DOs and DON’Ts for a Successful Online Critique Group



Chris Woodworth, John J. Bonk and Lisa Williams Kline

Chris Woodworth, John J. Bonk and Lisa Williams Kline

After our “Candid Confessions of an Online Critique Group” workshop at the SCBWI conference in Durham this past weekend, several participants asked for a copy of our DOs & DON’Ts list. And here it is, as promised… (Well, half anyway.)


1. Do find or form a critique group that’s a GOOD FIT – meaning not only personalities that mesh but similar genre. A YA novelist working on an edgy coming-of-age story may not be a good match for a picture book writer working on a rhyming story about Lacey, the Ladybug. They’re totally different animals. (Or bugs.) On the other hand, you may be looking to broaden your horizons and find it advantageous to have a mix.

2. Do find a group with the same LEVEL OF COMMITMENT. If you want to submit a chapter from your epic novel once a week and someone else wants to submit a haiku once a month, it’s probably not going to work out.

3. Do BE TRUTHFUL but tactful in your critiques. Working online makes it easier to tear someone’s work apart because they’re not sitting there right in front of you. Remember, there’s a living, breathing person at the other end.

4. Do create a BALANCE when giving a critique. Tell the writer what’s positive as well as what’s negative or simply “not working” in their manuscript. And always find something positive.

5. Do create a “PRAISE SANDWICH” – the “bread” being two positive comments. In other words, start with something positive and always end on a positive note to build trust and rapport with members of the group.

6. Do AVOID A LONG STRING OF NEGATIVE COMMENTS in a row and break it up with a positive comment. At least one positive comment for every four or five negative comments is a good rule of thumb – but always be sincere.

7. Do remember that critiques are only SUGGESTIONS. You’re not obligated to use everything that’s being thrown at you nor should you expect the critiquee to use all of your suggestions.

8. Do PICK YOUR BATTLES. If, heaven forbid, you dislike everything in a submission, concentrate on one or two areas to critique. It’s not your job to teach a member everything there is to know about writing.

9. Do BE RESPECTFUL of your fellow writers. Even if someone’s writing doesn’t meet your expectations or your particular standards doesn’t mean they didn’t give it 100 percent.

10. Do SEND COPIES OF YOUR CRITIQUES TO ALL MEMBERS of the group. You can learn a lot from reading other people’s critiques.

11. Do BE CLEAR IN THE SUBJECT LINE of your email that this is a submission or a critique so it doesn’t get accidentally deleted. It’s also good idea to include the title of the piece and the chapter number for quick reference.

12. Do KEEP ORGANIZED and back up your work. Set up separate Word files to store your critiques. As an extra safekeeping measure, email your files to your own Hotmail or Yahoo accounts.

13. Do CALL BRAINSTORMING SESSIONS in lieu of scheduled chats to work out particular problems. These can be invaluable.

14. Do KEEP LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN. If you’re going to miss a scheduled chat or be late with your critique, be sure to inform your fellow members.

15. Do ASK FOR BIG PICTURE COMMENTS FOR COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS. Sometimes merely critiquing a work-in-progress on a chapter-by-chapter basis isn’t enough. A standalone chapter might be great, but may not work in the story as a whole. Suggestions on pacing, flow, suspense, holes in the plot, redundancy, inconsistency, unnecessary characters or scenes, an effective climax, etc. can be invaluable — yet these things might be completely overlooked when your manuscript is critiqued on a piecemeal basis.



2 responses to “DOs and DON’Ts for a Successful Online Critique Group

  1. Hi John,
    just read your critique comments and liked them a lot. I have a 5 member online group; we’ve been together 2 1/2 years and are all over the US plus one in Africa. We don’t have many “rules” other than do an honest critique and play nice! We’re laid back, if someone can’t get her critique on time, no one throws a fit, we either change rotation or wait. Since we’ve been together, two other ladies have published…at first, I was the only one. Some on SCBWI say we are not restrictive enough, we don’t require “writing samples” to admit a new person, even have said we can’t possibly do any good for each other because we ARE laid back. Hmm…yet our group has 3 published members, and others who complain about us are not published! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head ( sorry, old cliche) with your “dos and don’ts”…keep it up!

    • Hi Mikki,
      We formed our group after taking an online writing class quite sometime ago — but lost some original members along the way. We’ve become a lot more laid back as the years have progressed (A LOT!) but some original rules, like not being allowed to submit something new until you’re caught up with your critiques, still apply. Glad you liked the D&D list!

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