Asked & Answered with Janet Kilgore

Have a question for our Google guru? Email us at with “Asked & Answered” in the subject line. 



Dear Asked and Answered,

Every night I lie awake worrying that someone will steal my manuscript, get it published, make the Bestsellers’ List, and become a literary icon. As if that weren’t enough, what if my sister, Mary Anne, sues me for libel, just because my vampire/witch protagonist, Marianne, slightly resembles her? I don’t have a lot of money, but I desperately need to talk to a lawyer who can answer my literary-related questions. How can I find one?

-Sleepless in Salado

Dear Sleepless,

Many writers worry about getting into legal hot water. Maybe I can ease your mind. I’m happy to report, there’s a lot of help out there for artists of all creative disciplines.

Let me start by reassuring you theft of intellectual property before publishing happens very rarely. Reputable agents and publishers depend on their reputations as much as discovering the next Hemingway. They aren’t anxious to risk their careers by stealing the manuscript of an unknown writer.

That being said, if you still see literary highwaymen skulking behind every bush, you can go ahead and copyright the “best version” of your manuscript. You can fill out the forms for the Library of Congress, available online, and pay their fee which ranges from $35-$55. One main advantage of having this on file is you can recoup court costs if you sue someone for plagiarism and win.

The government’s copyright website, provides a wealth of information, FAQ’s, and downloadable publications, as well as information on filing a copyright yourself.

There are also many books that explain the legal ins and outs encountered by writers. For instance, The Writer’s Legal Companion by Brad Bunnin and Peter Beren covers general writing issues, such as contracts, libel and slander, magazine publishing, income tax considerations for freelance writers and copyright legalities. The Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook by Helen Sedwick covers business issues specific to writers who self-publish. Check out Amazon, or better yet, visit your local bookstore for a wide selection of books on the business of writing.

For more direct help, if you qualify (must be an artist and have a combined household income of $50k or less), you can join TALA, Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts. Their annual membership fee of $75 entitles you to receive accounting and legal services from TALA for an entire year.

If you’re in Austin, TALA also hosts free workshops from time to time in conjunction with UT Law Students for the Arts. Check their website for events scheduled. (If you’re not in Austin, do some searching for similar organizations in your area; and when you find them, send us a note & we’ll add them to the Writers’ League’s resources page!)

If you don’t qualify for TALA, you may opt for a legal plan. LegalZoom offers several plans, at very reasonable prices, which entitle you to telephone or email consultations with a lawyer familiar with the laws in your state, as well as federal laws. Services of particular interest to writers include contract review, negotiation, and copyright registration. Some services are also offered by LegalShield.

Finally, be sure to check out the Writers League’s Resources section. There are several helpful legal services listed there.

Fun Fact:

The “Poor Man’s Copyright,” or mailing yourself a copy of the work you want protected and keeping it unopened, is more urban legend than fact. See links below.

Writer’s Relief

If I’ve left out a source that you really like, please feel free to email Until next time!



Do you have a question for Asked & Answered? Ask away! Send questions to

Asked & Answered with Janet Kilgore

Writers! We’re excited to introduce a new feature on Scribe: Asked & Answered! Moving forward on a regular basis, freelance writer and editor, Janet Kilgore, will do some digging to get to the bottom of your burning writer-related questions. Have a question for our Google guru? Email us at with “Asked & Answered” in the subject line. 



Dear Asked & Answered,

I’m ready to share my stories and I’m ready for some constructive feedback. And, truth be told, I could use some writing friends. How do I find a critique group?


Looking for (Literary) Love, Austin, TX.

Janet Kilgore: Great question, Looking for Love! And one we hear asked quite often. What better way to inaugurate this new column? Finding a critique group or partner is a lot like finding a significant other. You want someone (whose writing) you like and with whom you have a lot in common. In many ways, it can be more difficult to find your writing soulmate(s) than your romantic one. There is always going to be an element of trial and error, but there are a few things you can do to shorten the process.

Here are some choices you need to make before you start your search.

  1. An Open or Closed Group?
    What’s the difference? An open critique group is literally open to any writer who wants to join. In a closed critique group, the members choose a specific set of writers who will meet and critique together. Both kinds have pluses and minuses.
  • Open Critique Group?
    They welcome newcomers. It’s rather like an open house party, although hopefully a strong leader keeps everyone on track. You may not get the most constructive feedback, but it’s a good place to meet writers. You may end up setting up your own closed group with them.
  • Closed Critique Groups
    A closed group lets writers develop relationships that support strong, productive critique. Existing members carefully choose and add writers they all agree will benefit the group. The challenge of a closed critique group is finding one that is a good match for you.
  1. A General or Genre-Based Group?
    Are you writing fiction or nonfiction? Children’s books or adult romance? Short stories or epic novels? And are you willing to read and critique a variety of genres?
  • General Critique Groups
    It’s a great environment for a beginner writer who is still looking for their literary niche. It can expose you to many types of writing and help you decide which is for you. But if the members aren’t familiar with your type of writing, their critique may have limited use.
  • Genre-Based Critique Groups
    These writers know their genre. They read the latest titles in their genre and keep up with changes in the craft. They share this knowledge with each other. If you decide to try another genre, however, you may have to seek out another group for the new genre.
  1. An In-Person or Online Group?
    The Internet opened up a new world for critique groups—the virtual world. Your decision to go with an in-person or online group may be influenced by many factors—where you live, your personality, the amount of free time you have.
  • In-Person Critique Groups
    With an in-person group, you meet in person and on a regular basis. You have the opportunity to watch their faces when you critique their work, and when they critique yours. However, day jobs or young children can throw a monkey wrench into your plans, or if you live in a small town, there may not be in-person groups close by.
  • Online Critique Groups
    If you are comfortable communicating online, that can provide your perfect solution. Also, there are so many online groups to choose from, it is easier for you to find a good fit.

To learn more click here

5 Tips to Create a Writer’s Group that Lasts by Emily Wenstrom

  1. Keep it Small
  2. Choose Writers at a Similar Skill Level
  3. Keep it Flexible
  4. Don’t Get Too Ambitious
  5. Set Clear Guidelines for Feedback

To learn more click here.

Finding the right critique group for you can be an adventure or a trial, depending on your attitude and your luck. Here are a few recommendations to get you started.

First of all, Google “how to find a writing or critique group?” This will provide tons of informative websites for you to explore. Here’s a few that I found doing just that:

The Write Practice

Writer’s Circle

Writers’ League of Texas: Organizations for Writers

These organizations (you may already be familiar with the first one!), located in many places in the state, can provide support, information, and sources for local groups.

Writers’ League of Texas Hosts Critique Partner Mixer

I encountered a marvelous way to find a writing soulmate at Writers’ League of Texas Third Thursday meeting in February. After the regular meeting, people were invited to stay for a critique group mixer—with cookies. After putting the chairs in a semicircle to increase the connection with everyone in the group, Becka Oliver, Executive Director, had everyone give their name, what they write, and what they were looking for in a partner or group. Then the mixing began. Based on what they had heard from each person, everyone sought out potential matches (Becka challenged us all to talk to at least one person—and to eat at least one cookie!). It was amazing how personal barriers dropped and everyone participated. A good time was had by all.

When the evening came to an end, not everyone had found their soulmate, but most people found a person to start with or to get better acquainted with on their own, with the possibility of forming a productive partnership. The Writers’ League plans to hold these mixers a few times a year. Watch the WLT’s e-newsletter Footnotes (subscribe to Footnotes if you haven’t!), for info on the next one.

On Topic Words of Wisdom

Fern Brady of the Houston Writers Guild says: “I would say that the Houston Writers Guild critique circles are the backbone of our group. They are the weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly sessions we do that help us to stay connected and to improve our writing continuously. Our groups meet all round Houston and we focus on how we can help each other improve the piece we are sharing that week.”

Houston Writers Guild Writing Groups

Joni Latham of the Denton Writers League adds: “What I used to tell my group is that you have to trust the people in your critique group. You don’t want to join a group where some of the people are there just to tear other people down. …these days it’s hard to find time to write let alone drive to a critique group. A lot of people I know are using online critique groups which are usually pretty easy to find. If you decide to go that way, watch a few of the critiques before you send in something to make sure the people are being constructive and not destructive. Look for people who address continuity and plot holes. Subject matter is personal and should never be changed just because someone does(not) like the story. I was told at one time that vampires were passé but boy, did they come back with a vengeance. Remember, writing is a very subjective process. A story that one person doesn’t like, another one will.”

I certainly hope I’ve helped you on your quest to find a critique group, or at least made it a bit clearer the definitions and differences of the options.

If I’ve left out a source that you really like, please feel free to email Until next time!


Do you have a question for Asked & Answered? Ask away! Send questions to