I recently learned that Barnes & Noble on a Saturday morning is the perfect place for a critique group to meet—not many folks in the cafe area, and there are all those books just waiting. Plus the coffee is pretty good.
The five members of my crit group met at the Tanglewood B&N a week ago. We're all members of SCBWI, so naturally we all write kid lit. Currently, three of us are working on YA and two on MG novels. We're all at different stages of our writing, we come from different backgrounds, and we have different approaches to writing. All that works well for us.
One member—Angie—not only has an agent, she has a YA novel coming out from Marshall Cavendish this summer, and she's working on a sequel. I have Ferradiddledumday, my Appalachian folktale out from Cedar Creek, but I'm seeking an agent or publisher for my recently rewritten MG novel, Stuck, as well as writing a YA paranormal. Amy has a story in the recently released Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR, but she's working on rewriting her MG historical novel. Marcie is writing a YA novel set in Bangkok (she lived there for a while) and Karen, a nurse and a beginning writer, is working on a YA fantasy about a young healer.
Our crit sessions are pretty well focused. During the week before we meet, we e-mail the other members a maximum of ten pages of the piece that needs input. This method works very well—we don't have to waste time at the meeting reading our work aloud to the others, and we have time to read and think about each other member's work at our leisure. Everyone spends five to ten minutes critiquing every other person's work, and then gives the writer a marked-up copy or notes. Thus, each writer gets about a half-hour of in-depth critiquing. What is interesting is that each critiquer sees something different in each piece. Consequently, our sessions take nearly two hours. The time flies.
I asked the group to work on my query letter—which was too long—and received some really useful feedback on what to emphasize and what to cut. Plus, Angie showed the group a copy of her (very brief!) query that had gotten her a contract.
I came home from the group energized and spent this week doing another rewrite of Stuck. Now, I'm finally satisfied with this middle grade novel.
Now I need to rewrite the query and start querying. . . .