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September 14, 2006

Comments on The shorter YouWriteOn.com:
#1 ::: Patrick Weekes ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 02:35 PM:

Hey, the best-rated novel gets published! It CAN'T be a waste of time! I mean, isn't winning contests the way most novels get published these days?

#2 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 02:35 PM:

Even shorter: "GarageBand for writers."

GarageBand is useless, but it's fun. Maybe this is fun as well?

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 02:46 PM:

Late last month this turned up in my mailbox:

Dear Caribbean Researcher,

I am pleased to introduce you to my forth publication, ‘Haunted Heritage and Other Stories’

Your e-mail address was obtained from the Internet. After careful study of your profile, I am persuaded that you will appreciate the attached information in regard to my latest publication.

‘Haunted Heritage and Other Stories’ (ISBN 1-4241-0680-X) was published by PublishAmerica based in Maryland, USA earlier this year. The 164-page publication is available on demand from such on line bookstores as amazon.com and Ingram, as well as from Publishamerica.com.

Please find enclosed a review by Tempie King, an extract from one of the stories and other informative press clippings for your perusal.

I look forward to receiving your feedback.

Have nice day.

Sincerely
Albert

The 'review' was as follows:

Haunted Heritage and Other Stories receives 5-star rating
Reviewed by Tempie Author of Feelings

Reading this author/poet’s collection of mystifying stories and sensual poems im-mediately took me to another place. A place far beyond my soul. A place where I was challenged to feel every essence of this written- journey. Where as a reader you make an effortless choice of either sa-voring the flavor of arousal or simply reading the mere words and have an in-sipid insatiable affect.

It all began when I first took the sheet of paper off the typewriter on the cover and turned the page. I too became prey of a most inviting beast that engulfed me whole. Swallowed by untainted delight not wanting to be released as each poem took hold and gripped me tightly. Shamelessly, asking where are those trees that were greenest? Can anything be more desirable than the sun at its zenith? Feeling the flower blooming every hour against a verdure stem. . With light illuminating their dream world she reads their favorite poems. Realizing the heart that knows depths of love may never be de-ceived. Without her he is lost.

The Haunted Heritage is the highlight story with a most exhilarating twist. Centering around a British husband Phillip’s ordeal of taking his Dominican nurse wife Margaret back to her ginger bread fretwork homeland after being gone for seventeen years. The story unfolds as they return to find a seventy five year old caretaker Leah of African decent displaying bouts full of hostility. The evening is hot and sticky and Margaret becomes uneasy whispering to Phillip she hears strange things. Phillip ultimately accuses her of going mad over the spirits of the West Indies.

The author/poet writes a beautiful story line that shows that Margaret is overtaken by bouts of manic depres-sion. She is hailed by the town as not only being of no-toriety in being a descendant of a famous writer but she too writes her own novel, The River Clear Revela-tion.

Another story that took my fancy was, Baby in the Middle. This story had a faint biblical abstract at its core. It is about a baby being born of a couple that after six months of their marriage the husband accepts a seven-year medical study scholarship. He is only able to be with his wife once a year and for six months they are able to be with another. As this story continues, the wife announces by telephone into the sixth year of marriage she is with a child. The husband joyously receives the news only to inform the wife he has had a sperm count done and found out he could no way father a baby. The wife frantically confesses she had been unfaithful many times with the gardener. The doctor weighs his options and suggests they adopt the baby to avoid a scandal.

Now, this was sent out to every member of the Society for Caribbean Studies mailing list. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry, frankly.

#4 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 02:57 PM:

If it doesn't cost anybody any money (does it? I didn't look very hard but it didn't seem to) I can't see any harm in it and I can maybe even see some good. There are a lot of people out there who should be getting feedback about their writing from people other than their friends and family (myself included, of course), even if they never even come close to having any real talent.

Not that the opinions would be necessarily reliable, and not that the writer would actually be able to hear useful criticism, but still... as I say, if it doesn't cost anybody any cash money, there's always the chance that somebody's writing might improve.

That's probably just the former writing teacher in me piping up, I guess.

#5 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:00 PM:

It's not a bad concept...the main problem is the fakey semi-guarantees and the offer to "publish" the best.

The OWW is a peer-review operation, but makes no promises, and has a solid track record of people going on to publish real novels with major publishers.

#6 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:00 PM:

....displaying bouts full of hostility

oh. i was interested for a second, until i figured out it was not boots full of hostility. if i had boots full of hostility, i'd display them.

#7 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:03 PM:

#2:"GarageBand for writers."

I guess that's true. However, I think the music business and the publishing business are different enough, that I don't know how apt the comparison is.
(Keep in mind that this is based on my scant knowledge of both industries.)

e.g., I guess CD Baby counts as a success, or at the very least, it's not a scam. However, I don't know of a CD Baby equivalent for books, at least not one that's both successful and not a scam. I remember that at one point, the thought was that books would never go out of print because we could store them electronically and just print out individual copies as people buy them. Well, we can see how well that's working out. However, the music industry, how ever fitfully, is inching its way to that sort of paradigm. eBooks aren't nearly as successful as MP3s. There is at least one record company releasing its otherwise unreleased back catalogue as MP3s.

I guess in the case of ebooks vs. MP3s, the latter doesn't require the customer to get adjust to a new experience. Listening to an MP3 is like listening to a CD, but reading ebooks is a different experience from reading books. But I do find it interesting that CD Baby has managed to put together a catalogue of artists, each one of whom genuinely appeal to a niche. The equivalent company for books would probably end up catalog of slush most of which is not worth reading.

Hmm... I guess another difference is that most of the musicians who use CD Baby probably tour the country, promoting their CDs in the process. Using CD Baby for order fulfillment so that they don't have to worry about it works in that case. There's really no equivalent for writers unless you're a noted expert in some field who criss-crosses the country giving seminars in the field.

BTW, Teresa, I think you do a lot to encourage new writers.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:10 PM:

This idea gets reinvented two or three times a year. The reason a given set of reinventors don't know that is that none of the previous versions had any noticeable success.

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:13 PM:

miriam beetle #6: 'Boots of hostility' is far more interesting than the 'review' as it stands. I'm trying to figure out how a married couple adopt a baby born into the marriage, not to mention how a 400+ square mile island is made of gingerbread fretwork, and what a 'biblical abstract' is.

#10 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:16 PM:

It's a form of writers' workshop. We need as many of those as we can get, to suit different tastes and needs. Both Critters and Hatrack have failed me, so I might actually try YouWriteOn someday.

And I love GarageBand.com -- I get most of my music these days from sites like it. I'm sure these sites seem useless to professionals, but they can be very helpful and productive for desperate and frustrated amateurs. A lot of people, myself included, will try anything for the chance to elevate ourselves above the infinite monkeys in the slush pile.

Thinking of another amateur music site I love, I've had an interesting idea. What we need is a literary equivalent of SongFight.com. I'd love a chance to verbally kick some ass now and then...but more importantly the intense feedback would be invaluable.

#11 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:25 PM:

Remus Shepherd: I'm sure these sites seem useless to professionals, but they can be very helpful and productive for desperate and frustrated amateurs. A lot of people, myself included, will try anything for the chance to elevate ourselves above the infinite monkeys in the slush pile.

The problem is that if you're getting feedback from other desperate and frustrated amateurs, you're probably not getting much advice that will help you improve.

#12 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:27 PM:

I'd love a chance to verbally kick some ass now and then...

There's always Usenet.

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:27 PM:

According to Jim, YouWriteOn has had 8,000 books critiqued over the last nine months, but they have yet to get any of their participants represented by yon "agent from one of London's leading literary agencies."

#14 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:29 PM:

#7, JC: However, I don't know of a CD Baby equivalent for books

Lulu?

#15 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:38 PM:

This idea gets reinvented two or three times a year. The reason a given set of reinventors don't know that is that none of the previous versions had any noticeable success.

Dang, and I was all set to re-re-re-re-invent it....

#16 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 03:48 PM:

fragano,

i swear to god up 'til the end there i was sure you were pulling a mike ford. i mean the in-jokes like publishamerica, the perfect awfulness of "insatiable insipid affect" (each word wrong in its own special way!).....

wow.

#17 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 04:00 PM:

#14, Tim:Lulu?

Yeah, I guess that's true for CD Baby's electronic service (although at more favorable percentages to the artist). Since they rely on artists to supply them with physical CDs to warehouse, it's not as good a match from that point of view. (e.g., the artist can take advantage of the economy of scale by pressing, say, 2000 CDs rather than burning them one by one, and they can sell the CDs at other venues.)

BTW, I don't want sound like I'm shilling for CD Baby. I don't have any connection with them except that I've bought a couple CDs from them (and stupidly forgot to check the box which tells them not to give the artist my e-mail address).

I just wonder how well a business which warehouses and sells books that an author has had printed for himself would do. (i.e., a distribution service for truly self-published authors the way CD Baby is a distribution service for self-released musicians.) CD Baby has done quite well, but I suspect that a "Book Baby" would be a disaster.

#18 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 04:27 PM:

I just wonder how well a business which warehouses and sells books that an author has had printed for himself would do.

I used to think Lulu ought to try that, then you could lower the cover price of a book to something reasonable by having an author print a couple thousand, and have Lulu warehouse them and sell them.

Then I decided that sales really has little to do with cover price. At least when comparing a POD price with a bulk print price, the prices are close enough that a few extra bucks probably isn't going to be a deal breaker.

Instead, what I decided is that people buy unknown books placed before them, either on a bookshelf or a wirerack or something like that, and make their purchase decision based on "feel", not price. At which point, you don't need Lulu to warehouse the books, you need to get the books on a shelf in a store, and then you have to balance the cost of print with the cost of returns with the number of sales you think you will have, so you don't print too many and lose money or print too few and pay way too high a print fee. And, well, that's what publishers do, for the markets they're familiar with anyway.

#19 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 04:29 PM:

Fragano, I was in a place far beyond my soul once, but after some IV glucose things were much better.

It all began when I first took the sheet of paper off the typewriter on the cover

Uh, how do you do that? Does Hef know about this technology? It could certainly bring back typewriters.

And I can't quite decide if "Haunted Heritage" is a knockoff of White Zombie without Bela Lugosi or I Walked with a Zombie without, uh, Charlotte Brontë.

miriam: I think those would be +4 Boots of Hostility (like Doc Martens with cleats), accompanied by a Cloak of Disambiguity and a Rod of Lordly Ticked Off.

#20 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 04:39 PM:

Tim Walters opined:
Even shorter: "GarageBand for writers."

GarageBand is useless, but it's fun. Maybe this is fun as well?

Hm. I can't say that GarageBand is useless. It's certainly not Logic, but it's an approachable tool for the needs of 90% of the population (like most of apple's consumer grade products).

#21 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 05:07 PM:

Aconite: The problem is that if you're getting feedback from other desperate and frustrated amateurs, you're probably not getting much advice that will help you improve.

Yeah, but that's true for all writing workshops. This doesn't look any better or worse than any other.

Maybe all writing workshops are useless. If you have any advice on improving one's writing that doesn't require critiques at some point, I'm all ears.

#22 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 05:15 PM:

#20, xeger: Hm. I can't say that GarageBand is useless. It's certainly not Logic, but it's an approachable tool for the needs of 90% of the population (like most of apple's consumer grade products).

I meant garageband.com, which is, well, youwriteon.com for musicians.

#23 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 05:16 PM:

Teresa writes: “Somebody ought to Do Something about encouraging new writers, only please don’t make me read that stuff myself.”

Which is really kinda silly, if you think about. How can you expect to encourage new writers to quit if you don't read enough of their stuff to give them a personally insulting rejection?

#24 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 05:20 PM:

RS@21: Yeah, but that's true for all writing workshops. This doesn't look any better or worse than any other.

It's true of writing workshops where the participants are at about the same (low) level of skill. What you need is to be critiqued and advised by people a fair measure further along than you are. Advice from people on the same rung of the ladder isn't going to be very helpful; they can't tell you how to get to the next rung because they aren't there either. Often, beginners advising beginners reinforce faults and pass along bad advice they, too, have been given by other beginners. Look at the PublishAmerica message board for examples of this.

#25 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 05:34 PM:

I'm all in favor of workshops and critique groups. I believe that writing can be learned, and can be taught.

What I object to is a reward for the best book of the year (as defined by whatever means) being POD self-publication. That means the Best Book won't be read by anyone the author doesn't know by name.

#26 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 06:01 PM:

" think those would be +4 Boots of Hostility (like Doc Martens with cleats), accompanied by a Cloak of Disambiguity and a Rod of Lordly Ticked Off."

Don't forget the Armor of Irritation. Itches like crazy, especially in hard-to-reach places.

#27 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 06:05 PM:

Miriam Beetle #16: No, I'm nowhere near Mike Ford at parody and pastiche; this was the genuine semi-literate article. This is the first thread I've seen where it had some relevance.

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 06:11 PM:

John M. Ford #19: I've spent a lot of my life avoiding inviting beasts that wanted to engulf me whole. To say truth, this sort of thing makes me sad; both that someone with so little talent should write such crap and think it caviar, and that they've been taken for a ride by PublishAmerica.

#29 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 06:19 PM:

It reads like it was written in German and then translated via Babelfish.

#30 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 06:39 PM:

mike,

think those would be +4 Boots of Hostility (like Doc Martens with cleats),

ooh, i have doc martens. & i used to wish for cleats when i lived in ohio, for the ice.

i've never worn cleats, though, so i don't know if they're actually any good on ice.

#31 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 06:56 PM:

Miriam @ #30: There exist cleats attached to rubber thingies that stretch over the bottom's of one's shoes, and they are specifically for making walking on ice easier. They work very well; I acquired a pair last winter and they were the only reason I was able to venture outside at all last winter after I sprained my ankle. I usually have a terrible time on ice but the cleats kept me from going anywhere I didn't want to go.

#32 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 07:10 PM:

Aconite #24: What you need is to be critiqued and advised by people a fair measure further along than you are.

And how do you do that? I know, I know -- 'Join Clarion'. The same advice everyone else has given me for the last five years. It's not possible for someone with a steady job.

I guess it comes down to the question of whether crappy critique is better than none at all. I'm sure that for some people it is...and that makes YouWriteOn a useful site.

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 07:35 PM:

"How can I become a writer?"

How many writers and/or editors get that one in their email?

#34 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 07:38 PM:

YouWriteOn.com doesn't sound like a bad idea, but there are other writing critique sites out there that seem better. This website's main problem seems to be the fact that you only get opinions from one other person. At sites like Zoetrope.com and CritiqueCircle, you get reviews from a bunch of people. Plus, at those sites, the better your reviews are, the more likely you will get good reviews as well. This site doesn't seem to give any incentive for good reviewing. Lastly, Zoetrope does offer a true prize for good writing - when you submit your story, you are submitting it to Zoetrope the magazine itself. I know one story in Best American Nonrequired Reading was originally submitted to Zoetrope.com, was published in a smaller magazine, and then was eventually published in Zoetrope and the collection. That's a success story I'm jealous of - POD as prize, less so.

#35 ::: Jerol J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 07:47 PM:

I've got my well-read wife and literate friends to read and offer their unflinching criticism on my novel. The last thing I need is a circle of self-congratulatory wankers looking over my stuff. This is why I hate community writing groups too - you get this desparate mob that is so fearful of getting their own material slagged that they're afraid to offer up any honest criticism in exchange. Thanks, but no thanks.

#36 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 08:03 PM:

Remus: There are options other than Clarion.

I'm in the same boat as you in not being able to attend a six-week-long program. I love my job, and taking off for six weeks could mean not having it to come back to (and that's apart from the money thing). But there are other workshops and programs. Viable Paradise, for one; it's only a week long. Some SF conventions also hold writing workshops.

I don't entirely agree with the idea that people need to be critted by people who are much farther along than they are. It's possible to find people who are at about the same level as you are, but have different strengths. If you're strong on character, but weak on plot, and you find someone who can plot like mad but can't make her characters fit into it -- well, you might be at the same "level", but you can still help one another.

The short version of this comment: Keep trying. There's a whole internet of options out there.

#37 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 08:32 PM:

Aconite nailed it, in both of Aconite's posts.

At first, I thought these were just clueless folk; I'm less charitably inclined.

If you follow through one of the "critiqued" books, you're offered an opportunity to not only read sample chapters and the critique, you're offered a chance to buy an e-book.

Plus the language on the site, once you get past the non-standard English, is worrisome; they talk about "professional authors," and "traditional publishing."

They seem to see an adversarial relationship with agents and editors at odds with writers.

#38 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 09:05 PM:

Fragano @ #9: No no no. These bouts of hostility are made for walkin', and that's just what they'll do, one of these days these bouts are gonna walk all over you.

Jerol @ #35: A week or so ago, my daughter was explaining to me how she petitioned to not have to take the Senior Composition seminar in her music program, because "It consists entirely of a bunch of senior women sitting around telling each other, 'Your piece was just the most beautiful thing that I've ever heard.' 'No, no, your piece was even more beautiful.'" Precisely the same principle.

#39 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 09:37 PM:

Getting "published" is easy. You can take your book to Kinkos and "publish" it by having them print and bind it. You can send it to PublishAmerica (if you don't mind ambiguous language in the contract regarding who owns the copyright). You can send it to Lulu or CafePress.

Getting it distributed so it can get into bookstores, where the majority of books are still sold -- that's the hard part.

Marketing it so that people want to read it -- that's the other hard part.

Writing, re-writing, getting good editing, re-writing some more so that your book glows with a professional sheen -- that's the other other hard part.

And those are the parts that vanity publishers leave out of their glowing advertisements.

#40 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 09:44 PM:

Michael, #12, Remus is already an occasional poster at rasfc where we have a number of real published authors.

#41 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 10:02 PM:

I guess it comes down to the question of whether crappy critique is better than none at all. I'm sure that for some people it is...

I assume you wouldn't say that about medical advice.

The absolute best that "crappy critique" can be is worthless, in the case of the aspirant being already skilled enough to know that it's crap.

This is a technical profession, and people with neither skill or talent are unlikely to have much to offer. Neither "I like it" or "I don't like it" is of any value in refining the work, unless the critic can state in at least a little technical detail why it brought that response. "I didn't like the character of the postman" reveals nothing. "The postman seemed to be there just to tell us something we already knew, and the dialogue you gave him took three times as long as even that needed" can be acted upon.

There are quite a few people who do not write, even as amateurs, who can critique well. They are people who read analytically, who can make observations about why this bit worked or that bit lay there bleeding. (Many of these people could write fiction if they chose to.)

And ultimately, if you don't learn to self-critique, you're really not going to excel at the job.

#42 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 10:05 PM:

Xopher #29: Unfortunately, it was written by native speakers of West Indian English. Here's the excerpt attached to the e-mail:

EXTRACT FROM ‘I’VE SEEN IT ALL BEFORE’


The entire assemblage shuffled noisily, all eyes falling
on Burton King. “Well Mr. King, will you please come
out here to the dais?” King’s face drained of its colour.
Joel stared him in the face as he made his way through the
rows of students, smartly dressed and well groomed.
“So, Mr. King,” Mr. Hailstone was a very formal
individual, a principal who took no nonsense from his
students, “are you the one who so rudely interrupted me
in your usual abominable manner?”
“Please proceed to my office,” he said, “I will deal with
you accordingly. The uncouth behaviour of the youth!”
Mr. Hailstone sucked his teeth, childishly, cleared his
throat
And adjusted his tie before resuming his introduction.
The visiting education officer was a large, fat, black
man who sounded as if he had been thoroughly bred on
a diet of Oxford grammar; while he was extolling the
virtues of a sound education. Joel was lost deep in
thought—what if, he mused, and King told his uncle that
it was he who had purposely distracted him? What if he
didn’t? Either way a gloomy outcome was imminent he
concluded. Joel scratched his head ruffling the little
corkscrews that shot out from his brush-back, and then
tore a page from his pocket book, which he always
carried around with him. He hurriedly scribbled
something on it then passed it on with a sly look on his
face. Joel always had that look on his face when he was up
to something. Before long a snigger rose up from a certain
quarter of the gathered students as the unsuspecting,
ALBERT WILLIAMS
70
visiting education officer ended his lecture. Mr.
Hailstone was about to dismiss the students and staff
when he caught sight of a student passing on Joel’s
mysterious missile.
“Ah! Excuse me young man,” he said, “and what good
tidings is this that you are so dutifully distributing
among my students?”
“Nothing Mr. Hailstone,” the frightened boy replied,
“It’s just a worthless piece of paper.”

#43 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 10:22 PM:

Any thoughts about the Sobol Award? The first time I saw an article about it, it set off all my scam alarms, but the second article I saw about it was at the Publishers Weekly website. If they do what they say they'll do, money will flow toward the author. The non-cash part of the prize is representation, not publication. I don't know much about contracts between agents and authors, but the percentages in the agreement that the writers in the final round have to sign look like they're in line with the customary cut.

The thing that still sets off my alarms is their zeal to help unpublished writers. Lots of people mean it when they say they want to help unpublished writers, but the sincere ones generally don't wave money around.

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 10:45 PM:

The Sobol Award ... wow. One year's exclusive all-rights representation by someone who's never sold a book in his life! Wow, that's a prize I'm looking forward to.

See more discussion here, here, here, and here.

#45 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2006, 11:09 PM:

Thanks much! I didn't think the Sobol Award passed the smell test. Good to know my nose is tolerably well educated now--for which, again, thank you.

The thing that still mystifies me is Publishers Weekly's handling of the story. That they should be treating the Sobol Award as legitimate...I just don't know enough about the industry to make that make sense. Were they delicately refraining from connecting the dots, assuming their readers would connect the dots on their own? If it's newsworthy that the award is out there in the first place, surely it should be newsworthy that the award is bogus.

#46 ::: Rachel McGonagill ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2006, 01:49 AM:

John M. Ford wrote:
Neither "I like it" or "I don't like it" is of any value in refining the work, unless the critic can state in at least a little technical detail why it brought that response. "I didn't like the character of the postman" reveals nothing. "The postman seemed to be there just to tell us something we already knew, and the dialogue you gave him took three times as long as even that needed" can be acted upon.

Hm. We've had discussions about this in my writers group and the consensus is usually that many people at the table may know exactly what is wrong with your manuscript, and can give you detailed advice on fixing it, which may include specific reasons why the postman character didn't work for them, for instance. But those details may also be completely immaterial to fixing the real problem with the manuscript.

Oh, there's probably something wrong, and often it's right where the critiquers said it was (though not always). But not everyone will agree with how to fix the story, and that's where you run into contradictory opinions of "Well, I think the postman was insipid and distracted from the main tale," from one person, and "No, no, the postman would be a good contrast against the wacky world setting; I just don't find him believable. . ." from another.

In the end, it's the author's job to separate the wheatie-goodness comments from those that only chafe, and use what feels right to make the story better. Though if a number of people even just say, "I don't like it," that's usually a good indication that something needs fixing. Sometimes that means making the postman the point of view character, or changing the setting, rather than address the specific problems your critics pointed out.

But then, I'm lucky enough to be in a group with Neb and Campbell winners, as well as newbie amateurs and people with just a sale or two, so my perspective on crit groups is likely an outlier.

#47 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2006, 09:19 AM:

When I joined my writers' group, the only person who'd been published had sold a single short story to a semi-pro market.

Harry LeBlanc has now had multiple stories published in pro markets. Lyda Morehouse has now had five books published (one under the pseudonym Tate Halloway). I've had five books published. Kelly McCullough just had his first novel come out.

So, I really believe in the power of a good critique group, even if everyone in it is an amateur. (Starting out, anyway.) One of the things that I think really works for us is that we'll dissect the "what doesn't work here" question as a group, and even if we all disagree, the person being critiqued can usually get something useful out of our divergent opinions. There isn't usually one single answer to "what does this story need?" anyway, because readers all bring different things to the table.

#48 ::: Rachel McGonagill ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2006, 06:58 PM:

Naomi Kritzer wrote:
There isn't usually one single answer to "what does this story need?" anyway, because readers all bring different things to the table.

Exactly.

#49 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2006, 02:36 AM:

*waving at Aconite*
Hi! Miss you on AW, and glad to see you here!
*scurries off*

#50 ::: Ted ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2006, 08:52 AM:

Hi all

I saw your debate and thought I'd pop my head round the corner to say 'hi'. Professional author Phil Whitaker puts a good point about constructive writing on our site YouWriteOn which I hope adds to the debate ..

Criticism has the potential to be both inspiring and fatal .. I’d suggest some rules of thumb. Spend a few days mulling on any criticism before drawing conclusions. If a criticism strikes a chord with you, act on it. If it doesn’t, but if several critics have touched on the same thing, consider very carefully whether to act on it. If a criticism really doesn’t strike a chord, and particularly if no one else has picked up on it, probably ignore it. Lastly, you may find critics evenly divided on an issue, as many pro as con. These are the trickiest to navigate: go with what your instincts tell you.

We've had over 8,000 reviews and members generally get better rated after revisions based on feedback. Between our affiliated agents, who include Christopher Little (J.K Rowling et al) and Curtis Brown (Atwood, Ed McBain and David Lodge)they've been interested in three writers, early days. Those who are highest rated get a free professional critique to help them develop further. We're new and still developing, I'm sure there's room for improvement. We've been covered by media like the BBC News Site, Times and Bookseller.com. Sites like the BBC have indicated they'll return for the Book of the Year award so we really hope we may get good publicity for some budding new writers.

We'll see, there are many sites out there, I'm sure with things we can learn from as a new site, and I wish everyone all best with their writing.

Ted
YouWriteOn.com

#51 ::: Bob Davis ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2007, 05:42 PM:

I like Sarah Cowan

#52 ::: Sofi ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2007, 05:21 AM:

It seems that thia site is actually doing what it promises (i.e getting talented writers noticed):

This is from the site's news section:

"YouWriteOn Book Awards 2007: Six writers were chosen in the awards, three in the Adult Fiction category, and three in the Children’s Fiction category. The first place adult fiction, The Africa Reich by Guy Saville, is being represented by Curtis Brown. Guy is currently developing his novel further. An editor for Curtis Brown is also very enthusiastic about third place adult fiction winner, The Lorelei Effect by Michael Alan, which they are considering.

The second place children’s story, Sharpshooter by S Star, is being represented by literary agent Conville and Walsh, and the writer is currently developing the story further with their help. The other winners in the adult and children’s fiction categories are also either being considered or in the process of completing their stories. All members of YouWriteOn are free to be represented and published by whoever they wish."

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