Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Query Question: online, public crit groups


I've joined an online writing group called Scribophile, where you can share you work with others to be critique. It's open to anyone, and what you share is public until you can join private groups. If i put my work up to be critiqued on this online community, will agents consider it tarnished? Or unpublishable because it's already been shared?

As long as you don't attach an ISBN and print it up and sell it, (or the electronic version of print it up) you're fine.

On the other hand.

I'm VERY hesitant about just letting random people critique your work.

Criticism can cut you to the quick, and letting random people flail at you with knives seems like something to avoid.

Second, you don't have any idea of the quality of their work do you? Someone who can't string sentences into paragraphs isn't someone I want telling me how to write.

Third, hives like that tend to reward bland, middle of the road, unexciting writing.There's nothing "wrong" with bland; it's just not very interesting. It's when you break the rules with elegance and style that you get my interest. Breaking the rules on those kinds of sites isn't always viewed with the same enthusiasm.

The commenters today will probably have advice based on actual experience with sites like this. I'd pay attention to what they say particularly if they don't agree with me.


AS Olivier said...

My experience with online critique forums have ranged from wildly unhelpful to more constructive than taking an actual creative writing degree. Sites like focus almost entirely on the positive - "Great job, keep it up!" - but I started posting my writing online on The Young Writers Society, and the help of the users on there was invaluable. I learned so much on there, not just about stringing two coherent sentences together, but also about storytelling and character development. When I came to university to get a degree in creative writing, I found that pretty much everything my tutors taught I already knew (often more in-depthly so as well) because it had been covered on YWS.

I think YWS kind of is the exception here, and even YWS isn't perfect - as the site's grown, you get more newbs who haven't yet learned how to properly critique someone's work, so the likelihood of getting a critique that consists of "Yeah, awesome, I liked it" has risen. But it's a learning process, and the community there is still very much worth checking out.

brianrschwarz said...

Well, Janet, Sign me up for a one way ticket to Carkoonish prison, because I'm going to respectfully disagree with a portion of what you said.

Yes, I understand the reason for hesitation in letting random individuals critique your work. Yes you should consider the source. But a terrible writer is a VERY valuable source (more because they're a stranger than their particular writing capacity).

Let me lay this argument out as concisely as I can.

1)As the writer, you are in complete control of whether you take advice or not.
2)You should consider the source, but just because the source is a HORRIBLE writer doesn’t make the opinion not valuable.
3)Because yes, you need to please a Literary Agent and an Editor to get published… but once you have that… all the positive vibes in the world won’t save your book. At this point, only one opinion can save your book…
4)Strangers. Complete strangers will be your books salvation or damnation. The massive fickle and uncompromising public will look with untrained eyes and no knowledge of literary tropes or degrees in the English language – they will be the ones who buy your book if you did it right.… Them and maybe your weird uncle and your parents and siblings…

I have very strong opinions on this… because writing confounds me in comparison to the industry I understand – music. In music, you test market a song about 18 trillion years before it makes a cut on a CD. So I find it very strange that in writing, your only test market seems to be a VERY select group of crit partners you select (all who are certainly in the exception to the average joe rule), followed by a literary agent (who is UNDOUBETLY brilliant but still an exception to the average joe), followed by an editor (who AGAIN is insanely talented at pinpointing issues -- not an average reader) and then BOOM. 10000000 thousand hours of work later we put the book out and we have our test market… or is that an assembly line and a whole bunch of crossed fingers I see behind the marketing machine?

CP’s, editing sites, these things can be helpful. A good group of trusted CP’s who are good writers can really improve a manuscript. But a good group of STRANGERS will tell you what you even have in the first place. If it’s entertaining. If it strikes them as different.

It's not that these opinions of terrible writers or mediocre writers should not be collected. Because their input is valuable. If you're not pissing them off, your writing isn't different enough. But what they pick out with their knivey fingers, what they seem to focus on -- this opinion might not be that far off from an average skeptical reader. You learn to sift through the piles of BS they feed you... such as "Show don't tell in that case" when they clearly don't understand what show/dont tell means. Or when they point to the following sentence -

Jimmy ran to the car.

And tell you that it needs to be less passive. That actually happened to me quite a few times.

Do yourself a favor. Collect the opinions of a solid critique group AND that of complete strangers.

Unless I'm crazy and misguided. Which might be the case. I'll be wearing a suit of armor all day despite the heat to ensure Janet doesn't chomp my head off. :)

W.R. Gingell said...

It's important to find someone who writes - and more importantly reads the kind of things that you write. I've found that if you write sci-fi/fantasy it's almost always less than useful to get critique from someone who loves and reads non-fiction, or true life stories.
Some people read and love multiple genres, but others have steady favourites. And they're not generally gonna be very useful to you if their preferred genre is different to what you write.

More importantly, there are so many different styles: and style is a thing that is more specific to people than genre. Someone who loves the style of the Jack Reacher books is highly unlikely to care for my whimsical time-traveller's scifi. Nor are they very likely to give a good critique of it, since what they would consider to be good will be very different from that of a reader who loves whimsical scifi timetravellers.

DeadSpiderEye said...

To generalise, the problem with on-line communities is that they're -- communities and they closely follow the kind of rules you can formulate by observing communal behaviour. What that means is, your standing within the community is likely to prejudice how your work is considered. The hazards that arise from this are obvious and that's the reason for the observation regarding blandness above. I wouldn't say it's a complete waste of time though, because if you're after responses untutored by commercial or received expectations, it can be quite useful. There the caveat there is, you're going to be casting a lot of seed on stony ground, because the most vociferous contributors are likely to be those confident in their tutored expectations.

endlessedits said...

i've joined a few sites so far, one i liked and the other i didn't. i think all critique has to be taken with a grain of salt. but i can't tell you the number of times my writing's been saved by someone's sharp eye.

i think what makes the difference is knowing what you're going for with your writing, and using the critique forums to gauge audience response.

i recommend writer's carnival for critique purposes and online support. the crowd there is very friendly and can be as critical or laid back as you want. :)

good luck.

Colin Smith said...

brian: Just because a critique group of strangers all love your work, that doesn't mean your work is the best you can do. We all know of artists who "sold out"--did something that was not them simply because they knew it would sell and they needed the money. You want a critique group that's going to push you to write your very best, not one that's going to affirm your mediocrity. I think that's why Janet recommended choosing your critique partners carefully.

Exiles to Carkoon don't get thrown into prison. You'll just get to stay here a little longer. :)

InkStainedWench said...

I like Absolute Write. A lot of the regular critics are very knowledgeable, and usually supportive. They can be a bit blunt for some people's tender psyches, however.

You can get some idea of critics' ability by reading their critiques. If they write "with elegance and style," they're probably worth listening to.

S.D.King said...

As I used to be a school librarian, I have considered going back to my group of core readers and try to entice 5-6 kids to read my MS and hold a pizza-laden focus group.

Is this a dumb idea?

MB Owen said...

Brian + I have had a friendly tango over this thing about critique partners. We’re going to have another one. ☺ While it’s true for any writer that you can take or leave whatever advise is given—paid, free, public or private--every writer will react differently to how that ‘crit’ has been dished up. My guess is Brian can take how it’s flung. Not everyone reacts that way. I want the truth: I don’t need a concussion.

But I don’t see the wisdom of taking advice from a horrible writer. The hope in a critique group (3 is my favorite number) is that you’re working with trusted people who are, in fact, very good writers. That doesn’t mean a writer of any skill won’t be invaluable as a “reader,” and maybe that’s what was meant. I don’t want to trust my work (over which I toil and work hard at) to a horrible writer.

But a reader isn’t a critique partner and a critique partner isn’t a horrible writer hence the word, "partner." Nor do they have to be writing in the same genre necessarily—precisely because they’re good writers and can judge the writing + its purpose + effect which segues into Janet’s inspirational sentence of the day:

"It’s when you break the rules with elegance and style that you get my interest."

Matt Adams said...

My previous post got auto-corrected out of making sense, but I wanted to make two points. The first is that all criticism is not equal, and while the majority of people on writing sites want to help, there are some who like to destroy. Maybe they think they are culling the herd, or maybe they are just asses. Aas much as you'd like to dismiss criticism, it always sticks with you longer than you'd like it to. And the large majority of people who post on these sites are unpublished themselves -- and write in genres that may or may not relate to your own -- so even the critiques of the kind-hearted ones not always helpful.

The second is that I'm a fan of Elance. You can post a beta job there -- tell them you're only going to pay what you're willing to pay, but I've hired for as little as 15 bucks for 150,000 words -- and you get to check the credentials of someone before you hire them. Often you can see other critiques they've done. There's no personal relationship -- no risk of an old feud coming back to be a part of the critique or of having 20 strangers argue over your using "girl" instead of "woman" to describe a 21-year-old. college student

The last point is key, but one Colin already made. You have to believe in your work, and looking for others to validate it (which is what we are usually doing in such a place) can be a helpful wonderful thing. But it can backfire quickly and diminish your own faith in what you've written. Be careful about that, and remember that know one knows your book as well as you do. And remember how Richard Bach ended Messiah's Handbook in Illusions -- "Everything in this book may be wrong." Keep that in mind when reading what others write about you -- they might be right, but they also might be wrong.

For the record, I like Absolute Write for the community, but writing sites almost always turn into a collection of writers bitching. Writers bitching is a fun sport to watch and participate in, but in the end, that's what 95 percent of any of these forums turns out to be, and it's not always as helpful as we think it is.

Donnaeve said...

I joined Scribophile and never used it. I read a few story beginnings out there, trying to find common ground with other writers, (those who wrote stories similar to mine) and most of what was out there seemed to be Sci-Fi, Fantasy, crime/thriller etc. Not to say they couldn't have provided input but why force folks to read something they'd have no interest in, was sort of my thought at the time.

Having said that and back to Brian's input...about strangers. YES. I mentioned this site before..., it's Book Hive. Yes, it costs money. The thing with them however, is the "Test Readers" are vetted by the creator/owner of Book Hive. The owner of Book Hive has her own credentials, as a playwright, etc. The Test Readers are required to follow a qualitative and quantitative feedback process and the results are provided to the author. The Test Readers are a chosen based on genre of mss and her assessment of what readers she believes are the best fit, i.e. best demographic. I used this service when they were doing a soft launch and I loved the process.

I realize it's highly unlikely anyone would want to pay for this, (i.e. the whole freelance editor discussion from a few days ago) but I suppose what I thought was so unique and interesting is this is truly a representation of what Brian is saying - complete and total strangers giving feedback on a book to see if it resonates, etc.

Anyway, that's my two cents.

brianrschwarz said...

Colin -

I'm not suggesting that only strangers is the way to go. I'm suggesting that critiquing a whole novel with only strangers is as silly as critiquing a novel with only trained-eyed critique partners.

Because they bring different things to the table.

I don't want to decrease the value of good CP's. I aim to increase the value of untrained strangers. And suggest that one without the other is like writing blindfolded and then being confused when you have typo's.

Ask anyone in marketing when they begin testing a product... I guarantee the focus groups happened WELL before the product was released. And a book is a product. A time consuming product. It's not about selling out or not crafting art, it's about asking someone while you're working on your art if it makes them feel anything... and giving yourself an out before you produce a long-form product.

Hope that makes more sense. :)


MB Owen said...

Brian - - get beta readers. Beta readers are your "test product" launch.

Donnaeve said...

And what I meant to add - this is what happens when you type part of a comment then walk away - is you might simply want to look for input on a book for different reasons. If you're looking at developmental issues, plot holes, etc, to me CP's/beta's are for that...once you've honed the mss to the best of your ability, maybe then you want the "strangers" who can tell you if the story held their attention.

Donnaeve said...

Well dang. Posting comments over each other, but it seems Brian and I are agreeing again. :) And strangely, focus groups are also what Book Hive calls their quorum of Test Readers chosen to test your book.

brianrschwarz said...

Thank you Donna for mentioning this resource! This is much closer to what I want in addition to good CP's.

Yes, MB and I have had a wonderfully polite exchange about this once already! :) And it was quite enlightening. I actually posted the longform of my argument in regards to CP's on my blog if anyone's interested.

But the crux of my argument remains. It's an indisputable fact that a heck of a lot more strangers buy books than critique partners or parents or siblings or best friends forever or literary agents or editors. It's not a willy-nilly stance to want their opinion early on. It's quality control. It's a risk to investment ratio.

And maybe I'm the exception to the rule in the way that I have particularly thick skin. Plenty of people in my life have told me I suck at things. My response to this isn't to curl up in a ball, but to figure out why they think I suck and to see if it has value, and then to attempt to get better.

But I realize offering this bold opinion is the equivalent of writerly heresy. I'd be met with equal apprehension if I suggested that telling is better than showing. And it truly might be my inexperience. But I can't help but look at how the system works and wonder why in the world it works that way. It seems crazy to me.

Bring on the pitchforks, MB! Round two! ;)

(ALL in love of course. Honestly arguing politely with MB about this topic made me at least understand better why it is done. And also she's pretty awesome.)

brianrschwarz said...

And I get beta readers... but that happens after the book is mostly done... when it doesn't matter.. and when their input is basically received as "they liked it yay!" or "They hated it boo!".

Nobody overhauls a book for betas unless they get some resounding chorus. And if it's happened... it just proves my point. Betas should be involved... in draft 2... not draft 26.

Unless I'm misunderstanding the process.. in which case I will slink off to the corner and cry. :)

Pharosian said...

The person asking the question didn't mention which genre he or she writes in, so that makes it a bit harder to recommend a specific online forum. A few years ago I joined OWW -- Online Writers Workshop and found that it was both supportive and populated by very talented writers. Some of the authors there went on to become "names" in the speculative fiction arena.

Another time, I signed up for a critique group at the Hatrack River Writers Workshop (the site was set up by Orson Scott Card and is run by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury). I was randomly assigned four critique partners and we traded stories/chapters for a few weeks. Three of the others faded away, but one of my partners "clicked" with me, and she and I have been buddies for years now. Last year she quit her day job to be a full-time author.

Regardless of the relative skill of your partners, however, I found that the act of critiquing the work of others taught me how to improve my own writing. When you see problems in someone else's manuscript, it's a lot easier to see how to go about fixing it than it is to see problems in your own writing--much like cleaning someone else's house is easier than trying to figure out what to do with your own clutter.

Critiquing other people's writing encourages you to articulate the problem, rather than simply say, "something about this is bugging me."

And after you do that for other people, you learn to apply it to your own writing.

So go ahead and try Scribophile. The quality of your critique partners may not matter as much as the act of learning to write good critiques yourself.

Susan Bonifant said...

Dead Spider Eye (shudder) made an EXCELLENT point:

"To generalise, the problem with on-line communities is ...communal behaviour. What that means is, your standing within the community is likely to prejudice how your work is considered."

Some sites are like polite neighborhoods - welcoming, and nice enough but not useful because the polite culture suppresses honest critique.

And some are Lord of the Flies.

I go back to knowing what you need: support or opinions you can trust? I tend to trust readers because however well they write, they have the most important thing in common with your potential agent: a reaction to your writing.

And I HUGELY AGREE with Janet on the risk of having an inept critic destroy the originality of voice.

MB Owen said...

My dear Sir, pitchfork in hand and sharpened to a fine point. (Add maniacal laughter if you'd like; I'm onto my 3rd cuppa tea.) Beta readers will be prior to your critique partners. However, what I LOVE about what you're doing Brian is looking at this -- at ANYTHING -- and saying: Why? Why not this way? What about? That right there--that whole curiosity thing is something I believe in...and really, every writer should have at the core of their being.

However, you shall not dissuade me! Finding critique partners are damn hard to find -- precisely because it's great writing skill combined with that mysterious thing called compatibility.

MB Owen said...

On a completely random note--I just visited the Carkoon Pinterest board and have to applaud Christine Seine for doing such a fantastic job. said...

Susan Bonifant said... And some are Lord of the Flies.

I've visited that one. Not. Going. Back.

Dena Pawling said...

I've looked at Absolute Write and Books & Writers several times. Each time I came away from both sites with the feeling of “who has time for this?” They appear to be large, active sites, and someone would need to be a regular participant to (1) gain street cred, and (2) get something out of it. How do I, who work full time and have trouble sneaking peeks at THIS blog during the work day, have time to work, be with my family, WRITE all the things nagging at me to write, maintain my blog, AND follow such active sites like those?

I suppose it's a matter of priorities, but I can't justify that priority right now.

Would love to find one more beta/CP tho, who connects with me and can tolerate my crazy schedule and “unique” personality. I'm down to one now [but she's awesome].

Julie.M.Weathers said...

I've been through a few of these groups and won some contests where the prize is a critique of xyz. I keep going back to Compuserve Books and Writers Lit Forum hereinafter known as B&W.

Last year I was involved in a contest where everyone was supposed to put up their first 250 so the entrants could critique each other and help get said 250 whipped into shape.

FAR RIDER starts out:

"They say bad news rides a fast horse.
No one said anything about it riding a dead one, and the black destrier my uncle now rode toward me had died two years ago."

Bless Aunt Gertie's girdle was the battle on!

Very few understood what it meant. "Are you trying to say a ghost was coming? Just say so. This is confusing." "How can anyone ride a dead horse? This is just stupid." "Don't use words like destrier. People don't know what it means and they don't like having to look it up."

My head was exploding from the remarks on the first thirty words and we still had 220 more to go. Then it got into conflicting advice of people rewriting it as they would, completely erasing my voice.

Yeah, no, not again.

I ran back to B&W and put the 250 up. We made adjustments that made sense and someone there asked me why are you listening to people who don't know or understand you and your work?

Good question.

Well, as Brian said because these people may be my readers? Except readers don't necessarily know how good writing happens.

They don't understand I mention this tree on this page because it will become a theme that reappears throughout the story.

People who become familiar with you learn to trust you and also learn how best to help you. The critique partners I've picked up on B&W are very honest about what needs to be done. I left for a while over some very ugly people they let run wild, but they have since weeded out. Praise all that is holy they've gone back to the old B&W I first fell in love with and I've returned.

I was never able to find another group that was as good.

Having said that, not everyone is as quality. You learn which advice to ignore. They are well-meaning, but don't quite have it right. Usually if someone advises wrong, another will say, "Well, that isn't quite right because...and give an example."

Diana Gabaldon or other senior writers will frequently pull an excerpt out of a book to demonstrate a writing technique or question. They'll dissect the sample so you can see why certain things and words were chosen and put together.

So, you don't only get critiques, but you sometimes get lessons why something does or doesn't work.


It probably isn't for everyone, but it's my home.

I don't think good critiquers necessarily need to read your genre if they are well read. They recognize good writing whatever the genre.

I remember Janet once mentioned knowing what an oubliette and I think a murder hole was and wondered where on earth that had popped up in her reading.

Elissa M said...

I live on the edge of nowhere. Finding useful critique partners who understand writing and my genre has been unfruitful, to say the least. I joined an online group for speculative fiction writers called "Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror" or OWW. It costs money, but not a lot and the folks running it have various payment options.

This has been one of the best things in my entire writing life. It's not a completely public forum--you have to be a member and you're required to critique (they have FAQs on how to give helpful critiques). They have moderators and every month their professional editors choose submissions from each genre and highlight what the author did well and where/how they can improve.

Twice, my work was picked as an "Editor's Choice", but I learned the most from critiquing other writers' submissions. I built up a rapport with a few of my fellow members, and we've kept in touch even though many have moved on from the workshop. Some of my workshop friends are now published and making a living from their writing. Three of these are beta-reading my current novel.

So, it definitely comes down to the particular site you use and the people who moderate and use it. Pretty much the same as an in-person critique group, when you think about it.

Craig said...

So much of this depends on the writer's maturity. What I mean is how comfortable they are with their writing. Basically there are two types of sites. Those a person likes and those they don't.

Regretfully you can dig a lot more out of comments on a site you don't like. Trolls often tell better truths than like minded worker bees.

All sites have a few truly experience writers on them. The problem is that are busy with other things and do not live on those sites. Their visitation is sparing and random. Getting their opinion is a matter of luck. Many of the other respondents are akin to celibate priests writing sex manuals. They have picked certain things and turned them from guidelines into rules. They are not happy with those who do not share their outlook.

The easiest example is in queries. The guidelines are the 4 Cs and 250 words. Most of those sites have turned those into rules. If the site has a query section check the responses there. They might give you some insights into how they work.

The worst part of it is the piecemeal approach. A manuscript should be a gestalt and not a collection of individual chapters. Most sites don't see the big picture

Elissa M said...

Somehow I missed Pharosian's comment that also mentioned the OWW. Now I feel dumb.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

I think it's quite possible that the person who submitted this question might already have a grasp on whether or not the critique site might be useful.

And the interesting comment thread seems to mostly be speaking to this statement by Janet:

"I'm VERY hesitant about just letting random people critique your work."

I agree wholeheartedly with this. As many of us have done and can recommend... take note of all the public works and critiques. From this, we learn which stranger will likely be helpful and which ones will not.

I also think a perfect stranger writer is quite different than a perfect stranger reader. The latter is certainly useful for feedback, the former? I'm not so sure.

What I also learned about writing forums is that participants frequently lean towards "fix everything" mentality, forgetting that it's quite all right to point out all the things that are working, too.

Basically, like anything else, observe and choose critically and with balance.

And because we're starting to discuss terms, I'll throw in my definitions:

alpha reader = someone who will read my first or very early drafts in order to let me know if I'm on the right track or horribly off the rails

critique partner = a fellow writer and will offer feedback at all stages of my writing - and will re-read stuff ad nauseam (also, for those wondering: CP=critique partner)

beta reader = a regular reader, preferably in my genre, and may or may not be a writer. This person, for me, is my last stop before final revisions and edits < -- I think this might not be the same for all of us commenting here? I think that's okay, as long as your beta reader understands where in the process you are with your work.

Colin Smith said...

Elissa: Don't worry. Pharosian was talking quietly--even harder to hear when your on the edge of nowhere. ;) Consider your comment further support of what Pharosian was saying.

I certainly don't have anything better to offer than what I've said. Lots of stellar comments on the topic here already, so anything new I could contribute would have to be totally off-topic. And I don't do that sort of thing. Much. Really. :)

Leilani said...

The worst part of it is the piecemeal approach. A manuscript should be a gestalt and not a collection of individual chapters. Most sites don't see the big picture

This is what I would say. I think an online writers' group can be helpful; they've helped me. But where they fail for me is in seeing the overall picture. I've gotten a lot of useful (and a lot of not-useful) comments on individual chapters, but not how book as a whole works.

I tried Scribophile, btw, and quit again because it's too large and chaotic for me.

MB Owen said...

ProfeJ; you're right. I was throwing in my alphas with my betas. The salient point is the reading vs. the writing.

Jenz said...

I wrote out a long response, then deleted it. There's no right or wrong about it. You just find whatever way works for you.

kregger said...

Here's my two cents...
Writing is a craft and within any craft there are beginners, journeymen and masters. I was a beginner once, and I had no idea how ineffectual my writing skills were to readers until I joined a critique forum.
I think it is important for the discussion in this forum to differentiate between getting help at the skill of writing and help about a plotline or story arc.
I agree with the majority of the pro and con about critique forums as listed above and have probably participated unwittingly in the good, bad and ugly of the forums. It's part of the learning process.
The hard part for a writer is either knowing (or not) the amount of help they need.
Honestly, I can't imagine doing this without a computer and on a manual typewriter. Let alone without the help of critique forums and bloggers in our writing community like *cough-cough, swipes at nose* Ms. Reid.

Matt Adams said...

To the questioner, now that I've had a while to think about it:

I wouldn't put a work in progress out to the online world to peruse, because when something is in progress, the thing you need to do most is FINISH IT, and getting input that could sidetrack you from that can halt your progress. If you have someone you trust enough to cheer you on while you're writing, then that's great But don't open yourself to criticisms yet. Finish the work, then figure out how you're going to get input.

But finish the work first. Because if you lose faith in it before it's done, you may never go back. And that's the worst thing that could happen to it.

LynnRodz said...

About a month ago, I was on another agent's blog reading the comments. What one person said intrigued me enough I clicked on her name which led me to her blog. She had chapters of her manuscript posted, so I began to read.

The start of her story was not good. She was using stilted dialogue to info dump and none of it sounded natural. Actually, it was boring and about 3 or 4 pages in, I was ready to stop and go back to the agent's blog. Why I continued reading, I can't say, but around the fifth page all of a sudden her real story began. It was almost as if another writer began writing.

(It's like Janet says on QueryShark, this is all filler, tell me where your story begins.) And believe me, she has quite a unique and interesting story.)

(All that to say what, Lynn?) I wanted to tell her, "Get rid of those first four pages because you'll never find an agent with them." (And I'm sure she won't if she keeps them because what agent has time to continue reading when the writing on those first pages just isn't there.) I wanted to say, "Start your story here on page five and I'll bet you, you'll find an agent."

I went back and forth with myself - should I, shouldn't I - but in the end, I didn't tell her. You can see it still bothers me, but the reasons are simple:

1. Who was I to critique her? I was a random person critiquing her work.
2. She wasn't asking to be critiqued.
3. To her, I'm a stranger. She doesn't know me from Eve, nor do I have any work published, so what are my credentials to give an opinion?

I can't say if I was right or wrong not to tell her, but it's hard enough to critique someone online when they ask for it. Critiquing someone when they're not asking is a whole other can of soup. (I don't like worms.)

Julie, Janet, read oubliette in 50 Shades of Sharkette.

Julia said...

At the risk of being chased out based on yesterday's online nervous breakdown (wrote several thousand words last night and feeling much better, thanks) - let me add two tiny tidbits which I *think* nobody mentioned.

(And for me, "tiny" probably will add up to "ridiculously long").

- One can generally get a feel for the quality of the feedback they are likely to get by reading some of the online feedback already there. For instance, there truly aren't many grammatical or spelling errors here. If one goes to Fanfic or Archive of Our Own (AO3), however, one can find simply appalling writing hailed as the next 50 Shades of Crap. (Clearly, you can see where I stand on THAT fiasco). I sifted through several possible betas from two great sources - (AQConnect), and Goodreads. I ended up with one who is a professional editor in CA and betas on the side for fun (why she does this is beyond me, but whatever); a writer who self-pubs and is doing wonderfully; an English reader who just enjoys the "UK-ness" of my writing; and a fruitcake who grows irises in Idaho and figures she's the next "Eat, Pray, Love" author. I ditched the last after she informed me that all the others were idiots. I also have one who just tells me that everything I write is simply incredible. I keep her to keep my morale up, but she doesn't do much for my writing. And then, last August, I deliberately went hunting on Goodreads for someone who I *knew* would hate the genre and was predisposed to dislike the book, and I begged her to read it, because I knew there were weaknesses that the others wouldn't see because they were fantasy readers; she agreed, and she found exactly what I feared was there. Based on her recommendations, I reconstructed the book and now have a much stronger manuscript that I'm throwing out into the Shark-filled ocean (as these guys all know after my teary meltdown yesterday).

My point is, you have to know what you want, take your time, and do it in stages. Look for quality sites; look for the writing in the responses you get; and be very specific in what you ask of your betas. And then a) treat them well - they're volunteering, and b) really take their recommendations to heart (after you're done with the angst). Then go BACK to them with the edit and do it again, or get new betas with new goals.

There are tons of sites out there - which means tons of ways to waste valuable writing time. Janet's sites = NOT a waste of time. She is an INCREDIBLE teacher. Not everyone teaches. Another great teacher is Kristin Nelson (Nelson Literary Agency) - And you can sign up for lots of writer support groups in your genre on FB and quickly hook up with writers at all levels. Come fall, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a fantastic way to stretch your writing muscles with national and local support - which is incredibly important and helpful.

See? Can't be concise. ;)

Good luck.

Unicorn Saleswoman Number Four

(WOOT! Today, I got to choose pasta pictures to prove I wasn't a robot!)

DK said...

Critique partners can be very useful. Certainly everyone needs beta readers.

But I disagree with brianrschwarz. His argument seems to hinge on the following quote:

"It's an indisputable fact that a heck of a lot more strangers buy books than critique partners or parents or siblings or best friends forever or literary agents or editors."

While his statement is true, as far as it goes, it ignores two important issues that in my opinion render it largely irrelevant:

(1) The hurdles to getting your book published; and

(2) The way books are marketed and sold.

The first is probably the more important to this discussion. Getting a book published is not like selling a piece of furniture or a loaf of bread. To get published (in the vast majority cases) you have to entice an agent and then an editor at a publishing house. Even if their tastes are different from "the masses," you'd still be wiser to cater to them, because otherwise you'll be self-publishing (and I suppose there's nothing wrong with that but I assume most of the people following this blog are trying to get published traditionally). Moreover, if you do manage to interest an agent and then an editor with whatever the masses want, that agent and editor are still going to make you edit your work to conform to what they think will sell best.

Once you've survived that crucible and your book is ready to be published, I think Brian's argument still breaks down because (a) it assumes the "strangers" who will buy your book won't like the well-written version honed by legitimate critique partners, your agent, and your editor; and (b) it seems to assume books are sold entirely by word of mouth.

First, I'd argue that if your agent and editor think you have a great book, your readers are more likely to love it than if you've simply pleased a bunch of strangers who hang out at public, on-line writing groups. And second, while word of mouth is certainly important, it's the marketing you do that will ultimately determine how many people are aware of your book and will consider buying it.

Finally, I think Janet's point is the winner. No matter how thick-skinned you think you are, even successful writers tend to be fairly angsty creatures. Destructive criticism sticks with you a long time, and even well-meaning criticism can make you doubt yourself, especially when you get inconsistent advice from different sources. And once you start doubting yourself, you're in trouble.

Sorry about the length of this post. I don't post here very often, so I don't even know if it's appropriate. Just wanted to throw my two cents in.

Liz Penney said...

I've never engaged in public critique beyond a few secret agent contests where participants comment on your first 250. I've had a range of comments and my reactions vary from why didn't I see that before to wow what a b. Sometimes people just don't get it and yes, it takes work to foist off negative words. Somehow they stick longer than positive ones.

I guess I'm leery in general about critiques and tend more to measure my writing against work I admire in my attempts to improve. That said, I've often wondered about the gap between readers and industry pros who obviously see so much their tastes become incredibly picky and refined. Yet the public often gobbles up schlock, esp. if it includes sex.

Suzanne said...

I have been a member of Scribophile for several years now, but haven't put any work up of mine for critique in more than two years.

Scribophile, and sites like it, are a fantastic place for writers who are starting out to learn the ropes of writing and to discover the ins and outs of the publishing world. I learned so much and my writing is so much stronger because of some initial critiques by random strangers. Every time someone told me I'd done something 'wrong' or broken a 'rule' I researched it and learned more about the craft. I never took critique at face value or blindly believed what I was being told as the gospel of the faceless internet authors.

Since having an agent and more serious publishing deals, I've stopped putting my work up for critique because I don't want or need random strangers critiquing my words - I need fellow writers and knowledgeable readers I know and trust to give me honest feedback, not just tell me not to use adverbs.

Why I do keep returning to Scribophile, however, is to connect with fellow writers and share my own experiences and knowledge gained with a fresh generation of aspiring writers. Paying it forward, if you will. I have also returned to Scribophile to chat to people on research topics relevant to my books. For example, my one book is set in Texas - somewhere I've never been - but I chatted to numerous Texans on Scrib and their anecdotal descriptions and info about life in Texas was absolutely invaluable to my writing process. Google maps can't tell you what a place smells like or what the air feels like before a tornado touches down.

I strongly recommended getting involved with writing sites like Scribophile, but proceed with caution when it comes to applying critique.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

The worst part of it is the piecemeal approach. A manuscript should be a gestalt and not a collection of individual chapters. Most sites don't see the big picture.

To an extant. I put up bits on B&W I'm struggling with that don't feel right all the time. After half a dozen people or so comment, I know what's wrong. If they all comment on the same thing, I know that's a problem. Someone will suggest different wording that never occurred to me that's spot on. Sometimes you're just too close to see it. Fresh eyes see it right away.

People don't need to read the whole manuscript to help with an excerpt. They need the whole manuscript for plot holes, pacing and the like, but not for many other things.

Judith King-Harmon said...

With my experience in groups of various forms, I have found that feedback usually is directly attributed to the quality of the story. Bland writing/story/characters= bland "I like it" responses. Exciting stories= great, honest praise.

I think most people want to be nice, but only honesty can pay the bills.

The other end of the spectrum are the literary arrogant that can't look beyond "The Classics" and judge too harshly for all the wrong reasons. Luckily this type tends to be few and far between. That or they are just smart enough to keep it to themselves.

Either way, critique groups are fantastic and Janet is spot on when she says, "Second, you don't have any idea of the quality of their work do you? Someone who can't string sentences into paragraphs isn't someone I want telling me how to write."

Judith King-Harmon said...

I personally do not think this is a bad idea at all. Kids are super honest. I know this because I have been using my son's school librarian to help me use her classes as "secret" beta readers for a little over two years now.

I get the best and strangest feedback. It's nice because some chapters I read to them and I can see when they zone out of the story. I then give them a worksheet that asks a few random questions about the story to see what sticks out or not and then I ask them to use the reverse side to draw a picture of their fav scene or character. Weird little humans exist in our world! :)

All of this said, the large handful of agents I have met are not interested in this research and it appears it is not something that should be mentioned in a query letter (according to the Shark).

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

bjmuntain said...

So much to say. I've had a lot of experience with critique groups, though I've kept away from the truly public ones. Although Janet says posting something in a public group like that won't hurt your novel publication chances - but it might hurt your ability to get a short story published. Some magazines won't even look at pieces that have been publically posted anywhere. And that's because they work with short pieces that could be posted in full online for free, meaning people won't want to pay to read them in their story. Novels are different - you don't put a full novel up for critique, so the full novel isn't available outside of its professional publication.

That said, critique groups of all types have their uses. The large free groups are great for getting your toe in the water. Yes, you'll get more 'this sucks' than in a more intimate group, but you learn to judge critiques. And you learn to critique, which teaches you how to fix your own writing.

My experience is also with genre groups. I started with Critters - it's free, and it's large. You have a lot of beginning writers critiquing beginning writers, but there are some whose critiques are invaluable.

I also recommend OWW, as others have. It's not free but not expensive. And because it's not free, it means the writers there are generally more committed. People who are just trying to see if they want to write, who aren't wholly committed to the process yet, won't usually pay for something they can find elsewhere for free.

I also belonged to a more exclusive, more advanced writers forum, which no longer exists, as far as I know. It was immensely helpful, though, and I met some great writers there. One is in my current online critique group; another is a beta reader.

I also belong to two smaller critique groups of writers whom I trust. One meets online, one in person. These groups are my go-to groups. They know what they're doing.

brianrschwarz said...


I think you have some very good points. I wanted to clarify that I am not indicating strangers are of greater importance than a solid critique partner, but that they are of separately equal importance.

But my real argument is simply that a test market should occur in the early stages of writing. Which apparently happens in the form of Alpha Readers (duh!) as Janet Rundquist so eloquently pointed out and MB Owens reiterated (MB: I concede a form of defeat that I will title "pretending I am still right, but knowing deep down I'm pretty much just wrong").

I'd make comments as to the rest of your post, but most of what I have to say is pretty meaningless as I'm unpub'd and unrep'd so technically I can only speculate and test it when my day comes.

Colin, I'd like to request the keys to the dragon cage so I might do the annual tooth examination as punishment for my posting crimes. Thus endith my reign of terror.

As a side note (which I shold have just said from the get-go) I find the Internet Writing Workshop has a good group of people. A few bad apples that I ignore but a few very talented writers (both pub'd and unpub'd) who I respect a great deal. They function off a listserv where you submit chapter by chapter to the whole group (some odd 50 people) and you need to crit between 2-6 items before it's socially acceptable to submit something.

The advice varies but is often quite telling, bad apples aside.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OMG, I got about a third through the comments and whew! This is scary stuff. I'm a wuss if I don't jump in.

When asked to read a genre I was not interested in, did not turn me on, and had been written by a someone I respect, and like, I was very ill at ease to say his work was s*** but it was. I picked the parts with promise and complemented them. Then I picked the obvious errors, like repeated words, phrases and sentiments and gently mentioned rapidity. Plot holes were easy to spot so I brought them up too. But, I hated it. Hated reading it. Hated critiquing it. And I disliked the book immensely. It just wasn’t my kind of reading enjoyment.

If the work had been that of a stranger, and I had the time to read it, (which I do not), I'm sure I'd be a bit more honest but who the hell am I to judge someone else’s work and who the hell are these strangers to tell me my work sucks or soars.

OMG I’m ranting.

Hey, I’ll be honest, I’m gullible. If you say some of my work is brilliant, (and some actually have said that), I’ll be looking for my name on the NYT Best Sellers list. If you tell me my work stinks I’ll either plan my final days or hunt you down and steal your first born puppy.
Call me a skeptic or scared, but boys and girls, once your work starts floating around out there in writer’s dreamland anything can happen, good, bad or tragic. I’m very suspect of the untrained who get off ‘yay or naying’ simply because they have the right to do so. Why would someone want to do that? They are not your ‘regular’ reader. They have an agenda. Readers with an agenda do not have clear eyes. And yes, agents and editors have an agenda but it’s a trusted one, a trained one. Do you really think Joe Finkledrip, the corner gas station mechanic, the guy with the worm farm, who still lives with his mother and serves her breakfast in bed, can truthfully critique my 89,534 word novel, which I categorize as women’s fiction? The last time Finkledrip got laid Reagan was in the White House, that’s why he loves his mother so much.

Every week strangers read my column and I’m okay with that because an editor is the buffer between me and stupidity. I like what she says (most of the time) because she’s smart and because it is from the newspaper she represents, the checks flow. I know what they want and I deliver. Isn’t this what it’s all about? Figuring out what it is “they” want and delivering it the best way possible. I don’t need a bunch of strangers to tell me what I’m doing wrong, I need someone who does it for a living to say, “Oh hey Carolynn, you got it right this time, it is exactly what we want.”

Ardenwolfe said...

"Third, hives like that tend to reward bland, middle of the road, unexciting writing.There's nothing "wrong" with bland; it's just not very interesting. It's when you break the rules with elegance and style that you get my interest. Breaking the rules on those kinds of sites isn't always viewed with the same enthusiasm."

This needs to chiseled in stone because it's 100% true.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

Well, I think the bottom line is a serious writer needs someone to beta read their work besides Mom and best friend.

You should also have some crit partners who know what they're doing.

You're going to have to find them somewhere. Join a writing group or something, but find people you trust to tell the truth and who know what they are doing.

Each person needs something different. What works for me won't work for someone else. Thankfully, my posse knows I don't need my ego stroked. If I'm asking for critiques, point out everything that needs to be corrected or could work better another way. That being said, we also point out the things that are working so we can hone in on things.

If I'm posting a Stupid Julie story, correct if you want, but Stupid Julie stories are kind of like campfire stories. Not much thought or intelligence goes into them. Obviously. They're called Stupid Julie stories for a reason.

DK said...

But my real argument is simply that a test market should occur in the early stages of writing.


I think you might get a better feel for "test market" by reading heavily in your genre, rather than by soliciting strangers' opinions in a public forum. For all anyone knows, the strangers offering the critiques aren't typical or even potential readers for your type of story.

I also admit that while I have in the past frequented such forums I never used them for critiques. For that I always stuck to my critique group and people I know and trust. But I'm not suggesting that these sorts of public forums have no value -- they do. But I've seen the damage that can be done by destructive criticism. In my opinion, the cons probably outweigh the pros when it comes to strangers' critiques.

Kate Larkindale said...

I've had wonderful experience with crit groups on Writing.Com. As an inexperienced writer, I joined several different groups on the site and quickly learned all crits are not as useful as others. As I grew as a writer, I picked out the critters whose work and critiques resonated with me and eventually broke off from the other groups I'd been part of and formed one of my own, bringing those writers with me.

Now most of us in the group are agented, published or both. So I think it's been worthwhile for us!

It's not exclusive. We do bring in new members, but there is an 'audition' process to make sure any writers who join are at around the same level as we are.

I love my CPs and can't imagine writing a book, much less submitting one, without their input.

Craig said...

Oh, Carolynn,

That wasn't a rant, that was pure and unadulterated paranoia.

Not everyone has an agenda. There are those who have been blacklisted by publishers on those sites. They have an agenda, because of their failure,to discourage all others with promise.

Mostly they are people who wish to hone their own skills along with yours. It is not a free thing. It is a give and take thing. You can not just go to a site, post a query and expect an answer. You must make a few responses first. Get then to gain some respect for you. Then you will get responses. It is mostly a mutual admiration community.

Sushi, I am not a fan of Sushi. I was talking about the reCaptcha.

bjmuntain said...

If the real question here is, 'Do you want strangers to critique your work?', the answer is definitely 'no'. However, how do you find non-strangers to critique your work? It's like saying, 'do you want to spend time with friends or strangers?' Well, friends were strangers once. You have to start somewhere.

I think, when it comes to joining a critique group for the first time, you need to do your homework. Many folks on large forums are learning to write and to critique. If this is your first shot at it, then you're learning to write and critique, too. And you're learning how to take critiques, and how to study critiques to derive the most knowledge from a critique without giving in to the BS.

If you don't think you could handle someone completely panning your exerpt, then maybe a large group isn't for you. Maybe you need to take a writing course, first, so you can get an idea of what a good critique is. Many writing courses will include critiques of critiques. This can be invaluable in learning what a real critique is versus someone's unreal expectations. Have your writing looked at by a good teacher, or someone well-known for good critiques, so you know what a good critique is before you go looking at strangers' critiques. But that's if you need help separating the BS from the nuggets.

If you do a lot of reading of critiques in a critique group, you can get a similar idea of what a good critique is. You'll be able to point out those who think they know more than they do, and those who seem to hate everyone else's writing because theirs is perfect. And you'll be able to find the people who know what they're talking about, and who truly want to help.

In other words, make them not strangers anymore.

bjmuntain said...

(Can anyone say 'critique' more times in a single post than I did in my last post? Maybe we should have a contest...)

Amy Schaefer said...

I am backing away slowly from this entire comments trail.

bjmuntain said...

Oh, come on, Amy. You *know* you want to.

There's been lots of differing opinions, so you'll be agreeing with someone and disagreeing with someone no matter what you say.

Colin Smith said...

bj: For the record, you said "critique" or "critiques" 25 times out of 313 words--that's 8% of your entire post. :)

Of course, you don't have to go to forums to find critique partners. There are a number of people in this very Shark Tank that I would be honored to have critique my work. This is where I got to know them. And already I can trust that they would be fair and honest in their critiques.

Colin Smith said...

And I think it's cool that we can call critique partners "critters." Sort of goes along with the whole woodland creature thing. :)

MB Owen said...

Brian, you're such a great sport and I loved the "reign of terror line."

Like in pretty much anything of a creative or artistic endeavor--you do what works for you. I don't do public critique forums--ever. I find them distracting and not especially helpful. Your work might thrive with it. Stephen King has his wife read his work; so much for never having your family weigh in. Lots of interesting comments and ideas--the bottom line being committed to putting out the very best writing we can.

Colin Smith said...

By the way, my comment above was in no way suggesting that this comment column would give birth to critique groups. I mean, that would be ridiculous, wouldn't it? This is a literary agent's blog after all... :)

Richenda Gould said...

I've been a Scribophile member for about a year and a half, and I think it's a valuable community.

It is a community. It's a great place to make connections and ask questions, primarily via the forum.

The level of critique there can be stellar. Yes, you will get some bum reviews that make you wonder what that person was smoking, but you'd be surprised what you can learn even from those. The key is that Scrib rewards long reviews, and is set up to do in-line commenting. This lets you see in detail where people get lost and what their reactions are. The point system they use has been tested and fine-tuned over several years, and the balance is just about right. People don't make up junk to earn points, and most people are highly considerate of how many points you had to spend to put your work up for critique.

There are also several groups on Scrib dedicated to quickly running through long works like novels. And, after you've been active for a while, you'll find people whose style you gel with, and the two of you can become critique buddies.

Even if you leave the site after finding one person to swap work with, I'd say it's worth it.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I've never used online critique groups because I worry someone might take my story and publish it.

Does it happen that someone takes your story, then publishes before you do?

CPs yes but putting your work online. Are there guarantees?

I also agree with what Matt says. Finish first then show.

I've made a living from creative work for thirty years and have learned I need to finish then show. The reason being, everyone has their vision of how it should turn out. Yet I have grown to trust some people who know me enough and my work, to be able to listen to their suggestions.

Julie.M.Weathers said...


David Eddings used to have his wife read his work also. That was fine. When she became an active part of the writing, the books went downhill radically. 1/3-1/2 the book was spent in back story going over what was covered in the previous book, among other boring crap that drove me nuts. I stayed with him to the end, but wished he'd left her in the shadows.

Shelby Foote, whom I adore wouldn't even allow his wife in his office let alone read anything he was writing.

It runs the gamut as to whether family is helpful. Howsomeever, I'm going venture a guess most agents don't care if Grandmother Pearl loved your book unless Grandmother Pearl was Pearl Buck.

bjmuntain said...

Angie, it's highly unlikely anyone would steal your work. For one thing, there would be other people on the site that saw your work before the other published theirs. You'll often have a date-and-time stamp, too, which is necessary if you're going to fight for copyright. Plus, that person would be immediately banned from the site. Stealing someone's writing is NOT a silent crime on those sites.

Of course, I only know the 'closed' communities - the ones where you have to log in to see anything. I've never tried a truly public community. I'm not sure what happens if just anyone can read it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Craig, you are exactly right, paranoid it is.
This is from a women who had a male member of her family catfish a group of women into caring for him. (Very sad).
Yes I am suspect. Doesn't mean I am totally stand-offish but I know how desperate some writers can be and how vulnerable many are to criticism. Am I talking about a much younger and inexperienced me of many years ago? By-cracky I might just be. You young'uns have all the answers anyway. It's just not my thing babe.

BTW Julie, stupid Julie stories are the best.

Sam Hawke said...

I was a member of the OWW years ago (when it was free!) and in fact it's where I met a good friend who is now multi-published. However. Whoever said above that it's hard to get a reputation and properly participate unless you have stacks of time - I totally agree. I had heaps of time back then as I had a job that allowed me to do whatever I wanted when I wasn't on the phone, so I could post plenty of critiques. I'm a good editor and I used to devote a lot of time and effort to leaving helpful ones. And even then, I was never one of those people who could post endless comments and stay involved in multiple discussions and who everyone knew.

Now, though, I have barely enough time to get my own things done. I can't randomly crit strangers' work. I'm also weird about sharing my work on public forums (or indeed with anyone) until I'm completely happy with it. I can't seek input in my early drafting stages, not from pretty much anyone but certainly not from random strangers. I am sort of envious of people who have the confidence to throw up early draft snippets for feedback - to me it would be the equivalent of stripping in front of strangers.

Brian - I think you make some good points about test audience, but ultimately I'm just not sure how it helps you get from first draft to published book. If lots of randoms with unknown standards like your book then that's great, I guess, but it doesn't really help you (you can't put their opinions in a query letter!). If they DON'T like it, you might learn that something is going wrong but you're unlikely to learn WHY exactly (that's what you get from a valuable crit partner). So, I guess to me it would be the kind of thing that either pumped up your confidence or shattered it, neither of which I think is super useful at an early draft stage. To some extent you just have to back yourself and your ability to tell a good story, right? :)

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Bjmuntain, thank you for clearing the air.

jack welling said...

The best thing about public sites such as Scribophile is that they allow you to see the work of other unpublished writers. In effect, your own errors which are rendered invisible to you in your own work dance across the page highlighted as a marquis on Broadway.

You cannot find this reflection in Updike or Bellow or even Lee Child. They've long ago edited such errors of style and substance out of their work.

The critique of other writers yet to master their craft is not required. Your own critique will be harsh enough.

Now, this is a horrible self-serving observation but most of us will mine the lives of friends and families for stories, characters, personalities. We'll betray and reveal that which in polite society we'd have no excuse for even acknowledging.

Just know, the mirror only works if you are actively writing and re-writing. It isn't enough to "pause" and spend time dawdling about social groups in search of social media acclaim.

Our job is to improve. I say do so through whatever means possible and one of the early keys to success is recognizing those horrendous flaws in your own writing that will keep you from being published. The writing of other unpublished writers does just that.

Now, off to the ink wilds. Steal if you choose, kill if you must; but, come out the other side.

brianrschwarz said...


I need to stop drinking coffee in the moring. I get all amped up and then by 4pm I have no idea what I was even saying...

There's a lot of BS floating around here and I'm gonna find the source... I tell ya.

But everyone's been extremely nice. So props to you, wonderful community of writers. Even when I respectfully fling poo in every direction you all smile and gently direct.

Basically you're all awesome.

Jenny C said...

Hi, I'm Jenny and I'm addicted to online writing contests. My first 250 words have been critiqued on all sorts of blogs by all kind of writers. Sometimes I take the advice, sometimes I leave it. If more than one person says they're confused, then chances are an agent will be confused too. One of my Twitter writing friends is hosting a critique party on her blog tomorrow so I'll join in and make some new friends and maybe come away with some good advice. And I hope to help out a few struggling writers too. If they don't like my advice, they're free to toss it out the window. Just keep in mind, wherever you post, that it's your story and you have reasons for writing it the way you did. And good luck!!!! (Also addicted to !!!!)

MB Owen said...

Brian--you're a riot.

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

@ Craig - I share your opinion; fantastic post.

@ 2N'S - Yes, I'm the same way. To me, my writing is sacred. I've toiled away for thousands of hours; blood, sweat and tears, endless editing. It's my baby. I wouldn't want to trust my "baby" with the wrong person.

@ Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli - I agree with your comment regarding someone stealing your story. It's bad enough when you see similarities.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

@Jack Welling

Come sit with me and we'll sip whiskey straight and neat, and ponder the inglorious gems we hope to polish we me. Reading the masters is good to develop a taste and even learn from, but the real learning is in the doing.

Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect and that only comes if we're correcting our mistakes.

Julia said...

Julie -
HA! On the Eddings - I am SO with you, sister! It was like he had one story and for some reason, when she came on board, they just started rewriting it! Drove me bananas!

Narwhal Six

Julia said...

@Carolyn - OI! Easy on the Stupid Julie Jokes! It's not like Letterman's Stupid Pet Jokes! ;)

@Julie - Hey, can I get in on that whiskey action? I've been writing virtually nonstop since 1 am, La La La La La....

@Jenny - Hi, Jenny! Welcome to Sharkanon! I'm still trying to find the Janet Twelve Step Program I asked for on Monday for my Mainlining problem, but anyway...

@Jack - I'm not dawdling on social media sites. I'm dawdling here. This doesn't count. This is learning. There should be credits awarded for this.

Now to business. SHE has posted several times - possibly in several different languages - that, critiques aside, simply putting in the writing time improves the writing itself. Having earned absolutely no money whatsoever, I'm of no value as an independent source - BUT, I've heard multiple others who HAVE made money say the same thing, and I've noticed that my own writing has tended to get more earnest favorable feedback as I've put in more time at the keyboard.

So - rump to the chair (which has earned me what one friend calls "Author's Bubble-Butt") --> fingers to the keyboard --> telling -> showing --> And Away We Go.

Or hopefully, I do, anyway.

I don't know about y'all. That's up to you.

Wonder WoManatee

The Sleepy One said...

I'm sorry if someone has already suggested this, but:

OP, some writing organizations help members find critique groups. For example, SCBWI chapters have "critique group coordinators" who help writers/illustrators find CPs. It would be worth checking out the local chapters of the relevant writers organization to see if they have a way for you to network for a CP.

For me, one of the most valuable and unexpected bonuses of going to conferences/workshops was developing relationships with other writers. I now have a couple of CPs around the country in addition to my group that meets in person.

I found my first critique group through a writing organization, and it wasn't the best fit. But I clicked with one of the other writers and we started a whole manuscript group that works well for us. We've brought in additional serious writers, almost all published and/or agented, and I initially met almost all of the critique group through local writing events (readings, etc).

I'm lucky because I live in a magical fairyland filled with writers--throw a stone in one of the many coffee shops in town and if you have a good bank shop you'll probably hit two writers working on Macbooks--but I bet you can find local writers to network with and eventually find a critique partners.

stacy said...

My two cents: You can't know for certain these people know what they're doing. Writing is a craft and these days, we have to learn to be our own editors. I'd put more of my energy into reading my favorite writers and studying what they do, reading good how-to books, and submitting than seeking the advice of pure strangers.

Ashes said...

I'm 77 comments late to this party so forgive me if I'm repeating what has already been said.

First off, I love Janet's second-last paragraph and I think it is something important to remember and easily forgotten.

I have experience on such a site (not the one mentioned). I don't use it for critiques anymore. It is a little like the blind leading the blind and working within the confines of such a site can be time-consuming. But, and this is important too, I will be eternally grateful that I joined the one I did.

Because I met people. I met other aspiring writers and I made friends and I formed critique partnerships with people who offer honest polite feedback and encouragement.

It was a good forum for meeting people because we all knew we were there to critique and be critiqued. People were good about returning the favor but what really mattered were the times you were even with someone and went back and critiqued them again. That's how partnerships were really formed. In the wider writing world forming critique partnerships can be difficult because after you read a sample, if you're not excited you have to find a way to tell the person you're just not that into them. On critique websites you're expected to even the score but nothing more. You don't have to let anyone down. You can just keep working until you find the people you click with.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

Criminy Julia,

I got back up at 1:00 because I couldn't sleep and worked on a project then piled back in bed like a normal person. *passes the whiskey*

FAR RIDER is simmering while I wait for reader, then it goes back on submission. After reading so many times I can't see the mistakes.

On to the next project.

DLM said...

I've actually connected with a reader here. It's all very preliminary and I'm not at a stage to provide anything for feedback yet, but I know they have something and I need to respond to their last message (HI! What you mentioned you have sounds interesting!). (By the way, I swear I'm a more timely responder via email, whoever-you-are!)


So, that.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

It's all been said a dozen ways, but this is the way I look at it. A while back I wrote a story on my blog called Higher Education about Mom and Bomb.

We took my oldest son to a good rodeo school because he was getting beaten to a pulp at rodeos. The instructors put students on bulls or horses that suited their level of expertise after going through a lot of instruction and practice drills. Then they videotaped each ride. The student got as much practice stock as they wanted. The instructors would give them advice after each ride, but the real lesson came at night.

They played back the tapes and pointed out where the student was out of position, where they made mistakes, what they could do to correct it, demonstrated how to position their bodies the next time.

The student could "hear" what they were doing wrong, but it was when they "saw" what they were doing that it sank in.

So it is with our writing at times. We read all the books about editing and "know" what we're supposed to do, but until it gets pointed out we may not really see it.

So it has been with my readers. I have some idiosyncrasies that I have had a tough time breaking. One reader has helped me by rearranging things to demonstrate what I'm doing. It finally sank in, but it took a long time and many practice sessions to get it.

You often see an agent on #tenqueries or something say, "Please, people. Get someone to read your material before you send it." There's a reason. Fresh eyes see what is actually there, not what you think is there.

Megan V said...

I'm a proponent of using random people from online forums as critics. My reasoning: In the music world, some people have perfect pitch and can't sing worth a damn. Likewise, in the writing world, some people can't write worth a damn, but when they read another writer's work, suddenly they are gifted surgeons who know when their incisions should be accompanied by anesthesia.

Of course, you find out rather quickly who has the pitch and the gifted hands and who is just cutting for the sake of drawing blood.

AJ Blythe said...

Wow, what a day to come in late!

I would never post pages of my ms on a public forum for anyone to crit - for so many reasons, most of which have already been covered.

At Brenda Novak's auction last year I bought a crit of my synopsis - money well spent! But apart from a situation like that I'd never subscribe to a site that required me to pay money for a random stranger to read and crit my work.

If I want strangers to give feedback on my work I enter contests. These are great for many reasons. They usually have:
- 3 anonymous judges
- a mix of published and unpublished judges
- run by a writing organisation (so not a scam)
- read by those reading/writing same genre

I still don't take their feedback as gospel, but it certainly helps. Plus the bonus is if I do really well my words end up in front of an agent or editor (as final judge) and that feedback is invaluable. I know quite a few authors who got contracted by the final judge.

Finding CPs is another of those positives from attending writing conferences. I now have a group of CPs (pub'd and unpub'd) who help - brainstorming, beta reading, critting etc. Depends what I want and who I think will best give me what I need. We meet in the cyberworld as we are scattered across the country, but still catch up face-to-face each year at conference.

To help make sure they know what I am wanting with my writing I bought them all copies of the first-in-series of one of my fave authors (one I'd like to be compared to).

I could write a lot more but I'm due online in a few minutes to sprint with one of my CPs :)

(and I still don't have any food to tempt me, just a boring circle of arrows for my recaptcha)

Julia said...


What's a CP?

Certified Psychologist?
Creepy Policeman?
Clear Psychopath?
Cess Pool?
Critique Person?
Clown Parade?

I could go on and on, but I'm pretty sure I won't ever get there on my own, I'll just keep drawing blood without anesthesia. I like that one... I'll probably use it without license. What does that make me? An unlicensed surgeon-writer? I'm not a surgeon, but I write like one on Janet's Blog?

See, this is what happens after twenty hours of writing...




Clown Phish

Julia said...

Wait. One more.
An Haiku For You:

Twenty Hours Writing
Makes one compose silly posts
To post on Sharks' blogs


NOW to bed.

Tuna Salad

AJ Blythe said...

You're having a good day, Julia, cause you got this one:

CP = Crit partner

And in case you aren't familiar with it, sprinting has nothing to do with that weird outdoor thing that people do where they get hot and sweaty and look like they are in pain (or consipated) and claim to enjoy it!

It's where you allocate a set time (we do 45 mins) and write like crazy and then report back on number of words written. Really helps to keep you focussed, stop that nasty internal editor (mine sits on my shoulder with a whip unless I keep it inline - usually by closing my eyes so I can't see) and makes you write! Nothing worse than reporting in and having a dismal word count.

Guaranteed to help get a dirty draft before you know it :)

Julie.M.Weathers said...


"that nasty internal editor (mine sits on my shoulder with a whip unless I keep it inline"

Well, you know what they say. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me.

AJ Blythe said...

Julie, I have a sparky here at the moment and he looked at me very strangely when I burst out laughing at your post! Thank goodness I didn't spray him with my cuppa.

Some of these posts should come with a *do not consume food/drink when reading* warning.

Julia said...

The sprint one I know.
I NaNo.
Ya Know?
And I also know the whips and chains thing.

But not from, you know, personal experience. My inner goddess told me about them.

Ooo! I got to choose a cake!!!


Craig said...

Cool, Ginger Mollymarilyn doesn't like Sushi either!

bjmuntain said...

Julie said: "Fresh eyes see what is actually there, not what you think is there."

THIS. This is not only the reason you need other readers; this is the reason you might want to try other critique partners or groups, because your current group/partner (as wonderful as it is) has seen the same few chapters or the same story so many times, they no longer know what might be missing.

Also, Julie: the story about your son's lessons perfectly illustrated the need for outside eyes. Thank you.

Angie: I hope I was helpful. Like I said, I don't know how it works on the sites that anyone can see. I've only used sites where you have to have a membership of some sort and log in to see anything. I'd be interested if someone else who uses Scribophile could let us know what happens if something is stolen. Or maybe I've got a wrong idea about how this site works.

As a great writer said, "Writing is easy. I just cut open a vein and bleed onto the page." (I checked a quote investigator - there's no real concensus on *which* great writer said this, or how they said it. But it works.)

Critique groups are tools we use to improve our writing. So are writers' conferences and workshops, how-to books, courses - even degrees... These are all tools to improve our writing. Because our writing must always improve. Even multi-published authors must improve or lose their edge. I know one author I stopped reading because they figured they could coast on their past successes - and it shows.

So, whatever it takes to improve your writing - even writing sprints, to get the words on the page, or far-too-lengthy posts on an important blog - needs to be done. Because when we stop trying to improve our writing, we've already failed.

bjmuntain said...

Colin: If you're really looking for a critique partner or group, just come right out and say so. :)

What genre(s) do you write, exactly? Because genre is important when choosing a writing group. In case I deleted this part from a previous post, I think genre is important in choosing a group. Otherwise, you'll get people who don't understand the conventions of your chosen genre, and try to get you to write them out of your story. (Been there, saw that, bought the T-shirt, didn't fit, took it back.)

Colin Smith said...

bj: Actually, I'm not at the moment, which is why I didn't come right out and say so... but this would certainly be a good group of people in which to find a CP. :)

bjmuntain said...

It definitely would, Colin. Lots of serious writers here.

(I finally got to choose pictures... and it's soup. Why does it have to be soup?)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Julia and AJ.
Every time I see CP I wonder why everyone is referring to me.
Ah, my initials.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

BTW, I hate that now, because I often have to be at work by 7AM, am unable to check in at post's first burst.
So Janet, and all the rest, hello at the tail end. If I can't be first, maybe I can be last.

Craig said...

It was Hemingway.

Attack dogs in reCaptcha? What did I do wrong this time?

JEN Garrett said...

I signed up for the exact public critique group mentioned in the OP (original post). I was all set to put my work up for fresh eyes and then something happened: I joined a group based on my genre. The critiquers in the THAT group were so helpful, I didn't need the generic group after all.

I guess my advice is to find your own writer peeps to look at your work first . Whether you write Romance, Writers, Mystery, Christian, Science Fiction, Fantasy, or anything else, there's a group for you.

Now, I do value a few reads from people outside my genre, because they bring a different perspective. However, I suggest finding local readers that you can meet face to face. Sometimes their nonverbal cues are more informative than what they say about your work.

My son wants me to prove I'm not a robot. So what if I am?
He just checked the box.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Heidi-come-lately adds her mee too:

And yet another vote for the extreme usefulness of the OWW. Yes, it's a paid subscription (~US$50/yr), but it does offer a month free trial, and this subscription structure does weed out those who aren't quite as serious about the craft as you are.

That said, there are good critique groups/sites and bad ones. I've seem 'em both.

What you do is you give something a go, network with a few other writers, build up relationships with those who "get" your stuff, and who are on the same developmental level as you, and who also share the same goals.

Big ask, but oh, it's worth it!

I've had face-to-face groups that were both boon (yay Stromatolights) and bust (I'm looking at you MFA fiction workshop class!). Same thing with online ones.

Essentially, it comes down to the level of work you want to put in, and the crowd you're hanging with.

Back to the OWW: an awful lot of Big Name Authors are OWW alumni. I've met valuable CPs and have gotten very good advice from my fellow critters. This workshop took me from an apprentice to a journeyman.

My advice? Give Scribophile a go. It might for you (as it has some here) or it might not. Don't just take the first commenters that drop by your story. Go read the comments left on others' work, and search out those critters who seem rather useful.

As for the "previously published online" thing? If it's a novel, it might not be such a big deal. But if it's a short story, many editors will consider the posting on an open forum (like a blog, or a free-to-air workshop) using first rights.

I don't know anything about Scribophile, but if it requires a login to access the board, that might be exclusive enough to qualify as a "private workshop" and thus not using up first rights.

Ooh, look. I'm not a robot.

RobCeres said...

I don’t think I have ever read a blog post, or so many subsequent comments, that made me think harder and longer than this post. I agree with many of the comments about random critiques and the danger of getting driven to the community norm – and mediocrity. After thinking about this on and off for a day here’s the two cents I’d like to add.

All of my favorite books, the books that I go back and reread, and that inspired me to write, evoke a passionate reaction in me. I love, love, love them. If I go to my friends and ask their opinions they say either I loved it or I hated it.

What does this have to do with posting on online critique communities, beta reads, or critique partners? Well, the best feedbacks I have gotten to date on my book were:

“I hated your book after the first three chapters because your pacing was way too fast. I got totally confused and couldn’t keep track of who the characters were.” Right. Exactly. That is the way I wanted my reader to feel, because that is exactly the way my protagonist feels. Don’t read any more, hate my book, but I accomplished what I wanted as a writer. Same reaction to feedback to the reader who said they loved it because “I felt so out of control after those first few chapters.” Both feedbacks were equally valuable to me.

“I loved the part where…happened. It made laugh so hard I blew coffee up my nose.” Wow, that worked. Why? Oh, I see, I can make this part more like that, and…

"I hated the part where…because you dropped out of character and your writing became stilted and boring. It made me angry at you.” Opps, better fix that part, and where ever else my book does that.

“When…happened I felt so sad I almost put your book down.” Yeah! I hope I made you upset. But you kept reading. And when you get to here your going to be even more upset, but you're also going to keep reading.

Bottom line, if half my readers absolutely hate my book and the other half absolutely love it then I will feel like I have truly succeeded.

One last point, and maybe the most important to me. If my book is never published I’m okay with that, because I love my book. I love my characters. They are real inside my head, and I feel their joy, their pain. They have evoked a visceral reaction in me. And, even if everyone else hates it, at the very least, nobody will accuse of having written a mediocre book.

Dannie Morin said...

I've been a member of Scribophile for five years and am a full advocate. My writing has improved tenfold since I joined this community. I respectfully disagree with Ms. Reid on the caliber of critters you can find online. That's actually one reason I love Scrib--it's pretty easy to tell from someone's profile whether you can expect quality feedback. There are also small and mid-size critique groups within the community that you can join to post your work more privately (which is what I do as an agented writer currently on submission.)

I've done both live and online groups, and for my life (mom with a full time job), online definitely works better. It's definitely possible to find high quality critiques online, though it may take some patience to weed them out of the slush.

Also, FWIW I write YA/NA contemporary and there are plenty of non-SFF writers on Scrib.