued and then leave because they don’t like the reality and don’t really want to grow as writers.


  2. I’ve been in the same critique group since 1981. It isn’t stale because the members keep changing (some died, others moved away or quit writing.) Three of us are published in totally different genres. We keep the group smallish so everyone can get a chance to read. I consider them my first edit. And oh boy, do they find things–and I love it. I wouldn’t go if they weren’t honest. Doesn’t mean I always do what they tell me, but often it cues me into knowing I better work on that particular part or sentence.


    • Exactly the attitude I have in my group Marilynm. When making major changes I use a majority rules idea. If one person suggest a major change, I’ll think about it. If several people all suggest a major change, it has to happen, maybe not like they suggest, but something has to change. Right now I’m running the second book in my “Coyote’s Pack” series through the group. Everyone said that I glossed over too much at the start of chapter 2, guess what, I added a new chapter 2 to flesh out what they all complained about and made things much stronger. A good group can be harsh at times, but they really help temper the writing and the writer.


    • Jacqueline, over time, a good writers group will become friends and family. Our group has good parties every year which gives us a chance to connect when we’re not critiquing one another. Since authors are so notoriously hermit-like, getting out to group social events is good. But just because we become friends doesn’t mean that we can’t still be objective when looking at people’s work. The biggest goal in our group is to help everyone become better, stronger writers.


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