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.
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
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.
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.
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!