Friday, April 21, 2023

If you build a crit group, they will come: Emily Wade

The fearful power of the ListServ, or be careful what you wish for: Emily Wade and the crit group avalanche

by Charlie Barshaw

It started like this, a post on the SCBWI-MI ListServ on Monday, January 16, 2023 at 9:20 pm:

Hi, friends! I've been hoping to start a picture book critique group, and I'd love to invite some of you talented writers to join if you're interested. I'm pre-published and in the process of querying, but I'd love to get (and give!) solid feedback and accountability on a regular basis. Surely I'm not alone in this. :) I'm thinking of meeting virtually once a month and in person every three months to start with. 

I'm in Waterford, near Pontiac and Auburn Hills, but we could choose a place to meet based on where all critique group members hail from. Also, outliers are free to facetime in on an in-person meeting if that works better.

Once I hear back from a few of you, I'll set up a smaller email group so we can figure out the details. Thanks so much!

Emily Zaiser Wade

By Saturday, January 25, 9 days later, she had 22 responses, and had divided the 5 or 6 members into 4 groups: Online-only, North-ish, Southeast and Southwest.

Hello again, ladies! 

I’m so excited to see how many of us are interested in helpful feedback this year. I know many good things will come from these groups, and I can’t wait to hear more about it in upcoming emails, conferences, and bookstores! J

After planning and dividing, I’ve grouped everyone into groups of 5 or 6 by region(ish). We’re spread pretty far apart, so that’s a big -ish. I’ve asked the person at the top of each list to get their group’s email started, and you can discuss how to proceed from there. 

Best of luck to you all as you continue on this picture book journey together!


~Emily Zaiser Wade

What follows is a short interview with the Critique Group Summoner, Emily Wade.

Why were you searching for a new critique group anyway?

Well, the only critique I’ve received until recently was from a few literary friends who didn’t exactly sign up for the job. I pestered them as often as I dared, but I knew I needed to find a core group of likeminded writers who knew good and well what they were getting into.

Emily Wade


Had you been in a critique group previously?

I’m not new to writing, but I’m pretty new to SCBWI and the querying game. The only official critique group I’d been part of before this was a single meeting with my Metro Detroit Shoptalk group. It was super helpful, but they offer so many other events that the critique portion only happens twice a year.


What made you think to ask on the ListServ? (And why is Listserv spelled like that anyway?)

Actually, it was some friends from my Shop Talk who suggested looking for a regular critique group on ListServ. I followed their advice and hoped to hear back from a couple of takers. And funny you should ask about the name. Until recently, I actually thought it was LITserv because, you know, literature. I propose a name change.

Southwest Critique Group

It seemed like the initial reaction was robust. Were you thinking, “Wow, two hours and I’ve already got enough people for the critique group I wanted”?

Robust indeed. It was a relief to get the first few emails for two reasons: it was great to know I’d get to be part of a critique group, and it was comforting to see that there were others looking for the same thing.

Some of the On-line Critique Group

And then the replies kept coming. At what point did you think you’d unleashed a monster?

Probably around email number 10. I’d read that the most effective groups are between 4 and 6 people, but I’m nearly incapable of turning people away. I thought I might have gotten myself into a bit of a pickle.

You got, what, more than a dozen responses? Before you decided on your ultimate solution, did you consider others?

Believe it or not, I got 22 responses from LITserv (#productplacement). When we blew past single-group capacity, I figured that organizing by location made the most sense. Unfortunately, I’m geographically-challenged, so grouping by area took me quite a while.

And then, finally, the responses quit pouring in. Did it take a spreadsheet to sort out the possibilities?

While I do love me a good spreadsheet, I just used a Word document with several bulleted lists. I felt like the Hogwarts sorting hat except I decided based on location instead of character. Also, I didn’t sing.

You put yourself in a group that’s already met in person. How did the first meeting go?

North-ish Critique Group

It was lovely! Our first meeting was at my house, and it was a simple get-to-know-you hangout. I think it’s important to trust the people who’ll be helping you kill (and revitalize) your darlings, so I’m glad we got to spend that time together. Our first online critique session was so helpful that I’m already looking forward to next time.

What are you working on writing right now?

I’ve got my irons in a couple different fires, as I’m sure we all do. I’m querying a poem about playing outside and a funny STEM story about weather and climate. I’m also tweaking a silly poem about picture day and beginning a prose story based on my family’s experience making jam. There’s sure to be a gem in there somewhere, right?

Thanks so much for the questions, Charlie, and thank you, LITserv, for your interest in critique groups!

So, how are those critique groups faring? Feedback about feedback

by Emily Zaiser Wade

Charlie delegated the second half of the interview to me, and I'm glad he did. It gave me the chance to touch base with the other groups and see how they're doing. I asked two questions, and the people have spoken: they're doing great!


Question numero uno: Were most of you actively looking for a critique group, or did you see the email and think, “More critique? Sure, why not?”

Kelly Bixby from the online group said, “No, I wasn’t actively looking for a critique group, but the timing of Emily’s email was perfect for me. I had recently finished my first picture book manuscript and pushed it through tests I had gleaned from the revised and expanded edition of Ann Whitford Paul’s book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-on Guide from Story Creation to Publication. My MS had been tweaked enough that it was ready for eyes other than mine. Emily motivated me to take the next steps of getting to know other writers and becoming a more active part of the SCBWI community. Thanks, Emily!”

Jessine Van Lopik from the southwest group said, “I was already a member of two critique groups, but as a pre-published author, I still crave as much critique as I can get for my manuscripts.  I devour feedback like a monster, starving for improvement.”


Katy Klimczuk
from the southeast group said, “Our group is planning to meet both in Royal Oak and online. I think that most of us were open to the idea of a critique group, and it came at the right time for us. We are all in a place where we would like more feedback and accountability.”

Question deux: What was the highlight of your first meeting?

Kelly Bixby said, “Our group meets on Zoom, so my highlights of the first meeting were getting to see the faces and workplaces of the other writers, experiencing their kind and considerate personalities, and recognizing that each of us is passionate for connecting with children and youth through imaginative and empathetic ways.”


Jessine Van Lopik
said, “We've only communicated through e-mail and Google Drive so far, but I'm grateful for a group of writers in my area with a focus on picture books.  Everyone in the group also takes care to cultivate their critiques with kindness, while also giving really helpful advice.”

Katy Klimczuk said, “It was wonderful to meet everyone and to see how each person shines through in their work. Two of us brought recently indie published works and it was fun to share them, ask each other questions, and get opinions as we enter uncharted territory.”

Thanks so much for your feedback, ladies! Every writer knows the value of a solid critique group, and it’s exciting to hear how the LITserv has been a meeting place for just that. Keep up the good work!

Big Request:

I'm writing an historical recap of past conferences, back to when I started in 2009 and even before.

There seems to be a dearth of official photos. Like our family, seems like SCBWI-MI forgot to take pictures, they were having so much fun.

But I know individuals have taken amazing photos over the years. (Thanks to Dave Stricklen, who showered me with excellent photos from the past decade.)

Anyone want to volunteer their private collection for a time capsule? You'll be acknowledged  for your contribution, and held in high esteem.

Email me at or DM me on FB.

Emily Zaiser Wade loves stories and dessert. She hopes to create stories that are as good as her (nearly) world-famous coconut cream pie. If kids read her books as often as she eats treats, the world will be a better place. If you want to read more by Emily, check out her blog: If you want to read fewer dessert analogies by Emily, that's understandable.

Charlie Barshaw interviews SCBWI-MI writers for The Mitten, and  meets monthly with the Lansing Area Shop Talk. He travels to school visits with his wife, author/illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw. He's got four MGs/YAs in various stages of completion.




  1. What a great interview and post, Charlie and Emily. I love how you share the different ways crit groups organize and activate. FYI about the MichKids 'Listserv' -- a listserv is a multi-member email group used in the online communication world. So 'Listserv' is our email group's last name. MichKids is our first name and it's been around a long time. That said, I like LitKids a lot! :))

  2. Hooray for critique groups. We all need them! Mine are all online. Envy those who are close enough together to meet in person, at least part of the time. Good luck to all of you in your writing journey.

  3. The critique group Emily helped organize has been both helpful and terribly fun at the same time. So nice to get connected with others, looking to make our stories the best they can possibly be. AND – we were all able to be at the Michigan SCBWI Conference in April. So wonderful! Wish we would have gotten a picture of that!

  4. I believe Lindy Rymill came up with the name MichKids. (I might be mistaken.) While I've wondered where that missing E is, I've appreciated the ease of information transfer through our listserv. Emily, I applaud your initiative and organizational skills. Charlie, another great interview.