Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools, You Are Not Alone

Critiquing Via Zoom

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.

Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Writing Life, You Are Not Alone

Feeling Isolated from Other Writers?

With stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders and the wisdom of social distancing, many of us are feeling isolated. I’m finding myself on Facebook more than usual just for socializing. What I’m personally not missing is my weekly critique group.

About four weeks ago we decided to try virtual meetings because I had moved away. Our first meeting, the others met up at a house and we Skyped with them all sitting around one computer. I was the only remote person. The next week we decided to try Zoom with each in one at home. It worked great and we’ve been using it ever since and have even added two others to our group. It’s great seeing everyone’s faces at once. We just have to be careful not to talk over each other.  (I’m paying for Zoom since free is limited to 40 minutes at a time. It’s well-worth the $16 something a month. Zoom lets me set up a recurring meeting which means the meeting starts automatically. Another member also signed up as a backup host.)

We are submitting our manuscripts on Monday and we “meet” on Thursday. After we share our comments on a manuscript, members return the notated copy to the author. Some of us do so via email as we’re using Word’s commenting. Others prefer making handwritten notes on a printed copy and mailing. It’s working well. And no one is having to drive anywhere. 

Most of us had participated in Zoom meetings (or webinars) which made us aware of the program/app. But there are other similar options. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

Whereby: the free option allows up to four people to meet at one time. For $9.99/month (probably plus tax), you can have up to 12 participants.

GoToMeeting: You can test it free for 14 days. Plans start at $12/month.

StartMeeting: Also has a free trial—theirs is 30 days. Plans start at $9.95/month.

Google has a G Suite Hangouts Meet: I found it difficult to find pricing and stopped looking.

JoinMe: There’s a free trial. For 5 participants it is $13/month. Prices go up from there. Appears that scheduling is only an option for a higher fee.

The point is, you don’t have to survive this virus without other writers. If you aren’t in a critique group, maybe now is the time to find one. SCBWI members should check their local regions and the Blueboard. If you’re on Facebook, you can find critique partners or do swaps through Kidlit 411 Manuscript Swap (For illustrators there’s Kidlit 411 Illustrator Critique Swap) or Sub It Club Critique Partner Matchup.

Happy meetings!

Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, You Are Not Alone

Critique Groups: Go for It!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe best thing I ever did for my writing was to get involved with a critique group. It happened because I attended my first ever writer’s conference, one put on by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Seattle. There, when the opportunity was offered, I signed up to be in a critique group. Not long afterwards, I got a call telling me where and when to go, and even an offer to carpool.

To this day, I remember how scared I was to read my piece out loud. I just knew those other writers–some published, some not–were going to tell me to give up and go home. But they didn’t. Yes, my picture book, or was it a short story?–I didn’t even know the difference then–needed work. The group members were kind to me and pointed out what I was doing right as well as what I was doing wrong. And, they invited me back. That was in the spring of 1990.

In 1992 my first short story came out in Jack and Jill magazine. No, it wasn’t that first piece I took to the critique group–it has never sold–but it definitely was one they critiqued. Since then I’ve sold over 130 magazine pieces and two books. The middle grade novel was inspired by my critique group. So many of the others were writing novels for children, I became interested in the process. I learned from what they did right. I learned from their critiques of my manuscript.

Groups change. People quit or move to a different group or to another town or state. My needs as a writer change. However, I think I’ll always need the feedback of a critique group.


Local Writing Groups
Of course, SCBWI is a good source for children’s writers. That organization has grown internationally since my first association with them. Go to and see what events might be near you by clicking on your state and following the links. If you join the organization, you can do manuscript exchanges with other members through the mail or online.

Look at other writer organizations in your area. They may not have many members focused on children’s writing per se, but you can still learn a lot from “adult” writers.

Writing Classes
Sign up for a writing class at a community college or university. Even if they don’t offer in-class critiques, you may connect with several other students to form your own group, or the teacher may have recommendations.

Online Writing Groups
There are online writer’s groups that offer critique exchanges as well. Some are two-way list serves – designed as a place to chat, but you can ask for feedback on a manuscript. Here’s one group that focuses on critiquing: And go here for 41 Places to Find a Critique Partner to Improve Your Writing.


Articles on the Net
Join a Critique Group to Get Your Writing Moving
Starting Your Own Critique Group
Do You Need a Critique Group?
And, of course, if you read that last title strictly as a question, my answer is “yes.” You won’t regret it when you find the right group. (more on that later)