Picture Books and Critiques

Recently, I rediscovered the value of making time for critiques.

How did that happen? Well, two critique groups I’d belonged to years ago (and had disbanded), both decided to get back together via Zoom. In the few times we’ve met since then, I’ve received a wealth of awesome feedback on my works-in-progress, and have greatly enjoyed the camaraderie and encouragement.

Also, in my May 19, 2020 “Thank You” post, I gave away a free pb critique which Lenora Biemans from Texas won. Last week, Lenora and I met online to do the critique, and it was such a refreshing break from my regular writing work to spend time with a talented, fun, and enthusiastic writer I hadn’t met before.

So I decided to write this brief post on critique groups, so pb writers and illustrators (you!) could share tips which have improved your critique experiences. If you have any ideas which have worked well in your group, please share in the comments. We’d love to hear ’em!

I also wanted to offer a forum where those looking to create a new critique group, add a new member to an existing group, or simply find a critique partner or two could connect. If you’d like to do any of the above, please share what you’re looking for in the comments, and be sure to include the best way to contact you.

Fyi, here are a few guidelines my critique groups try to follow:

  1. To begin, set guidelines for length of manuscripts (pages or word count) that is okay to submit to group, as well as other factors such as how much time you want to spend socializing, confidentiality regarding book ideas/topics, etc.
  2. During a critique, always start with positive comments–things you like about the manuscript or illustration.
  3. If you have suggestions for improvement, pose them as just that, as suggestions or questions.
  4. Be honest, and provide specific comments if possible, instead of general comments which may be difficult to address.
  5. Above all, be encouraging and supportive!

You can also find more information on critique groups from people smarter than me here:

Writing Groups 101: Which Kind is Right For You? (Write for Kids blog)

Critique Groups, Critique Partners: We All Got ‘Em, We All Want ‘Em… (GROG blog)

Happy critiquing! Suzanne

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters (Little, Brown), MARS IS, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Sleeping Bear Press. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at: www.suzanneslade.com

10 Comments:

  1. Great post, Susan! I’m such a fan of critique groups and I know that my books wouldn’t be on shelves right now if it weren’t for the support, encouragement, and feedback I’ve received from all of them over the past 8 years. And your guidelines are spot on1

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I would NOT be where I am today had it not been for my critique partners -they’re the best.

  3. My critique group has been in existence for over 35 years, and I have been a member for 20! An added suggestion: Recipients of critique should do their best to hear and process comments and suggestions without pushing back. I confess to not always wanting to hear recommendations to change a “perfect” story, So many times over the years, though, I have been so grateful that a colleague persisted if I didn’t see their point. Invariably, the input has pushed me to be a better writer. Of course, the author/reader may sometimes try to explain intent, and as long as this isn’t just self-serving, it often leads to a good dialogue that results in “light bulb” moments about how to make a perfect story better!

  4. I’m in two critique groups and they are just fantastic. I also found that when you feel that story is where you are ready to send it out it really pays to get a professional critique from a published author for that final set of eyes on it.

  5. Successful writing critique groups should insist on a solid commitment to writing and clear procedures. The established expectations should be agreed upon by all. Members should offer critiques with encouragement that include a balance of praise and constructive criticism both gentle and specific.

    Sharing a suggested book title:
    THE WRITING GROUP BOOK: CREATING AND SUSTAINING A SUCCESSFUL WRITING GROUP. Edited by Lisa Rosenthal, Chicago Review Press, 2003

  6. Avatar
    Jilanne Hoffmann

    Critique groups are a lifeline, especially when I’m drowning in revisions. They help me see what’s actually on the page vs. what’s in my head. I’ve been a member of an adult writing group for 20 years, one PB/MG writing group formed through SCBWI probably 5 or 6 years ago, and anotherPB group formed at a small retreat in late 2018. And I have several CPs from various writing workshops. I’m now also facilitating a monthly critique meet-up for our SCBWI region, where writers can drop in and get feedback. I use similar guidelines for the meet-up and my other groups.

  7. Avatar
    Jennifer Lane Wilson

    I love my critique group. It’s so beneficial to receive feedback from such talented, creative, interesting, and kind people. And as an added bonus, to be friends with people who adore picture books as much as I do.

  8. Suzanne! It was such a pleasure virtually meeting you! Thank you for your time, patience and advice. I’m so glad you reconnected with your critique groups!

    When I was a fresh newbie, I had difficulty finding a critique group in my local SCBWI region so I started my own virtual group and it’s been going strong for several years. Because I was willing to do the administrative work of managing the group, I was able to attract more experienced writers.

    Find your people, everyone. It makes all the difference in the world!

  9. Thank you for your insights! I’ve been a part of various in-person critique groups over the years, but either because relocation or other life factors, they’ve disbanded.
    I’m in the process of starting a low-stress, all inclusive, kindness-based online Poetry Across the World Critique group. (I live in Switzerland.) If any of your readers are interested they are welcome to contact me for details.

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