My Take on Critique Groups by Matthew Peters – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Matthew Peters will be awarding a $10 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

My Take on Critique Groups

One of the most important things I’ve learned in my writing career thus far is that most good books are not written in a vacuum.

I bring this up because I am of the mind that a good critique group is vital to the writing and, ultimately, the publication process.

Why? Because a good critique group can provide the following:

1. Fresh eyes to catch grammatical mistakes and typos. No matter how meticulous we think we are, or however grammatically knowledgeable, we are certain to make mistakes in our writing. While a critique group should not take the place of a good editor, any mistakes found and pointed out will help strength the manuscript.

2. Insight into larger story elements. Does your plot hang together? How well developed are your characters? Do they have arcs? What are the emotional stakes involved? Is there as much conflict as possible? These only some of the issues a critique group can address.

3. Ideas for strengthening any identified weaknesses. Often the ideas expressed will be things you yourself will never have thought of, indeed probably couldn’t have thought of, because you are so tightly wrapped up in your story.

4. Much needed support. Along with constructive criticism, a good writing group provides support and encouragement to its members. Such support is crucial and in my opinion can make or break a writer. Writing is hard work. People who are working hard at writing know that, and seek to build up rather than knock down a writer.

5. An audience for your work. This is an early opportunity to see how your work will be received. One of the most important things a group can provide in this respect is perspective. You may be sweating things that are not even crucial to the story and its potential impact on readers. The critique group can really help you see the forest through the trees when you need to.

6. Incentive to keep writing. One of the hardest things about writing is to keep writing. Starting is relatively easy, but to keep doing so day after day, week after week, can test the commitment of even the most seasoned professional. Scheduling presentations on certain dates by certain members can provide incentive to keep writing. Most writers I know benefit from some type of deadline, self-imposed or otherwise.

7. Insights into other elements of the writing/publication process. Members of a critique group can offer insights into things such as marketing and promotion.

This having been said, having a bad critique group can be worse than not having one at all. Generally speaking, one should stay clear of a critique group that doesn’t provide most of the services mentioned above, and especially from ones that tear the writer down, instead of building her up. Choosing the people who belong to your critique group can be one of the most important decisions you make as a writer. Ideally, you will know the potential member by having met her in a writing workshop or a similar environment.

Personally, I wouldn’t trade my critique group for the world. We’ve been meeting for two years. There are four of us. We meet once a month for two hours. Two of us present each month. We submit our chapters or stories to the members of the group two weeks prior to meeting so we all have time to read and critique the work. We come to the meeting prepared to discuss the submissions. We don’t make it a habit to provide food or beverages for fear the meeting might become a strictly social event. We provide constructive criticism and support for each other. I am not saying this is the only way to run a group. I am just sharing what has worked for us. I know writing groups that differ in nearly all respects, and yet provide excellent services to their members.

Bottom line: it’s important to have others read your work before you submit it for publication. Of course everything in your manuscript sounds right to you and is clear in your mind, but that may not be the case. Find a good critique group, or better yet start one. You won’t be sorry you did.

MediaKit_BookCover_TheBrothersKeepersMost of us are familiar with Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus’ purported spouse, Mary Magdalene. But what about Jesus’ siblings? What role did they play in early Christianity?

Contemporary Jesuit and renowned religious historian Nicholas Branson is about to find out…and the answer will shake the foundations of the Judeo-Christian world.

It all starts with the murder of a United States Senator in a confessional, and the discovery of a strange religious document among his possessions. At the urging of his FBI friend, Branson joins the investigation. His effort to uncover the truth behind the murder draws him into the search for an eight-hundred-year-old treasure and into a web of ecclesiastical and political intrigue.

Accompanied by a beautiful, sharp-tongued research librarian, Jessica Jones, Branson follows a trail of clues, from the peaks of the awe inspiring French Pyrenees to the caves of war-torn Afghanistan. Along the way, shadowy powerful forces trail the pair, determined to keep safe a secret buried for centuries.

Enjoy an excerpt:

Father Rawlings drained his cup and set it on the table. “What I’m about to tell you may sound ridiculous and melodramatic. At best it will seem the stuff of conspiracy theories and spy novels. However, I assure you it is not.” He fixed Branson with a steely gaze. “As God’s soldiers, we are engaged in a battle, Nicholas. As real as any battle ever waged. The war we fight has raged for centuries, but the battle we fight now could well be the last. And we, you and I, the Roman Catholic Church as a whole, must emerge victorious. Nothing less than the foundations, the stability of the Christian world is at stake.” He smiled again, this time with bitterness.

“Of course it sounds unbelievable, even paranoid, but believe me, it is neither. I choose my words carefully. I don’t make bold assertions I cannot support. I assure you I am telling you exactly how things stand, exactly what is at stake. Before I go on, however, I must demand a pledge from you, your promise to help the Church in the epic struggle in which we currently find ourselves. We require your guarantee, your warrant if you will, that you will use all your energies, resources, and powers to secure the interests of the Church, and that you will let nothing deter you from the task at hand. With this binding agreement comes an inexhaustible supply of resources: anything and everything you deem necessary to accomplish your mission. But I must have your pledge before we proceed.” Rawlings rose from his seat, motioning for Branson to stand as well. “Before you give me your answer, listen again to Jesus’ words: ‘He who is not with me is against me.’ Nicholas Branson, tell me now: Are you with our Lord, or against Him?”

About the Author: MediaKit_AuthorPhoto_TheBrothersKeepersDual diagnosed* from an early age, Matthew Peters dropped out of high school at sixteen. He went on to obtain an A.A., a B.A. from Vassar College, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University. He has taught various courses in a variety of disciplines throughout North Carolina. He is committed to increasing the awareness and understanding of the dual diagnosed. In addition to The Brothers’ Keepers, he is the author of Conversations Among Ruins, which features a dual diagnosed protagonist. Currently, he is working on a sequel to The Brothers’ Keepers.

*The term dual diagnosed refers to someone suffering from a mood disorder (e.g., depression) and chemical dependency.

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  1. Thanks for hosting!

  2. Thank you so much for hosting me!

    I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on critique groups, and whether you belong to one. If you do, what seems to work well for your group? If you don’t belong to one, is there any particular reason?

    Thank you, and all the best for a peaceful, productive day.

    • Hi Matt,
      Anne and I write together so we have a built in critique group of sorts. We also have our daughter, Alice, who is willing to make the comments that a writer may not always want to hear. Still, I think you are lucky to have a group like the one that you have. But it seems to me to be very dependent on the people you are able to gather together.

      • That is true, Ken. I have been fortunate to associate with some great people. I think the most important thing, in terms of writing, is to get feedback from someone you trust. The nice thing about a group is that you can get more than one person’s reaction/input, which can help in various stages of the writing process. But in your case and Anne’s, it ain’t broke, so why fix it 🙂

        All the best,

  3. Hi Matt, Thanks for sharing your views on critique groups. Unfortunately I’ve had not such great experiences with them. There are some good online critique groups including the I suggest to people who can’t find as good a group as you’ve been able to find to check out that source.

    That being said, there is nothing like a strong group like you described. I’ve been thinking for years about putting my own group together. You’ve given me incentive to take some steps to do that.

    Thanks and the best of luck with your tour. It’s great fun!

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Joan.

      I ended up starting a writing group, in conjunction with a friend/colleague. It has turned out to be a very positive factor in my writing, and in my life, in terms of the support we give one another. But as I said, being in a bad critique group can be worse than not having a group at all. I’ve heard from many people who’ve had negative experiences, and I usually encourage them to start their own. It sounds like you are on the path to doing so. I know you’ll create something great!

      By the way, I really enjoyed your blog post on book reviews. I tried to leave a comment, but it wouldn’t let me.

      All the best,

  4. Wonderful post concerning critique groups. When I first started writing, I belonged to a large critique group. There were too many opinions to make it productive. Now two other people read my chapters after I can no longer do anything with them. I lost my best critique partner, due to his being overwhelmed with his job and family.

    I agree, every author needs a critique group. Best wishes for your tour.

    • Hi Susan,

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

      I know exactly what you mean about large groups and too many opinions. Also, some writers, like Natalie Goldberg, caution against getting feedback too early on in the writing process–a point that is very well-taken and one I didn’t address in my post.

      I wish you and Bill all the best,

  5. Hi, Matthew! First of all, your book sounds WAY nifty and quite the thriller! Cool cover, too. My critique group, I guess, would be my mom and little sister. My mom always reads what I have, but now I–or my mom–will read my novels aloud to my thirteen-year-old sister and that’s how we found out I was using too sophisticated vocabulary for the audience I was aiming for. Sometimes it hurts a little, but boy does it help!
    Good luck on your tour. 🙂

    • Hi, Rachael,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      You raise an excellent point: the importance of reading your words out loud or hearing them read.

      It sounds like you have your own effective system. One of the other advantages of critique groups is hearing your words read out loud, either by you or someone else in the group.

      I’m excited to read your work, Rachael.

      All the best,

  6. Very interesting post, I enjoyed reading it.

  7. DO you let good or bad reviews affect you?

    • Hi, Danielle,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

      What an excellent question. Let me see if I can answer it.

      Reviews are the lifeblood of my writing career, and I think this holds true for many writers. It’s essentially the only feedback some of us get from readers, especially early in our careers. I’ve never heard an author say, “Gee, I wish people would stop leaving reviews of my book on Amazon,” but I certainly hear the opposite, from authors who cherish reviews, take them very seriously, and would love to get more.

      That having been said, I think it’s hard not to be affected by good or bad reviews. A good review makes my day–my week, really. Fortunately, I haven’t received a “bad” review for The Brothers’ Keepers, despite its controversy, or for my other novel,Conversations Among Ruins. But if/when I do, I will try to view it as feedback. I would certainly respect a difference of opinion. I’ve heard of some authors contacting the people who leave negative reviews, and I think that is unprofessional and very inappropriate. Not everyone is going to like your work, and I think you just need to deal with that.

      Ultimately, however, I think it is important to keep a review, good or bad, in perspective. As writers our job is to write, and to keep our readers satisfied. I think if we let ourselves be too affected by a review, of one type or the other, it might interfere with our writing. And pretty much anything that does that is not good.

      I hope I answered your question.

      All the best,

  8. Hi Matt, very good post. My first critique group was in Writer’s Village University. It took about a year to get through my novel with all the critique I had to give. My best help came when two of us broke away and did one on one critique. We both had our novels published as did at least three more from our original group.

    I have some amazing friends in F2K/WVU who are always willing to help when I need them.

    Yes, there is no way we can pick up on all our own errors. It’s much easier to spot them in another person’s work.

    • Hi, Leona,

      Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Yes, Writer’s Village University seems like a very supportive group.

      I don’t think there is any substitute for good feedback. It sounds like you’ve really set up a good system, one that works for you.

      I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors,

  9. Jenny Elliott says:

    Great blog post, Matthew!

    I lend a good deal of credit to two critique groups for my securing a traditional publishing contract with a Big 5 publisher, and without an agent. That said, I also am indebted to my mentor, Barbara Rogan, whose invitation-only courses helped me hone my craft, as well as to editor, Gretchen Stelter, who pointed out both large and small weaknesses in my work.

    A handful of students from Barbara’s courses joined together to trade critiques, and we continue to turn to each other for critiques and support. Also, networking seems to be a huge part of the book business these days, with publishers keeping an eye on how authors manage social media. The second critique group I turn to is made up from fellow writers I discovered on The site has both free and paid memberships and is accessible to all. You trade critiques for points that allow you to post material for review.

    I always learn a lot by critiquing others’ work, but find it difficult to spot errors in my own. Did I use too many time markers? Filtering? Showing rather than telling? Do my characters’ actions and reactions seem logical? Fresh eyes will almost always uncover issues.

    Sorry for the novel of a comment! Best of luck on your blog tour… 🙂

    • Hi, Jenny,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and comment.

      Congratulations on your publishing contract with a Big Five publisher! That is no easy feat, especially these days.

      I appreciate the information you’ve provided about online critique groups. I don’t have any experience with them myself, but it is great to hear that you’ve had such positive interactions.

      I look forward to talking with you more!

      All the best,

  10. What an absolutely fascinating sounding story. I loved the excerpt..

  11. Thanks for the giveaway! What inspired this story? 🙂

    • Hi, Cali,

      The giveaway is my pleasure. Thank you for stopping by and asking a question.

      I was inspired to write the story by reading a bunch of non-fiction on the Jesuits and scholarly research into Jesus’ family. I was surprised to learn of Jesus’ siblings, but there is mention of them in the Gospels. So I began to ponder the role these siblings might have played in bringing about (what eventually became) Christianity.

      I love research, and I love history and politics (I’m trained as a political scientist), so I sort of combined all of my interests in one project, and the book is what resulted.

      Thank you so much for asking the question.

      All the best,

  12. Today has been such a pleasure for me!

    I will continue to check back, but I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my hosts at Long and Short Reviews, Goddess Fish Promotions, and all those who stopped by today. A very special thank you to those who left comments.

    I wish you all the very best,

  13. I’m so glad I saw this…what an intriguing author & book. I’ll be following your work Matthew. Loved the except. I’ll be one- clicking this book .

  14. Where to you drain your inspiration from when you get stuck on a character? Thank you!

    • Hi, Nikolina,

      Thanks so much for coming by and asking a question.

      My first response to your excellent question is that I try not to get stuck by preparing pretty extensive character sketches prior to writing. In addition to name, age, occupation, physical appearance, etc., I try to answer questions like the following:

      1. What three or four things does the character value most in life?

      2. What three or four things does he/she fear?

      3. What is his/her underlying attitude toward life (e.g., “Things always work out the way they are supposed to,” “Life’s a bitch and then you die, etc.)?

      4. What is the character’s temperament (e.g., his/her intellect is engaged first, with emotions held at bay)?

      5. What are the character’s flaws?

      6. What are his/her personal quirks or mannerisms?

      7. What are some of his/her defining past events?

      8. What would cause the character more pain than anything?

      9. What personal objects does the character keep on his/her person at any given time?

      10. What are the character’s favorite books, music, movies?

      I find that the more questions I ask and have answers to, the better I know my character, and the better I know my character, the less likely I am to get stuck.

      Another thing that helps me if I get stuck is to try to write from the inside out. That is, I take Robert McKee’s advice found in his excellent book, Story, and imagine that I am the character and then think what I would do in a given situation. I’ve been known to act out scenes as I write them, putting myself in the shoes of the point of view character.

      Finally, if I find myself very stuck I take a break from writing, and try to draw inspiration from one or more of the following: music (mostly classical), art (especially the Impressionists), and nature.

      I hope this helps.

      Thanks again for coming by, and I wish you the very best,

  15. Another new-to-me author. I enjoyed reading your post today and I’ll be following your tour to learn more about you and your book.

  16. Amanda Sakovitz says:

    Where’s your favorite spot to write?

    • Hi, Amanda,

      Thank you for coming by and asking a question.

      My favorite spot to write is actually the only place I write: my desk. While I have a laptop I have not been able to successfully adapt to the challenges of writing on it. At this point, I consider myself fortunate to be able to write in one place, let alone several 🙂

      Part of this has to do with the fact that I’m easily distracted. If there is too much going on around me, I can’t write.

      Another part is that I have hundreds of index cards of notes that I use for each book, which are organized into card holders. I need access to them. I also have several books spread all about me when I write, to which I often refer.

      In addition, I need to hear classical music, especially “new” recordings that I’ve purchased on vinyl at thrift stores. This has become almost a ritual with me.

      Finally, sometimes to get out of myself and more into character I literally put on different hats while I write. It would be troublesome to carry them around with me if I wrote in different places.

      Thanks again for stopping by and asking a question.

      All the best,

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