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 Guest Post, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Ouch! Thin Skin!

Authoress2Guest post by Authoress
Excerpts* from her Miss Snark’s Next Victim blog on April 23rd:

Lots of people in this business won’t mince their words. If it’s something you’re not used to, it’s time to get used to it.
It doesn’t mean you suck.
It doesn’t mean you should give up.
It doesn’t mean the universe is ending.
What it means is: Some people won’t mince their words. That is all. You may be expecting something other than what you receive. You may feel stunned or numb or flabbergasted when you read someone’s response to your work–especially if that “someone” is an agent or editor with whom you were hoping to find some level of favor.
Welcome to the World of Showing People What You’ve Written.
It’s not fun. It’s not something that most of us can get used to overnight. But the Thick Skin is an important part of our journey, so if you haven’t started growing yours yet, now’s the time.
I don’t have a big magenta eraser for editing less-than-tactful critiques and comments. I may not like them, but they are a reality for us as writers.
fisherman-2576631_640We need to reel them in with the rest of the fish, and cast them away if they don’t serve a purpose. Interestingly, often they do serve a purpose–if only to teach us to rise above our emotions and keep pressing on.

*photo above and text used by permission

Isn’t that well said? I especially love the line about reeling those comments in with the rest of the fish.
I’d like to add this quote by another writer, Julia Sorel: “If you’re never scared or embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take any chances.” So take the chances that come your way, sort through the fish that are caught, and keep the ones that improve your writing. (Remember, they may not be the easy ones.)

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

Cut in the Critique

princessdiariesToo long, needed to more quickly get to the point, didn’t add to the story, wasn’t enough of a comeuppance for the bad girl… The comments by the director about the deleted scenes for the movie The Princess Diaries (2001) are valuable reminders for editing our own stories. (Watch them on the DVD.) As I did, you’ll probably find yourself agreeing, yes, that scene wasn’t necessary. Or, yes, it’s a stronger story without this one. The director even cut some of his favorite scenes to make a better movie.
Enabling us to produce better manuscripts is why critique groups exist. Watching the director commentary was almost like getting a bird’s eye view of a critique from start to finish: the pre-critiqued version and the tightened, more focused version. For me, it gave me additional tools for looking at scenes in my own fiction. I learned these questions*:
• Does this add to the story?
• Does this get the emotional reaction I want?
• Am I getting to the main point here?
• Will the reader care about this?
• How does this make my main character appear?
• Is my antagonist getting what he deserves?
• Is this the right time for this relationship/problem to be resolved?
I shouldn’t just ask these questions of myself, but ask my critique group to respond, too.
Does this mean I might have to cut a scene I like? Yes. Does this mean I’ll have to do rewriting and reordering? Yes. Will it be worth it? YES! If my story goes out to an editor stronger, clearer, better focused, my odds of acceptance are increased.
*Variants of these questions may also be useful when critiquing others.
• What is the emotional reaction you want from this scene?
• Your main character seems rather useless here, is that what you want me to think?
• Do you think your villain is getting what he deserves here?
• Should these characters be getting along so well in this scene?
In addition to being more thought provoking, critique questions can also make a nice variation from “too long,” “need to get to the point more quickly,” etc. statements.
Got any other movie examples that help remind us what to edit in our own stories? Feel free to share them here.

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

Critique Methods

In this scenario, each writer brings a manuscript for critique. Depending on the size of the group, it may be limited to 5 or 6 pages, or other groups use a timer. Hard copies may be brought for each critiquer to make notes. Otherwise, blank paper is needed. The writer or reader (can be someone besides the author) reads the manuscript aloud. The critiquers take turns commenting on what they found.
THE READER needs to say:
• what the piece is: an article, a short story, the opening of a novel, an essay, etc
• who the audience is: adults, children (if so, what age), secular or religious market
• if a specific market is in mind, say so (i.e. Highlights Magazine)
• word length
• MAY say, this is a first draft, but NOT apologize

1. Listen and write down comments as the piece is read–a simple way to note what you think is by using, plusses, minuses, and question marks. e.g.
+ flapping gums – lifeless cadaver
? why did Matthew …. + Amy’s character
+ smashed – was walking is passive

2. Give a verbal presentation of their critique, stating something positive first (i.e. I like your idea, how you showed your character, the title, etc.)
3. Share areas of the writing that were confusing, that could be phrased better, etc.
4. Make marketing suggestions, if something comes to mind.
5. Don’t repeat every thing that everyone else has already said, though feel to add “agree with” and/or “disagree with or I got that” on written notes on manuscript. May say, after saying something positive, “the only thing I have to add is . . .” If you disagree with another’s comments and feel it needs to be said aloud, say so nicely.
6. Give written comments to the reader when done.
The next READER passes out manuscripts and reads. Everyone gets an opportunity. Many leaders keep track of the order of readers presenting from meeting to meeting, so someone isn’t always first or last.
Some groups send material ahead of time to each member to read so the time together is only spent sharing comments.
Groups often form long-lasting relationships. But sometimes a group is not a match. Try another group.
Online critique groups work similarly, but have special needs, especially the notating on the manuscript itself. There are several methods that make it easy to do however.
• If all members of group use Microsoft Word (and similar versions), the commenting option is a great way to put reader’s comments in a manuscript. Each member will save the pages being critiqued with their own name added to the file name, so the writer knows who wrote which critique in case of questions.
• Other groups might use a combination of highlighting (e.g. green for what the critiquer likes and yellow for areas of concern) with comments typed in CAPS to separate them from the manuscript. Text boxes can be used as well for comments.
Usually with either of these methods, every member of the group sees general comments in email, but only the writer sees the line-by-line comments. In either case, both general comments and manuscript notations will include positive as well as negative.
Some groups use an online work space, such as google docs or pbworks, to upload documents and post comments so everyone in the group can see others’ comments.


You may also find that a particular person in one of your groups is especially good at helping you in an area of weakness. Perhaps you can do one-on-one critique exchanges with each other.
In my case one critique group had been telling me that I needed to share more of my character’s emotions. I’d look at my chapters and think, Where?! I met another gal who read a chapter and said, “I want to know what she is thinking/feeling here.” She told me exactly where in the manuscript. The proverbial light bulb clicked on. She was willing to read the entire manuscript in exchange for the same from me. Her input was invaluable.
Some people find someone to do a critique exchange via an online writers group, or at a writers workshop or conference. If you don’t know someone well, always agree to a trial of either a chapter or so many pages, instead of promising to exchange complete manuscript novels. Make sure you each find the other person’s comments helpful before proceeding.

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)