Finding the right critique partners is kind of like marriage. Lots of dating to find someone (or several people) who fit you best.
Try out a group/partners for a few months first.
You’ll be able to tell after a while if the group is a good fit for you. You’ll want to match on several different levels:
1) Does the group/your partner submit chapters for critique as often as you do? If they submit more often or less often, it might not be a good fit.
You don’t want to spend all your time critiquing several their chapters when they only have to critique one of yours in the same time frame.
Similarly, they might resent if you submit many more chapters than they do in a month, and they’re forced to critique more for you than you critique for them.
2) Does your group/partner “get” your writing and are they able to give useful feedback?
If your critiquer(s) are giving feedback that is completely off base because they don’t really understand your writing or the genre, it might be a hint that you need different critiquers.
On the other hand, if they don’t understand your writing, it could also be an indication that your writing is not clear enough, and you need to clarify things. If they don’t get your writing, there’s a chance an agent/editor won’t get it either. So weigh this point carefully.
3) Does your group/partner give emotionally helpful feedback?
You don’t want a cheerleader who thinks everything is fabulous. On the flip side, you don’t want a negative person who has nothing but negative things to say.
Find out what you need in a critique group/partner—how much positive versus negative you need to be helpful and yet not crushing.
4) Are your critiquers honest with you?
A critique group/partner is ABSOLUTELY NO USE TO YOU IF THEY AREN’T HONEST.
Do NOT give in to the lovely feeling of having critiquers who think everything you write is brilliant. You will never become a better writer with critique partners like that. And your chances of being published diminish significantly.
5) Does the group/partner’s critique style match your own?
Are YOU giving helpful feedback, a helpful mix of negative and positive, honest and useful?
I’ve seen that most critique groups that are successful are formed of people whose critiquing styles are very similar—the mix of negative versus positive, honesty, and “getting” their work.
There are two sides to this—are you making the effort to give good feedback? Are your group/partners making the effort to give good feedback?
If it’s the former, it’s time to shape up! If it’s the latter, it’s time to ship out.
Don’t feel guilty for needing to leave a critique group. You wouldn’t want to be married to the wrong person, right? Similarly, you don’t want to remain in an unhealthy critique group.