Should You Leave Your Critique Group Once You’re a Published Author?

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

“Leave your critique group” was my editor’s advice after my first full-length novel, Food of Love, came out with his UK publishing house. He said he didn’t want a bunch of wannabes messing with my work.

He had a point, and I understood what he meant. But the members of my group had become close friends, I didn’t want to give them up. And I thought I’d learned enough that I could discard any bad advice they might come up with. So after my first book tour, I went back to my group. There were a number of new people, and I found their reactions to my work were helpful, and the support of my old friends was invaluable.

Twenty years later, I’m still with that group. They’ve now helped me polish 13 more books before they go off to my publisher. Many people have come and gone, but the core membership remains solid.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I came to question my decision to stay.

Literary agents Jessica Faust and James McGowan of Bookends Ltd. talked about this on their podcast recently. They listed staying in your critique group and expecting things to stay the same once you’re published is one of the 10 worst lies authors tell themselves.

So should you leave your critique group once you’re published, even though the group offers you important emotional support?

Questions to ask Yourself if Pondering Leaving Your Critique Group

1) Has It Become Group Therapy?

Whether you’re published or not, it’s best to leave your critique group if it’s morphing into group therapy. There are huge dangers with amateurs giving mental health advice. Group psychotherapy only works if a mental health professional is present.

You’re not there to psychoanalyze each other. You’re there to improve and polish your writing.

This is especially a problem with memoir writers. If you’re writing about childhood abuse or a nasty divorce, there will be raw personal stuff on the page that often triggers the critiquer’s inner Dr. Phil.

This is even more a problem if writers are bringing personal journaling to the group. I feel personal journaling belongs in a shrink’s office or a 12-step program, not a critique group. If there’s no attempt at creating narrative or shaping raw confessions or interior musings into a story, poem, or other recognizable writing form, a critique group isn’t the right place to share it.

2) Are All the Members on a Path to Publication?

There is something called a “happy amateur” — a writer who creates with words, but has no need to share them with the general public. My hat is off to them.

Critique groups filled with happy amateurs serve a wonderful purpose. Sharing their work with other members of the group is all these writers need. In fact, many, many successful critique groups and writing clubs are basically amateur clubs that don’t aim at publication.

Writing is a fantastic hobby. And it’s way cheaper than golf. 😊

But if you’re a published book author — indie or trad-pubbed — working with a professional editor, this kind of group is not for you. You are no longer an amateur. Either your writing will slide back into amateur mode, or you’ll offend members with advice on how to change their writing for a publishing audience.

3) Is there a Member Who Resents Your Success?

Envy is a dangerous beast.

A new member asked to join our group last summer. She was a beginner who had never published anything, but initially, her critiques were helpful. Her own writing was mainly personal journaling, but it showed promise, so we asked her to join.

We didn’t realize she was a poster child for the Dunning Kruger effect and a wannabe Queen Bee.

Since I host the group and I’m a dreaded professional author, she came after me — with the cruelty of a schoolyard bully.

She talked to me as if I were a developmentally disabled child, sending emails “correcting” my work. She told me I wasn’t funny and should quit writing. Her comments were as clueless as they were nasty, so I stopped opening her emails and ignored her childish attitude.

Because she was pleasant to other members, I took her abuse as long as I could. But after months of bullying, I asked her politely for a little respect. This affront made her quit the group in an unhinged fit of pique.

But she wasn’t done. She started dropping one-star reviews on my books.

When I spoke to Ruth, she said a professional author has no business in an amateur writing group. She was right. I probably should have followed that long-ago editor’s advice to “leave your critique group.”

But I remained, again — partly because the group meets at my house 🙂  — plus I realized, minus Queen Bee, we weren’t an amateur group. Other members are all published in one way or another. Some may be stuck on the query-go-round, but they think like pros.

However, I don’t wish the Queen Bee experience on anyone. If there’s one in your group, get rid of her or run.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris