What Makes a Great Writing Group?

I’ve been to or visited a number of writing groups. Some were very effective, while others were a waste of time.


You often get out of a group what you put into it, so before you join a group, consider thoughtfully how much time you have to invest and how much you really want the benefits.

Now, there are a lot of types of writing groups, and I’ve seen some of the various functions of the groups mushed together, but I suggest that you consider what you need in a group.

Here are a few things that a group can help you with, and what to watch out for.

Accountability Groups—An accountability group is simply a group of people who create specific goals and then report to each other on a regular basis as to how well they’d done. So, for example, you might set a goal to get 50 pages written on your novel each week. Your accountability group will ask you at the week’s end, “How did you do?”

For most writers, just knowing that they will be held accountable helps them set goals and keep on track with their writing.

Research Groups—Your writing group can study together in a lot of helpful ways. For example, when I began writing The Runelords, I took trips to Europe to research castles, armaments, and the medieval lifestyle. I read dozens of books on topics from medieval history and warfare to books on herbs and medicines. It would have been nice to have others who were studying on the topic to share info with.

If you’re writing medieval fantasy or science fiction in your group, for example, then you can pool research on topics of mutual interest.

More than that, you can keep your group up-to-date on hot new writers in your genre. You might want to study and review books that are up for awards.

Of course, you’ll also want to keep each other current on the publishing scene—what editors are searching for manuscripts, what new markets are opening, changes in the industry, and so on.

Just remember, you can join a research group and simply have monthly meetings that don’t take much time at all.

Critique Groups—When people think of “writing groups,” they almost always think of critique groups.

In a critique group, I recommend that you keep it small.  I once visited a critique groups where there were some 130 members exchanging manuscripts—that’s insane.  You can’t get a good critique if you’re one of 30 stories getting critiqued on a Saturday night, and no one has the energy and wisdom to critique 30 stories well in a couple of hours.

Keep your critique groups small—often 3 to 6 people is plenty—so that you don’t get overwhelmed trying to critique others’ work.

Remember, a critique group can be so time-intensive, you don’t want to stay in it for years and years, much in the way that you don’t want to have training wheels on your racing bike. So get into a critique group at the start of your career, but after a couple of novels, you might want to look for a less-time intensive way to get beta readers.

Marketing Groups—A marketing group exists solely to help you figure out how to best market one-another’s work. For example, do you know how to prepare a book for pre-release? Do you know how long you can put it up for pre-order before it goes on sale on Kindle, B&N, or Kobo? Do you know how to build your list of readers? Do you know how to find covers and design your books, write back copy, create killer ads, and so on?

With our Apex Writers group, we’re trying to put together all of the resources that you need for a launch—and this is just the beginning of what a marketing group helps with. There are dozens of topics that you need to research, such as how to get into Independent Bookstores, hit bestseller lists on e-books and audiobooks, or sell your rights to film markets.

Writers’ Rings—A writer’s ring is a group of writers all working in the same genre who share their audiences by recommending one another’s books on their blogs and social media.

Imagine that you’re a new writer and have built up an email list of 20,000 fans, but other writers that you admire have collectively got 200,000 more fans. By joining a writer’s ring, you might well find your sales growing by 500% with your very next book. If that isn’t reason enough to join a writers’ ring, I don’t know what is.

Once again, you don’t have to be critiquing manuscripts or even researching topics together to belong in a writers’ ring, you just have to locate writers that you like who are willing to boost each other’s signals.

What to Watch Out for—There are a number of problems that occur with groups. The first is that they grow too large. You don’t want a hundred people in any writer’s group. I encourage my Apex Writers to simply organize themselves into small groups that meet their needs, not ones that create a hardship with time commitments. You’ll be able to do that by putting up announcements in our forum.

In critique groups, have a mechanism to throw out people who either a) create a toxic environment by attacking other authors or b) never do a freaking thing. Writing groups are for writers, not critics or gossips.

Just use the groups for what you need—for a limited time. For example, let’s say that you want to start a group to study the classics in the heroic fantasy genre. You can join and study books together for a few months, then drop out when you need to in order to focus on your own big novel. Don’t let yourself get roped into doing things that you don’t want to.



New Workshops!

I will be teaching at Fyrecon:
Clark Kent to Superman: Find Your Space on the Writing Spectrum

It will be an 8 Hour Master class for $159 (includes 3 day general admission to Fyrecon in July 2020).
Class is limited to 20 students
March 21, 2020 at Fyrelite

I’ll also be teaching a MG/YA Novel Workshop at WIFYR Jun 8-12. https://www.wifyr.com/morning-workshops/

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