Whether a critique group meets in-person or online, each session needs a moderator. The moderator sets the order of critiques, starts the video session, directs the meeting flow, and keeps the peace from start to finish.
Schedule and Group Size
Three hours is the ideal timeframe to conduct a session. If a meeting lasts longer than three hours, attendees’ attention will diminish. This window also works well across the four U.S. time zones in the evening. It’s best for those on the east side of the country to receive critiques earlier than those on the west coast. Juggling time slots is tricky, so it’s also good to know who is willing to stay up later when monitoring multi-time-zone sessions.
Six critique submissions or less per session is best. The perfect size for an online critique session is four to eight critiquers, with each attendee having completed three critiques ahead of time. Note that not all attendees may have submitted pages. We encourage members to attend and critique whether or not they have pages on a given week.
IMPORTANT: If more than six writers uploaded pages for critique, the group should consider breaking into two sessions before the day of the critique session. Identify two moderators at the time assignments are made.
Preparing for an Online Critique Session
Prior to officially starting the critiquing, the critique moderator will set the critique order, open the video session, and help members join the online meeting.
1. Set the Critique Order. It’s important that critiquers know when they are scheduled to critique so they can prepare. This is necessary because there are more distractions when members are at home, in front of their computer, waiting for their turn to provide feedback. In the example critique order below, each title is listed, top to bottom, in the order the submissions will receive feedback. The order attendees will critique is on the right side of the spreadsheet. The numbers identify the progression, while green identifies the current critiquer and yellow identifies the next critiquer. The moderator updates this spreadsheet, graying out completed critiques and marking the current and next critiquers as the meeting progresses.
2. Set Up the Video Session. About thirty to sixty minutes before the meeting starts, open the video session. If you’re using Google Hangouts like we do, it’s as easy as logging into your Google account, going to https://hangouts.google.com, and clicking on the Video Call option. A window will pop up with options to copy the link needed to join the video session. The moderator shares this link with fellow meeting attendees, who click on it to join in. Since everyone in our group knows where to find the critique order spreadsheet discussed in the previous section, we add our link to that sheet as shown in the image above. You can also email this link to members or share it in a Facebook group. For anyone familiar with Hangouts, it’s as easy as clicking on the link to enter the video session.
3. Help Members Join the Video Session. At the beginning of a session, the moderator should check attendance and watch for missing attendees. Email is a good way to communicate with missing attendees. Ask why he’s missing and help with possible technical issues. So, before you decide to serve as a moderator, make sure you’re fully knowledgeable of video chat technology. Most new members will need help joining for the first time.
4. Start the Critique Session. As mentioned, it’s a good idea to start a video session at least thirty minutes before critiquing begins. Besides helping everyone enter the video chat, it’s a good time for members to talk writing, publishing and marketing. Then, at the set critique start time, the moderator should interrupt the pre-discussion and start the critiques.
Moderating the Critique Session
Once the critiques begin, it’s the moderators job to keep the meeting on schedule and moving forward so that all critiques are completed within the three-hour window.
1. Keep the Meeting On-Time. As mentioned earlier, there are six writers’ pages or less per three hour critique session. To keep the pace, the moderator allows for six to seven minutes per verbal critique. At the six minute point, remind the critiquer to wrap up comments. This can be done by placing a warning sign in the moderators display window. Then, at the seven minute point, the moderator should step in and stop the critique. It’s also helpful if attendees time themselves, watching the clock to make sure their comments are within the allotted time.
2. Keep the Session Civil. Tough, but someone has to do it. The negative is difficult to take sometimes. That’s why it’s important to focus on both the good and bad during each critique. The moderator should make sure everyone keeps to the sandwich method: start with something positive about the submission, move to the critical comments, and end by mentioning something nice. If a critiquer dwells on the negative or a suggestion turns into an argument, she shouldn’t be afraid to step in and move the discussion to the next comment.
3. Dismiss the Session. After the last verbal critique, thank everyone for attending, and ask if anyone has any questions or comments. Also end with any additional group announcement. Encourage members to linger if they like or drop off, then dismiss the group by saying good-night.
It’s that easy to moderate a session. Having three or four members as active moderators works best. That way someone is always ready to lead if anyone needs to skip a session.
Wendy Spurlin is the founder of the Spec Fic Critique Group and moderates most of the critique sessions. She leads OTI Press, the publisher of the group’s anthologies, and she has recently returned to school to study graphic design and marketing. In addition, Wendy has a passion for horror movies, zombies, wine, and evil in pop culture. Originally from Chicago, she now lives in Colorado where she spend her days writing, studying, and being manipulated by 2 mischievous beagles.
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