Critique Groups: Genre-Based or Not?

In The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, I talk about various “kinds” of groups a writer can join or start for themselves. One of these kinds of groups is a genre-based group. By this, I mean that everybody in the group is writing the same kind of material—whether that be fiction, memoir, how-to, or poetry.

Do I think a genre-based group is a good way to go? Sure. Do I think it’s absolutely necessary? No.

The bottom line of any good critique group is that the various members are supportive, respectful, and constructive. That last criteria means that the members do truly help each other dig deeply into writing projects and make serious, substantive changes. If you know a set of writers who you believe can help you do this and for whom you think you can return the service, then grab then, set up a place and time, and start critiquing.

If, however, you’re looking for a new group or setting out to build your own group, and two or three writers’ names aren’t just springing to mind, consider making your group genre-specific. Here are some of the benefits:

  • If you’re looking for an online group, it may be easier to find one that is genre-based. National and regional associations like SCBWI or RWA often have resources for finding a group or posting about one you’re building. These groups are usually made up of writers working in one genre.
  • Every writer in the group will be reading in that genre. (If they’re not, they’d better get started.) You’ll all be more aware and more educated about what is being published and what makes a strong well-written mystery, or romance novel, or picture book. Or whatever form it is that you’re writing.
  • As you critique, you’ll not only help the other writers in your group, but you’ll learn from your own critiquing—about your genre.
  • You can share information about agents and editors. You’ll all be doing your publishing research and education in the same areas–you can talk about articles you’ve read, pass on who might be a good person to follow on Twitter or Facebook, and discuss who’s going to be accepting pitches at what conference.
  • You can consider, as you get closer to submitting and (hopefully!) being published, setting up a group blog. Group blogs are often genre-based, and sharing the posting cycle can take some of the load off your individual shoulders. Watch this carefully, though. If you sense at all that sharing a blog may threaten the cohesiveness or productivity of your critique group, consider whether this is a step to take together, or separately.

Now remember, the most important thing about a critique group is that you feel your writing is growing and that you are learning from the critique process. It’s more than possible to achieve this with several writers working in different genres. My current critique groups are a mix. One writer also does MG and YA. Another has two mystery series in publication. Another has worked on “grown-up” mysteries, as did I for many years. She’s now working on a nonfiction book, and they just critique the Survival Guide for me over the past few months.  I wouldn’t trade these critiquers for anything.

On the other hand, I do keep expanding my network of kids’ writers. When Caro’s story is done, really close to being ready to submit, I’ll probably put out feelers to some of these writers and talk about swapping critiques. Because, again, writers in this genre will have a unique take on my story, and it will be a take I highly value.
What about you? Who critiques your writing, and whose writing do you critique? What are the pluses you find in working with writers in the same genre? Or in critiquing from a wider base?
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10 thoughts on “Critique Groups: Genre-Based or Not?

  1. I’m the only urban fantasy writer in a romance group. If I ever write a sex scene– I’m totally empowered. Otherwise it’s all the same isn’t it? Action/reaction, conflict/resolution/setback, sprinkle commas like confetti..done ;D

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    • beckylevine says:

      I know–and when I have a secret to weave into my YA, which I totally do, those mystery writers are going to be invaluable! And much of it is the same, yes. I do like having a gut feel from people who read “similar” stuff to mine. 🙂

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  2. Julie Godfrey Miller says:

    Interesting post.

    My WIP is a mystery novel. I am in a writers’ group that includes poets as well as fiction writers. Only one member of the group reads mysteries. At first I thought that was a disadvantage, and there are times when they have questioned things that are sort of “conventions” in the mystery genre. I have since realized that as a good thing. It will keep my mystery from getting too far-fetched (e.g. too many bodies in Cabot Cove).

    Love your log

    Julie

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    • beckylevine says:

      Julie, I agree–as long as you know your conventions well enough not to let less experienced mystery readers sway you, you’re doing fine. Sounds like a great group–one to stick with.

      I always thought Jessica handled all those bodies with serious aplomb! 🙂

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  3. Shawna says:

    Hi Becky,

    As usual, I agree with you. : ) There have been times I’ve sought out someone who writes in the genre I’m writing.

    As long as I know the conventions of the genre in which I write,I find reviewers who write in other genres help me think out of the box.

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  4. Our group is MG/YA novels, but not genre based. One nice thing about non-genre based it that is gets readers from outside the mold. They will not always feel comfortable with everything, just as every reviewer will not. And it makes us as writers go that extra step to aim to please even a wider crowd.
    That said, I do love getting feedback from others inside my genre as I know they already have a love and basic understanding of the concept.

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  5. I’m in a real-life critique group. We started out all writing in different genres (adult mystery, adult romance and me in MG/YA). But….now I’ve won them over to the dark side and we’re all writing YA/MG! (Seriously. This was not my goal!)

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