A Critique Group Specifically for Thriller Writers
By Dawn Ius
No matter what genre you’ve sunk your literary hooks into, there’s no question a critique group can provide invaluable feedback and perspective on your work—regardless of whether you’re a seasoned author or an aspiring scribe. But finding your writing peer group can be a bit of a challenge.
The good news for thriller writers is that the International Thriller Writers (ITW) has a program for that. In Fall 2020, ITW held a “town hall” meeting to pitch the idea of a sponsored online critique group specifically for thriller writers. And thus, Thriller-Tique was born.
The program—still in its initial phases—has already met with success, and a core group of ITW members are committed to steering it into 2022 with big plans. Who can be a part of it? And how? Thriller-Tique chair Joel Burcat answers those questions and more below.
Please tell us a little more about Thriller-Tique and who can take part.
Thriller-Tique is ITW’s thriller writing critique group program. Last year, six ITW members discussed that while they all participated in critique groups, none were specifically for thriller writers. Many of the critique groups in which we participated didn’t understand us or our writing (e.g. “Why did you kill a character in chapter 1?” “Why did your character run across a beach and not stop and spend time describing the sunset?”). We all wanted to participate in critique groups by and for thriller writers. Also, COVID meant it was much more difficult to participate with in-person critique groups. The six of us began with emails and Zoom meetings, then finally developed a formal proposal and request to ITW to support an ITW-sanctioned program of critique groups for our members. ITW, in particular Executive Director Kimberly Howe and board member Lisa Gardner, gave us all the support we could want, and a steering committee of the original six ITW members has taken the lead to set this up.
Thriller-Tique is open to all ITW members (regardless of membership category, location, or experience). It is a benefit of membership, so there’s no additional cost. We began our pilot program in August with 42 participants (and a waiting list of another 60 or so). We expect to grow the program so it can accommodate as many ITW members as want to participate.
The founding members and Steering Committee for Thriller-Tique are Damyanti Biswas, Joel Burcat (Chair), Cari Davis, Jen (J.L.) Delozier, Tammy Euliano, and Bonnar Spring.
How does it work?
Application process: ITW members apply when we open applications. We have members from all subgenres of thriller writing (e.g. political, police, romance, suspense, legal, etc.). Also, we have writers who are at the relative beginner level to those who have published many books. Our writers come from across the globe—Spain, Canada, Singapore, Australia, and the US. One of the hardest things for the Steering Committee is matching writers in the appropriate class, time zone, skill level, and subgenre. The pilot program is a learning process for us, and we think we have come up with a better way to handle applications that we’ll try the next time we open the application process.
Critique process: Writers are grouped into critique groups (named for the Greek alphabet). Meetings take place once a month via Zoom. We exchange writings on Dropbox of up to 2,500 words (chapters, stories, outlines, etc.) a couple of weeks before the session. Then we read and comment in writing on each piece. At our meetings, we each discuss the critiques while the writer listens. Then we have a give and take with the writer. Sometimes we have “brainstorming” sessions about a writer’s project. This is the basic format, although each group has its own personality and needs and may handle the critique process somewhat differently.
What are the benefits of having a critique group specific to your genre?
All writers who write creatively come up with writing that (hopefully) someone will want to read. Many of us like to participate in critique groups, although we don’t know of any others that are specific to thriller writing. Thriller writing involves different expectations for readers than the audience for literature, or romance, or most other genres. Often there is a cataclysmic event at the beginning of a story. The plot drives the novel. The pace of the novel moves quickly. Characters and characterization are important, but not as important as in a literary work. Likewise, some literary works may spend pages of beautiful prose describing a beach. Our characters are more likely to be chased across the beach (often carrying a 9mm Glock) and not spending much time gazing at the sunset. It’s a balance for thriller writers. We “get” each other’s writing, and we don’t have to explain to our neighborhood crit group why so many people die, why a lot of bad things happen, or why things are happening quickly.
What has been the experience so far?
So far, the experience has been great. We have six critique groups (alpha through zeta) of up to eight people including a facilitator, and they have been meeting monthly via Zoom. A side benefit of Thriller-Tique is that we’ve all made new ITW writer friends.
What can you share about any upcoming plans for Thriller-Tique?
We are setting up Thriller-Tique to succeed. Each group has a facilitator, and crit groups have no more than eight members (seven writers plus the facilitator). Currently, we are training three new facilitators. The new facilitators hopefully will be leading new groups in February with up to 21 new writers spread across three new groups. We plan to find more facilitators and train them in late winter, so we hope to expand again in the spring. We’ll be working off the initial list of applicants but hope to open up a new application process in the summer of 2022. There are enough time slots on Zoom (thank you, ITW!), so the main limitation is facilitators who are trained to lead our groups. Our goal is to serve all interested ITW members.
Is there a deadline/capped number of people that can sign up?
It’s still premature to talk about deadlines as we’re working off the list of people who applied in summer 2021. As before, we will give all ITW members plenty of notice to sign up for round two of Thriller-Tique. I expect we’ll have another round of applications in summer 2022.
We are maintaining a list of people who are interested in participating in the next round of Thriller-Tique. This is NOT an application, just an expression of interest. If an ITW member is interested, then they may send their name, email address, and state/province/country information only, and they will be put on a list. We will send an additional early notice to everyone on the list when we open the next application period.
Please do not send any application materials since this is not an application.
When the time comes, we will ask all interested ITW members for that information. If you have applied for the pilot program, it’s not necessary to send an email as you already are on the list. If interested, please send expressions of interest to: firstname.lastname@example.org.