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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Are You Being Served? A Recipe for a Great Critique Group

by Emma D Dryden, drydenbks LLC
This post originally appeared in 2013 on “our stories, ourselves,” Emma D Dryden’s blog that explores the stories we tell and the stories we live. Emma D Dryden, founder of the children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm, drydenbks LLC, is a highly regarded children’s book editor and publisher. She spent a weekend with the Route 19 Writers Group looking over our manuscripts, critiquing our work, answering questions, and inspiring us to think about our work in new ways. This is what she posted on her blog after that weekend and we’re honored she’s allowed us to re-post it here today.


- 2-12 dedicated authors (can be of different genres & formats; can be of same genre & format)
- heaping doses of imagination
- heaping doses of respect
- heaping doses of sensitivity
- liberal doses of gentle honesty (if you opt for brutal, critique group will become too tough and hard to swallow)
open-mindedness and creative flexibility
- willingness to ask questions and listen to answers
- generous sprinkles of laughter (can use hysteria and guffaws if desired)
timer (enables fair attention paid to each author)
- cough drops & water (enables requisite read-alouds)
bathroom & stretch breaks
delicious food
comfortable setting (a cozy setting is even better, if you can find it)
wine or spirits (for after critiques are completed! Some may find wine or spirits appropriate during, but proceed with caution)
optional: friendly dog and/or cat; fireplace; views (ocean, woodland, mountains, etc.); anything else to enhance experience


Gather ingredients together on a regular basis. Stir with professionalism, exuberance, imagination, and inspiration. Surprises may result. Quiet moments of reflection may be required. Questions can be asked for which there may be no immediate or clear answers. That's ok. Allow for staying open to possibilities; critique groups vary based upon the ratio and balance of ingredients.  

Caution: If each author doesn’t feel heard and respected, the ratio of ingredients has gone awry and you will most assuredly want to double-check your recipe.

Note: Every once in a while, it's a good idea to add a one-time ingredient to this recipe, such as a professional editor or published author who will provide a new voice and perspective to the discussion – this can best be achieved over a weekend. For a sample taste of this sort of enhanced group experience, go to this post from the Route 19 Writers blog. 

This recipe serves many, including a richer society of writers and readers.


  1. It was an unbelievably fantastic weekend spent with friends and with one of the most revered professionals in children's literature. I learned so much and would jump at the opportunity to do it again.

    1. Cheers, Dave. It was a great weekend for me as well - full of creativity and inspiration!