Monday, January 17, 2011

How I Benefited from an E-Mail Critique Group, by Julie Gillies

I'm so pleased to have Julie Gillies as a guest today! Enjoy!

I attended my first writer’s conference in such great fear I didn’t eat the entire four days, unless you count occasional sips of Nesquick chocolate milk. Deep doubts about my qualifications to do the one thing God seemed to be pushing me toward—writing for publication—nearly drove me from the conference long before it was over.

But my desire to obey Him and grab hold of my God-given destiny propelled me past the doubts and beyond my fears. So, I met with editors while my knees knocked and even managed a meeting with an agent—without throwing up. But ultimately, what made the difference for me was that I connected with a small group of women. At the end of the conference I suggested we stay in touch and encourage each other by forming an e-mail critique group, since we lived in far-flung corners of the United States.

That original group gave me encouragement, opened my eyes to my writing weaknesses, and taught me editing skills that I continue to use. Most of all, it caused me to grow as a writer. A solid critique group took my writing to the next level. If you’d like the same opportunity, read my critique group guidelines…then develop thick skin; open yourself to honest, constructive criticism; and maintain a teachable heart.

Establishing the Group

The ideal e-mail critique group size is anywhere from 4 to 8 writers, but can vary according to your preference. Smaller groups mean more frequent submission opportunities, but fewer fellow writers to critique your work. On the other hand, larger groups offer more input, with a longer cue to submit. A typical group with 7 members means that each writer will have the opportunity to submit approximately every 8 weeks.
Whichever size you choose, it is wise to establish, agree upon and limit your optimum group number at the onset.

Establish Submission Procedures

* Create a rotation schedule. Who wants to go first? Who wishes to be at the end of the line?
* Establish submission frequency – my suggestion is to submit on a weekly basis. Allow 7 days for each submission to be read, critiqued by group members, and returned privately to the author.
* Allow “Pass” options (life happens!) and be prepared to go to next person in the rotation.
* Decide on a maximum number of pages per submission – my suggestion is anywhere from 6 to 12 pages. All submissions must be double-spaced with #12 non-fancy fonts. (Note: you do not have to send a minimum number of pages; some writers will only have a single page to submit at their turn.)
* Make sure that each author includes a “Due Date” in the subject line of their submission. This allows group members to return submissions on time.
* Technical: Each submission should be sent via e-mail as an attached Word document.

E-mail Guidelines & Suggestions:

As the leader, your main goal is to keep the critique rotation on schedule. You will:

* Send out weekly group e-mails notifying members of their turn.
* Always include ample notice, or a “heads up” to the next person in line whose turn is pending.
* Follow through on pending critiques. One day prior to “due date” send out a reminder to the whole group so the critiqued submission will be returned to the author on time.

“What Do I Look For When I Critique?” - Helpful Critique Suggestions

* Always begin and end each critique on a positive, encouraging note.
* Return critiques/suggestions privately to the author only, and on time.
* Use red (or any different color) type when noting suggestions in the submission – this makes it easier for the author to find your comments.
* Note grammatical errors – give possible corrections if desired (and known).
* Point out wording, sentences or paragraphs that seem confusing or ‘off’.
* Note repetitive word use.
* Note passive voice: Avoid the words “is, as, was, would, should could”.
* Point out punctuation errors – clean copy is a must.
* Look for a strong beginning and a strong ending.

Optional “Extras” to include in weekly e-mails:

* Encouraging or humorous writing quotes, and/or helpful tips.
* Be aware of and send out potential writing opportunities to the group.
* Remind group members to contribute writing opportunities they discover.
* Encourage group members to share successes and rejections, and also to share when something is being submitted to a magazine, etc. for prayer covering.
* Prayer requests are encouraged but optional; as time spent answering e-mails will increase your time commitment.

Note: Give grace to yourself and others for family emergencies, vacations, holidays, etc. Plan ahead of time and notify the group of holiday, spring and/or summer breaks.

Approximate time commitment:

· Set up: Between 2-3 hours (Including initial “Welcome” e-mail w/ group guidelines)
· Weekly group e-mails: 30 – 60 minutes
· Additional e-mails: (answering questions, responding to or receiving advice, suggestions, etc.) 1-2 hours weekly (varies greatly)

Above all, enjoy your critique group, and trust God to accomplish His purpose in each individual member.


Julie Gillies is passionate about encouraging and equipping women to fulfill their God-given destinies. Healed by God from a traumatic childhood and awed that He saved her seriously troubled marriage, Julie understands the power of God’s Word and prayer to change the seemingly impossible. She has written over 90 articles for various publications including, Marriage Partnership, Vista, and P31 Woman magazine, among others. Julie is also a contributing writer to the books Daily Devotions for Writers and Penned from the Heart. She is the Critique Groups Coordinator for Proverbs 31 Ministries, serves on the editorial team for P31 Woman magazine and serves on MOPS’ MOMSnext Advisory Team. Julie is founder of Word Chicks, a prayer ministry for women writers and speakers.

Julie thinks heaven will smell like an apple-cider mill, and adores long walks with anyone in her family. A joyful wife, mom of three (one of whom serves in the U.S. Army) and grammy of four, Julie communicates hard-won truths that stir the soul. Visit her website at:


  1. Those are great suggestions for a crit group.

    Sounds like a great and supportive bunch of writers. :)

  2. Hi Julie,

    Thanks for allowing me to be your guest today. I pray your writing is going well this week and that you surpass your goals! May God give you favor and success!

  3. These are great suggestions. I hope to be able to place them to use one day soon, and be part of a group. Thanks Julie and Julie!

  4. Great ideas for a writing group.

    Love your blog and love your heart.

  5. Great ideas for a writing group.

    Love your blog and love your heart.

  6. I can't say enough good things about critique groups. My cp's have helped my writing grow in so many ways. But best of all, each of them are now dear friends. Win-win!

    Thanks for these tips!

  7. Julie G. these are great ideas! I have a CP but no group. I worry about joining one because I have so little time left to give.