prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
[personal profile] prusik
I said I'd write about Online Writing Workshop and Critters, since I'm actually a member of both right now. I've been a Critter for over a year, but a member of OWW for only just under two months. My impressions of Critters are fairly well baked at this point. I'm still feeling out OWW so I have nothing conclusive to say about it. Also, since I joined Critters first, my impressions to OWW will be in comparison to Critters.

Critters is a free service. You stay an active member by submitting, on average, at least one critique three weeks out of every four. (75% crits to weeks of membership ratio.) Short stories are worth one crit. Short shorts are worth half. Novels, submitted as such (rather than chapter by chapter), are worth more. (I've never done a novel.) At minimum, you need to submit at least once a month. Each Wednesday, Andrew Burt releases a set of stories to be critiqued. Everyone has until the following Wednesday to critique those stories. On the following Saturday, Mr. Burt releases the critiques so that everyone can see them.

You submit stories to a queue for critique. You need to be an active member when it comes up to the top of the queue in order for it to be released to the Critters for critique. Your story can jump the queue if you have submitted the most critiques in a week, or if you have written more than 10 critiques in a week.

(The process is actually slightly more complicated than this, but I think this is fundamentally accurate.)

What this means is that there is one week when everyone is focused on your story, among maybe 30 stories. So over the course of the week, you can count on maybe 10 or more critiques showing up in your mailbox. (Or in my case, they got trapped in my spam filter. D'oh.) The quality of the critique is like the quality of the stories at Critters, variable. This isn't at all surprising.

Overall, I think the process works really well. It effectively guarantees that, as long as the story is recognizably in English, it will receive a wide variety of critiques. Whether you find any of them useful is a grab bag. The process also effectively forces you to critique continuously (so that you are an active member when you submit your own story). I think this is actually far more useful, and a better learning experience than receiving critiques. Elizabeth Bear has said that any author ought to spend a year reading slush. I've never done that, but I suspect that doing Critters approximates that experience. If nothing else, I've become much more coherent about what works and doesn't work in a story.

OWW works on a different model. Stories you send to OWW are visible the moment you send them and they stay there until you withdraw them. (Actually, I think there are several other reasons for withdrawal, but I don't remember right now.) Anyone can critique them at any time. Anyone can see anyone else's critique. You get a point for each critique you write. You need to spend 4 points to put a story on the site. You get 4 when you join so you can put up a story right away. Also, every month, each pro involved in OWW will make an Editor's Choice. Each pro chooses a work submitted within the past month and critiques it. You can have at most 3 stories up at once. Editor's Choices don't count against that limit.

Because the only way to submit a novel to OWW is in pieces, I notice a lot more novel sections in OWW than I do in Critters. I doubt that there are actually more novels, just that Critters, for the most part, keeps them where I don't have to see them if I don't want to. I don't know that the quality of stories or critique is any better or worse than that of Critters. In both cases, you have dedicated writers working on becoming better writers. However, OWW is a pay service but Critters is free.

For me, the key difference between the two (aside from money) is the story is available for one week on Critters, and for, essentially, as long as you want on OWW. Critters gives you this concentrated burst of critiques and there isn't much you need to do to encourage them. That's baked into the system. OWW relies more on the social component to encourage critiques. (Critters has a social component too. I just don't pay attention to it.) For example, people tend to trade critiques.

Also, the OWW system and culture encourages uploading revised stories. It's not that people don't submit revised stories at Critters. But I see it happening more often at OWW, perhaps because it's called out.

I tend not to do well on anything which relies on the social component. However, if the way to encourage more critiques of my stories is to critique other people's stories, I can do that. This may be the extent of any social interaction I have though. So if I need to do more than this to get critiques via OWW, I may be out of luck.

I'm currently experiencing a weird side effect though which I'm sure is not the common case. So far, I've put up a grand total of one story, which I sent off to a market fairly soon after. I'm not actively looking for critiques for the story right now (but I may later depending on what happens at that market). Since critiquing other people's stories would cause those other people to critique that story, I've been totally unmotivated to do any critiquing at OWW.

Of course, if I'm not looking for critiques on that story, what I should do is take that story off the site. That way, I could keep racking up points for submitting stories without wasting other people's time. However, I never got around to doing that. This is totally me not using the system correctly. It's not any issue with OWW.

Amusingly, I got an e-mail a few days ago telling me not to take my story down because it is a nominee for an Editor's Choice. The body of the e-mail makes it sound like my story is not just a nominee but Editor's Choice proper. So now I can't take it down. But, OTOH, a pro will critique my story. That's always a good thing.

I have no idea what qualifies a story to be an Editor's Choice. I assume it contains a teachable moment or two. Either way, I'm looking forward to the critique.


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January 2014

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