The Covid pandemic forced us to look at other ways of communicating. Now we commonly use Zoom for webinars, meetings, family get-togethers, and, yes, critique groups. (Kinda wish I’d owned Zoom stock before Covid…)
My critique group started Zooming in March of 2020. And we are still meeting that way–partially as several of us are not within close driving distance.
Here’s what we learned along the way:
First, sending manuscripts ahead of time saves time. In face-to-face meetings we brought manuscripts to the meeting and read aloud. Critiquers physically wrote on the paper. Now each manuscript is sent via email two-three days ahead of our Zoom meeting. Each person reads the manuscripts at their leisure and uses a combination of commenting, and track changes on their copy. We often type in global comments at the beginning as well. E.g. “Loved this chapter. Could add more sensory details.” The file is saved with a new name identifying who critiqued it, e.g. Beauty Chap 8 – Sue.
Second, not everyone can share a manuscript every week. There are seven of us in our group and we want to have time to discuss each manuscript in depth. We’ve found three to be a good number for everyone to have time to comment. That means we schedule who “presents” each week so everyone usually gets to share several times a month. We meet from 9 am to 12 pm.* Sometimes we end early. Often, we take a bit of time to talk about our lives or share ups and downs in the publishing world.
Third, someone moderates each meeting. We rotate who moderates and that person keeps everyone on track. E.g. “We’ll start with C’s manuscript, and we’ll go in this order of commenting: S, G, J, B, K, and myself.” The moderator also reminds the one being critiqued not to explain or tell what’s going to happen next. The writing needs to stand alone. Having a moderator has reduced frustrations.
Fourth, verbal comments at our Zoom meeting, may prompt other thoughts. We add these to our own electronic copy of the manuscript. E.g. “E had a great suggestion on…” or “This didn’t bother me.” or “What if you did…here?”
Fifth, don’t verbally repeat what someone else has already said, nor go over every typo. The writer gets all the manuscripts with comments returned and can see punctuation suggestions and where critiquers agreed about an issue.
Sixth, after everyone has commented, there’s a short time for questions or additional comments. This is where the writer can ask for clarification. Or a critiquer can add a last minute thought.
The finished manuscript copies are emailed back to the writer.
I like that we don’t spend time stuck in traffic going to and from meetings. But I love how much regular time I get to spend with my critique group, even if it isn’t in person.
*Several of us have paid Zoom accounts so can host meetings of any length.