Structuring a Critique Group Online

Cartoon credit: Inky Girl

I've mentioned my online crit group on here a number of times and many of you have asked how it's structured or set up.  So I thought it may be helpful to discuss how ours works.  Keep in mind that crit groups can take on any number of structures and set ups.  This is just what happens to work out perfectly for me.  There is no "right" way to do it.  So it's important to figure out what works best for you and the members of your group.

First, I want to say that Lynnette over at Chatterbox Chitchat set up our group, so the credit on this set up style goes to her.  :)  But I have found this structure really efficient, so I figured I'd pass it along.

One of the most important things is to set up rules and expectations up front (and stick to them).
--We have a document that actually outlines these things.
--Just like with anything else, if you're super lax about expectations, people will eventually slack.  It's human nature, lol.
---Our rules:

  • Each person is responsible for critting at least one chapter a week (not one per person, just one.)
  • Make sure you check the database (more on that below) to see whose critting what, and pick the chapter you crit based on who hasn't gotten a crit yet that week.
  • Delete the person's work off your hard drive when you're done.
  • Don't share anyone's work with anyone else.
  • If you can't crit that week, let someone know, and make it up the next week.
It can help to have a designated leader.
--This is very helpful.  This doesn't mean the leader has more power than anyone else, he or she is just a goto person for different things.  Lynnette has taken on this role in our group.  If we can't crit, we email her.  When the group had spots open for new members, she led the search for a new one.

Choose what genres you're going to cover.
--Some groups are totally fine being mixed genre, but I find that harder to work with.  My group does all romance.  There are different subgenres--romantic suspense, paranormal, contemporary--but all adult romance.
--This eliminates issues of people who are not readers of your area not understanding the components of your genre.  For instance, a sci-fi person may not understand why romance has to have a happy ending.

Try to find members who are not too far apart in skill level.
--If you have brand new beginners with seasoned veterans, people can get frustrated.  (The beginner because they are getting torn apart and the veterans because they aren't getting enough valuable feedback.)
--It's okay to have some variance in skill, just make sure people aren't on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Alright, now a few technical aspects...

We have our group set up through Yahoo Groups.  This website has been very helpful in keeping things organized.  It also provides you with a group address so you can email your members and everyone sees the email and can respond to them--which means you can have conversations on the email loop.  This aspect is almost as helpful as the crits themselves.  You have a sounding board at your fingertips.

In the yahoo groups, there are two folders set up for each member--a "to do" folder and a "done" folder.  For instance, the Roni To Do folder is where I upload my chapters that are ready to be critted.  Then, the Roni Done folder is where the members upload their crits of my chapters.  So if I go in my Done folder, I'll see all the chapters that have already been critted and I can download them to see the critique.

To keep track of who is critting what and to make sure everyone gets  a crit each week, we have a database set up in yahoo as well.

Okay, that's a little hard to see, but basically it has our names along the side and top--grid style.  So my name is second from the bottom, if you scan horizontally from my name, this shows that I critted for three different people (the names at the top) that week.  We designate this by code: (novel title initials) Chapter #, date, then either C (for currently being critted) or D (done and uploaded for viewing.)

So if someone had critted Wanderlust chapter two, it would look like this: WL Ch.2  D 1/13.  Now if someone goes in the database ready to crit, they will see that someone has already done one for me this week, so they will find the person who still needs one and enter that they are critting their chapter.  For instance, in the pic above, you can see that the person on the far right end hasn't received any crits yet that week.  (For the record, she had nothing uploaded that week to do, so that's why she didn't have any.  Otherwise, other people wouldn't have gotten multiple crits before she got one.)

There is also a handy dandy box you can check when you upload someone's chapter that automatically sends an email to everyone to let them know the chapter is now available for viewing.  That way you don't have to constantly check the database to see if people have finished critting your work yet.

Lastly, and most importantly, remember that in any critiquing relationship, all members need to treat others with respect and kindness.  Give tough feedback if it's called for, that's your job.  But don't be rude, tear people down, or make fun of anyone's work.  Also, be sure you know how to take a crit.  Don't get all defensive and fussy when you get back feedback you don't like.  Honest feedback is a gift, treat it as such.  We're all in this together.  :)

How about you?  Are you in a crit group?  How does yours work?  Have any tips for those trying to put a group together?  What have you seen gone wrong in a crit group--how did you fix it?

**Don't forget, the win a 10 page crit contest is still accepting entries until Friday.  Click here to enter!**

**Today's Theme Song**
"Perfect Situation" - Weezer
(player in sidebar, take a listen)