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I got lucky with my writers group–it fits me perfectly. And I want to share a few things that I think might be important when thinking about starting up a writers group.
Do they write for the same audience?
If you write children’s books, be it picture books, middle grade, or teen, you want to find others that write for about the same age group. In other words, you may not want to mix your group with writers of adult fiction. There’s a huge difference between writing for children and writing for adults, and while any writer may give you good feedback, writers for a similar audience will give you the best feedback.
If you have the option of being even more choosy, you may even want to limit your group to only picture book writers if you do picture books. Or only middle grade or teen. Middle grade and teen luckily have a better overlap. But if you’re writing books for five-year-olds, you may not get the best feedback from someone who’s writing for 15-year-olds unless they also read lots of picture books too. For example, one of my writers group friends usually writes teen, but tried her hand at an early reader. I wasn’t able to give her the best feedback on that book, because I don’t read those books. I don’t know much about what makes them good and marketable.
More choosy still, you could say that you want even the genres of your different WIPs to match up. For example, you write fantasy and want only other fantasy writers in your group. Again, this comes down to what everyone reads and knows. You would narrow it down this much if you really felt like you could get the best feedback from having only those who write your genre.
Do you care if you can meet face-to-face or only online?
I’m a huge advocate of having a live meeting if you can. In Utah that’s easy because we have a great network of children’s writers here. It’s not so hard to find writers living around you (more on that later). Actually meeting together is a great way to become friends with your group, which is so important. You also get better feedback because you have discussion that springs up from the comments people came prepared with.
The next best thing would be using a webcam and meeting that way. Then there would still be the discussion and almost face-to-face interaction.
The third option is corresponding by email or some other web-based group. You send out your stuff, they comment. This takes out the more personal element that I enjoy so much. If you do choose this route, try something that creates discussion more than just having everyone send a separate word doc with comments. Use a blog, or do a live chat, or something to get more out of it.
Can you trust their opinions?
This is one I feel the strongest about. I have learned from my experience being critiqued by other writers what it takes for me to trust them. Every person has to figure that out on their own, I think. This is something you won’t figure out until you’ve been critiqued a few times, so you can’t quite know before you create a group. When deciding whether to trust someone’s opinions though, don’t just throw away the things that you don’t like. Try to see their points. Learn to trust what they have to say. And after a while if it doesn’t work out, you may want to find a different group.
Next week: Writers Groups, Part 3: How to find one