CRITIQUING KNOWHOW Rules of engagement

In the next of her strand about the wonder that is critiquing, Sarah Broadley talks us through how a critiquing session works.

There are many ways to structure a successful critique group. It will depend on how many members attend, the venue, age-range discussed and how much time you have together. Most importantly it depends on what the group aims to achieve by meeting up and what works best for those attending. For example, if you’re not keen on reading aloud, choose a group that sends the submissions beforehand. Here are some formats that work for networks across SCBWI British Isles.

Submitting and reflecting on work...
  • Submissions might be requested by the coordinator, then sent out in advance of the meeting, giving attendees the chance to read through them all in-between other commitments. 
  • Submissions might be brought along on the day and copies given out to members to read as the writer reads their work aloud. With this method, it's good to have a pen to make notes as you listen and read during the session. 
  • It's a good idea to read work more than once and make some notes about your thoughts.
Chalkboard writing says feedback
Photo: Pixabay
Feeding back on work...

  • The work being critiqued might be fed back to the member verbally whilst the writer listens to each member in turn. Crucially, the writer doesn't interrupt but may pick up on comments after all members have spoken. (This is the Ursula Le Guin method). 
  • The work being critiqued might be discussed after each attendee has fed back and there is constant conversation as others are allowed to give their thoughts as the session goes along. 
  • Some groups/participants might give only verbal feedback 
  • Other groups/members might give annotations or written comments to you at the end of the session.

A critique group should have some form of plan or rules in place. Most importantly, everyone attending that group must be aware of what they are and adhere to them. Constant negativity or lack of feedback doesn't benefit anyone - writers at SCBWI are part of an inclusive and nurturing community. 

The important thing to remember is that just as there’s no such thing as a perfect story neither is there a right or wrong critique group format. If you can’t relate to a submission then provide the author with other suggestions rather than saying ‘I didn’t like it’. There must be a reason why you didn’t like it – character, setting, point of view? Be kind, considerate and honest. It takes courage to share your work but it takes even more to accept its merits AND its faults.

And don't forget to let the dust settle before deciding what YOU think of the critique! Critiquing can be emotional but also very lifting! And many SCBWI critters have gone on to secure contracts. If you want to join a SCBWI critique group, start here!

Header image: Elizabeth Dulemba

Sarah Broadley lives in Edinburgh with her family. She has two cats that bring her dead things when she writes in the early hours of the morning. She is now no longer afraid of mice, birds or spiders. Sarah co-chairs the SCBWI SE Scotland network and wins invisible prizes for her outstanding procrastination skills.

Elizabeth Dulemba is an award-winning author, illustrator, teacher, blogger, and speaker (including TED) with over two-dozen books to her credit, including her most recent picture book as an illustrator, Crow Not Crow written by New York Times Best-selling author, Jane Yolen, and Adam Stemple. Currently, she is a PhD Researcher in Children’s Literature at the University of Glasgow. Learn more and sign up for her newsletter at

Helen Liston is KnowHow editor. If you have any ideas for Knowhow topics, contact her at

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