Step #1: Planning
When I was starting up our group (or rather when we were starting our group since I started it with another writer who has since moved away), we weren’t exactly sure how it would work. We thought we would just figure out letter “a” below, and then play it by ear from there with people who were interested. This might be fine at first, but actually planning things out ahead of time makes things a lot easier for you when you’re recruiting members. Here’s a list of questions to answer for yourselves before you start:
a) When will you meet?
Morning? Afternoon? Evening? Weekends? Weekdays? Figure out a time that works for you and stick with it. Once you get to know people, you can always talk about changing times later. You don’t want to start negotiating times with people you don’t know who may not even stay in the group for long.
b) How often will you meet?
Once a month? Twice a month? Don’t just think about how long it will take you to get your own submissions ready, but also how long it will take you to read other people’s work. My group meets every other week and occasionally this can be challenging, but it is a good way to stay on task.
c) What type of submissions will you read?
Are you going to read adult novels? Children’s novels? Picture books? Romance? Starting up our group wasn’t my idea, but the idea of the other writer, who envisioned a “children’s-fantasy-writer’s-only” type of group. I had written fantasy, but the novel I wanted to submit to the group was actually historical fiction. In the end we decided to qualify the “fantasy-only” thing to say that one should be “willing to critique” fantasy, which we both felt was important to say since many people don’t like fantasy (especially high fantasy) and don’t think they can be nice about such a manuscript.
d) How many members will be in the group?
This is a very important question. Will you have a small critique group or a large one? This will effect the dynamics of the group greatly (and at what point you’ll have to turn people away). The size of the group also directly effects the next question…
e) How will your group work?
Will you take turns submitting your work ahead of time and discuss it during the meeting? Or will you each bring a small sample and read it out loud during the meeting? How long will submissions be and how many people get to submit at a time? There are many ways of organizing it, but have an idea how you want meetings to run before you get to the first meeting. That way there are no misunderstandings.
Image Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank