I ran across an interesting post on BookEnds about critique groups. Interesting, because I have been thinking about joining one again. So, I thought to post about some groups I've been in, for those also on the look out. Please note, the sites listed below, except for FMWriters, are dedicated to science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres only.
The last one I had been on was Online Writing Workshop. This one isn't free, but the fees are small. The basic setup is that you critique others, and you get points. After you get four, you get to post a piece of your own. You can have three posted pieces up at once. The neatest thing is the Editor's Choice function--basically, if you are lucky, an editor will crit your story. That chance alone is worth the value of the membership fee, in my opinion. Anyway, on average, I got the quickest critiques out of this place, due to, in part, the fact that you get more points if you are the first to crit a new piece.
Before OWW, I was member of a crit group at Forward Motion Writers's Community. I've actually been in several crit groups there, throughout the years. The great thing about that site is, you can create your own group or join a specific one that has openings. If you make your own group, you can also make up your own rules, but in general, they the groups rely on crit for crit--meaning, everyone critiques everyone in the group. This site was the best option for having people stick with you throughout your novel, instead of giving you feedback on just a chapter or two.
Before that, I started out with Critters. The way it works is somewhat like OWW. If I remember correctly, you have to keep your crit percent up--basically, one crit a week--in order to have a piece posted. However, unlike OWW, your piece enters a queue instead of being posted instantly. The best thing about Critters is the Dedicated Reader function, where you can get people willing to read your entire novel and critique it. Out of all three crit groups I mentioned, I got the most feed back out of this one place. It was also the least "cliquey".
Overall, all of them had their attractions and drawbacks, but I enjoyed my experiences with them all and learned a lot. But however, right now, I am more interested in finding a very small group (3 to 4 people) that operate more like crit buddies. That I have the least experience with.