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Do you online critique?

Writer-readers

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1km.cruz
Aug 2, 2010, 10:56pm Top

Critiquing is an important step in getting your work published. So I've belonged to critters and critique circle for a few years now. In the beginning they were really helpful, but lately my critiques have been all over the place. I usually look for consistencies in my critiques to tell me what really needs to be fixed. But lately no one can agree, on anything. What's right, what's wrong, where that comma should go. I know every critique is useful, but one sent me a page long rant on how I shouldn't double space after periods. I'm just curious how others get their work read, if there are other online sites where people have had better luck? Or even thoughts from members who also belong to critters or critique circle. Thanks!

2zette
Aug 3, 2010, 2:26pm Top

It sounds to me as though you might have reached a spot in your writing where the usual people who critique for you are finding it difficult to see ways to help. It's unfortunate, but many people feel they aren't really critiquing unless they can tell you that you've done something wrong. I've seen some cases where they've purposely sought out something inane to point out, and those are often personal preferences rather than actual helpful changes.

Oh, and on the double spaces after periods, question marks, etc. -- while it is true that many places now request a single space rather than the old standard of double spaces, it is not a universal choice. And it is far easier to find/replace two spaces with one than it is to go in and insert a second space in each of those locations. Always check the guidelines before submitting and if they don't specifically say, don't worry about it.

I used to belong to Critters way back in the beginning. It's a nice group. However, I have found that with almost every critique group that a person can outgrow critiquers and will need to find others if they think they really need them.

That's the thing to consider. It might not be that you need new critique partners. It may be that the critiques are all over the place because you are suddenly seeing (as I mentioned above) personal preference critiques by people who can't find anything else wrong. I've seen this happen on the site I own, and it can be very confusing and even detrimental to the writer who suddenly sees all sorts of odd things pop up that have never been mentioned before.

The other problem with being critiqued by fellow writers is that sometimes we can't tell the difference between a genuine problem and just something we would have done differently if it were our story. Keep those kinds of things in mind.

Look around at different sites, ask members what they've found helpful, and see if there is one that is a level up from the usual critiques you've been getting. Or it may be that you have gone from critique stage to beta reader stage. In such a case, you need to find a small group of trusted people to do a final reading of a work before you submit it to find any (usually small) problems.

3GaryBabb
Aug 3, 2010, 3:01pm Top

The problem I have found with critique groups is that many within tend to put you down to make themselves appear better... OR ... tell you it's great. Neither of these approaches help.

I was lucky to find a newspaper editor and fan that loves to do the final read/edit before it goes to the Agent/Publisher. Even when I think it is ready, she still finds shit, and I continue to learn. haha She has been a great help to me.

Maybe you can find a knowledgeable reader, someone you trust, that will always tell you the truth.

4gilroy
Aug 3, 2010, 3:50pm Top

A lot of the online writing groups I've tried suffered from either of two problems: Clique control or useless reviews.

Clique controlled usually were groups on like Yahoo or other e-group sites that left their mail list open for anyone to join, but if you were not part of the initial people who developed the group, your writings, critiques, and other comments were denegraded or ignored. I never stayed more than two weeks.

The Useless Reviews were ones where they would post simple "This reads so great!" or "Awesome story!" and never offer additional tips on how to improve them. Again, I didn't stick around long to find out if better reviews would appear.

I stayed at www.urbis.com for a while, because I got genuine helpful reviews, but couldn't spend enough time there to open all of the reviews that I got from my writings. I gave up when the site started charging for features that used to be free.

I agree with GaryBabb here, when it comes to a trusted first reader. Someone you know won't blow smoke and will take your writing asa project to work through. Sometimes, your writing might get errors past the trusted reader, but that happens.

I also recommend finding a local writing group that you can meet with face to face. I found it more helpful to be able to talk to the person reviewing my piece. They can ask a question about the character and I can answer it, plus be able to note where the change is recommended. The dialogue is immediate rather than delayed by when I got a chance to get to the email program that day.

Though if there is none in your area, maybe consider starting one?

5zette
Aug 3, 2010, 4:56pm Top

I find it annoying to know that there are sites out there with owners and moderators who don't police their boards well enough to keep some of these things from being an on-going problem. It's not easy to run a good, solid Writing-related site, but it's not impossible, either -- unless you are only there for the glory or you just get bored and lazy.

I have had little luck with face-to-face groups. Unless you live in a large city, you will have very little choice in the types available. A science fiction writer in a group focused on litfic is not going to get much help -- and believe me, such groups can be downright rude towards people who aren't writing 'legitimate' fiction. If your goals are not the same as the other members (for instance, you're looking to place stories in a major market, not their self-pubbed anthology) you are also going to have problems. While they can be wonderful get-togethers, they aren't always helpful.

And, of course, there are also the people who have made a sale or two and now know everything -- and run the group as their own private little fiefdom. Yes, there are those people on-line, too, but it's far easier to 'walk' away from them there. (grin) It's also easier to find people who have like-interests and get the kind of help that is germane to your work. A romance writer in a science fiction group might learn something about the technical side of writing, but it's not going to help her deal with the problems of alpha and beta males and HEA endings.

Okay, I'm going to do something I rarely do, but only to avoid looking like I'm trying to promote something. However, after reading the problems some of you have faced, I'm going to suggest that you look at Forward Motion for Writers (www.fmwriters.com). From the start, we have had critique guidelines for those who are uncertain how to handle the work. I remove people who are consistent problems -- like people who degrade others to make themselves feel better. The membership of the site ranges from 'first story ever' writers to published by small and big presses. (Though, to be honest, the high-end published people rarely have time to critique or spend a lot of time on the boards once they make those sales!) There are still a few 'This is good' posts, but for the most part, critiques are helpful. While we are primarily a fantasy and science fiction site, we do have sections for nearly every genre except erotica and I'd love to see people from those other genres form cores within the site.

FM also has several private critique circles that can only be accessed by those who belong to them (and anyone can get a few people together and start one), plus two Roving Crits boards for those who don't want to be tied to the work of a full time group.

The site is completely free.

6LisaMP
Aug 3, 2010, 9:08pm Top

I would rather have harsh critiques than sweet ones any day, as long as it's the writing their critting and not me personally.

I have gotten a lot of good feedback from critique circle and I was lucky enough to find writers.net several years ago. I do find that crits from strangers are more honest than those from friends.

I haven't yet been lucky enough to find a
one-on-one crit partner, but I'm always on the lookout.

7LisaMP
Aug 3, 2010, 9:08pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

8km.cruz
Aug 4, 2010, 3:27am Top

Harsh versus not harsh critiques aren't my issue. Honesty is always the best policy. My problem is that lately it seems that my critiques have been a lot of personal taste kind of things. Such as: You posted this as YA, fantasy and I feel it should be more romance, or, you shouldn't double spaced after periods. Both are certainly valid comments, but none of them help me improve my story. Which is the ultimate goal when getting your story critiqued.

9zette
Aug 4, 2010, 3:36am Top

Harsh critiques are useless. What you really want are truthful and helpful ones.

A critique does not have to be 'harsh' in order to point out things that need corrected. That's a real problem with some people, in fact -- they take on the role of a critiquer as though they have to insult and beat the truth in to the writer, and the more they can belittle the author, the better. They do it because it makes them feel better, and never mind if it actually helps the person or not. They're showing their superiority. Personally, I think it wise for people to avoid any group that paints itself as somewhere dedicated to harsh critiquing. That means they have an agenda, and it has nothing to do with what will help.

Yes, strangers are often more helpful than friends. Friends are sometimes approach a story one of two ways -- they either don't want to hurt your feelings or they're jealous that you did something they haven't and denigrate the work. They also are rarely writers (and sometimes not even readers) and don't know what to look for in order to help.

10zette
Aug 4, 2010, 3:49am Top

# 8

(Looks like we were posting about the same time!)

As I said before, it may be that you have reached a point in your writing where random people can no longer help you. You seem to write well in these posts, so I assume you have the technical side of the writing down. I suspect you have reached the point in your writing career where you can no longer get help in the simple things. Now you have to concentrate on the story itself and then you should present the book (or short story) as a whole to a select group of people who are interested in that type of work. They'll still say things like this should be romance instead of fantasy, but you already recognize that as a personal reaction.

You need, perhaps, to sit down with a list of what you want the critiquers to look for. Does the story work? Are the characters 'real' enough? Did the opening grab you and did the ending live up to expectations? Were there any points at which the story seemed to slow down and you lost interest? Also make note that they should point out any spelling, typo, and grammar problems, but give them a specific list of other things as well.

Questions like these can help focus readers to look for specific problems that an advanced writer needs to concentrate on. If the critiquers can't quite figure out anything wrong, they are more likely to go off on odd tirades like the double space one.

There is also a point where asking for critiques of a work is no longer productive. If people are only coming up with odd things that don't actually help, then it may be time to start submitting the work and move on to the next one.

11gilroy
Aug 4, 2010, 9:30am Top

#5, 10

I am willing to admit that face-to-face groups don't work for everyone. Shoot, I was part of a group that had a sci-fi/fantasy writer, a steam punk writer, and me (A little of everything but romance). We did okay for a while, but suffered when our knowledge no longer assisted the others. Of course, I also had a catalog of writing I wanted to ask for help with, and they started balking at anything more than a year old. That group folded last year.

I think one of the big things I note from many critique groups, both online and in person, is a lack of focus on what the writer seeks from the submission. In most cases, I get a story, so I will seek things that I know effect my writing and other common errors (grammatical, usually. I try to leave punctuation alone, otherwise I'd go berserk.) From those points, I've received a reply that my critique wasn't "helpful" because I didn't answer any of their questions. Since all I received was the story, I didn't know questions were being asked!

I definitely agree that harsh critiques don't assist in the writing process. If anything, it scares writers away from the craft. But I also think the open ended critique request is too vague. Depending on draft and personal internal gut feelings, one might want to get their questions ready and post them as part of the critique request. This might offer two points: It focuses the critique for the reader and it allows you to know if a critique is helpful when it returns, because you know what you asked the reader to look at from the beginning.

(I don't admit to know anything beyond my own experience. I'm trying to offer thoughtful discussion. If I come across as combative or harsh, it is not my intention.)

12zette
Aug 4, 2010, 6:43pm Top

# 11 --

Excellent points. We are all limited by our own experiences. Mine happen to be better with on-line than face-to-face groups, and had been long before I found myself in charge of a site for writers.

It is good to look at all the different possiblities. You never know what might work for you. It's also important to remember that a lot of people are in small town situations and may not have access to a face-to-face group. When that happens, figuring out how to deal with an on-line critique site can be helpful.

13gilroy
Edited: Aug 9, 2010, 2:13pm Top

As long as we are on the subject of critique groups online, I'd be interested in hearing from people about their groups' requirements.

I'm looking at trying to start one for some local writers. I have four different books I've read regarding it. Of course they tend to be all over the map. My ideas tend toward some of what I've posted above but I'm not sure how to phrase them necessarily without it sounding dictatorial. But obviously success stories and reasons for failure would be helpful to explain why problems might crop up.

I do know that my first rule will read something to this effect:
"Critique the writing, not the writer."
(Posted just like that most likely.)

14zette
Aug 9, 2010, 3:48pm Top

One important part might be to have a maximum amount of words someone can post to be critiqued, and a limit on how many times in a month they can post material. This will keep someone from flooding your group with material.

You might try a crit-for-crit process, too. If your group is small enough, you can have a rule that every crit you recieve requires you to crit the other person as well.

As the leader of the group, you may have to go in and critique people who are not getting notice This happens most often if someone is not up to the standards of the rest of the group.

There is something else that needs to be remembered, I feel. If the piece that is up for critique is ready to go out in submission, then the person needs to be told so. Critiquers often take a really good piece as a challenge and begin digging for something they can say to help the author 'improve.' What they end up doing is telling the author how they would have written it instead. There are times when you have to say 'Yes, this is good. Correct the typo in the fourth paragraph and send this puppy out!' Authors often can't tell if it's ready or not. That's why they're still posting it to critique groups.

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