If you are not already a member of a writing group, we highly recommend Scribophile (http://scribophile.com) as an excellent place to build relationships with other writers and get high-quality constructive feedback.
It was almost two years before I took the advice. In that time I finished writing the early drafts of my novel, sent it to a few friends, attended an editing workshop at the Sydney Writer’s Festival and thought “yep, it’s pretty much ready to go”. I sent it off to an editor for a manuscript assessment as a sort of last minute sweep through. While I was waiting for her to read it and get back to me, I pulled up some of my old short stories and thought about submitting them again, but I wasn’t sure where to start. That’s when I found the old email from Brian Lewis, editor-in-chief of Spark.
I joined Scribophile.
That was August 2014. In the 9 months since, I have:
- received 27 constructive critiques on the first chapter of my novel and revised it a further 8 times.
- written over 100 000 words in 159 critiques for other writers.
- received 246 critiques of my own writing, across 36 works (short stories, novel chapters, a query letter and synopsis).
- befriended writers from all over the world.
- chatted with professional copy editors, an agent and 5 editors-in-chief of different literary journals.
- learnt where to submit my work, how to format it, and what to look out for in scams that target writers.
I’ve been just as productive (if not more so) than when I was doing my Masters.
There are plenty of others who have not found Scrib as useful, which is understandable – not every group is right for every person. But in an attempt to break down what makes it so effective, I’ll share what worked for me.
Scribophile works on a currency they call "karma", where you earn karma by critiquing others and you spend it by posting your own work for critique. You have to earn karma before you can post your own work, which is probably the most common aspect of Scrib that I read complaints about. I love it, because it weeds out any writers who want feedback but are unwilling to spend their own time helping others to improve – i.e. you’re expected to give to the community, not just take from it.
Karma is earned on a word-count basis, but those words should be useful – what worked, what didn’t, places where the story lagged, characters who seemed inconsistent, settings that could be better described, phrases that really struck a chord, as well as any spelling/grammar/punctuation errors. This scares some people off, because they’re not sure if they’ll have anything useful to say. That’s okay. There’s an article on how to write a critique, and the function to report a “bad critique” is only used when it’s obvious that the writer was trying to pad out their word count (e.g. by copying and pasting) or not making a genuine effort to be helpful. Scrib is also full of writers who recognise that critiquing, like writing, improves over time.
Over the course of my life I’ve received feedback from all kinds of places – teachers in high school and at university, fellow writing students, family, colleagues, friends, and a professional editor. I don’t regret getting a single piece of feedback, even the bits that hurt at the time. Most of the time, what I want from a critique is simple: how did you, as a reader, react to this part and what did you like or dislike?
Scribophile is structured so that you earn more karma by critiquing works in a “spotlight” than other works. Works don’t stay in a spotlight for a certain amount of time; they stay there until they’ve received a certain number of critiques. With a basic membership, every work you post is guaranteed at least three critiques. As I’ve spent more time on Scrib and built working relationships with individual writers, the spotlight has meant less to me and I’ve got an oversupply of karma. That’s okay – it still serves as a useful tool for jumping in to the site, getting your first critiques and building those relationships in the first place.
There are hundreds of groups on Scrib, some more active than others. Several sound wonderful but I don’t have the time to join them. Others are specific to a purpose that doesn’t meet my needs – memoir, or fantasy writers, or poets. These are the three that I use most often.
This group works as the title suggests – trading critiques one-for-one. Every couple of weeks there’s a thread in the group forums where members post a couple of lines about what their work is and what kinds of works they’d be interesting or willing to critique in return. People match up with one another and can make as many “deals” as they have the time and effort to do. You don’t have to commit to anything on a week where you won’t have time, and on a productive week you can get dozens of people reading your work as long as you read theirs.
The Ubergroup is really a series of smaller groups, with its own subset of group moderators. It’s run by Jerry Quinn, who outlines the whats and whys on his blog. This group exists for novel writers. You’re assigned to a “team” of people – usually between 3 and 8, but each team decides for themselves how many writers they can handle – and everyone on your team commits to reading and critiquing each other’s novels. It’s like a long-term one-for-one commitment. The best part of the Ubergroup is the timing. There’s a group of people who are all reading the same chapter of your book at the same time and they’re talking to each other (and you) in the forums – that round table discussion is incredibly useful.
Each team decides for themselves what pace they work at. If you’re writing an early draft, that might be one chapter a week. That means in week 1 you read the first chapter of each of your team members’ books, and they all read chapter one of yours. If you’ve got a finished, edited, late draft or polished book ready to go, there’s the “beta team” and a few other similarly styled teams where team members read and critique at a much faster pace, focusing on one book at a time and devoting a week or two to each book. Regardless of pace, all Ubergroup teams read each others’ novels from beginning to end so you get that all-important big picture feedback.
The 100 Credits Club
The goal of the 100 Credits Club is to help each other get publication credits. Where the Ubergroup is best suited to novel writers, 100CC is best suited to writers of shorter works who still want to see their name in print. This is where I learnt all about literary journals – what’s out there, what kinds of writing they take, how long to expect a response, if they give feedback or not, if they pay or not etc. Some of the members of 100CC run their own literary journals, and there's something strangely encouraging about the fact that they get rejection letters too. The members congratulate each other over every acceptance or publication. They help each other to pick up and resubmit elsewhere after a rejection. If you’re having trouble finding a home for a piece of writing, they’ll suggest likely markets. And, of course, they critique each other’s work to ensure it’s the best it can be before sending it out.
As I said before, Scribophile isn’t going to be perfect for every writer. If you are lucky enough to have a productive real-life writing group, the idea of an internet group might not appeal at all. But if you’re desperate for more feedback on your writing and can’t find a decent group, I strongly encourage you to check it out. I’m glad I did.