By Cheryl Bommarito Klein and Kara B. Wilson
Editor’s Note: Cheryl and Kara, who are in the same critique group, both won manuscript awards at this year’s Los Angeles Writers & Illustrators Day. I asked them to share their critique-group-secrets with us because they are definitely doing it right!
We all want the kind of support that keeps us motivated to create and improve our craft. For us, a well-organized critique group was exactly what we needed! Here are four tips we have learned over the last year that will help you to enhance or build the kind of group that fits you as illustrators/authors.
1. Name Your Critique Group: A Rose by Any Other Name
Our group started by chance at an SCBWI Critiquenic one year ago. We were randomly seated at the same table and the five of us hit it off right away. We came from different backgrounds, gave constructive feedback, and made each other laugh. At the end of the event, someone nervously asked if anyone else wanted to meet up again and our critique group was born. We also decided to name our group, and since there were initially five of us, we settled on “Pen-Ultimate.” At first it was a light-hearted reference to the Inklings. However, once Crystal made our incredible logo, the name increased our sense of unity. When our newest member, Christina, joined, she loved the name and it immediately solidified our new team. As Pen-Ultimate, we encourage each other when we’re stuck and cheer on individual progress as group successes.
2. Meeting Agendas: Structure Is Your Friend
We have seven roles so that everyone is contributing something each meeting, and rotate those roles from meeting to meeting. (Since we only have 6 members, we have a dedicated Agenda Setter who takes on an additional role each meeting.)
Agenda Setter – Collect advance information on who has pages for critique and event reviews/news to share. Create and email agenda at least 1 day before the meeting.
Host – Select a location for the meeting to accommodate group size, traffic, parking, etc.
Timekeeper – Help everyone stay on schedule.
Facilitator – Keep the constructive critiques moving along, keeping the SCBWI Gold Form questions in mind.
Mentor Text/Suggested Reading – Bring a favorite picture book and/or craft text to share.
Future Events/Homework – Share upcoming writers events, contests, classes, Twitter pitch parties, etc.
3. Goal Setting: You Are a Writer. Do It!
At the end of each meeting we verbally state our individual goals to help us stay accountable. Sometimes it’s as simple as making revisions by the next meeting, and other times it’s sending out a certain number of queries, preparing a submission for an SCBWI contest, or attending a workshop.
4. Sharing Resources: What’s Mine Is Yours
We created three support resources for our group. The first is a shared Google spreadsheet filled with helpful websites, books, industry podcasts, and articles. The second is a private Facebook group filled with motivational and craft posts, as well as reminders to enter upcoming contests, etc. The last is our newly created website, http://www.ThePenultimates.com, highlighting each member and our work, along with a monthly blog highlighting different writing resources.
Images Provided by Christine Van Zandt (WID 2017), The Pen-Ultimate Critique Group
Kara B. Wilson’s writing has been inspired by her small-town roots, travels abroad, work with youth, and her life as a military spouse. Her picture book Moving Again was a Runner Up at SCBWI’s 2017 Writers and Illustrators Day in Los Angeles. You can visit www.karabwilson.com or follow Kara on Twitter: @bykbw and Facebook: Kara B. Wilson
Cheryl Bommarito Klein enjoys writing stories and poetry that leave children with a sense of joyful wonder. She is a proofreader for Kite Tales and her picture book The Elephant Road won 1st place at SCBWI’s 2017 LA Writers and Illustrators Day. You can visit www.cherylbk.com or follow Cheryl on Twitter: @cheryl_bk and Facebook