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Choosing A Critique Website | Crackin’ The WIP

This is part two of a series I am writing for my friends over at Crackin’ The WIP. Hope you find it helpful!

On Critiquing: Choosing A Critique Website

 
by C. Theuner

Hi! And welcome to part two of:

Oh, right. Keep meaning to change that banner…

Last time, we talked about what makes a critique. Today, we’re going to discuss the options available to those wishing to get involved with a critiquing community.

I’m going to be dealing exclusively with online critiquing workshops for this series. That’s not to say in-person groups aren’t valuable; they are. In fact, they have many advantages over their Internet counterparts:

  • They offer an opportunity to socialize with other local writers.
  • They’re better suited to dynamic discussions.
  • Meetings often involve alcohol (sobbing into a glass of scotch while lamenting story-ruining plotholes just isn’t the same without the camaraderie).

If you have the opportunity to join such a group, I’d encourage you to at least check it out. Sit in on a meeting, and see if it’s a good fit for you. But in-person critique groups aren’t practical for those of us who live in an area lacking an active writing community, who have prohibitively erratic schedules, or who, like me, are just antisocial misanthropes. If you have experience or advice pertaining to “real life” writers’ groups, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Fortunately, there’s an abundance of websites to choose from. So many that choosing one may seem overwhelming. For the record, you don’t have to choose only one. Some people have had great luck spreading their work and knowledge over multiple sites. Me, though? I’m a Critique Circle devotee. Since I joined in 2012, I’ve improved my writing, made wonderful friends, and become part of a community that encourages me, but can also give me a good kick in the ass when I need it. Were I splitting my time between two or more sites, I don’t think I could have formed these relationships. But is Critique Circle the right choice for you? Maybe. But maybe not.

When you’re vetting potential online writing groups, here are some questions to keep in mind. Often, you’ll find them answered in the site’s FAQ page, but sometimes you may need to dig a little deeper. Do the research. I promise you, it will be worth it.

Is my work protected?

Of all questions, this is perhaps the most important one. You’ll want a site in which your work is not searchable, or viewable by non-members. In addition to the concern of possible theft, many publishers won’t accept work you’ve previously posted online, even if it was solely for feedback. Do NOT post your work in a publicly accessible forum unless you have no intent of seeking publication. And even then… I wouldn’t.

Is the site active?

It won’t do you much good to post on a dead site! But, equally important, is there an active community for my genre? Submitting a romance to a fantasy-oriented site, regardless of how active it is, is unlikely to yield helpful results.

What type of feedback would I expect to receive?

This is a two part question, really. First, you must determine what sort of critique you’re seeking. Do you value brutal honesty? If it seems every critique on a website is little more than a pat on the back with no suggestion or criticism, it’s probably not the place for you. Are you sensitive to harsh feedback? A site full of budding Simon Cowell wannabees will serve only to discourage you. Do you want detailed line-by-line feedback/editing, or are you looking for broader comments about characters and reader reactions? Or both?

The best way to determine if a site is right for you is to make an account and, if the option exists, read some critiques. And not just one or two. Read several. Critiquers are all individuals, and no single critique is indicative of the site’s tone as a whole. but after reading a dozen or so crits you’ll likely see some patterns upon which you can base your decision.

How does the site work?

Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. With the more important questions answered, it’s time to look at how a site functions. Critique Circle, for example, uses a credit system – you gain credits for critiquing, and you use those credits to post your own work. Other sites use similar points-based methods, and some may even rely entirely on the honor system. (Note: No matter what site you use, posting without critting will be looked down upon, and will net you less feedback.)

Other things to look for: How are stories sorted? By word count? By genre? Do stories with fewer critiques have priority? Are stories “featured” on a rotating schedule?

And be sure to dig deeper for other unique quirks the site may have. For example, Critique Circle does not allow you to view other members’ critiques until after you complete your own. For me, this was a big selling point, because it means each critique I get on my stories will be unbiased by others. But suppose I wanted an environment in which critiques were more discussion-based, and critters could easily respond to one another’s points? In that case, CC would not have been the best fit for me.

How does the site look/feel to you?

Does the interface make sense, or do you find it cumbersome or confusing? How easy is it to find stories, submit critiques, post in forums (if applicable)? Can you do it all in a few clicks, or do you have to jump through hoops?

This question is based more on intuition than analysis. Don’t think too hard on it, and bear in mind that most sites will have something of a learning curve. But if a site mostly makes sense to you, and you’re confident you can learn everything else along the way, then full speed ahead. If your first though upon viewing the site is some variation of “wtf??”, then you may want to keep looking.

 

It’s unlikely you’ll find a site that is ideal for you in every way. The key here is to prioritize. What do you want most in a critiquing group? What features can you absolutely not compromise on? And what would be nice bonuses? If you’re a member of a critique group, I invite you to share your experience with us in the comments. How did you decide? And are you happy with your decision?

Thanks for reading!
-C. Theuner

Some Popular Critique Sites

  • Scribophile – All genres.
  • Critique Circle – All genres.
  • Ladies Who Critique – Specializes in women’s fiction and chick lit, but accepts all genres. This is kind of an interesting one… in the site’s own words: “Think of it like a dating website, but ‘The One’ is your perfect critique partner.” You don’t submit your work to the site – rather, you set up a profile and seek out other like-minded writers to collaborate with.
  • Critters – Specializes in science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but accepts all genres.
  • Internet Writing Workshop – All genres.

 

What Is A Critique? | Crackin’ The WIP

This is part one of a series I am writing for my friends over at Crackin’ The WIP. Hope you find it helpful.

On Critiquing: What Is A Critique?

by C. Theuner

I could not have been more thrilled when my good friend D.M. Gutierrez asked me to guest blog for November, though I must confess, I was more than a little confused about the subject matter. After weeks of research, writing, re-writing, and editing, I was informed this morning that this blog has nothing to do with literal whips, and my (very informative, I thought) article about dominatrix etiquette was rejected. So I suppose I’ll set aside the fuzzy pink handcuffs (though my corset will remain laced and secure around my torso, thank you very much) and instead will write about… well, writing.

Specifically, critiquing.

Like my fellow WIPers, I’m a member of Critique Circle, and have been active for about two years now. In fact, I’m coming up on my 300th critique. It’s been a tremendous experience, and my writing has improved immeasurably thanks to the wonderful friends I have made there. I decided to write a series on critiquing, because it’s been the single most helpful and rewarding part of my writing journey so far. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the topic, and critiquing is not one-size-fits-all. My intent isn’t to provide a definitive how-to, but just to talk about, in my own experience, what is helpful – both to the critiquer and the critiqued.

So without further ado… (sorry, didn’t have time to come up with a new banner)


Part I: What Is A Critique?

A critique is NOT a review!

That’s not to say there’s not some overlap. Reviews and critiques share some common goals. They both call attention to a work’s strengths and weaknesses. They both discuss how the reader reacts to the work, how they felt while reading, and what impact the characters and story had on them. The fundamental difference is this; a review is written for the benefit of a potential reader. A critique is written for the benefit of the author.

Remember, the author is not submitting this work to you as a completed product. It is still a work-in-progress, and should be treated as such. You know those brilliantly scathing reviews you sometimes come across, full of one-liners that make you cringe in sympathy and laugh all at once? Roger Ebert was the king of these – read some of his one-star reviews to see what I’m talking about:

“This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.” — Roger Ebert, on Freddy Got Fingered.

This type of brutal criticism, hilarious as it may be, does not belong in a critique.

I know of plenty out there who may disagree with me on this point. Yes, to be an author, one needs to develop a thick skin. And I sympathize with the argument that nasty critiques can prepare an author mentally for the eventual (and, sadly, inevitable) nasty reviews. But the fact remains, soliciting feedback on a WIP is not the same thing as asking someone to pay for the opportunity to read your work, and therefore, the approach should be different. When you critique, be honest. Sometimes, honesty is necessarily harsh, and that’s okay. But please, do not be mean for the sake of being mean. It doesn’t help anybody.

Kay, um, thanks for telling me what a critique isn’t, I guess. But you still haven’t told me what a critique IS.

If I may defer to my bro Mr. Webster for a moment:

“[A critique is] a careful judgment in which you give your opinion about the good and bad parts of something (such as a piece of writing or a work of art)”

That pretty much covers it. Vague, huh? In short, you read someone’s story, and you talk about it. That’s it. Sometimes the author may ask you specific questions, in which case you should answer them to the best of your ability. Sometimes, they may leave it to you to decide on what’s important.

In a future post, I’ll talk about some critiquing techniques you can use, but for now, here are six general questions to keep in mind as you read the story and prepare your critique. Even if you make no other comments, answer these six questions and you will likely have written a helpful critique.

  • Did you like the main characters? Why or why not?
  • Did anything confuse you?
  • Did anything surprise you? Why?
  • Were you ever bored or tempted to skim? (This one can get nasty, but please, try to answer it as nicely as you can)
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • What was your favorite/least favorite part of this story?

Critiquing is an art much like writing, and you will improve with practice and experience. I’ll talk more about critiquing next week. In the meantime, if you’ve never written a critique before, I’d encourage you to do the following: take whatever book you’re currently reading, read a chapter or two, and then answer the six questions I listed above. You can do it in your head if you’d like, but for best results, I’d recommend writing your responses down.

And, of course, please feel free to share any critiquing advice or experiences, good or bad, in the comments.

‘Til next time,
-C. Theuner

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