After belonging to a writers critique group for around 20 years, I have come to a number of conclusions about how they work best. If you are thinking of joining one, or perhaps starting a new group, here are my suggestions for ways to make the experience more fruitful.
1. Choose a Genre - A group can be more effective if everyone writes in the same genre. In the past, we had members writing in the fantasy field, one that I know nothing about. I didn't feel qualified to critique the books. Now we're primarily mystery writers. It makes for a more cohesive group.
2. Limit Membership - In the early life of my group, we had as many as 15 or more members. People came and went, though seldom more than 10 attended a meeting. The group now has a limit of eight, but the last one to leave has not been replaced. We average five in attendance, which allows for a good discussion.
3. Avoid Bruised Egos - By its very nature, a critique group involves criticism. Make sure your members know the necessity for giving constructive criticism. Avoid making someone feel their writing is subpar. Some people have thin skins and can't take the mildest criticism. They need to find another route for sharing their work.
4. Meeting Interval - It's best to gather at least twice a month. Even at that interval, it's sometimes difficult to keep up with characters and situations from chapter to chapter.
5. Meeting Time - This has to be adjusted to the needs of the group. We had been meeting at 6:00 p.m. but recently changed to 6:30 to accommodate members' work situation. We have switched between Tuesdays and Thursdays a couple of times, but I know of some groups that operate successfully on Saturdays.
6. Swap Manuscripts - For several years we brought copies of manuscript pages for each person and read chapters, then everyone discussed them. When several members read chapters, we ran over our normal two-hour limit. We switched to sending out chapters by email before the meeting. This allows us to get right into the critiquing process, plus it saves on printing copies for everyone.
7. Support Your Members - When someone gets a book published, buy it. Don't expect to get a complimentary copy. Writers know that books cost the author and giving them away should be done as promotion. Send copies for review or to bookstores that ask for them. Giving them to friends and relatives can wind up costing you bigtime. One member of my critique group buys several copies of each new book I write, and her suggestions have helped improve them considerably.
If you have some other suggestions, let us know.